I decided to tackle a post on something I am asked about all the time. Like, really, all the time. I don’t think more than a day goes by where someone isn’t emailing/tweet/DMing/PMing me for querying advice. It comes with the territory of being a literary agent intern (multiple times).
So I decided to do a comprehensive post on my top advice for those who are querying horror. As not only someone who writes it, but someone who interns for the Bree Ogden (horror queen), I know plenty about it.
I’ll be selecting two queries to help in the month of October, if you want to submit your query for consideration go HERE. Please note: if your query is selected, it will be placed on a blog spot in October and critiqued (very kindly, I promise I’m not mean) on the blog. If you’re not okay with your query being on the blog, please do not submit.
5 Dos & Don’ts of Querying Horror
Do #1: Focus on the horror. Don’t try to distill it.
Horror is a tough sell. That’s just a fact. Learn it. Accept it. Forget it. If you love horror. One of the biggest things I tell people is to own what you write. The marketplace is constantly changing and no one—really, honestly, no one—can predict what the next big thing is. For two years now, I’ve hear that it’ll be horror (in the YA realm) and that’s yet to happen. But since the big dystopian rush is over, no one knows what’s hot in YA still.
But like I said, don’t distill your horror in your query. If you have a soft horror—that’s fine. That’s what you wrote. But if you wrote a hard-core-gonna-scare-the-reader-good horror then own that. Show it in your query and pages. While distilling it might get some agents who are just okay with horror to request, if your novel has some serious horror, they won’t want it anymore than if you had been upfront about it at the start.
Own what you write. No one can do it like you.
Don’t #2: Use Stephen King or Anna Dressed In Blood as comp titles.
First off, if you’re writing horror, it’s sort of egoistical to compare yourself to the King. So don’t. Second off, tons of people use his stuff as comps so it’s really meaningless. Same goes for Anna Dressed In Blood in the YA realm. It’s the book credited for the rise in horror—it did better in the market than any before it, and opened the flood gates to a lot of the newer horror books coming out from Flux. For that, all of us should be eternally grateful.
But not everyone should use the comp. Actually, I’d vote on no one using it anymore. It’s really meaningless when 90% of all YA Horror writers (that are using comp titles) use it. When you see it every other horror query, it doesn’t hold the same purpose. Find something (still successful) but more accurate to your story.
Do #3: KNOW your genre.
I feel like this isn’t really applicable to anyone who follows us at Midnight Society, but it’s a huge deal so I’m going to say it anyway. Know your genre. Know it good. Read all the big players. Read all the hyped about newer ones too. Look at them. Dissect them.
What do they have that’s the same as you?
What do they do that no one else did before them?
How does their story structure work?
How do they develop their characters? (Are they likable? Unlikable?)
Is yours different enough from theirs?
This is the key, that last point. If you know your genre before you tackle writing, then you’ll know what’s been done and what to avoid. It’s really hard to be original—trust me, all writers know this—but take something that’s been done before and put a twist on it. Anna Dressed In Blood, for example, made the girl the ghost and not some tragic, love-sick, dead girl but a vicious beast who ripped people to shreds. And yet, she was still lovable.
If you are querying a book that’s already been done, it’ll be much harder to sell it.
Don’t #4: Be a jerk/arrogant/argumentative
This is a universal truth of querying, not just something to know when querying horror. I cannot tell you how many queries say “This will be the next best seller” “Do you want to be a lot of money? Represent me!” “I’ll be the next Stephen King”. While it’s awesome you are confident, no one—no one—wants to work with someone who is that full of themselves.
Next—and I’m like 100% serious here—don’t be argumentative when rejected. Don’t do it. It drives me bonkers when someone replies to a rejection that I’ve sent (I hate sending them, btw) with a “Well, did Bree see this or was it just your decision? Concept xyz was on her #MSWL! Obviously this is something she’s looking for.”
Whoa, hold up, jerk. Who works with her day in and day out? Who actually knows her? Um, that would be me. You follow her on twitter and reference a #MSWL that is over a year old. So, no. I don’t reply to these, and they do nothing but stick in my head for later. (Also, she looks at all of them. She tells me which she wants and what she doesn’t.)
Universal truth of the publishing world: the assistants/interns of today are the literary agents/editors/publicists/marketing gurus of tomorrow.
Don’t be an ass to us, we have long memories.
Do #5: Know & Love Query Shark
Query Shark is a blog ran by literary agent Janet Reid. Know it. Love it. Read it all, front to back. There’s no better way to learn how to structure a query (and how to write in general).
And that’s that! I hope you find it helpful. Good luck with your querying endeavors, writers. I know how bloody it can get in those query trenches.