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Do’s and Don’ts of Querying

I was asked recently for a do or don’t tip for a writer’s conference presentation. Not surprisingly, I was inspired and easily found more than one.

1. Do get second reads on your query. There isn’t a pitch that leaves BookEnds without at least six pairs of eyes on it first. Most likely none of us have read the book so we’re reading the query the same way an editor (or in your case an agent) would. We are looking to see if it grabs our attention in such a way that we are left needing to read more. A query isn’t something that should be thought of as slapdash. I have personally spent days on one author’s pitch. And I do this for a living. An author should consider that the query needs the same amount of time and attention the manuscript gets.

2. Do consider that if your query isn’t working, that after days and days you still can’t get it right, then maybe the problem isn’t your ability to write a query, but the book itself. If the query seems scattered and unfocused maybe you need to take a second look at the manuscript to see if that’s what is really scattered and unfocused.

3. Don’t pick any random genre just to get your query into an agent’s inbox. In Query Manager we have each carefully selected the genres we represent so authors can easily check the box that best fits her book. If you say in your query that your book is fantasy, don’t try to spin it as magical realism just to get my eyes on it. I’m still going to reject, especially since we have a number of brilliant fantasy agents at BookEnds.

4. Do put most of your energy into your blurb. The blurb, not the synopsis, is the most valuable part of the query. It’s what I look at most and, often, the only thing I really care about. If you think you don’t need to write a blurb because of your platform or previous publishing credentials think again.

5. Do let your voice come through. Voice is almost always what grabs an agent’s attention first. If you can let that through in your query you’re giving the agent a sneak peek at the most valuable piece of your book.

Good luck!

Category: Blog



  1. In a ‘How to Write a Query Letter’ book I read recently, the author recommends no more than three concisely written sentences in the Blurb. Additionally, the author recommends the avoidance of naming characters in the blurb because it slows the agent’s reading speed and makes them pause to think. Would you agree with these statements, and why?

    1. Not at all. I’ve never written a blurb that’s only three sentences. I’m not sure why an author would either. You should be able to blurb in no more than two short paragraphs, but the idea is to hook the reader and sometimes you need real information to do that.

  2. Thank you for your response. I have agonized over these recommendations for a while now, recommendations in a book written by a very successful agent. I finally came up with this blurb, if I may share it as an example of this technique, after somewhere around a thousand drafts, I think.

    “The year is 2125 and humanity has grown beyond the confines of Earth with the aid of artificial intelligence. AI is the true duplication of human intellect and emotion, according to many definitions, but at what price? The crew of an asteroid mining vessel, the former captain of a freight hauler, and a mousey physicist discover the cost when the final bill comes due.”

    Too little to work from? Too concise? Not enough information?

      1. I liked the beginning, but the lack of names and something human and flawed in some way to latch on to it fell flat in the end for me, too, My two cents.

    1. Hi Royce,

      If you’ve never checked out “Query Shark,” I would google it and check it out. Janet Reid, a literary agent (not with Bookends), has critiqued hundreds of queries on that site. Being critiqued on your query isn’t pleasant, but it sure is eye-opening.

      According to her, (and please correct me if I’m wrong, Jessica, because I have a lot to learn) your blurb should answer the following questions for your reader:

      Who is your MC?
      What does s(he) want?
      What is standing in her/his way?

      The background and setting should be woven into answering those questions along with writing in the same tone as your novel. Not easy by any stretch, for sure.

  3. I looove writing blurbs. That feeling before I even begin, when my palms go sweaty and my brain desperately looks for something else to do in order to avoid THAT…. But once we started, boy, is it a ride. Can last between an hour and two weeks, but the adrenaline’s worth it.

  4. Are a “blurb” and a synopsis the same thing? If not, what’s the difference? Should a query contain both? If so, where do they go in a query letter? Thanks.

    1. They are not. I’ll write a post about this, but a synopsis is much longer and a piece of the requested submission. A blurb is essentially your back cover copy.

  5. Thank you Jessica. I have taken your advice on board and I’ll re-look at my query. Kind regards Eileen

  6. Royce, I second Midnight_Writer and suggest you read the archives at Query Shark.

    Jessica, that’s a fabulous list. I think the hardest for me is making my voice shine through in such few words when those words have so much work to do already!

  7. Hi, Jessica! I just discovered your website! I’ve read and printed several of your blogs. I am in the process of writing my first query letter, and I now understand the differences between a query, blurb and synopsis. I’m still thinking about the actual genre of my novel. From two POV (heaven and earth) it follows the sudden death of a son, how he copes with leaving earth, and that of his mother, coping on earth. It’s fantasy because it involves angels. Todd shares his life on earth on the “Sky Screen”, so the angels who came to Heaven by the hands of people who should have loved them, one little angel leaves heaven to have his “mommy” on earth. Seeing her happiness, a lot of little angels start appearing in the little town. Through the course of the story, the son is asked to go to earth with a guide and convince all the little angels to come back. It’s funny and warm and of course, a bit sad. My hope it will bring some comfort to those who read it and have lost a loved one and give others a chance to understand. It is spiritual, fantasy, and involves Heaven and earth…I don’t mean this as a synopsis, not my intent. If you could just advise on the genre when I query. It really applies to adults, spiritual-not religious and humor as both worlds come to terms with what happened and how to accept their new journeys.
    Help with genre is greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!!

  8. I was a victim of number 2 and I’m glad. Trying to describe what I wrote brought me to a conclusion: Maybe what I wrote isn’t good enough. I took a step back, forced myself to ask some serious questions and rewrote the thing. Querying is the biggest thing we’ll do. We’re trying to convince you to read our work and we only have a few lines to do it. Not easy but doable.

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