Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#10) - Writer's Digest

Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#10)

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is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It's meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back to the beginning of the series.


What if the agent reading your query can tell that you, the writer, have categorized your novel in the wrong genre? How important is it to get it absolutely right in the query letter?
The biggest drawback when misidentifying your genre is that you might query an agent who has no interest in that genre.

But don't worry about it too much. Agents and editors know that genres can have fluid or changing definitions—plus a publisher's marketing department might adjust the category or genre strictly for sales purposes!

With the holidays coming, is it wise to go ahead and send query letters now, or should I wait until January or even February?
I advise avoiding holiday season; wait until January or February. You might also enjoy the insights at agent Nathan Bransford's blog on timing: Is There a "Best Time" to Query?

If you posted your work serially online (before final revisions) and in its entirety, is that something you would want to mention in your query? Would it hurt your chances to get published if you did post your work for a limited run in its entirety online?
There are differing opinions on this. Generally, I advise disclosing anything you do that strategically distributes (or publishes) your work online over an extended period of time. But if you've taken the work down, and it never reached that many people to begin with, there is probably no need to mention it.

The big question is: Is it possible you have damaged the future sales potential of the work? For most writers, the answer is no, especially if your work has been revised and polished since you shared it, and also if you shared it in a very different format or medium than what a publisher would expect to do with it.

You can find my longer responses here:

Stop Being Afraid of Posting Your Work Online

Giving Stuff Away Is Not a Strategy

I sent my manuscript to the agent who requested it, but I forgot to ask anything about exclusivity. What is customary with agents, or does it vary from person to person, and if so, if another agent asks to see it and I haven't heard from the first, do I say I have to wait to hear from agent #1?
Agents aren't expecting an exclusive on your manuscript unless they specify it with you in advance. I don't recommend granting an exclusive unless it's for a very short period (less than a month).

If you have a second request for the manuscript before you hear back from the first agent, then as a courtesy, let the second agent know it's also under consideration elsewhere (though you don't need to say with whom). If the second agent offers you representation first, go back to the first agent and let her know you've been made an offer, and give her a chance to respond.

If both agents end up offering representation, then interview them both individually and decide which one seems like the better fit for you and the work. Usually it's the one who is most enthusiastic.

I noticed that all of your sample query authors compare their books to those of well-known published authors. Is this advisable?
This can be helpful as long as you do it tastefully, and without self-aggrandizement. It's usually best to compare the work in terms of style, voice, or theme, rather than in terms of sales, success, or quality.

Is there any situation in which I can query by telephone?
No, unless the submission guidelines say to do so.

Is it better to query via e-mail, if allowed?

Usually, yes. E-mail can lead to faster response times. However, I've heard many writers complain that they never hear a response. (Sometimes silence is the new rejection.) This is a phenomenon that must be regrettably accepted; don't keep sending follow-up e-mails to ascertain if your e-query was received.

I don't recommend using a return receipt via e-mail, either. Just copy yourself on the message if you need to, and if the message doesn't bounce back, assume it was received.

How can I format the e-mail query properly?

  • Start with your query in another software program, like Word or TextEdit. Strip out all formatting. (Usually there is an option under "Save As" that will allow you to save as simple text.)
  • Send the query without any formatting and without any indents.
  • Use CAPS for anything that would normally be in italics.
  • Don't use address, date headers, or contact information at the beginning of the e-mail; put all of that stuff at the bottom, underneath your name.
  • The first line should read: "Dear [Agent Name]:"
  • Some writers structure their e-queries differently than paper queries (or make them shorter). Think about how much the agent can see of your e-query on the first screen, without scrolling. That's probably how far they will read before responding or hitting delete. Adjust your query accordingly. Usually the hook should go first, unless you have a strong personalization angle.

I have an e-mail address for an editor/agent who doesn't accept e-mail queries. Should I try them anyway?

You can try! But don't be surprised if you don't hear back.

How soon can I follow up if I don't hear back?
Try following up about 2-4 weeks after the stated response time. (If no response time is given, wait about 3 months.) If querying via snail mail, include another copy of the query. If you still don't hear back after 1 follow up attempt, assume it's a rejection, and move on. Do not phone. Do not send angry notes.

Is it OK to tell agents/editors to visit my website for more info?
Avoid this practice unless submission guidelines invite you to do so. Agents should have all the information they need to make a decision right in your query letter. Of course, many will take an extra step and Google you anyway, but don't make them do that work unless they want to. (It's OK to list your website as part of your contact info; just don't tell agents in the body of the query to go visit it for key info.)

Should I send a synopsis with the query?
Only if requested in the submission guidelines.

Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer's Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.

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