Tag Archives: Query Tips

The Querying Flowchart of DOOM

17 Mar

by Kat Zhang


No, silly, it’s not actually “of DOOM,” but sometimes querying feels like it, no? (And besides, as writers, we’re obligated to be dramatic, right? What, that’s actors, you say? Pshaw!!)

Anyway, in order to ease the beginning querier into the query process, I’ve made a handy-dandy flow chart. Yes, it’s a very condensed version of the pre-query checklist…mostly because I only have so much patience with making little multi-colored text balloons. Also, there are no arrows. I know. Sadness. But look at it as a test of thy skill, young querier! If you can not master the maze that is the Query Flowchart of DOOM, then see it as a sign that you need more training before daring to enter the lair of the dragon–I mean confront Darth Vader–I mean query!

Are you ready to begin your test of skill??

Enter at thy own peril…

So? Did you make it? Are you ready to send out those queries? 😀

…and did you notice the two missing bubbles?

…because I totally did that on purpose as a further test of your skills.


that’s my story, and I’m STICKIN’ WITH IT!



Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book HYBRID–about a girl with two souls–is currently on submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


The Parts of a Good Query Letter

28 Feb

by Susan Dennard


I have a popular post on my personal blog that’s part of a series I did called How I Got My Agent.  I thought I’d take out the “good bits” from Part 1, and share them with you here.

Much like in the How to Write a 1-page Synopsis, I’ve drawn up a “worksheet” that you can use to format and write your novel’s query letter.

And if you’re interested in reading about WHY my query worked from my agent’s point of view, you can read about it on the NCLit blog.


The Query

I started querying on October 6, 2010.  But before that, I spent a loooooooong time honing my query letter.  Like, I took workshops, read books, and got feedback until my eyes bled.

But it all paid off!  Out of the 12 agents I queried, 9 requested a full or partial manuscript.  WEEEEE, right?  (Note: part of my success rate has to do with my research, but I’ll talk about that in Part 2: The Prep.  Nonetheless, a good chunk of my success was thanks to my kick-booty query.)

The thing about query letters is that there is a general standard for what should be in a query and how it should be presented. Above all else, you must include a summary of your book — you must show your book’s plot. Next, you need to keep the query professional.  This is a business letter — remember that!

A few other rules to keep in mind:

  1. Be brief, be brief, be brief! Your goal is to snag the agent’s attention immediately and only share enough information so they want to read more.  Keep the story summary under 250 words.
  2. Do not tell the ending! The purpose of a query is to show an editor/agent that you can tell a story from beginning to end, but you want to leave the end unknown. This is much like the back of book – you want to sell your story and entice them to read more.
  3. You must lay out,
    1. the MC’s goal,
    2. why the MC is choosing to act,
    3. what’s at stake if the MC fails.

The Parts of a Good Query

Below, I have written out the building blocks of a strong query letter.  I’ve filled the formula in with my own query, and I hope you find it useful!

Opening lines — Why are you contacting this agent/editor? What is the title, genre, and word count of your novel?

(I’ll get into this more tomorrow and explain why I suggest starting here.)

I read in an interview that you seek strong female leads as well as steampunk.  As such, I thought you might enjoy my 90,000 word young adult novel, THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS.

Hook — What is a one sentence zinger that introduces the MC, sets up the stakes, and is (most importantly) concise?

After her brother is kidnapped, Eleanor Fitt – a sixteen-year-old with a weakness for buttered toast and Shakespeare quotes – must leave the confines of corsets and courtesy to get him back.

Summary Paragraph 1 — Briefly describe the ordinary life of the MC. Follow this with the inciting incident and why the MC must pursue it (i.e. what is at stake?).

It’s 1876, and Philadelphia is hosting the first American World Fair, the Centennial Exhibition.  It’s also hosting rancid corpses that refuse to stay dead.  When one of those decomposing bodies brings Eleanor a hostage note for her brother, she resolves to do anything to rescue him. But to face the armies of Dead that have him, she’ll need a little help from the Spirit-Hunters.

