So I'm actually going to try to effect the purpose of this blog now, which is to chronicle my Adventures in Query Land.
First, I am still very confused as to what agents are looking for in a query. I shouldn't be. I have done my research. In fact, I think I may have over-researched it. For example, Janet Reid (who is, by all accounts, a query ninja) on Query Shark wants you to get right down to business. Your first sentence should be: "MC's problem is (insert awesome problem here)." She doesn't want you to start off with why you're querying her or how you found out about her. Check it out: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2009/10/136.html
However, I recently found an example of a successful query letter that seemingly breaks this rule: http://www.elizabethfama.com/2012_01_01_archive.html. Also, see the Nelson Literary Agency's FAQ, which specifically requests you to state why you are contacting the agency. A link to the FAQ page is here: http://www.nelsonagency.com/faq.html#6
Despite all of my confusion, I believe Corinne Jackson's guidance is the most helpful. She shares one anonymous agent's simple instructions and how it worked for her: http://corrinejackson.com/wordpress/2009/07/30/query-me-crazy/. In case you really don't feel like clicking on the link and learning something cool, here is the advice she received:
1.Protag and their problem
2.What they’re going to do about problem
3.Conflicts that keep them from achieving goal
4.Stakes: what happens if they don’t succeed. Why the reader should care
Limit to 150-200 words and only include essentials. Don’t talk about the plot, but the characters and the struggles they must overcome.
There, see. Not too hard. I found that when I revised my own query (which I am still not ready to send to anyone) to fit this model, it worked much better.
Second, there is so much information out there regarding agents that it is almost overwhelming. Just when I was about to hit up B&N for one of those thick, expensive books setting out all of the literary agents in the universe, I happened upon a free Kindle download of HOW TO GET A LITERARY AGENT by Michael Larsen. (http://www.amazon.com/How-Literary-Agent-Michael-Larsen/dp/1402205600) Larsen basically told me never to buy that book, because literary agents simply move around too much for that book to ever be completely up-to-date. Man, I am so glad I listened to him. He told me to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/) to research agents. Oh my gosh, that man is a genius. It has everything! It tells you which books were sold to which editors by which agents! It has links to information about agents! The links set out agents' submission rules! I thought I had hit the motherload and that my quest for ultimate knowledge had finally ended.
But wait - agents often share things on Twitter and on their blogs relating to what they're looking for, what they're not looking for, what they hate, what they love, and (most importantly) whether they are still open to querying. You have to follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their blogs to make sure you are actually targeting the right agents and (again, importantly) not pissing them off.
For example, after thoroughly researching agents, I decided that Joanna Volpe is the sh**. I was so about to query her, when I stumbled upon this: http://ncliterary.blogspot.com/search/label/queries. Joanna is closing to queries!?!??! No!!!!!
Do you see what I mean? If I hadn't been diligent, I would never have seen this post, and therefore, my delicately-crafted query letter would have floated off into outerspace to hang out with all of the other loser queries written by people who also had not done their homework.
So that's where I am in the process. Limbo. I need to revise the hell out of my query letter and MS all while making sure I still maintain a firm grip on which agents to query. Once I venture out into the world and send off my very first query, I will let you know!