Agents look for queries that make us want to turn the pages of your story. That means you need to think of your query as the first and most important page of your manuscript. Not only are you introducing your manuscript or proposal, you’re also introducing yourself as a writer—and as with any first meeting, you’ll want to make a good impression.
A query is a map of your manuscript or proposal, and agents need the keys to understand what direction you’re headed in and decide if we want to come along for the ride.
For fiction, orient agents by stating your manuscript’s stats: title, word count and genre. If you’re not sure what your genre is, pick the one closest to the theme of your manuscript and, if necessary, reference one supporting subcategory. When done well, your query should read like a movie trailer version of your manuscript, not a synopsis. So keep the details short. Identify your main characters and tell us why we’re rooting for them, and include only the most important conflict and action points.
For nonfiction, show agents the scope of your platform and what qualifies you to write about your subject. Also, tell us the clever things we will learn and briefly mention audience potential.
Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, highlight the unique points of your project—especially if elements of your work are similar to popular books already in circulation. Agents aren’t looking for carbon copies of pre-existing books, but they are looking for new twists on trends that haven’t already peaked. Stay current by reading your genre’s trendsetters and bestsellers. It’s not essential to compare your title to a bestseller, but do let your description show you’ve taken the thread of a popular or emerging market and spun a story all your own.
Whatever you do, don’t blindly pitch your work. Know which agents you are pitching and why. Your job as a querying writer is not to change the mind of an agent who doesn’t rep your genre, but to find agents who do—and demonstrate to them that your work is ready for representation.
Thank us for our time and consideration before signing your query, and avoid the following query sins, or you might find yourself so far at the bottom of an agent’s list, you’ve fallen off:
1. Don’t say your friends and family loved your manuscript. Unless they are industry professionals, this doesn’t mean anything to us.
2. Know that querying via mass email will lead to mass rejections.
3. Stay away from negative statements like, “I know it needs a lot of work,” or, “I don’t have any writing experience.” You might as well say, “Don’t bother.”
4. Don’t send agents links to websites that host your query or sample pages, expecting us to go on a
5. If you’ve self-published Book 1 of a trilogy and want our help selling Book 2 to a publishing house, it won’t happen. You can’t mix and match one series using different publishing models (unless you have mind-blowingly phenomenal numbers on Book 1, in which case you should be pitching us that one first).