A Tale of Confusion, Acceptance, Rejection,
and that Annoying Gray Spot In Between
What’s the Next Step?
So you’ve just finished your first novel. You are full of sunshine and rainbows. Nothing feels better than typing The End and knowing you’ve accomplished something with your life. You’ve written A WHOLE NOVEL, 70,000+ words created by your brain and yours alone. You open Google and type into the search bar how to get published. BAD NEWS, FRIEND. Your journey has just begun, and, unfortunately, writing the novel was the easy part.
Now you must move onto round two…
(Insert dramatic music.)
What the Hell is a Query?
A query is the sole means of communication between you and literary agents. A literary agent is the person who will offer you a contract, represent you, peddle your book to publishers, market for you, and do a whole bunch of other useful things. Literary agents get hundreds of unsolicited queries per DAY—not week or month, but day. They have limited time and patience when it comes to unsolicited work.
An agent’s priority is to take care of the authors they already represent, but they also sift through the “slush pile” to find promising authors and novels. A query is the most effective way to present your novel to an agent.
…And Where the HELL Do I Start?
Queries follow a pretty strict format. Remember that you are writing a business letter, and business letters must always be professional.
You begin with Dear [agent’s name]:. Make sure to put a colon, not a comma after the agent’s name. And, please, make sure you spell their name right! You may put some personalization at the beginning, such as: I read in X interview that you are looking for X, so I felt my novel X would interest you. Some agents like personalization, some don’t. I encourage you to do all the research you can on an agent before submitting to them. It will really help you out.
After that you will write a “hook” that hooks the agent and makes them want to keep reading. The hook should be a sentence or two that is attention-grabbing, interesting, and unique to your story. The main character should always be mentioned in the hook. For many people, the hook is the hardest part.
Below I will give some examples of good hooks that I’ve compiled from AgentQueryConnect’s successful queries forum:
“Lifelong skeptic Sarah Griffith doesn’t believe in ghosts, or ghouls, or things that go bump in the night. Imagine her surprise when she discovers her next-door neighbor is Death Incarnate.”—GRAVE INTENTIONS by Lori Sjoberg
“Sixteen-year-old Clementine wants to grow old and live in a place where the moon is a beautiful, glowing orb in the sky instead of an acid-bleeding menace to the planet.”—EXTRACTION by Stephanie Diaz
“16-year-old Dusty Everhart might make a regular habit of breaking into houses late at night, but she’s no criminal. She is a Nightmare, a magical being who must feed on the dreams of others, and in doing so experience those dreams, too.”—THE NIGHTMARE AFFAIR by Mindee Arnett
Do those hooks make you want to read more about the books?
Next come the body paragraphs of the query. The whole query should be no more than 250-300 words, so remember to keep it simple. This is not a synopsis, so there’s no need to list every single thing that happens in the novel. It’s similar to the blurb found on the back of a book. The gist of it is to tell the overall plot of the novel without giving too much away or being too vague. It’s a tricky balancing act. You do not give away all the ending in a query, only give enough information to make the agent want to request pages and find out what happens in your novel.
Be careful that your query doesn’t turn into “character soup”—no more than two or three characters should be introduced in the query to avoid confusion. Remember not to ask rhetorical questions. Clearly present the stakes within the query. The main questions you want to answer are: Who is the main character? What does the main character want to accomplish? What stands in their way? What must they do to overcome that obstacle? What will they lose if they can’t accomplish what they need to?
After the body paragraphs you will state the title, genre, and word count of the novel. XX is a (genre) novel complete at XX,000 words. Your title should always be in all caps. There is no need to state that this is your first completed novel. If this novel is the first in a series, state XX is the first in a potential series. If the book is a standalone with series potential, state that.
Agents do like to see that an author won’t be a one hit wonder. They like to build an ongoing relationship with a client. However, sometimes it’s easier to sell a standalone to a publisher. If you have already begun to work on sequels to your novel, be aware that the plot of the novel may change so much during the editing process that the sequels no longer apply. It’s best to work on a new project when querying.
Be sure to research the proper word count for your genre. Having a very high or very low word count can make or break your chance to be published. Having a word count that is too high means having a novel that needs more paper, ink, and printing, which isn’t economical.
Many authors use comparison titles in the logline. That’s fine, but make sure your novel lives up to the comp title (if it’s a well-known one) and make sure the comp title fits your novel. YA comp titles should be given for YA works, etc.
Within the logline, you may also put any publishing experience or credentials you may have. This is not a place to spill your guts on why you wrote a novel, why you want to be published, nor to put your resume. This is where you list short stories that have been published, if you have an English degree, or any other credentials related to writing. If you have no experience, it is totally fine to omit the bio.
After all that, simply put, “Thank you for your time and consideration.”
Doesn’t sound THAT hard, right?
Writing a query can be a frustrating and exhausting process. I mean, how do you condense all that down to just 250 words? Don’t let this process get the better of you. Above all else, guys, remember to have fun! Open your mind and think outside the box. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to erase it and start from scratch at a different angle.
I Sent My Query and Got Rejected
That’s okay. It’s normal. I’ve heard that somewhere around three percent of authors will be offered representation. That’s not a lot at all.
Rejection and criticism are part of the life of a writer. Your work will always be judged by others. All you can do is make sure your novel is as polished as it can be. If after sending out a few queries you’ve still received no interest, take a look at your query, synopsis, and first few chapters again.
Some published authors weren’t picked up until their seventh manuscript. Mandy Hubbard, author and agent, rewrote one of her manuscripts seven times before she was offered representation for it (CORRECTION: I’m a dummy. Mandy has informed me that her novel PRADA AND PREJUDICE was in it’s 9th draft before it sold to a publisher, and she was agented at the time). Just don’t give up, because you never know. Agents have differing tastes and what one loves another may not be interested in. Agents also cater to trends. If the genre you write just isn’t selling, shelf your work until it becomes popular again.
Anyways, hopefully I haven’t forgotten anything. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
The Query Faerie