Hi everyone! Today I want to go through some basic querying tips to help those who are just starting that process. How do you know when you are ready to query your MS? What should a query letter include? Where can I find examples? That’s what I’m here to answer. Just know that this is a subjective business, so even if you have the best query in the world, if it doesn’t resonate with the agent or editor, it just wasn’t a good fit.
How do I know if I’m ready to query my MS?
You know when your MS is ready after a few things have happened, in this order. First, you’ve finished writing it. Duh. And congrats! Second, you go through it at least once, probably twice on your own. Then, third, you have someone else look at it, preferably multiple someones—hopefully your critique partners and beta readers. Fourth, you’ve revised your MS according to their comments. Take each feedback set with a grain of salt—everyone has their own opinion. But if the same thing gets mentioned, consider fixing that.
This may be my own personal opinion because of how well it’s worked in my critique group, but consider having CP’s and beta’s who read and write in genres different than your own. That way, if they’re hooked, you know you’ve hit the mark and they can help you with things they’re better at. For instance, I write mostly sci-fi and fantasy, whereas all three of my critique partners don’t. They write thrillers, romance, and mystery stories. Without them, I wouldn’t even know how to attempt writing romance.
Lastly, once you’ve done all that—and that’s a lot of work!—you must write a query letter and, I’d suggest doing this now to save yourself the trouble, a synopsis.
**Note: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A QUERY LETTER AND A SYNOPSIS** which you should pay attention to, because I see a lot of agents on Twitter who say people who query them don’t know the difference. Here it is:
A query is like the blurb on the back of a book. It tells you the main characters, the setting, the inciting incident, and what’s at stake if they fail. That’s it. You do not tell the ending. You do keep it to a reasonable word count length—ie. Ideally less than 300 words.
A synopsis is just that—a synopsis of the book. A synopsis has the same details as a query letter, but it tells the reader exactly how the book ends, what the side-plots are, and adds in a few more characters. Synopses vary in length depending on what the requesting agent wants, though, so be sure to form one-page, three-page, and five-page versions just in case.
How do I write a query letter?
As we’ve already discussed, query letters have a few essential parts: intro, hook, main characters (no more than 3), inciting incident, goal, and what’s at stake if your characters fail. That’s a lot to get into ideally less than 300 words!
More than that, you also need to include the title of your work (duh!), the word count, age category (PB, Children’s, Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Adult) and genre.
- Research word counts. Know how many words are ideal for books in both your age category and genre. A 100,000 MG Contemporary Romance probably needs to get cut and reconsidered, but a YA Dystopian like the Hunger Games sat just right at 85,000 words.
- DO NOT SELECT MULTIPLE GENRES. Know your genre. Saying a YA Contemporary Romance is fine (blending contemporary with romance), but saying you have a NA Sci-Fi Fantasy Romance Thriller is not. You know what sounds right and what doesn’t, so use your common sense.
Now you’re ready to query. But who to query?
I suggest using Query Tracker to find agents representing your category and genre. It’s a free membership and it is brilliant. Once you make a list of agents, research them. Find interviews they did on blogs, stalk follow them on Twitter. Find out who they represent and which books they have published. Read one or two of them. Use them as comparative titles if you can—but make sure your novel stands out from any they have previously published. If they already have a client with a book just like yours, they probably won’t take you on.
Build a list, and prioritize agents by who your dream agents are. Then, when you’re ready, send the first batch out. I would recommend not querying your dream agent first. Why? Because you want to make sure your query and sample pages are doing their job correctly before you do that. If your query lacks something and that’s all your dream agent wants first, you’ll want to know that (and fix your query) before you go ahead and send anything to that agent. If your query is getting a lot of requests, then feel free to send it to that dream agent.
**There is a school of thought, here, and even a great recommendation by agents, to not query agents and small publishers at the same time. Daliah Adler has a great article on her blog here that covers the whys and why nots much better than I ever could. READ THAT ARTICLE.**
That’s all my basic tips for today. If you have any specific questions, ask them in the comments 🙂 I’m working on getting a guest post from an agency intern on how to write a great query letter.
Until next time!