Ask a Real Live Agent Your Question About Query Letters!

I am taking questions today (3/2/2012) about Query Letters.

Ask me anything! There are no stupid questions!

(Well, yes there are. But ask anything anyway!)

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

I’ll keep answering questions until I run out of steam. Or just don’t feel like it anymore.

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48 Comments

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48 responses to “Ask a Real Live Agent Your Question About Query Letters!

  1. Hi Linda,
    I’ve heard varying thoughts on whether to start out a query with the title/w.c./”I read in an interview that you like books about wisecracking faeries, so…” or just dive into the synopsis. Is the order of the query a big deal?

  2. Pingback: Query letters and what’s a girl to do? | Kitty Hietala

  3. Linda I always thought that query letters were accompanied with samples of some work? Am I wrong about that? I have been told by other writers that I have publishable qualities. I am also a big chicken and find rejection devastating. So you say five sentences on the end of a fishing line will do the trick!! “If you hurt my feelings I will cry” should probably not be included as one of the sentances. Would love a big hint from the agent!

    • The big hint is this, Molly: You have to have a thick skin if you’re going to seek publication. You can’t get devastated or you won’t be able to move forward and revise, fix, tweak, polish, revise, revise, revise, and ultimately submit again, and again, and again. And that’s what it takes!

  4. Thank you for taking the time to answer questions Linda! I sent you my query last week, so I don’t have anything to add, but these answers are very informative.

  5. Great questions and answers. I was especially interested in the ‘reveal’ one and hope you will do a blog post on that one. 🙂

  6. Barbara

    The first 20 pages of my novel contain a two page Native American short story that will require permission from Oregon State University Press. The words are spoken by one of the characters in my story, a Native American Will this detract from the success of my query letter? I have also written music to go with the story, although the story can stand alone without the music. Should I mention this in my query?

    • You should get the permission for the short story use now, that way you can include that you have it in your query letter. There’s a possibility you won’t be able to get the permission and you want to make sure you’re querying with a viable manuscript. If you can’t get the permission, you’ll need to revise your manuscript. I’m not really certain what your intention is, regarding the music. I wouldn’t include anything extraneous. The purpose of your letter is to get an agent’s interest. If you think that will hook an agent, include it.

  7. Wow, can’t believe my question hasn’t been asked yet!

    Is it important for an author to state in the query that he/she is querying multiple agents? I’ve been trying to develop a query that shows that I know what an agent represents and why he/she would be interested in my work — but then the sentence, “I’m querying multiple agents” seems to stick out like a sore thumb!
    Thanks,

    Barbara

    • I’m not sure what the “proper” etiquette on this is. But for me, I just assume everyone’s querying multiple agents. I think anyone who’s querying should be querying multiple agents.

  8. What should be included in a query for a memoir?

    • To me, most memoirs are just good stories that happen to be true, that happened to you. So treat it like a fiction query. And there should be a pretty compelling reason that you think other people would be interested in reading about your life. Otherwise, write whatever you need to write, but write it for yourself. Don’t seek publication. (Harsh, but true, nevertheless.)

  9. Are you seeing any trends in the queries you receive that make you hit the reject button like you’re playing whack-a-mole?

  10. Hi, thanks for this opportunity! My questions are regarding your own query guidelines. You ask for 1 paragraph bio and 1 paragraph synopsis, so does this mean a full synopsis (ie: where you give away the ending) as opposed to what a query letter usually contains? Also do you really want a bio when the writer doesn’t have any relevant writing credentials? I usually skip the bio portion in query letters because in my case it feels like a waste of the agent’s time to tell them you are published in scientific journals or whatever, when it’s not directly relevant to the manuscript you’re querying. I guess that is also a more general question about bios in queries. Thanks again!

    • Regarding your bio, yes, I would like to know that you’ve been published in scientific journals. It shows me you’re a professional and also that someone, somewhere thought that your writing, whatever kind of writing it was, was good enough to put in print. You can also state that you haven’t published fiction, if you want. I like to know a little bit of who you are. If you’re a neuroscientist writing Romance novels, that’s cool. It’s only one sentence. (And no, I don’t represent Romance.)

