We write a lot about queries on this blog. A lot. A query letter is the Moby Dick of the writer looking for an agent—crafting the perfect one can become an obsessive and bloody quest. For those of us on the receiving end, query letters are both bane and blessing. For every well-proofed, well-crafted, lucid missive that makes you want to request a manuscript or proposal and which puts you on the road to representing a work you love, there are hundreds riddled with typos, grandiose or patently false statements, endless plot summaries, and tiny, tiny margins.
And, of course, not all queries we receive can be answered personally. We rely on the dreaded form response to thank authors for their submission and let them know that their work is not what we are looking for right now. Some authors take this to mean that no one read their query letter or that the evil gatekeepers don’t think enough of them, in particular, and all writers, in general, to send a personal response. Not true. We do read everything we receive (some things more quickly than others) and the reason most people get a form letter back is that we simply don’t have the time or manpower to send individual responses to the thousands of queries we receive every week.
Most authors who have educated themselves about the business understand that a form letter or even a personal one simply means that you need to try someone else. Or, if you’re getting them from everyone in town, that you should re-evaluate your query and see if you can make it better, more eye-catching. In some cases, it may mean that you need to re-evaluate the work you’re pitching because clearly the description you are giving doesn’t appeal to anyone. The ideal response is to try to learn from this as from all other steps in the arduous publishing process, which is why I liked this upbeat piece in the HuffPost.
Here’s a short tip list:
- Follow the agent’s submission guidelines and only query them in areas you know they are interested in.
- Proofread, for goodness sake. (Don’t send it to an agent at a different agency than the one your envelope is addressed to, and make sure there are no embarrassing typos.)
- If you have a connection to the agent you’re querying, use it. Don’t be shy about mentioning that so-and-so asked you to submit your work, or that your aunt Mary is the agent’s husband’s former babysitter.
- Don’t summarize the entire plot of the novel in the query letter; try to come up with a good “high concept” pitch.
- Do tell us anything important, exciting, unusual about you or the work.
- Don’t compare your work (or yourself, for that matter) to that of people so iconic and brilliant that you will only suffer by comparison.
- Do know your category and what kinds of books yours might be a shelf mate to.
- Don’t cram 500 words into one page.
- Make sure all of your contact information is included. (We’ve actually had instances where we have not been able to contact people who have submitted work to us because they did not provide contact information. I know, right?)
Does this help? Do you guys feel your querying process has been satisfactory if not necessarily successful? What bugs you most about sending out queries?