What is querying?

February 22, 2018

 

Are you looking for a better understanding of the query process? Read on for some excellent resources on proper querying etiquette. 

 

It took two years for me to get to the point of querying. February of 2016 was when I began writing my first novel, August Roman and The Defector. 2016 feels like a life time ago, for many reasons, but I especially feel like a different writer today than when I first began drafting. There were times when I was happily pantsing along with my story, and other times when I just couldn't even look at it. Those times when I couldn't look at it were filled with fear. I was afraid of the grueling work that it takes to compile a full length novel. I was afraid of failure. It took encouragement from writing communities like @storysocial (link to twitter page below, seriously consider joining this weekly chat on writing if you are a writer in search of knowledge and support), and books like On Writing by Stephen King to get me through it. Before I started querying, I looked up everything that I could on the topic. Below is what I learned by research and by practice.

 

When should you begin sending out queries? NOT until you have completely revised, polished and waxed your manuscript. The moment you hit the last period on your keyboard, and sit back and say, "Done!", you're not. Go over it again and then maybe even one more time. Trust me, when I thought I had written everything that I had in my head, I partnered with an editor. It took me a year just to address the notes from her evaluation. Then I reviewed it again.

I stress to you to wait until you are 100% sure that you have a completed manuscript, because if you do get a response from an agent requesting a sample of your work, you need to be ready and confident that it is as good as it can be.

A query is like a resume, mostly for your book, only a tiny bit about you.

 

These are the do's and don'ts of queries:

Do:

 

  1.  Carefully read the submission guidelines on each agency's website. I purchased Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and while it is IMMENSELY helpful, I found that some of the responses regarding the agents rules on queries differed on their websites. This could be because their guidelines can change over time, or because something may have been missed or left out unintentionally.

  2. Appeal to the agent/agency. Personalize the query for the prospective agent/agency. Do research, maybe attend a writer's conference, and find a way to grab that agents attention. Let them know why you chose them. 

  3. Your query should have a pitch/hook that describes what the book is about. Think of it as a sales pitch. Try to entice them while giving them a hint about your story. This is not the same thing as a synopsis, that is a whole other beast for another post!

  4. Your query should indicate the genre/sub-genre and page count. Pretty self explanatory, however please check out the link below for help on the appropriate and expected word count per genre from Writer's Digest.

  5. Your Query should have all of your contact info. And please remember to let them know what your real name is if you are using a pen name.

  6. Lastly, you may include a SHORT bio. You see how I wrote may instead of should, that's because this is the least important factor in your query. There are a few agents that specifically request a little bio, and show an interest in getting a snippet about you, but most want to get down to business. And who could blame them when they are receiving thousands of queries. Can you imagine reading pages of bios, with writer's declaring their life long dreams of becoming published authors? If they ask for it, include it, albeit minimally. If they don't ask for it, KISS it or leave it out.

 

Don'ts

  1. Do not follow up on your query! Some agencies will indicate if they would like you to check back with them. Many will ask you not to follow up. Most indicate that a lack of response is as good as a rejection. Time frames on responses vary, on average I have seen 4-8 weeks and even three months. Patience goes a long way. What's the old adage? No news is good news? 

  2. Do not send your query without proof reading it! Ever get an email from someone at work that fumbles the grammar, or misspells your name? That's annoying.

  3. Do not send them what they do not want. This goes back to Do # 1. Pay attention to their interests, if they do not rep erotica, for goodness sakes don't send it to them! That'll be the quickest click of delete on record. The truth is that we all have tastes, and agents are no different. You want to be rep'd by someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about your genre and work.

  4. Do not send attachments unless they have specified it. I realize that this step is essentially taken care of by Do # 1, but it warrants mentioning because I have read many agent interviews where they express that despite their explicit instructions to not include attachments, many writers send their query emails with attachments. Even if their instructions do not state to avoid them, unless they tell you they prefer them, do not attach. Paste everything in the body of the email.

  5. Do not query more than one agent at a given agency. Many agency sites are kind enough to ask you to submit to only one agent, but some do not mention it. I have reviewed over thirty agency websites and it is a pretty common standard for them to consider a work submitted to one is a work submitted to all. Please, don't double dip. However, it is common courtesy to advise the agent/agency that you have submitted your query to other agencies as well. This way, they respectfully know that they are not the only agents in play.

 

These are what I consider good rules of thumb to follow when querying. Please also check out these sites for more information.

 

  

Writer's Digest word count guide

@storysocial

 

 Jane Friedman's advice on Querying

 

Jeff Herman's Guide

 

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