Thursday, September 22, 2011

Querying for Emotion

Querying an agent? Make her swoon.
We talked yesterday about how to forge an emotional connection between yourself and your concept question as a way to make your writing more powerful and true.

But there's another sort of emotional connection we'll have to make when our novels are finished--the connection between our query and our dream agent.

Over on her kidlit blog, Mary Kole put this clearly. She says she wants a query to make her care. Well and good. But she's talking about more than showing high stakes and conflict, or teasers about the troubled backstory of our MCs. What Kole is asking for is a gripping, powerful emotional connection that occurs through a finely wrought combination of language and storytelling.
Kole: Looking for Love
"I want to feel something," Kole says. "Even if it is just a stirring of feeling or concern or nervousness or longing. Most queries fail to elicit even one feeling (other than boredom)."

What Kole is asking for here is a pretty tall order. It's a little like being told: I want you to walk into a room and make me fall in love with you. You have exactly 60 seconds. Go.

But the order is even taller. You're going to walk into the room at the same moment with 100 other people. And they'll all be trying to make the agent fall in love with them. And all you know about the agent you're courting is what's on her blog and her list of clients. Now go.

Querying for emotion appears to reverse what I heard last weekend at my plotting workshop: That what agents and publishers are looking for, above all, is good stories. Not so. The what happens ought to elicit the powerful emotional response. Keep it in mind.

Now go forth and revise your queries.


  1. Oh, it so flupping subjective isn't it? Mary says she wants emotion. Other agents only care about premise. Or voice. (My query for my first book was very dry- just stating the facts with little to no voice and it got seven requests) You just can't know what an agent will think! I agree it's best to have a little of everything just in case but more importantly- do the best you can.

  2. I love the word flupping, CQG, it perfectly encapsulates the flipflopping fricking feeling one gets in one's stomach when hitting the send button on a query. I suppose the takeaway here is, if you're querying Mary Kole, do what you can to make her cry till her flupping face falls off. If you're querying Janet Reid, for god's sake get to the flupping point.

  3. I suspect good stories DO elicit strong emotions, no?

  4. Oh yes, Joanna, I would say so. But how to elicit those strong emotions in a two-paragraph summary is another question...

  5. When I see samples of queries that make it, the two-graph summaries can really rock. I have lots of writing to do before I consider the query stage.

  6. I'd just finished reading the first chapter of The Help when I read this post, and that pretty much exemplifies the importance of emotion. Which I guess I've heard before--the importance of emotion when writing, but I've never really thought about what that LOOKS like. I'll be exploring this. Thank you, Gail!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse