Answers to Three Quick Questions on Queries

Should my query be long or short?

I say err on the side of brevity. That is to say, some agents might not mind long queries but others (myself included) prefer shorter ones. So you don’t turn anyone off, your best bet is to go with something on the shorter side, whilst keeping it catchy and terrific. I’ve blogged extensively on what to include/not include and how to structure a query letter. I can revisit that another day, too.

What’s the scoop regarding comp titles?

If you’re going to use comp titles, choose wisely. For example, perhaps you don’t want to say you’ve written the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars. A comp title should be used so that the person reading the query gets a sense of what your story’s about. So, if you said, “My story is like Game of Thrones with a cast of rats,” I’d totally get what you were going for (and I’d definitely pass on that… sheesh!). Or if you said, “My story has the feel of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, only set in New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina,” it would also be clear. So if you’re going to use comp titles (and it’s not required), make the comps work to explain your manuscript, don’t compare your work to another author’s (especially a blockbuster author’s).

How much should you suck up to the agent?

Don’t suck up. If you’ve met the agent, you can mention it, if you want. If you really adore some of their client’s work, you can tell them. But making stuff up because you’re supposed to try to “connect” usually comes across as inauthentic, in my opinion. It’s nice to know when a blog follower queries me, because I can thank them for following. But it doesn’t earn them “points” or something; I don’t read their queries any differently. So yeah, don’t suck up.

What else do you want to know about queries?


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Query Quiz: What Gets an Immediate Deletion vs an Email Rejection?

imagesI’m in a bad mood. But I’ve made a commitment to myself to try to blog weekly. So. Here’s a quiz. Doing which of these things will have me just delete your query unanswered, versus me sending you a curt email? Answers are below.

  1. Send me a query with an attachment
  2. Query me with multiple projects
  3. Query me on Facebook Messenger
  4. Query me with a genre I don’t represent
  5. Query me with an age level I don’t represent
  6. Add me to a cc list with a bunch of other agents
  7. Get my name wrong or do a Dear Sir/Madame or To whom it may concern
  8. Send me a query that, if printed out, would go on for a few pages
  9. Re-query me with something I recently rejected
  10. Query me even when I’m closed to all queries
  11. Send me a query to an email other than my querylinda email
  12. Query me when I’m closed to queries, except for post conference, for a conference over a year ago, unrequested.

untitledOk, here are my responses: 1,6,7,9,10 all just get deleted, unanswered.


imgresThe others get curt responses, such as: “All queries should go to my querylinda@ email address” and “I only represent children’s literature” and “Sorry, but I really am closed to queries.”
imgres-1But just so you know, here’s what goes on in my head:

  1. Delete, mother fucker! Bwa ha ha!
  2. Why? Why would you do this? Why don’t you know not to do this?
  3. Really? Just. Really?
  4. You clearly don’t know anything about me. Ugh!
  5. Why? Why don’t authors do their research?
  6. Another delete! Yes! Yes! Bwa ha ha!
  7. What, the actual, fuck? Delete.
  8. Skim, skim, skim, skim.. sigh… form rejection.
  9. I can’t even. Delete.
  10. Delete. Just delete.
  11. How would someone think this is ok? Why would they think they’re special?
  12. Holy moly. Really?

Ok. So, I’m sorry I’m blogging while grumpy. I shouldn’t do that. But I haven’t actually given you any misinformation. I’m sure I’m not the only agent who’s thought these things. And I’m sure there are much nicer people out there than I. But I know you guys count on me for being a straight shooter. And I know you guys know I sometimes lack a filter. So. There you have it!

For the record, I am currently closed to all queries, except for the Open Call to Muslim Writers (who are not exempt from having to follow my submission guidelines).


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Authors on Craft: Bill Konigsberg on Surprises

honestly-benI write for the surprises.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like the moments when it feels like I have some semblance of control over my story, and I know what I want in a scene, and it happens correctly, and the prose feels solid and evocative.

But the best is when something happens as I’m writing that surprises me. Because in my experience, those surprises are where the magic lives.

Here’s an example: In my novel HONESTLY BEN (coming from AAL Books/Scholastic, March 28th) I have two characters who are in love but struggling to admit it. One is a gay boy named Rafe. He has known he’s in love with Ben for a long time, but he also is aware that Ben isn’t gay, or doesn’t consider himself to be gay. They had a fling but it didn’t work for various reasons, and there was a lot of pain for both characters.

Now they’re trying to negotiate their feelings and their relationship, and in a scene I wrote for the middle of the book, I have them beginning to get closer, beginning to regain trust. I had them going for a late night drive to the ocean in frigid February in Massachusetts. I went into writing the scene with no real goal except for them to come away from the scene feeling more in tune with each other.

I thought they might run into the ocean naked together. Yes, that would be chilly! That was just a thought of what might happen.

Instead, as I wrote, I found Ben chasing Rafe in a joking sort of way along the hard sand.

And then: a surprise.

Ben leaps and tackles Rafe. Hard. On the sand. And they wrestle. In a serious way. I was not expecting that! I thought they’d dealt with a lot of their feelings, but it was so, so right, and I knew it as it happened. They quarrel verbally while wrestling, and when it’s done, they’re better.

That there is a surprise! As I was writing, my skin got all shivery.

There was a level, a layer, of passion that I did not understand until the tackle and wrestling appeared, and it carried me, it gave me a sense of momentum that would carry the book to its climax. Without the surprise, I simply don’t know how I would have moved forward.

Sometimes our best plans aren’t good enough, and we don’t know it. Not until a surprise appears.

And I guess my point is that when our novels take an odd turn, we have a choice. We can nix it. We can decide it doesn’t fit into our perceived ideas of what the book is, or what is going to happen. We can steer the ship rather than allowing the ship to turn on its own. That’s my prerogative.

But I tend to think that when a surprise happens, I need to have a little faith that it means something. That I should follow it, and see where it leads. Because to me, surprises are God-or-Whatever’s way of showing up and leading me somewhere.

And I’m going to follow!

konigsberg headshotBill Konigsberg is the award-winning young adult author of four novels. THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH won the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Stonewall Book Award in 2016; OPENLY STRAIGHT won the Sid Fleischman Award for Humor, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in 2014; His debut novel, OUT OF THE POCKET, won the Lambda Literary Award in 2009. HONESTLY BEN, available in March 2017, has already received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Bill is Assistant Professor of Practice at The Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. He lives in Arizona with his husband, Chuck, and their Australian Labradoodles, Mabel and Buford.


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