Query Letters Represent the Author, Not Just the Book
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 13 2018
Agenting and publishing is my business and every decision I make from requesting to read an author’s book, to offering representation, to pitching editors, to negotiating a contract on behalf of the author is a business decision. I do this all on behalf of, and with, my business partner–the author.
From the first time I “meet” an author I’m looking at whether or not she would make a good partner. This means that when reading a query, I’m looking at far more than just the blurb. I’m reading between the lines to get to know the author a little better. What is she telling me about herself that helps inform my decision to enter a partnership with her? Does she follow guidelines, or simply drop a blurb in there expecting me to guess the rest? Does she know enough about the business to understand genre and word count? Has she made an effort to research whether I am potentially the right agent for her or is she simply sending to every agent whose name she comes across regardless of expertise? Does she respect the business and other writers or is she quick to put them down to escalate herself? Does she have a social media presence and what is it like?
I get a surprising number of queries that are simply blurbs. No introduction, no title, no word count and definitely no bio. Just a few paragraphs of the book’s description. Now granted, I think that sometimes the use of our Query Manager form lulls people into thinking they don’t need to include the rest, but you do. And it shouldn’t be hard because presumably, you have all of this material ready to query agents who don’t yet use Query Manager.
When I open a query I’m looking not just at whether the book grabs me and is something I want to and can represent, but I’m gaining insights into whether the author is someone I can work with.
Entering a business partnership is never something that should be taken lightly, by agents or authors. In doing our research and, later, in talking with each other, we should be gathering information not just on whether we like a book and can sell a book, but on whether we have the same goals and vision. That research and inquiry start with the first introduction and that query is very often the first introduction.
I learned the hard way that it is the little things. No different than for me when my kids bring a friend home or – gasp – a date. I will be looking at the little things and try to see who they really are.
An author must find ways to communicate with the agent by way of action and not always words. In many ways those actions far outweigh any written word.
Selling yourself in a professional manner tells a prospective agent you can professionally market yourself and your book. Authors forget there is going to be marketing that happens after publishing and today the publishing houses want the author to be the large part of that. If you can’t do that in a brief bio, how will you do it in front of a much larger audience?
thanks for sharing your insight about this. I always wondered if it was okay to be a bit more personable in a query-manuscript and dummy submission. When looking for representation. My art and stories always have a more “comical” slant, and didn’t know if it was frowned upon to make my introduction to an agent with a bit of whimsy. (since my story/dummy seem to slant in that direction.) Having been represented by artists reps all through my career, I know the importance of being a team with your agent is most important.
This is helpful, but as someone just beginning the query process, I wonder how long a query letter should be? Obviously, if you don’t get past the first paragraph, it doesn’t matter, but lets suppose I spell your name correctly, know what your looking for, and have told you why my book is perfect for you – how much space should I devote to fleshing out the plot somewhat, mentioning markets and my bio?
Gabi, have you checked out The Query Shark (https://queryshark.blogspot.com/)? Agent Janet Reid critiques query letters and you’ll learn everything you need to know about writing a query letter there.
Jessica has also talked about this on an earlier blog post here: https://bookendsliterary.com/the-art-of-the-query-letter/.
But a rule of thumb is your letter should not be much more than 250 words.
Hope that helps!