Simple Ways to Get Responses to Your Queries

I need to give all the credit for this post to Fast Company and I suggest that along with reading what I’ve written you read the original and watch the video.

As a business owner I’m always looking for new ways to improve how I work which is why I found this article particularly interesting. As a receiver of queries, I also found much of it to be very on point.

When agents read queries we want the process to be as simple as possible. We want to get to the point, learn what the book is about and make a decision. All in less than three minutes. Our goal is to find something great yes, but we don’t have all day to do it. If you want an agent to respond (hopefully positively) following these guidelines can be to your advantage.

1. Make your subject line clear and distinctive. If you’re a published author, a bestselling author, if you have a mystery, a romance, an offer of representation make it clear in the subject. Adding more than just query can help your query stand out. Even if all you have to add is the title of your book. It’s very common for the title alone to be a deciding factor in why a book is first requested. Just ask Sally MacKenzie, author of The Naked Duke.

2. Include a greeting. Personalizing your query with the receiver’s name makes an agent think she’s special and not one of many on a bcc’ed email.

3. Make it clear in the first line, or at least first paragraph, what you’re looking for. Are you seeking representation or simply advice (don’t email agents for advice). Is this a question for the blog or a request for a blurb for your book? Making it clear from the beginning makes it easy for the agent to move forward on a response or flag your email for later.

4. Keep in short. Emails by nature are short and sweet. Sometimes they are as simple as a few words (yes or no). Queries should stay short as well. Agents want to read your query and get to the point quickly. What is the book about and how are you going to hook me? That’s the question you need to answer. Maybe the hook is the book, maybe it’s that you’re published, maybe it’s both. Either way, queries should run about 3-5 paragraphs. No more. You need an introduction, blurb, bio, closing. That’s it.

5. Use third-grade language. This is something I’m taking almost directly from the Fast Company article, but it’s something I’ve also seen many times before. That doesn’t mean you need to dumb down your writing. It’s still important that your voice come through, but using big words to impress, writing with the thesaurus at your side, doesn’t impress an agent, it simply slows down our reading. Quick and dirty is the best way to grab our attention so we can request or reject and move on.

6. Sound positive. Going into your query with apologies for taking up an agent’s time, discussing the negative side of the industry, or complaining about the types of books being published won’t impress anyone. First off, by complaining about the types of books being published you’ve now insulted the agent, the clients she represents, and the books she’s actually proud of. Not usually the person anyone wants to work with.

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3 comments

  1. Interesting post. I can definitely learn from this (and the original Fast Company post). Especially the reference to short and sweet. I know I tend to add in all the (what I know now are) unnecessary words trying to be polite… ‘please find attached’, ‘don’t hesitate to contact me’.

  2. Dear Jessica and Staff,
    I had so much fun writing the following that I decided to send it , along with the knowledge that it will–and probably should–be moderated out.

    THE UNIVERSAL QUERY: A query designed to produce an immediate request for a completed manuscript from ninety percent of literary agents:

    Dear Agent,
    This is a story of urban trauma, of the quirky and sometimes edgy experiences of Rachael, a young woman struggling as a barista in a popular inner city bookstore as she refuses to cave in to the racist malignant societal forces that are suppressing her.

    Her frustrations reach a peak, when toward closing one day, a hunky guy walks in. He eyes her from the automotive section that features books with big glossy covers of cars and trucks…and her heart sinks. Yet, a few minutes later he stands in line and their eyes meet again. He orders an espresso. Good, so far. Maybe there’s hope. She decides to pen her ecumenical message of hope and love in the face of oppression on his paper espresso cup. She writes very small, using a .7mm fine-tip pen she liberated from a tabletop, and after a lengthy delay hands over his order.

    She keeps an eye on her potential urban lover as he peers closely at her handwriting on the tiny cup, as if deciphering every nuance. She notes his bar code tattoo overlaid with the head of a snake behind his ear, and she breathes a sigh of relief—he’s been through the urban wars like herself, she realizes. Finally, someone she can relate to.

    He comes to his feet after a while and smiles. Slowly, he saunters toward the rear of the store, and she watches closely. With a forthright, positive glance directly back at her, he makes an edgy, urban, and maybe quirky statement against oppression, and wanders into the women’s restroom. She sighs again. After all these years, she’s finally found her soul mate.

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