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I’ve pulled together some questions and answers from yesterday’s QueryDay on Twitter. I’ve edited this slightly to make it more readable (there’s more room than 140 characters here). The questions are in no particular order and may not include every response. In fact, I’ve removed answers by writing peers to concentrate on agent advice.

I hope this helps you with your query process. Thanks to all the agents and writers who participated!

Will an agent overlook a title she doesn’t like to request proposal/chapters for a query that otherwise caught her eye?

Rachelle Gardner: It’s all about the writing. The story. Yeah, a title can help or hurt your chances, but not make or break.

What are the rules for resubmitting after lots of revision? (We’re talking years since the original sub.)

Rachelle Gardner: Most important rule on resubmitting after revision: Be honest, say it up front.

Is it best to send a query to a few agents at once or just send them one by one?

Rachelle Gardner: I don’t know of any agents who expect or even want exclusivity on queries. On requested partials, yes.

Scenario: Big publisher has full manuscript. They offer contract. How can one query an agent to represent you in this situation? Is it proper?

Colleen Lindsay: It will depend on the offer. Agents are in it for $$$ too, so if the offer isn’t big enough, we won’t care. It takes as much time to work on a $2000 deal as a $20,000 deal. Not every deal created equally. But you should always have a publishing lawyer look over the contract even if an agent won’t rep you.

Greg Daniel: If I were a writer trying to find the right agent, I’d pay for access to Publishers Marketplace.com.

Regarding requested material: What is it that ultimately kills the YES when you read a partial or full that had potential?

Lauren MacLeod: Actually, it goes the other way. I start with probably no & you can move to yes with great voice & writing.

Rachelle Gardner: TOP reason I say “no” to queries is the story doesn’t sound unique, fresh, exciting. The problem isn’t the query, it’s the book. What kills the YES? That’s where it gets difficult and subjective. Does the story grab me and not let go, or not? What about being told “your writing is good” but still no? Remember–dozens of queries in the pile. Can only say yes to a few.

I’d think it’s better not to compare your book to other books and just let it stand on it’s own, meself.

Rachelle Gardner: Listing comparable books is important, it puts yours in context, shows you know your market, helps agent “get” your book.

Would this put you off – if someone spends years perfecting one novel? Would output be a concern?

Lauren MacLeod: No need to tell me in the first place (nothing to gain), but I expect first novels to have had more polish than 2nd.

Greg Daniel: No, wouldn’t concern me.

Why do publishers/agents even bother with email partials? Why not just take the whole manuscript and stop reading if it’s a dud?

Lauren MacLeod: I ask for email partials to manage expectations. I try and write longer & more involved rejections for fulls.

Having a hard time deciding what genre my novel is, should I leave that part out of query or can you suggest a way to help decide?

Rachelle Gardner: You must include the genre. Publisher, bookstore, consumer all need to know! Find books/websites that discuss genre.

How much of it is really who you know? How much of the process relies on you receiving recommendations?

Rachelle Gardner: Referrals definitely help. That’s why you go to conferences and network like crazy. I appreciate referrals from my current clients, editors I trust, and other friends in the industry.

Elana Roth: Connections help. Half my list is from referral, but the other half is from queries.

Greg Daniel: The only recommendations that make much difference to me are writers who are referred to me by my current clients.

Are most agents from NY or CA? Is it okay to query agents in other places? Are they for real?

Lauren MacLeod: With email and phones agents anywhere can get in contact with editors. First and foremost, pick someone you connect with.

Rachelle Gardner: It’s a good point about agent location. The Internet has made it easier for publishing folks to live anywhere.

Should a fiction writer ever mention their education or academic publications?

Lauren MacLeod: It should be mentioned in your bio, certainly, esp. if you are planning on doing more, but it should be a CV.

I’m worried about being relevant to the market…will the super hero novel I’m writing now still be relevant six months from now?

Lauren MacLeod: A great story with dynamic writing will always be relevant. Write good books, don’t worry about trends.

Do I need an agent to get a great book published?

Lauren MacLeod: Not necessarily, but probably to get it in the hands of the editors at the big houses & to negotiate a fair contract.

What are you looking for when it comes to voice?

Colleen Lindsay: Authenticity.

In my YA query, would you want to know if I’ve been mentored by famous YA author?

Kate Sullivan (editor): YES, I would LOVE to know if you were mentored by a famous, accomplished or great YA author in a query/pitch.

queryfailIn early March, several literary agents, organized by Colleen Lindsay and Lauren E. MacLeod, participated in QueryFail on Twitter. They sat at their desks, inboxes open, a pile of envelopes at their side, and then read queries one-by-one, Tweeting examples from undesirable letters: “I know that I have attached a file, but please have a read even though it’s against your policy.”

Lesson #1: follow submission guidelines.

Lesson #2? Even though many writers felt QueryFail was interesting and helpful, there was a considerable backlash from those who felt it was unfair to share query letters meant only for the agents’ eyes. But listen, if you’re an aspiring author, that means you want your words to go into print someday. You have to be ready for the criticism. If you’re not confident about sharing your query letter, perhaps you should try writing another one.

QueryFail2 was all set for yesterday, but it didn’t happen. Instead, we got QueryDay. The guidelines were supposedly the same, but the tone was decidedly different. Agents opened the floor to questions from writers, making QueryDay an interactive event. And because writers became participators, I doubt that anyone who witnessed QueryDay had anything negative to say about it.