Summary Paragraphs 2 & 3 — List/show in 2-3 sentences what the MC must do to solve the problem before him/her. What choices must he/she make? Be sure to end these  paragraph with a sentence explaining what will happen if he/she fails.  You want to leave the agent with a perfectly clear idea of why this story matters.

The Spirit-Hunters, a three-man team hired to protect the Exhibition, have a single goal: return the Dead to their graves. Yet, what began as a handful of shambling bodies has escalated beyond the team’s abilities, and time is running out. Whoever rules the Dead is losing control, and when the leash finally snaps, Philadelphia will be overrun with ravenous corpses.

Now Eleanor must battle the walking Dead and deal with her growing attraction to the team’s inventor, Daniel, an exasperating but gorgeous ex-con. From the steampunk lab of the Spirit-Hunters to the grand halls of the Exhibition, Eleanor must follow the clues – and the bodies – to find her brother and stop the Dead before it’s too late.

Conclusion — List your qualifications as a writer (societies, publications) in one sentence. If you can, try to find 2 works similar to your own (this shows the agent what audience you believe will read your novel).  Then thank the agent for his/her time.  Sign off.

Though the novel has been written as a trilogy, it can stand alone.  I believe it will appeal to fans of Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy or Cassandra Clare’s CLOCKWORK ANGEL.  I’m an active member of RWA, SCBWI, the Online Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, and YALitChat.  I live in Germany and am working full-time on my next YA novels.  You can learn more about me at http://susandennard.com.

So there you have it: a simple way to start building your query.  Again, I hope you can use it.  Be sure to read Part 2: The Prep — or all the preparations needed prior to actually mailing your queries.

BOTTOM LINE: A good query can do wonders and instantly pull you to the surface of the slush!

Do you have any tips to share?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

3 Things to Do While Querying

28 Dec

How many of you guys out there are querying or planning to query soon? It’s an interesting process to say the least—full of ups and down and random jerks sideways (just to keep you on your toes, you know).

There’s checking your email fifty times a day, squealing every time an agent responds and going into a) an Omg-I’m-SO-excited dance or b) a Whaat?-but-but-but… pout fest depending on the contents of the email. There’s the memorization of the mailman’s delivery times, if you’re one of those who send queries by snail mail. And there’s lots and lots of query-stress venting to writer friends who smile and try to be encouraging and tell you to CALM DOWN, you just sent that full three days ago, of course Agent Awesomesauce hasn’t read it yet.

But mostly, there’s just a lot of waiting. A looott of waiting. Days and days and weeks and weeks of waiting…kind of like how you’re waiting now for me to stop blabbering and get to the point of this article.

…which is: (ahem) Three Things to Do When Querying.

Number 1: Sleep on everything.

No, not literally. I know at least one of you out there had a Huh? moment. I’m not recommending you develop a sudden habit of conking out on department store bed displays or subway benches.

What I mean is, don’t make any hasty decisions. Wrote a batch of queries today? Resist the urge to send them all off immediately. Sleep on it, then re-read them the next morning with a fresh mind and see if there are any grammar/spelling mistakes. Make sure you’re addressing the right person, too. That always helps with the whole Make a Good Impression thing.

The same goes for any substantial reply you make to an agent. A few hours usually won’t hurt anything, and it’ll help keep you from regretting hastily penned responses. At the very least, wait fifteen minutes or something. I don’t know about you, but anything I write tends to be more coherent and rational if I’ve had sixty minutes to ponder it, versus one.

Number 2: Research some more agents

This will keep you busy and help dull the insatiable appetite you’ve probably developed for all things publishing related. Use Querytracker and AgentQuery until you can navigate them with your eyes closed. Follow #askagent and #askintern and #queries on Twitter.

Find an agent who sounds great for your book? Read any interviews they’ve done. Check out their agency’s website. See if they tweet or have a blog. Research, research, research. Then craft a query to suit their interests—while remaining true to your story, of course.

