Saturday, January 30, 2010

A few rules to keep in mind when querying

Hi all. It's still query week, and I'm still here. Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday. Things got hectic around here and The Bean refused to let me have any peace. But I'm here now and I'm ready to get down to business.

Okay, writers. You've finished your book. You've gone over it over and over and over again, editing, until you can't stand the sight of it anymore. You've gotten it critiqued by your writing group, your girlfriend, and you Aunt Millie. You're ready to move on to the exciting (read: anxiety-ridden) world of querying!

You basically have two options on who to send these special little letters to.
A) Literary agents
B) Small publishing houses

They both have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you want to do with your book. I won't go into what they are, because you can do that on your own time. I'm also going to try to avoid stuff you should already know. (Like all the stuff you can find just about anywhere, from Writer's Market to I will give you some helpful advice over the next few days on what to put in your query letters. We'll go with the assumption you're sending it to agents (since most of us want to see our books published by big houses), so that's the default recipient I'll be using.

First and foremost (and this deserves its own line, because it is that important):


I shouldn't even have to tell you this, but you would be surprised how many people just don't do it. The bottom line here is that agents get hundreds of query letters every week. They're looking for an excuse to reject you and move on so they can get through them. If you can't even follow simple directions, you are not going to be easy to work with. Rejection.

Next: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever send the same query out to multiple agents at the same time. You want to make agents feel as though a) they're your dream agent (even if they're not) and b) you've done your research and tweaked your query letter just for them. They're not stupid. They know you're not writing a completely original letter for each agent. But they do want to know that there's a reason you picked them out of all the agents out there. And it had better be a good one too. Maybe you read his name on the acknowledgments page of a similar author. Maybe you looked him up on and saw he handled your kind of work. Whatever it is, put it in there. Let him know why you picked him. And please, please, please, don't address them as "Dear Agent".

Next: Always remember, the story is what they care the most about. That should be the main part of your query. The current trend is to actually start out with the story, screw introductions, and get to what I call the "nuts and bolts" of the query after that.

Next: Avoid anything cliched. Again, agents get hundreds of queries a week. Why should he want to read your stuff instead of the other stuff itching for his attention? You want to make your query stand out. And don't do this by using some kind of gimmick. Whatever you thought up is probably lame and has probably been done before anyhow. Be professional, but unique. (And whatever you do, don't write your query as your main character.)

Next: Keep it short and sweet. Get in, tell him what's going on, why you picked him, why he should pick you, and get out. That should be self-evident, but you don't know how many 2-page query letters I've seen.

And last (for now, at least): EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT EDIT.
Just like your manuscript, you want to edit the shit out of this puppy. Get friends to critique it for you. If they're friends that have written successful queries, or friends in the business, even better.

That's all for now. I'm going to be posting examples of good queries and bad queries to show my points.


  1. I heard your good at critting queries, Richie.