Today I’m going to talk about queries. I feel like this is probably one of the most discussed step of the publishing process, with plenty of information out there. Because of that, I’m not going to go too in-depth. To learn more, I highly suggest you check out Query Shark, and Susan Dennard’s website.
What is a query?
A query is a one-page summary of your manuscript.
What do I include in a query?
In a query, it’s important to list the title of your book, the word count (rounded to the nearest thousand), genre and category, a brief summary of your book (aim for about 250-300 words), and a very brief bio if you have one. A bio is only necessary if you have writing related credits. If you don’t, this is fine to skip!
The advice I find myself offering the most in queries is that you need to make sure the stakes are very, very clear. Remember, this isn’t a summary of your book, and agents are only looking for a few specific things. Here’s what they want to know:
Who is your character(s)?
What do they want?
Who/what is stopping them from getting that?
What happens if they don’t get it (STAKES!)
Why are you the one to write this? (if necessary, in the brief bio)
What don’t I include in a query?
You don’t want to tell the agent what happens in the entire book. You don’t want to include every step of the plot and every twist. Save this for the synopsis. You also want to restrict your bio to relevant information only. If you’re writing a book for kids and your kids read and loved your book, congratulations, pat yourself on the back. But don’t put that in your query! Save your bio for writing credits, or anything related specifically to your manuscript (like if your main character is a scientist and you have a degree in science. That stuff is fine!)
I think I’m done with my query. How do I know if it’s ready to send?
So here’s the thing: it’s hard to know. Really, it is, and it never gets any easier. The only advice I have is that you need to follow your gut. But here’s a little checklist to help you decide whether or not you might be ready:
Have you read your ms and query a million times?
Have you enlisted beta readers or CPs to read it and tell your their thoughts?
Have you checked out sites like Query Shark?
Is your formatting correct?
Do we understand your character, their desire, and what’s at stake for them?
Have you proofread your manuscript multiple times, and hopefully found
critique partners to read it, as well?
Are you confident that your manuscript is in the best possible shape you can
Have you done appropriate research on agents who are looking for your genre?
If you can answer yes to all this, then congratulations, you’re ready to query!
Do you have any advice?
Why yes, yes I sure do.
Make sure you’ve done your research on agents. Many agencies only let you query one agent at the agency, so make sure you’ve done your research to determine who is a best fit for your book. Agents often have bios on their agency site, but also check out their Twitter account and MSWL.
Do NOT send batch queries. Send them individually, one at a time. Does this take more time? Yes. Querying is a grueling process. But you can’t take shortcuts with this, because if you do your query will be deleted immediately.
Be professional! Lightly personalize the query if you can, but always be profession, even if the agent seems like someone you could kick back and have beers with.
Get others to look at your query. I like to get 3-5 people to look at mine and tell me what does or doesn’t make sense.
Remember, even if your manuscript snags you an agent, it is not their job to polish your book. You do not write an “okay” book, and then assume an agent will take it to the next level. Yes, many agents work with their authors to polish the manuscript and whip it into shape, but they’re not going to take the time to make an “okay” story “good.” They’re going to want an amazing, polished story, and might take the time to shine it up into something even more spectacular. But do not assume it’s their responsibility to make your book better. Most agents, in my experience, prefer books that are just about ready (if not ready!) for submission. It’s your responsibility to get it into the best shape you possibly can, not theirs.
Not all agent offers are equal. This really deserves it’s own blog post, but for now I’ll say this: ignore the “it only takes one yes” crap. No. It takes a GOOD yes. It takes a yes from someone you can trust with your career, and whose editorial vision aligns with yours. A bad agent is worse than no agent. Repeat after me, a bad agent is worse than no agent.
I’ll share my query in the future, once I’m able to, but in the meantime you should check out the hundreds of sample queries on Query Shark!
Be patient. Querying sucks, but it works.
Thank you guys so much for reading! I know this stage of the process is tough, but remember that everyone goes through it, and just keep going!
Next up on the blog: The Call