To Please Everyone Means Pleasing No One–Query Advice

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 02 2018

When authors are querying, or first begin querying, I see a lot of (understandable) panic. Authors will ask, “well you say no comps, but this agent says she wants comps,” and “this agent wants a 2-page synopsis, but this agent wants it to be 2 2/3 pages.” And my all-time favorite, “Jessica Faust says never to thank her for anything ever.” I’ll let you scour the archives for that very interesting and ridiculous piece of social media drama.

I get the frustration. You want to do everything right and are so terrified of angering an agent over a 2-page synopsis that you have decided that the only thing to do is try to please everyone. Afterall, we all know that agents are nothing but rejection-spewing ogres who seek to destroy any author who writes a “real” book.

But you can’t please everyone, especially agent ogres. You just can’t. So my advice is do away with the detailed spreadsheet that includes each agent’s query preference, hair color, coffee choice, and favorite books and just learn how to write a strong query. The best queries and authors aren’t trying to please everyone, they learn the basics and put their own stamp on it.

All you really and absolutely need to write a query is the title, word count, genre, a killer blurb and a bio all packaged together in a formal and professional letter. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s not fancy and it’s not easy, but it shouldn’t be harder than 3-5 paragraphs. If you have the perfect comparison title for your book use it. If you don’t, skip it. No agent will reject you simply because you didn’t have a comp. If you have a 3-page synopsis instead of 2, send it (don’t send 10-pages though). A page or two off won’t matter if the synopsis includes and provides what a synopsis should include and provide (the ending among other things).

We have a habit of over-thinking things. Sometimes it’s out of fear of rejection and sometimes it’s because it’s easier to make lists of every agent’s pet than it is to actually put ourselves out there and query. My advice is to quit over-thinking and start querying.



11 responses to “To Please Everyone Means Pleasing No One–Query Advice”

  1. Avatar Krystina says:

    I could feel the weight slipping off my shoulders as I read! I do wish every agent was as ‘human’ and communicative as you.

    • Avatar Ellen Press says:

      So agree with you, Krystina. I queried an agent who asked me who’s voice of current books is mine like? I was dumbfounded that this person asked me this. Isn’t my voice, my voice? I certainly don’t want to copy someone else’s voice because then I wouldn’t be true to myself and my project. In the end, this agent passed on reading my full ms because I couldn’t answer the question. Submission guidelines were five pages. This always stumps me because five pages isn’t even putting a toe into a body of water.

      • Your voice is definitely your voice, but readers often look for writers with a similar style, tone, and voice. Is your voice funny like Kevin Kwan or sweet like Kristin Higgins? Is it dark like Gillian Flynn or is your voice light like Krista Davis? I’m also not sure the agent passed because you couldn’t answer the question. I suspect in this case the agent was asking to be convinced to read because she was on the fence.

  2. Avatar Nina ward says:

    That’s the best advice I’ve heard in a long time! Thanks for taking the panic and confusion out of writing a query.

  3. Avatar Bryan Fagan says:

    In what seemed like a million queries….probably over reaching here….I finally realized that I couldn’t please them all. In a nutshell I did exactly what you said, I simply did the best I could in the shortest amount of pages.

    I also did this: At the end with my contact info I added my blog and twitter link. Even if they didn’t ask I did it anyway. Couldn’t hurt.

  4. Start querying. Such good advice. Querying strengthens your query. After a few rejections, you look even more closely at your query and edit a sentence that makes is stronger. Or after reading x# of agent’s requirements under ‘submissions’ you look more closely at a certain part of your query that you might have glossed over . . .

  5. “You want to do everything right and are so terrified of angering an agent over a 2-page synopsis that you have decided that the only thing to do is try to please everyone.”

    The flip-side of this is thinking that if you do EVERYTHING every agent wants, you stand a better chance of getting a request for pages. Of course, if your query sucks, it doesn’t matter if your synopsis is 2 2/3 pages on-the-nose and you have five comp titles from within the last 6 months. Am I right?

  6. Avatar Robert Benton says:

    Awesome information, just what I needed to hear. Thanks again Jessica!
    R.A. Benton

  7. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    Awesome advice. To try and meet every agent’s exact requirements would drive me bonkers.

  8. Avatar JOHN T. SHEA says:

    Excellent advice! It is to some extent a self-correcting situation. Does a writer really want to sign with an ogre? Writers do actually have choices regarding agents, however limited they seem.