4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion
Most agents, especially in America, like query letters. These are somewhat formulaic introductions to your novel’s characters and plot, that give the agent a feel for your writing style and story.
1 – Adherents should follow certain tenets
The Basic Tenets of Querying
- Include at least 2 short paragraphs about the novel
- Include a paragraph with the novels stats
- Include a short author biography
- Try to keep the query under 250 words or 1 page
- Avoid rhetorical questions – they’re overdone and not compelling
- Avoid ‘in character’ queries – they’re confusing and trite
2 – Different Sects Have Different Rules
Querying Doctrinal Differences
- If the stats paragraph goes at the start or the end
- If you should include a single pitch sentence, or just get to the story
- If personalization is something desirable or feels like trying too hard to be friends
- The length of the story section of the query (1, 2, or 3 paragraphs)
3 – Ritual Observance
To offer the best odds for a query to succeed (i.e. result in additional pages requested, the story sells itself), many query practitioners concoct different rituals.
- Querying at specific times and days of the week, month, or year
- Tweaking the query based on #mswl or other stated preferences
- Following and commenting on the agent’s social media in the hope of connecting such that they recognize your name in a fond way when you query (in a RESPECTFUL and NON-STALKERISH way)
- Selecting agents based on the assumed personality extracted from their profile
- Number of queries sent at a time
- Number of outstanding queries at any time
- Number of query rejections between revamping pages and/or their query
4 – Heretics!
There are heretics who hate the formula and strive to stand out, to be different, to break the mold and catch an agent’s attention.
- They’ll write from the character’s point of view
- Send the letter as though they were writing a friend
- Send a stream of consciousness message
- Talk about why they wrote the book and themes, (rather than letting the story demonstrate these things itself)
- Go on for pages
- Write 3 lines and their salutations
- Write in verse — iambic pentameter, haiku, or free verse
I’m not saying none of these will ever work with any agent, ever. I’m just saying, most agents like the formula for a reason. And if the agents are bored by the formula, that just means your opening pages count for more.
Do you have any rituals I missed?
Which query sect do you belong to?