When queries attack

Quite often, we get questions from writers concerning the formatting of queries—everything from what exactly to include all the way down to what font is best.  Because Times New Roman and Cambria are great. But Courier? How dare you, sir! Which led me to consider how we as agents approach submissions that might not necessarily line up exactly with our guidelines (which, while I’m at it) and the effect, if any, that can have on a query’s lifespan.

I think the entire concept of submission guidelines is borne out of a two-fold necessity.  At their most basic, they serve to help agents simplify their reading and consideration of material.  Trust me, on those days that the “Unread” counter on your email queries tops triple digits, having a straightforward and to-the-point piece of reading does ease the weight.

On the other side of the coin, submission guidelines also benefit writers in the sense that they aim to demystify the whole process, narrowing down the myriad different ways a query could be put together into a simple, fairly uniform setup. It is, after all, the introduction, so it makes perfect sense why a writer would scrutinize the smaller details—first impressions are important.

At the end of the day, however, the success of a query often has very little to do with the minutiae of formatting, fonts, weighing the merits between attached Word document and text-in-body emails, or what type of fancy resume paper to use. It really does come down to the story, and being able to catch the agent’s eye, leaving them begging to know more.

3 Responses to When queries attack

  1. Thanks for posting this. Part of the problem for first-time writers (and maybe for seasoned veterans who’ve been PAID for their work) is that it all looks the same: a big wall spray-painted with the words DANGER UNSAFE UNKNOWN FAILURE.

    It’s helpful to know that the query process isn’t something that’s required just to make a writer’s life hell. It’s actually a way to get a reasonable idea of what the writing is about, and the goal for the writer is to explain simply and clearly what she has written and, one hopes, tempt the agent to say the magic words “LUNCH IS ON ME!” Or maybe “Yes, please send pages.”

  2. EEV says:

    I guess the best guideline is to make the most professional query possible. The rest unfold by itself.
    The thing is, the more we get worked up in the little details, the less we thing about the big bad monster of rejection…

  3. Donna Hole says:

    Thanks Stephanie. I’ve seen this reminder on other agent blogs, but I never get tired of it. Especially when I’m querying my novel. I need posts like this to warn me to “remember to breathe”.

    Silly, I know, but I get so focused on getting it right the content suffers.


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