Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Query Time: FAQs

Thanks to everyone who submitted their questions. Below you'll find a lovely list of Query Frequently Asked Questions. (and yes, these are very, very frequently asked, so I'm glad to finally have a post dedicated to them)
  • If I have no fiction credentials, what do I put in the author bio in the query? Can I leave it off?
    • Yes! Just leave it off. The agent doesn't need to hear about how you've been writing since you were six or how you were inspired by your dog. Leaving it blank won't reflect badly on you at all. It will make your query simple and to the point (which I do love).
  • For the "summary" part of the query, what sort of word count do you like to see?
    • Great question! Let's see... I'd say 150-300 words would be good for the summary. That's not counting the intro, thanks, and bio. Back cover blurbs (like the "synopsis" I post each week for Wednesday Reads) tend to run about 100-200. You can get good practice by trying to write a 100, 200, and 300 word blurb and see which works best.
  • I have a series planned, but the first novel is a standalone. Do I mention that?
    • It could matter less to me if you have a series or a single book--the writing has to prove it first and the idea of the first book needs to intrigue me enough to read it. But ya, you can mention it. (title) is the first planned book of the series (series title) but is a stand alone. Don't spend any more time than that on it.
  • How do I query a novel that is part of a series (not a stand alone, cliff hanger, etc)? 
    • Again, mention that it's part of a series. You don't have to inform us that there is a cliff hanger. My reasoning is, either we're interested in the idea for this one book (and will therefore want to see more) or we won't be. Then when we get to the manuscript, either we'll read all the way to the end and love your writing, or we won't. We'll cross the "change the ending or leave it" bridge when we get to it.
  • Should I mention if I'm currently under contract for publication?
    • Yes. Even if it's a small press, it will show the agent two things. One: someone wants you. Two: you have the dedication to do whatever it takes. Be sure to say who the publisher is, when you'll be published, and the genre.
  • Should I mention if I was previously agented (but parted amicably)?
    • Yes. More likely than not, it'll move your query out of the slush pile and earn you a quicker response. Someone has already vetted that you're worth the deeper look, so we pay attention. Ask your prior agent if you can name drop him/her. If it's a big name we all recognize, you'll get a fast response.
  • Do I mention if I have self published (a book I'm not currently querying)?
    • Sure! Again, it shows your dedication. If your sale numbers were high, you especially want to mention that.
  • What do I need to include if I'm seeking representation for a self published book?
    • Firstly, think hard about your goals before you self pub. Are you looking to be the next Amanda Hocking? That takes a lot of dedication and marketing and writing several books in a short period of time. If your sale numbers are very low and/or your book is more than 6 months old, that reflects badly on your dedication. You need to include the synopsis, sale numbers, pub date, avenue of publication, and links so we can check it out if we so desire (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, etc). If you have any quotes or recommendations from notable authors, include that.
  • What's your average number of queries rejected? Week? Month? Year?
    • I get approx 10 queries a day (depending on time of year, blog exposure, conferences, etc). I might request materials from 1 of those queries. Say 70 queries a week might get 5 requests (that's a 93% rejection rate). Let's go with that 93%, so out of the 3,640 queries I get a year, that's 3,385 queries rejected, only 255 requested. And I'd say, approximately, I might read more than 50 pages on 30 of those (I think I'm being very generous on that number). Last year, I offered on 8 manuscripts--7 of which came from queries. So, approximately, you have a 0.19% chance of being signed from the slush pile. 
    • HOWEVER. If your query is captivating, you've done your homework, your writing is solid, your characters unbelievable (in a believable sort of way), and your plot rockin, you have a superb chance at getting noticed and signed. Which is to say, it's not about luck at all--it's about passion, dedication, and skill.
  • How important is it that I draw comparison between my work and that of others? (readers of X would enjoy this; my ms is Y meets Z)