      Someone else also asked about the synopsis giving away the ending…

  11. Elisabeth Anton

    This is the body of my query. What’s wrong with it, if anything?

    ‘Grace, an American nurse, volunteers for the Red Cross in Zanzibar in 1963. She falls in love with Rory, an English aristocrat, whose family helped colonize the island. In January 1964, a revolution sweeps the island and destroys their love affair. Grace is repatriated, and falls into the arms of her long-suffering boyfriend, Ned. Rory mysteriously disappears amid rumors of his involvement in the Arab massacre.’
    ‘Forty-five years later, Grace commits suicide. Her son, Conrad, finds her journals and becomes convinced Rory is his true father. He sets out to find him by retracing Grace’s steps in Zanzibar. He teams up with Tali, a film-maker who has reasons of her own for finding Rory. They track Rory deep into the Serengeti, where they finally confront him – and their feelings for each other. The truth has consequences as devastating as they are far-reaching; Conrad will never be the same.’

    Thanks!

  12. Regarding personalization, how important is it to specify why we are querying that particular agent? And what if we can’t find interviews or any specifics, and we are querying them merely because we know they rep a certain genre, do we just say something like, “I noticed you represent YA contemporary and feel you may be interested in my novel, X.” Is that sufficient, or is it better to not say anything and just jump right into the query?

    Thanks, Linda! 😀

    • Personally, I don’t really care where you found me. What I do care about is that you know my name, spell it correctly, and that I’m never addressed as “to whom it may concern.” I also care that you know what I represent and like to read. For more about that though, read my January 13th blog post on Pandering to Agents in your Query.

  13. Hi Linda,

    When sending a query letter for a book that I know is going to be part 1 of a series (it’s a good book on it’s own but the overall story is nowhere near finished) should I mention it in the query letter and if so how?

    Best wishes,

    Noortje

  14. D U Okonkwo

    HI Linda,

    Where are you in regards to your queries? I sent you mine om 23rd Jan and want to be sure you got it.

    duo

    • Another GREAT question! I should really have something on the blog that gives that info but I don’t have the wherewithal to deal with that right now. As of today I have answered all queries before JANUARY 20th. If anyone hasn’t heard back from me either a. You didn’t submit properly and I trashed it, so read the submission guidelines and re-submit, or b. Your query got stuck in my spam filter so you need to fix whatever’s wrong with it that makes my spam filter think you’re evil and re-submit. I have also responded to all full manuscripts requested that I received before December 19th. That’s a little slower going.

  15. Van Vasko

    What are the rules pertaining to length? I am assuming that with the query some chapters of the manuscript will be included, an intro and chapters one and two, so how long is too long? Should the table of contents be included?

    • (Please don’t let me make any comments about size not mattering. Ooops! Too late.) Regarding what to include with your query letter, you should follow the agent’s submission guidelines. I’m assuming we’re talking about fiction. For fiction I request the first 20 pages. I wouldn’t want a table of contents. If your intro is longer than 20 pages you’ve probably got a problem anyway. If it’s non-fiction I request the full proposal, which of course would include a table of contents, plus a sample chapter.

  16. Hi Linda,
    Thank you for the amazing opportunity to ask a question. Very generous!

    Is it acceptable – maybe desirable is more appropriate – to include “comparables” in a query? For example, a sentence such as “This book will appeal to readers of .”

    Many thanks for your time.
    Orly

    • I might be alone in this, but I don’t mind comparisons. It gives me an idea of where you think your book might be shelved in a bookstore. Of course, when authors compare their writing style to other authors, I think it’s ridiculous. Of course you think you’re the next Jonathan Franzen, Judy Blume or Stephen King!

  17. If you are turned down by an agent, is it acceptable to resubmit with an improved query/manuscript? It can be confusing as to whether it was a poor query, a poor story, or maybe an agent not wanting that kind of story at all when the rejection comes.