Number 3: Work on your next book

You’re going to need one. I don’t remember who said this, or even the exact words he said, but it rings true to me: “I want to be a writer, not someone who has written a book.” Okay, so we can argue all day long about who gets to be called a “writer,” but that’s not the point. The point is, keep writing! If you find Mr./Ms. Perfect Agent and get signed, then yay! you’re ahead of the game for book number two! If, for whatever reason, your current book fails to attract any offers, well, you’ve got another project in the works.

Any other tips from those of you querying? If you haven’t started yet, what are your thoughts/apprehensions about the matter?

And finally, good luck to all!


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


Guest Post: Common Query Issues

1 Sep

Guest Post by C.A. Marshall


Thanks for having me ladies! I ❤ the LTWF blog!

When I graduated with my MA two years ago, I had the beginnings of my first novel, a MG about travellers and faeries in the woods behind the house of a kid named Ben. My dissertation included the first 15,000 words and over the next six months I finished writing it. I also started querying it. Widely. At the same time I was writing it.

I remember getting rejection after rejection until I finally got two requests for full’s. Yay, I thought, maybe I’ll get an agent! I was wrong. Both full’s came back with form rejections.  I’ve since learned that querying a book that is unfinished and unpolished is a huge faux pas.  We’ve all got to start somewhere, right?

Fast forward two years and a bit of education that an MA can’t give you and I now know more about the query process, how it works, and what the standards of querying are.

As a query-reading intern, I’ve had many writers ask me to look their query over and give them some pointers. Most want to know if I would forward it if I had seen it in the queries inbox. Over time, I’ve noticed a few things that these queriers have in common.  Here are some of the issues I see most often:

Formulaic personalization. Saying something like, “I saw that you represent _________ and ________ and so I’m querying you.” Anyone can plug in a couple of names. Get more in depth. Read a book that they represented and talk about it for a sentence or two, or at least that you’ve been following their blog/twitter and mention a recent posting. Something that says you actually know who the agent is and that you’ve tried your best to get to know them.

Being too “list-y.” Giving a list of characters or themes that you cover in your novel doesn’t tell us anything about the plot. It’s how those characters interact that make the story, show us that.

Lack of voice. When writing my own query and struggling with voice, I was given the advice to try writing the query in first person from the main characters’ POV. Let a bit of their personality show through. Then, turn it into third person, keeping those bits of voice in.

No plot. Putting in a bunch of hypothetical questions or a list of things that your character worries about doesn’t equal plot.

Lack of cohesion. While chopping down your plot to fit into the available space, watch that you don’t lose the connection between the action and the characters reaction. If they’re happy and shopping in one paragraph and in another they are frightened and in a different country, it pulls the reader right out of the mini “story.”

Third person bios. I don’t know where this comes from, but a bio in a query that you’re writing should not be written in third person.  I think it’s creepy and awkward.  Third person bios go on jacket flaps and on websites, not in queries.

Irrelevancy in bios. It might matter to you if you’ve got six kids, three cats, and a husband named Steve, but it doesn’t matter to us. At least not right now.  There will be plenty of time later to get to know all about you but for now just focus on your book and what you have done to make YOU the best person to write this book. If you’ve got an MA/MFA, list it. If you’re a lawyer and you write about a lawyer, list that. If you’re writing about a teenager though, we don’t need to know that you’ve got three of your own and what their names are.  Why would you want that information out there anyway?

Too long/too short. It’s generally expected that your query will be about three or four paragraphs long. Use that space wisely. Don’t condense it down to one paragraph, use that extra space to show us your characters’ personality. On the other end, if you’ve got an inch, don’t take a mile.

Writing to trends. If you’re writing something that’s trending, be sure to point out what makes your story about vampires different from other stories about vampires. Don’t just say that yours don’t sparkle. That’s not enough. I’ve seen plenty of Twilight knock-offs that have non-sparkly vampires.

Speaking of vampires, try not to use the word vampire at all. Use “undead” or “blood-suckers” or “night hunters” or some other vampire-esque euphemism. The sad truth is that after seeing vampire query after vampire query that are rip-offs of Twilight or True Blood, as soon as interns see the word vampire we’re already looking for hints of which other vampires you’re copying.  The same goes for Angel/demon books with character names like Gabriel and Michael.