    • Besides showing your ability to follow directions, it also shows you know your market and have done your homework (dedication and easy to work with). Agents can usually spot the market intended through your genre and query, but in case it's not clear we need that extra information. However, if the comparison is unclear (I can't picture what Happy Feet meets Gangs of New York would entail--thanks Rick for the awesomeness) or is obvious that you don't know what you're talking about (if you use thrillers to describe your ChickLit), it can hurt you. I have seen queries which I loved, but the comparison line drove it home with such ingenuity and (what I like to call) the YES! factor, leading me to read the ms as soon as I received it. In most cases, the comparison is bland and obvious (I definitely know a Sarah Dessen look-a-like when I see one), but it will neither help nor hinder your query. If I'm interested, I'm interested.
  • What sort of comparisons work best?
    • There are lots of different sorts. There's the MovieA meets MovieB. BookA meets BookB. If done well, you can do MovieA meets BookB. The always fun If AuthorA had a baby with AuthorB. You see the list goes on and on. Honestly, no one format works best. It has to be true to you and your ms. Try out several on friends, critique partners, strangers, Tweeps, fellow conference attendees, to see what works best.
  • How do I write a synopsis for my 130k book? I'm trying to condense it but there is too much to talk about.
    • Firstly, the word count is too high. For any genre. Unless you're a tried and true author and you've had your name on the New York Times Bestseller list. Most likely the reason you have too much to talk about, is because there is too much to talk about. If the plot is solid, and no extraneous characters or info, the synopsis should follow smoothly. As for how to write a synopsis, all I can suggest is try, try, try again. Write a one page synopsis, and a longer synopsis because agents request different lengths. There is a lot of info out there on how to write a synopsis (Google it).
  • I queried a manuscript to some agents a few months ago, but have completely rewritten the manuscript, leaving only a few things the same (title, characters name, etc). Can I query those same agents with this "new" manuscript now? How do I inform them I'm querying a fully revised manuscript?
    • I'm assuming they only have the query, not the partial. If so, then no, don't tell them. If you've included sample pages with your query, when they request to see more pages you can include a note to let them know you've revised so the first pages won't look the same. A revised ms will not sway them to read it based on the query; either they're interested in the idea or not. If they have the ms already, and you want them to read the revised, you can try, you have nothing to lose. But I'd recommend against it. When you query agents, leave your ms alone. Don't touch it. Work on something else. Only when they've all responded do you revise. It makes the process less complicated, gets you working on something else to get ready to send out, and gives you distance from the ms for a better revision.
  • You suggested in an earlier post to include your website in your query. Does a blog count or should I invest in a big fancy author website?
    • Below your name, in your signature, you can include your blog link, Twitter link, and anything else that is pertinent and relevant. You do not need to make a fancy author site. You do not need to include these things in the body of the query (bio section). It takes up space and attention. It's much less intrusive in the signature and if I care to, I'll click it myself (don't say, here's my site for you to check out, ugh). If you have an extraordinary amount of followers or views, you can include that in your bio. I also like to know if you're in any special blog groups (ie, YA Confidential, Bookinistas, YA Highway, etc), that you can include in the bio.
  • Do I need to tell you about my pen name? Or use only my pen name?
    • Honestly, I find pen names annoying in queries. You're not hiding your identity from me (I hope) so don't sign that way. In your signature, you can include w/a pen name (meaning, writing as). Do not tell me in your query that you're writing under another name, and for the love of the world, don't explain to me how you came up with the name. We can deal with pen names when we get there.
  • When I send an update to agents with my manuscript to let them know I have an offer, do I tell them the name of the agent?
    • No! At least, I hate knowing and I think it looks unprofessional. If an agent specifically asks, you may tell them, but they don't need to know. Here's why I don't like knowing. Publishing is often referred to as a big family; we all know each other. And if my agent friend is the offering agent, I may back off on it to be nice. Or, to certain agents, I'll offer only because I feel like I'm in competition with them. I like to be perfectly blind and think only about myself and this timeline I have to decide against.
Happy writing!


