Thanks to everyone who weighed in yesterday on the question of ghost queries and queries by committee. Strong feelings all around!
Having now read the relevant blog posts, I’m actually not sure that the query that kicked things off is actually the best test case for the debate that followed. I can’t speak for Agent Kristin, but my guess is that since Courtney’s query was preceded by a client’s enthusiastic recommendation and a successful in-person pitch appointment, Agent Kristin probably would have requested the manuscript short of Courtney confessing to a crime and/or stating that she hates kittens and puppies in the query (and she doesn’t — she’s very nice). That’s more of an example of how well networking and referrals work than anything else.
But back to the subject at hand: My own personal preference is absolutely that the person who wrote the book should write the query. I want to hear from the person I’m potentially working with, in their own voice, with their own writing. Incorporating feedback is fine, but I want to hear from the author.
And yet despite those opinions I have always felt decidedly ambivalent about this question, mainly because I know my own personal preferences are basically irrelevant. People are going to do what they’re going to do.
The more important question, to me, is this: does it work?
Call me skeptical.
A query letter is not a competency test. Well, it partly is. Researching how to write a good one is valuable and increases your odds of having your manuscript requested. And getting good feedback from those in the know can definitely help, and I don’t have a problem with that in the least.
At the same time, I think there’s a huge tendency out there to overthink the form of the query, namely because it’s the one part writers can easily control (and what, ahem, blogging agents can blog about). Aspiring authors begin to view the query letter as a lock that can only be picked by those who hold the secret key.
But more important than nailing the form is conveying the author’s voice. It has to come through in the query. And how can a ghost query or query by committee convey the author’s voice?
In a recent interview, agent Dan Lazar talked about how in an otherwise rambling letter there are times when certain lines stand out and make him want to read a manuscript. If the author’s voice wasn’t there, that wouldn’t have happened.
I’m sure a ghost query or query by committee worked before — it’s a big publishing world. But if I were an aspiring author I’d be very careful, paranoid even, about ceding my voice to others. Even if you were to get to the partial request stage, it’s still your work that’s going to rise or fall.
I still stand by my basic feeling: if you can write a publishable book you can write a good query. It may be painful, annoying, time consuming, need feedback, result in hair loss, need some more feedback, take years off your life, and take multiple tries, but you can do it. You are a writer, after all.
(Bonus: Jennifer Jackson addressed this topic as well.)