Top Ten Query Tips

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 20 2020

James and I did our first social distancing video on Top Ten Query Tips and when we were finished he turned to me and asked if I was writing a blog post. So I guess I am.

1. Know Who You Are Querying

This means doing the research. A blind list of agents won’t give you the information that an agent’s website will. In other words, you need to know they represent your genre.

Also, make sure you know their name, the correct spelling of their name and the pronouns they use should you want to address them with a Ms. or Mr. Honestly, I would avoid that altogether and simply address your query to First Name Last Name.

And a pet peeve from both James and me. Don’t shorten their name. No matter what, James is not Jim and I am not Jess. Use the name they present to you on the website, not your preferred nickname.

2. Personalize the Query

If you know something personal about the agent or have a connection that feels personal use it.

Something like, you read the blog, watch their YouTube channel or interacted with them on Twitter. If you haven’t or don’t, don’t bother. It’s not a deal-breaker and not necessary.

3. Check for Typos

This seems obvious. And yet it’s not. One typo is fine. Excessive typos in a one-page query give the impression that your manuscript will be riddled with typos and errors. It’s not how you want to introduce yourself and your work.

4. Keep It Concise

Unlike the video, your query will need to be tight. It’s the cover letter to your manuscript and shouldn’t be longer than one page. That’s roughly 250 words max.

5. Stick to the Facts

The blurb is your selling point and as any good selling point does it should stick to only the key marketing points of your book. The highlights.

By looking at the cover copy for your competitive titles you’ll see that they don’t include every character or every plot point. They only include the key points that sell the book to the reader. That’s your job with your blurb, just the key facts.

6. Third Person Only

Your query comes from you, the author, not from your character, not from your dog, and not from your grandmother, editor, or a submission service. This is, hopefully, the start of your relationship with the agent. No one else’s.

7. Give Us the Specs

We need to know all the technical details of your book–word count, genre, title and James apparently likes to know POV (point-of-view) I personally don’t care.

This can be included in your opening paragraph or way down at the bottom. As long as it’s in there, it doesn’t matter where.

8. Tells Us About You

Every query should include a biography of the author. Ideally, it will highlight career writing experience–short stories, previous publication, or your other job. If you don’t have that, don’t worry. Let us know a little about you in just two-four sentences. Are you working the same career as your protagonist? What writing organizations do you belong to? Do you live in the same local as your book is set? At this point we just want to know a little about you…just like the author bio on the back of a book.

9. Don’t Be Weird

Writing from your character’s POV is weird, and confusing. Is this your character? Does the author think they are the character? Is this a memoir? Confusing.

Don’t comment on our looks or make it sound like you’re crossing the line from a query into a Tinder profile. It’s creepy.

Just act professionally. By writing a professional query I can promise you you won’t be weird.

10. Master the Blurb

At the end of the day, the blurb is everything. Work on it now, not just when it’s time to query. Use it as part of your writing process, study cover copy of published books, and know what will sell your book. You are the person who should know best after all.

The Video

This blog post is short and sweet, but the video was a ton of fun. For all of our extra insights into each of these things, and to find out what we really think, you can watch the video that started it all.

8 responses to “Top Ten Query Tips”

  1. Avatar Mike Ropa says:

    Thank you for the videos.

    Will you film one reading examples of successful queries and explain the reason(s) for success?

    Stay safe.

  2. Avatar Michael Ropa says:

    Thank you for the videos.

    Will you film one reading successful queries explaining the reason(s) for acceptance?

    Stay safe.

  3. Thanks again for taking the time to provide more excellent advice. Please know you’re appreciated, even when we self-absorbed, ego-centric writers don’t have time to say so. (Hey, I’m in the middle of my fourth novel; I don’t have time to be nice!)

    Stay safe and well.

  4. Avatar Kathleen Schwab says:

    “Unlike the video, your query needs to be tight.”
    This is why I love you guys.

  5. Avatar Tim says:

    Great article! Quick, concise, clear advice; much appreciated. Going to save this in my “important lessons” bookmarks folder, ha!

  6. I wanted to thank you and James for all the videos. They are so helpful and I like how you two work together Keep you the good work.

  7. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    What regard do agents give to professional memberships? I’ve always wondered if it does enhance a bibliography if you don’t have writing credits.

  8. […] When you “query” a literary agent, you are sending them a letter or email (or filling out a form) in which you pitch them your story (and yourself). The query letter tends to include a short intro, your pitch, and a short author bio. Some people refer to this structure as the “hook, book, and cook.” So, hook the agent’s interest with a short intro, pitch your book, then provide some information on yourself (the cook). There are a lot of resources out there about how to write a query. Like this one. […]