What did you always want to know about query letters but were afraid to ask?

I’m taking questions all day today, Tuesday, April 17th, about

Query Letters.

Ask me anything!

(But general questions only, not something specific to just your manuscript.)

Post your question in the Comments space below, and please read the previous questions so I’m not answering the same thing over and over and over and over.

As usual, I’ll keep answering questions until I just don’t feel like it anymore!

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “What did you always want to know about query letters but were afraid to ask?

  1. My question is whether a writer is ever too old to hope for a chance to publish, or is that a kinda silly thought?

  2. Rachel León

    My question is about how much info to write about yourself. I had someone critique my query who said I talked about my writing credentials WAY too much, that there should be no more than two, and that they don’t really matter. Is that true?

    • The most important thing in the query letter is the manuscript. Your bio really should be quite short. I know when I’m reading the bio part, if there’s a whole long list of creds, I just start skimming to the bottom. If you’ve won some kind of literary prize or have previously published books or there’s something else really pertinent, by all means include it. If you’ve published 25 books don’t list them all, just say something like “I’ve published 25 books, one of which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.” :-) You know, if you’re a graduate of a prestigious writing program, include it. This is why I tell writers to have a website or a blog or something, by the way. If you have lots of credentials and lots of stuff that you’d like people to know about you, put up a website. That way, at the end of your query letter, when you sign off, you can have a link to your blog/website, which an agent or editor can click on to find out more about you, if they want.

  3. HI, Linda! Thank you for taking questions today.

    If the work is a collaboration by two unpublished authors (and this is mentioned in the query), are agents more reluctant to ask for material/offer representation than with a single author? Or would it even matter?

  4. vanvasko

    Hi Linda,
    Is it inadvisable to send a query if the manuscript hasn’t been professionally edited?
    Thank you.

    • No. It is inadvisable to send out a manuscript with spelling & grammar mistakes though. So, if you don’t have a trusted friend, critique partner or other person to look over your manuscript, professional editing is certainly an option. There are many avenues to getting all kinds of feedback and “editing” that have nothing to do with paying for professional editing, including finding a critique group, taking a Continuing Education class in a local college, etc…

  5. What is your position on the first paragraph? I believe the Query Shark says to jump right in to your hook, but I’ve heard writers say that if they didn’t lead with a personal address to the agent that they generally got rejected. I’m not asking whether or not to address the agent personally– I’m asking about how to use the very first paragraph.

    Thanks!

    • I don’t think something like this needs to be a hard and fast rule. I mean, in some circumstances it just makes sense to address an agent personally and in others the hook about your book first will work better. See, the thing to remember is that you want the agent to want to keep reading after your first paragraph. So how are you going to get that job done? Pique their interest. If your job is to give hot air ballon rides and you’ve written a steam punk novel with lots of zeppelins in it, you might start your query off saying “I fly hot air ballons for a living.” That goes against the traditional advice about not focusing on yourself until your bio, but it would sure get my attention and keep me reading. How do ou use the very first paragraph? Pique the agent’s interest.

  6. After the introduction and the brief synopsis of the manuscript, as a potential agent do you like to hear about the writer’s “completed” projects and/or current WIP in order to get a feel for her scope/interests ? For instance, if I am querying about a middle grade novel but also have six picture book manuscripts that are “ready,” do you prefer to know this in the initial letter?

  7. For goodness sake, please forgive my grammar there. I am on an iPhone and periodically attacked by an adorable, but characteristically ginger, toddler boy.

  8. So, your query gets turned down by agents Where do you go from there? Rework and resubmit? Do agents hate getting the same book reworked? (Obviously we usually don’t know if it was the content or the writing and what have you.)

    Is there a point where you step away?

    • That’s such a great question. It’s so hard to know why you’re getting rejected when you don’t get feedback. If you do get feedback though, the first thing you want to do is really listen and take the advice of the agent or editor. In the case of just rejections with no feedback, I guess I’d say that after about 20 rejections or so you might want to look at the whole kit and kaboodle. I mean, if you’re getting rejected and never being asked for even a partial or full manuscript, it’s possible that your query letter isn’t doing its job. So start with that. If you’re getting requests to see your work but then getting rejected, take a look at the work itself. And always be writing the next thing, so after a while you can start querying another project. I wouldn’t resubmit to an agent who has rejected you unless they ask you to.

  9. avajae

    What a great opportunity! Let’s see…

    What is something all queries that elicit a partial or full request from you have in common? What about manuscripts that you choose to represent?

    Thanks for answering our questions!

    • I don’t request partials, as my submission guidelines ask for the first 20 pages with the query. Things in common for me to ask for a full are: the author followed my submission guidelines; the letter itself is well-written; the manuscript is about a topic in which I’m interested (hard to pinpoint what that could be, sorry…); it’s either something new and different or it’s a new angle or take on something old; when I read the first 20 my interest is piqued enough that I want to know what happens next (this is key for me).

      I don’t represent individual manuscripts. I represent people! I choose to represent authors that have written manuscripts where when I finish it I want my friends to read it. I know I’ve found something I want to represent when I find myself wanting to talk about it and tell my kids or my husband or my colleagues or my friends about it, whether it’s for the writing, the story, a character. If I think about it when I’m not reading it, that’s a good sign.

      Good questions.

  10. I always read that a writer should research an agent or editor and comment on books they liked that the agent or editor has worked on. Sometimes I am able to do that, but I don’t have 40 hours a week to look for someone to represent me. (You know the drill–there’s still mortgage, health insurance, utilities and food to pay for with paying work!) To keep up with all that reading plus other reading that feeds me seems impossible. How important do you think it is for a writer to reference an agent’s previous work? And thanks for your help.

    • The point about researching an agent isn’t that you need to go out and read all the books they’ve represented and then flatter them with the information, but more that you want to reach out to agents who read and represent the kind of writing you do. You may not have 40 hours a week to look for an agent, but not doing the research will just result in you sending queries to agents who will reject you before they even finish reading your query letter. Put some time into it so you can do focused querying. If you haven’t read the books they’ve represented, what is it about that agent that interests you? (You can also read about their books on so many places on the internet, to see if they’re something you’d like and/or similar to what you write.) And why are you querying that agent? That’s the point of commenting on books they like or represent, to illustrate the connection.