    Jenny S. Morris said...

    Thanks. This is such great information!

    Mary Weber said...

    "...and for the love of the world, don't explain to me how you came up with the name." Hahahaha! Oh, I can only imagine the explanations an agent might get in regards to pen names! Thanks for the giggle (okay, it was more of a hearty laugh but...). And thanks for the great (and thorough) info!


    Cassie Mae said...

    Some great questions! I saw Rick's tweet about Happy Feet meets Gangs of New York and spewed Mountain Dew all over my computer. :)

    Thanks for answering these! Lots of great stuff to keep in mind.

    *makes note to self: do not go into dog inspiring book*

    Anonymous said...

    These are some great tips. The query letter seems rather formulaic - (though condensing the story's info into the formula is fairly difficult.) Your sample from an earlier blog appears to be the norm for what agents are looking for. The answers to these questions are very helpful. Especially the numbers one. Everyone wants to know the odds. The whole query month was helpful. Queries are about as fun as resumes! Ha!

    Lauren said...

    This was extremely helpful. (I never thought to include a Twitter address, for instance.) Thanks so much for posting it!

    mshatch said...

    Excellent info - thanks!

    Kelley Lynn said...

    Love the 'Happy Feet meets Gangs of New York'. Though... I think a gang full of penguins might be kind of cute...haha

    Carrie Butler said...

    That was so helpful! Thank you! :)

    Cortney Pearson said...

    Great information! Thanks for sharing your insights!! :D

    Kimberly said...

    This was a really fantastic series on queries. I enjoyed it and looked forward to each post.

    Eric Steinberg said...

    Thanks for an informative series on queries. How about the ever popular first pages for next month?

    Colin Smith said...

    I appreciate your honest answer to that last question. I've read other agents' answers to similar questions, but you're the first I've read to give reasons why you don't want to know the name(s) of agents who offer on a ms. A great FAQ, Vickie. :)

    Unknown said...

    Awesome tips. Thanks!

    Anonymous said...

    I'll add my thanks to the mix. These posts will be incredibly helpful to me as I work on my query and prepare to send it out. And I'm always happy to hear comments like yours about dedication and skill. It's a great reminder that if I give it my all and do my research, I'll probably be a step ahead of many queriers. (Is queriers a word?)

    J. Freeland said...

    Thanks for answering my question, Vickie. I was really unsure about that.

    Dana said...

    Thanks for posting this information. Crafting a request-worthy query is such a challenge! I wish I'd know this about a year ago, but it's never too late to edit, polish, and make it shine.

    I also appreciate the update etiquette tip at the end. It would be nice to have the opportunity to use that bit of advice someday!

    Best wishes,


    -Jo- said...

    Thank you so much for focusing on the dreaded query letter. They feel so daunting, but you've broken it down nicely.

    Eric J. Krause said...

    Thank you for this list. Very helpful. It answered a few questions I had for my current query package.

    Carrie-Anne said...

    For the question about querying a 130K book (which btw is a drop in the bucket for me), I was advised at Pitch University to emphasize high stakes and a grand, sweeping, saga-length scale and plot trajectory instead of emphasizing things that might be important but look minor in comparison. I was also advised to leave word count out, since you want any potential rejections to be based on opinion of the writing or story, NOT prejudice against deliberately saga-length books (which were very popular and the norm not too long ago).

    Anonymous said...

    It would be awesome if you could do a month of advice on writing a synopsis. I am really struggling in that area, and have a couple of questions I'd love to ask. In fact, I'll just ask one of them here:

    My novel is made up of two connected stories (each could stand alone, but they work well together and feature the same cast of characters). Although the total length is well within standard range, I feel like this is going to be hard to handle in the synopsis without going over 5 pages. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Unknown said...

    One of the best takeaways of this post for me is how important it is to know the agent you're querying. A lot of the things here Vickie wrote are not accepted by other agents. Some of those other agents tell you to NEVER do some of the things Vickie suggested.

    Which goes to show, you should always research the agent and know what they like or don't like. Treating them all the same could cost you.

    Thanks, Vickie.

    Unknown said...

    Thank you so much for these entries! I have been researching about queries for a week and your January blog series are honestly one of the better resources I have found.

    Comparisons and the questions about series and the author's bio were my biggest blanks that I could not find an answer for.

    From your previous posts, I even checked out that Cupid Literacy contest to view the queries you had mentioned. They were very well written.

    Thank you again for taking the time to write this.

    And yes, I am very well aware it's May! :)