Have you ever spent time on twitter reading #tenqueries, #500queries, #querytip, or the like? If you haven’t, you might want to consider it. It’s a good reminder of what TO DO or NOT TO DO in a query and/or sample pages.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, agents post brief summaries of a sampling of the queries in their inbox on twitter and whether they would “request” or “pass.” I think we can learn from both. Sometimes you can find these on blogs and contests too.
Look at what these agents have to say:
NOT TO DO
“Mystery / suspense. Good concept but first three chapters are all backstory. Not entirely sure what this protagonist has to fear. Pass.” – Sharon Belcastro“Adult Psychological Thriller. The thriller aspect of this query is not focused on in the way it should be. It’s not the forefront of the pitch, making it feel like a subplot instead of the crux of the tension. Pass.” – Peter Knapp
“Do not, I repeat, DO NOT query a project you’re not done writing! Pass.” – Laura Zatts
“Something I see way too often in sample pages = ‘her brain rattled with shock upon seeing the dead body.’ That's going to end up in the ‘quality of writing not-quite-there-yet pile.’” – Sara Megibow
“Women's fiction. Premise is a bit flat and run of the mill. Nothing unique. Pass” – Scott Eagan
“Let me make this clear: I do not accept email submissions. And it is not in fact easier than Query Manager. If you can't respect that, I am not the agent for you.” – Natascha Morris
“If you're querying and find yourself using phrases such as your character ‘becomes someone he's not’ try to find more descriptive ways to show what the story's about. You want to pull readers into your story and to do that you need these details.” – Kortney Price
“A query letter that starts out ‘in lieu of a query I am sending...’ goes straight to spam. Email address flagged as ‘divert to spam from now on.’” – Janet Reid
“If your query focuses on a character who readers don't meet till halfway through the novel, you either started your book in the wrong spot, or you need to take another stab at that query synopsis.” – Michaela A. Cane
And WHAT TO DO!
“Your comp titles tell who your book's audience is. A quick reason why you chose them is helpful, e.g. ‘Fans of Satanic balls and political irony, as found in Bulgakov's THE MASTER AND MARGARITA will enjoy my super awesome book.’” – Mary C. Moore (Note: I’ve seen and heard agents say don’t tell us how good your book is.)
“Before you query, check the opening pages. Does your opening line raise a question? Does the story start in scene? Are the stakes clearly established? Make sure you engage the reader (agent).” – Jennifer March Soloway
“Pitch contests are fantastic, but never underestimate the power of an old fashioned query sent to an agent’s inbox. I’ve signed the majority of my wonderful clients from queries, so it still happens!” – Penny Moore
“Be Honest- If you previously had an Agent or your book had gone on submission to Editors before let the Agents you are querying know that.” – Christa Heschke
“If you don't mention genre or age group in your query (maybe because you're not sure?), it's obvious. Better to be decisive than to hope agents just won't notice.” – Melissa Edwards
“The query did a good job of capturing a fantastical plot with multiple surreal elements, which can be so hard to summarize, and the opening page drew me in with its voice, detail, and delicate sorrow.” – Rebecca Podos
I hope you found this selection of thoughts helpful.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.