Several positive spins emerged. Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency announced her first QueryWin of the day early on. She requested “a YA light sci-fi novel. Strong query. Good voice in sample pages.” She was also impressed with a “Smart cookie author/illustrator: did not attach art to email, but pointed me to link of her art online. Win.”

Later on Ms. Roth passed on “a 3,000 word picture book” and a “YA novel set in college. Still on the fence about that. And only 39,000 words.” Writers, you need to know the proper word counts for your genre.

Agents also provided tips. Rachelle Gardner offered, “This may be hard to hear, but I suggest you avoid being in a rush to get published. Take TIME to develop your craft.” Later she confessed, “A query that makes me laugh is a great thing! Whether or not the book is for me, it definitely gets my attention.”

Agent Lauren MacLeod shared information on her preferences: “For the record, I prefer not published to self-published. For me, self-published has to try harder. Others feel differently.” She then explained, “Why my self-pubbed position? 1) I assume it has already been widely rejected by agents, 2) might have already exhausted the market.”

Some themes and suggestions emerged repeatedly, like submitting polished work. Lauren MacLeod announced, “I assume you have edited your work, have a writers group and have shown this to someone who likes it.” Later on, Colleen Lindsay said, “A writer needs to get the manuscript into the best shape possible before querying. An agent’s job is not to handhold or coddle or boost a writer’s self-esteem. An agent’s job is to sell the manuscript.” Editor Kate Sullivan presented this caveat, “Remain open-minded and be ready to revise. You need to be open to changes every step of the way.” Even a polished manuscript can be improved.

The most important thing learned from QueryDay is really quite basic: write a sharp query and follow guidelines.

And just how much time does an agent devote to your query? Lauren MacLeod answered, “A query that is to our guidelines, within normal word count range and my genre? About 5 minutes. These are rare.”

She then summed it up: “More important than anything: WRITE A GOOD BOOK. Good writing, good plot & good voice trump all.” Rachel Gardner agreed, “Fiction writers…it’s ALL about the writing. Nothing’s as important as what’s on the page. If it rocks, nothing else matters.”

Got that? Now if only the word “good” weren’t so subjective…

I collected a number of questions and answers from QueryDay that other writers may find useful. I’ll post separately…coming very soon.

Today literary agents Lauren E. MacLeod and Colleen Lindsay hosted “QueryFail” on Twitter. Several agents and editors joined in by sharing the worst query lines from their slush piles.

The intention wasn’t to mock writers, but to educate them. “I know writing and querying are hard,” wrote Ms. MacLeod. “So my queryfails have been chosen from people who did not follow submission guidelines.”

Originally I had reposted many of the QueryFail examples here. But after hearing from several writers who were upset by the event, I have removed the specific entries. Instead, I’ll focus on what I learned by following QueryFail.

I apologize to those writers who felt disrespected. My intention in reposting was to share what I thought was good information. I still think it’s good information. But if you know me personally, you know I’m an empathetic soul and I don’t wish to cause another writer distress. Frankly, we’re distressed enough.

So onto what I learned, sans examples… 

1. Failure to follow directions is an automatic rejection.

Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. Their submission guidelines help them work efficiently. If you don’t follow those guidelines, it takes more time to read and respond to your query. The easiest solution is therefore not to bother.

2.  Don’t include anything in your query other than what is requested. (Typically a one-page letter and first page(s) writing sample.)

What sells a book? The writing. The same goes true for your query. The writing sample’s the thing. Don’t include food, photos, scented paper, stickers, alcohol or anything else. This distracts from your writing, the one thing that will win the agent’s attention.

3.  An agent makes a living by selling books. If you don’t have a book available to sell, you shouldn’t be querying.

Do not query until your book is finished, polished and ready for sale. Agents do not write for you, so don’t send ideas you want them to complete. Don’t contact an agent if you have something already published but nothing new to sell.

4.  Only include relevant, professional publishing credentials in your query.

If you are writing a middle grade novel, your articles for a food packaging trade magazine aren’t relevant. Neither is adult fiction, unfortunately. And if you don’t have any credentials, don’t apologize. Simply list your membership in a writer’s organization, like SCBWI. Remember, your writing is what matters. Experience is good, but not a requirement.

5.  Submit a novel with a unique idea, not a bizarre one.

You may write well, but is your book marketable? Remember, an agent’s job is to sell books.

6. Don’t toot your own horn.

Confidence is an attractive quality. Arrogance is not. Know the difference.

7. Remember correct punctuation and grammar.

If your one-page query contains mistakes, the agent can assume that your manuscript is flawed, too.

8. Use the correct salutation.

Call the agent by their name. They want to know that you know who they are! If they are agent #47 in an email blast, they know you haven’t done your research. Don’t call a female agent “sir.” And don’t address your query “to whom it may concern.”

After all those fails you may be wondering, what is a Query Win?

  • First sentence hook
  • Wordcount/genre
  • One- or two-paragraph blurb
  • Relevant writing credits/background
  • Polite closing
  • Solid writing sample

If you want to read more, search TweetGrid.com for #queryfail.

One last tip from Query Fail: “If you must scream about your rejection, do so into a pillow, not on your blog.”

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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