If you’ve got a cop story, don’t name your cop Jack. There are a million ways to die, and most of them have been done before. A cop who’s wife has just died, or a detective who didn’t see that his ex was cheating on him, FBI agents for some secret undercover operation… those have been done to death. Get a new angle. Surprise the reader. Make the story truly terrifying, not one I can guess the ending of by reading the flap copy.

If you’re going to write a memoir about your life, make sure you’ve done something interesting. Just because you’ve got a few funny stories to share doesn’t mean that the world will rush out to read them. We’ve all got funny stories and most of them are “you just had to be there” moments. Read other memoirs. Make sure something truly unique has happened to you and you’re not just writing because you like to hear yourself talk.

You can’t control trends, but you can control the quality of your own work. Read lots of your genre/topic and make sure to make your book unique.

The number one biggest mistake that I see is that the author doesn’t follow guidelines. I usually ask for the first 250 words to follow the query and sometimes authors will send the entire first chapter as an attachment. Do your research and make sure to follow each agent’s guidelines exactly.


C.A. Marshall is a freelance editor, lit agent intern, YA writer, and loves to play with her dog Mollie. She dreams of one day owning a small house near the water, preferably in England, with a shelf full of books she has written and has helped others to write. She can be found in Emmett, MI and at camarshall.com

QueryTracker.net – How it Helped Me Find my Agent

6 May

by Julie Eshbaugh


When I began querying agents, I searched around the internet for websites that would help me to not just survive the process, but to actually succeed at it.  Once I found QueryTracker.net, I knew I had found the only resource I needed.  Three-and-a-half months after creating my account, I received two offers of representation.

So if QueryTracker worked so well for me, why is it that I meet so many writers who aren’t using it?  I can only imagine that too many writers simply don’t know about QueryTracker and how it works.  If you are in the process of querying, or are getting ready to start, let me give you a quick introduction to QueryTracker and the features that I feel were the most useful to me in my quest for representation.

What is QueryTracker?

QueryTracker is a website that helps you control all aspects of the querying process.  With QT, you can:

  • Find Literary Agents and Publishers – QT’s extensive database search tools enable you to easily identify the perfect agent or publisher for your work.
  • Organize and Track Your Query Letters – Keep track of every query you send using QT’s built-in tracking system.  Your entire query history, with automatated date-stamps and space for notes, is stored in your account on QT’s website, securely and anonymously.
  • View Statistics about Agents and Publishers – The QT database allows information to be collected and shared.  QT provides access to useful statistical information about literary agents and publishers.

Why is QueryTracker free?

QueryTracker is free because it is their goal to collect as much data as possible about query letter results.  To accomplish that goal, they need as many members as possible to submit their data, and the best way to do that is to make many of the site’s features free.

That said, I highly recommend the Premium Membership. For $25 for an entire year, the extra features you get are well worth it.  And no… I am not getting a kickback from QT for saying this!  I simply believe my success on QT was facilitated primarily by two features on the site.  Both of these features are available only to premium members.

I personally found the following two features to be the most valuable tools available on QT:

  • Genre Reports – These reports display a ranked list of agents and their query history for the selected genre.  Since my manuscript was YA, I would frequently check out a list of agents ranked by the percentage of YA queries from which they requested materials.  The higher the percentage, the higher they ranked on the list.  This made choosing which agents to investigate further much easier!
  • Agents with Similar Tastes – This report becomes helpful once you’ve received your first positive response from an agent.  Simply stated, QT users who received positive query replies from the agent you are researching also received positive replies from the agents on the list.  Like Genre Reports, these lists are also ranked.

By using these two features, I was able to discover agents that I might have spent countless hours identifying through other means.  Before using the Genre Reports and the Agents with Similar Tastes Reports, I had never considered submitting to either of the two agents that offered me representation.  By searching these lists, then following up with further research on the web, I found two agents that loved my work, and ultimately identified the best agent for me.  Using QT, I was able to find an agent I am confident will not only be the best advocate for my current project, but will be the best partner for my on-going writing career.


Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.