    And also, does it ever happen that a person queries *too* often where there name just causes a possible glazing over of the eyes, lol?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions today!

    Sincerely,

    Summer Heacock

    • If I turn someone down it’s usually because I’m not interested, plain and simple. When I’m interested, but I don’t think the writing’s up to my standards yet, I’ll offer a revise/resubmit. Regarding authors querying too often, it does get annoying if the same person keeps querying me with things I don’t like, read, or represent. My eyes don’t glaze over. They roll in my head.

  18. Thank you so much for the excellent advice. Much appreciated, as usual.

    Joey

  19. About halfway through my novel a big secret is revealed – and if I’ve done it right, will come as a big surprise to readers. In a query, do I need to state the secret when I describe my book? I think knowing the surprise ahead of time affects the reading of the manuscript in a negative way. Of course, without revealing it, my description of the story might sound too vague.

    As an agent do you want all the major plot points covered or is the promise of a payoff enough to entice you to read more? (The novel is also more character rather than plot-driven).

    • This is a great question. I might even have to do a whole blog post on this, at some point. I don’t like it when the author spills the beans in the query. But here’s the thing: if you can do a good job of writing a suspenseful query letter that has me wanting to read your manuscript to see what’s going to happen, then there’s a good chance you do that same good job in your manuscript.

      I definitely do NOT want all the major plot points covered. I want a very, very short synopsis and then I want you to tell me what it is about your manuscript that will make me want to read it. Is it suspenseful? Funny? Lyrical? Is it fast-paced or does it take its time wandering down a country road? Is it about the apocalypse, or raising goats, or raising children? All three? Do you deal with issues of self-esteem, self-pollution, selflessness? All three?

      Some agents may disagree. I say keep the secret.

  20. sarahpalma

    Hi Linda,
    I just finished a Young Adult novel. Lately I’ve been reading that that the only type of novel agents are interested in right now, are supernatural novels for this age group? Do you find this to be true? Do you think I have a harder road ahead when querying agents?

    Thank you very much.

    Sincerely,
    Sarah Barkoff Palma

  21. Rachel León

    Thanks, Linda, for the opportunity to ask questions. I found your blog via Literary Rambles so am a new follower, but I really enjoy it.
    I keep rewriting my query and am not sure what is better– short and brief, or longer with more detail? (When I say long I mean keeping it to a page. I know agents don’t have tons of time to read queries.) There are so many sample formats out there and I’ve seen both short two paragraph ones and longer four or five paragraph samples. I’ve written two versions of my query-one concise, one longer, so which do I send? (I wondered about sending the short one to any agent that also requests a synopsis and/or sample pages and the longer one to agents that don’t want anything but the query?)
    Thanks in advance for taking the time to answer, Linda!

  22. Good morning Linda!

    My question is this..I read Query Shark often, but would like your opinion on the upper limit of an acceptable word count for a query.

    Also, are you going to do any more query contests? (Thank you so very much for the last one you offered here on the blog).

    Joey

    • I wouldn’t mess with the Shark, if I were you. Personally, I don’t count words. I like query letters to be business-like: An intro paragraph (3-4 sentences), 1 or 2 paragraphs telling me about the book (about 5 sentences each), a paragraph telling me about you (1 -5 paragraphs, maybe), a sentence or two assuring me you’ve followed my submission guidelines. So, um, how many words is that?

      Yes, I will do more query contests, as time and inclination allows.

  23. Sarah

    Are you a fan of the X meets Y formula? If so, can one of them be a classic older book? I’m modifying the classic book title with “modern.” Here’s a made up example:

    “The boy and his dog pathos of a modern Where The Red Fern Grows meets the zany antics of Nerds.”

    Thanks, Linda!

  24. Hong Tran

    When emailing a query for a fiction novel, how important is it to already have a platform, such as a blog, website, etc. for an unpublished author? Does this generate more interest to agent? What if one who does not have a platform but has a twitter or website but with not many followers or visitors?

    Do you recommend an unpublished author to build a platform?

    I know I’m asking many questions, but you’re welcome to answer only one!