Monday, March 21, 2011

Quick Query Tips

Queries, Queries, Queries...

I've got them on the brain again since I did my query critique giveaway. I'll do another one in April, but until then, here are a few tips:

These aren't all-encompassing or hard-and-fast rules...just a few things that seemed to help streamline the process for me.

1. Shorter is better. The blurb I have for CHEATER BEATERS on my sidebar was the entire synopsis for that query, and I received (by far) the most responses on that book. While I don't think most books can have that short a synopsis (none of my others did), the goal should be: Entice don't explain. Raise questions don't give answers (esp about the ending of your book).

2. Add voice and tone without being gimmicky. This is a fine line sometimes, but an important one not to cross. Multiple readers can help with this.

3. I'm going to go against grain and say personalizing letters (beyond putting the right name at the top) isn't all that important, though research is. Follow submission guidelines, which can vary from agent to agent, even within an agency, and submit to agents who fit your genre, or closest to it if it's a great agency w/o a perfect fit (that's how I got my wonderful agent). 

4. Flow is so important. Agents read hundreds of these things a day. Having to slow down to read yours could mean they will stop. No separate sentences describing your protag. Blend that in with the plot. Read it out loud. Repeatedly. Also, feel free to abbreviate the genre and word count after the title in parentheses. As in: CHEATER BEATERS (YA Romance 65K). This little shortcut allows you more options for how to put this needed info into the query without taking up a whole sentence for that alone.

5. Make a wish list of respectable agents (check Preditors and Editors, my fav spot), but don't send from the top of your wish list to the bottom until you know you have a "working" query. Send five or six "testers" to a mix of agents from the top, middle and bottom of your list (the bottom ones still being respectable but small, or maybe ones who don't "exactly" specialize in your genre). When you get your first request or two, you know you have a "working" query. Then send to your top picks.

6. Rejections are part of the process. Like dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. I broke out in hives (literally), for the first and only time, after I mailed out my first set of queries. Even the form rejections hurt in the beginning, but later it was only the "close, but not quite" ones that gave me real pain. Remember, it's a numbers game.There are usually at least fifty respectable agents you can query in your genre. Then you can start the process over again with the next book.

Any questions? Comments? Concerns? As I said, these aren't hard-and-fast I love discussions, so feel free to disagree :)


  1. Great tips, and I'm jealous of your succinct blurb for CHEATER BEATERS--it does a great job of selling your story to potential readers (like me!).

  2. I love the suggestion not to query your top picks first. I think that's important.

    And, I agree with the personalizing thing. It's nice but it's not going to be why an agent requests your writing. And sometimes, it can sound kind of forced, which I don't think helps at all.

    Long or short, I think the voice and premise sticks out the most. I've read both on GTLA blog.

    Great advice, Jennifer!

  3. All great tips. I loved that you went against the grain about personalizing the queries and that research is more important. I agree with Laura, I think voice is one of the most important things.

  4. Great tips, just like the ones you gave me on my query! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  5. Great post. I'm working on a query right now, and I'm just not quite happy with it. I'm hoping if I think of other things for a while, when I return to it I'll have query redraft genius! ;-)

  6. Love this advice! Especially "Entice, don't explain." So true!

  7. Thanks for the tips. Always so helpful!

    Marie at the Cheetah