Recently I’ve done a bunch of query critiques for conferences and also did an interview on using Twitter in the query process, so I have queries on the brain! And I figured this was the perfect time to see what kinds of questions aspiring authors on Twitter are dying to have answered. I’m glad I did, as the questions I got back are smart and interesting, and a couple are even new to me! So thanks to all those who sent questions.
If you query a new literary agent at a reputable agency but find little about her online, any query tips to personalize your letter?
I suggest phrasing it in a way that reflects your research on the agency and your understanding of the benefits of working with a newer agent—new agents are eager to find great talent for their lists and often have more time for debuts than more experienced agents with deep lists. “I read you’re newly building your list at Tony the Tiger Literary Agency and hope that your agency’s expertise in cookbooks alongside your enthusiasm for debuts will be the perfect combination for my 68,000 book club novel, A FROSTED FLAKE LOVE STORY.
Should you start the query letter by explaining who you are or what your story is about?
My preference is for your personal details/bio to come after the story pitch. I like the query to open with the reason you’re querying me and the key info about your project: word count, category, title, comps. Then the story pitch, followed by your writing credits, associations, conferences, and any life or career experience that informed this book.
If an agent wants trigger warnings, what’s the best way to incorporate into the query?
A good query rule-of-thumb is to keep things short and simple, so I suggest including the trigger warning in your opening, alongside your personalization to the agent and your word count, category, and comps. Perhaps something like:
“My 78,000-word psychological thriller THE GREEN LIGHT will appeal to fans of Amy Gentry and Rena Olsen. Please be aware, my manuscript includes a graphic depiction of child abuse.”
Where do you usually stop reading in a manuscript? If you make it 75% would you finish?
It varies from manuscript to manuscript how far I get before I realize it’s not going to work for me. If I request your full after reading your query and 25 pages, that means I’m hooked on your concept and drawn in by your writing, so as I’m reading I’m hoping that that potential holds up all the way through! If the story starts to fall apart in a way that I don’t have a vision to fix, if I can’t buy in to the character’s choices, if I find my attention wandering or realize I’m just not enjoying the read, I’ll feel sad, but I’ll probably move on to the next MS. Sometimes that’s page 40, sometimes it’s page 125; once I know it’s a No, I’m not going to waste both of our time just for the sake of finishing. On the other hand, if I’m reading and editors are coming to mind who would like it, or I find myself wanting to keep reading when I get off the subway, or I get excited about how to fix plot issues, then I read looking for reasons to say Yes and position the book for success!
If you have a burning question about querying, pipe up in the comments and perhaps I’ll do another FAQ soon! And for more query advice, check out my Writer’s Bone interview here, and keep an eye on the #querytip hashtag on Twitter.