9 Terms All Querying Authors Should Know

The road to traditional publication is a long one. Once you (and your beta-readers) have taken your novel as far as you can, it’s as polished as you can make it, and you’re ready to share it with the world, the next step is typically finding a literary agent with a process known as querying.

While these are the common definitions for these terms, they are not uniform across the board, and you may find people using these terms for different things.

For those who’ve never queried a novel, here are 9 terms you’ll probably encounter along the way.

1. Querying

What exactly is querying, is probably the first question you have in this process. I’ve talked about this extensively, but querying is the process by which you select an agent, compose a query letter, send it to the agent, and then wait for a response. Many agents ask for more than just a query letter. On the agency’s submissions page, they will describe what they want. A query package may include: X number of pages from your manuscript, a synopsis (1-3 pages), a pitch or logline, knowledge of the target audience, or more.

Originally, people would mail letters to the agencies. Some agents still accept mail, but most have moved to email or even electronic forms.

2. The Query Letter

In America, the query letter is typically 3-4 paragraphs, 2 describing the story’s main character’s stakes and goals, 1 with the manuscript’s stats and any comparison novels, and 1 with a short biography of any relevant information.

If the agency you’re looking at requests a cover letter, it’ll be similar to a query letter, but the story part of the letter will typically just be one to two sentences.

3. Comps

A ‘comp’ or ‘comparison novel’ is a novel that gives the agent a feel for what your manuscript is like. Traditional comps are typically less than 3 years old and in your genre, avoiding any wildly popular novels. (You don’t want to say you’ve got ‘The Next Hunger Games’ or something of that nature.) You can also use older comps with things such as “the court politics of BOOK A with the humor of BOOK B.”

4. Pitch or Logline

While pitches can be longer than a traditional logline, your pitch, or ‘elevator pitch’ is the 30-second version of your story, something pithy and tweetable. This is ineffably easier if you have something that is “high concept”. “She’s a war-hardened soldier, he’s a street-rat who’s made it big as a chef, together, they fight crime.” Or “Cinderella meets Pitch Perfect in a futuristic rags-to-riches battle of the choruses.”

5. High Concept vs Low Concept stories

High concept stories have easy to describe plots and those pithy pitches. Low concept stories are typically more character driven than plot focused, and harder to condense.

6. Slush Pile

Despite the name, a slush pile is neither a stack of slushie drinks, nor plowed snow piled by the side of the road. Any unsolicited query (or, in the short story world of magazines and anthologies — unsolicited submissions) is dubbed part of the ‘slush pile’. Agents have author clients that they are beholden to, and only a small percentage of their time is spent looking for more clients. Often getting dozens to hundreds of query letter submissions a week, the slush pile can easily get away from a busy agent. Reading these piles is sometimes even relegated to interns and agents-in-training.

7. Submissions

Submissions are when you send the full story to a publisher. If you’re looking to publish a short story, you’re going to be ‘submitting’ to them, not ‘querying’ them. When you have an agent , (or if you find a publisher that accepts unagented manuscripts), they’re submitting your manuscript to the publishing houses on your behalf.

8. SASE

In the old-school world of physically mailing your manuscript to agents, printing was also rather expensive. So, most authors who wanted the manuscript returned to them if the agent said ‘no’ would include a “self-addressed and stamped envelope” — a SASE for the agency to return the manuscript at no cost to the agency.

9. R&R

Sadly, in the querying process, this doesn’t usually mean “rest and relaxation.”

Some agents don’t say “no” or “yes” immediately. Some see potential in a story, but might email, asking for changes to be made, without offering representation, but asking to see the new version. These are known in the querying industry as “revise and resubmits” or – R&R. Some agents will give feedback without asking for a resubmission, so read carefully whenever you’re given advice. Standard practice is not to requery an agent with the same manuscript — unless it has undergone a massive overhaul. And, even then, it’s suggested to try different agents.


Are there any other terms you’ve run across when querying that those not in the trenches are unfamiliar with?

Let me know!

Top 5 Songs To Query By

I’m back in the querying trenches, sending out my beloved manuscript that I’ve worked over and polished and revised oh so many times. Sending it out and hoping for someone to want it. To love it the way I do.

There are many emotional states that a querying author goes through. So, let’s explore a few of them through song.

1. Picking the (hopefully) right agents to query

When you decide you’re ready, you’re usually feeling pretty good about the state of your entire query package — from your opening pages, to your pitch, to your query letter itself. So, you’re researching all the agents. When you find ones that take your genre, that mention your favorite books and/or comp novels for your own manuscript as either favorites or novels that they represented themselves. Whose online biography and social media sounds like they’d be just right for you…

That’s when it’s time to not throw away “My Shot” (Hamilton)

I am not throwin’ away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
And I’m not throwin’ away my shot

2. While You Wait For That Agent Response

Okay, if nothing else on here BLATANTLY ages me, this song choice probably does. Especially this version. But this is what strums through my head when I hit send to that agent that I carefully picked, carefully selected.

Letters To Cleo’s “I Want You To Want Me”:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

3. When You Get That Rejection From That Agent You Thought Was PERFECT

You did your research. They sounded perfect for you.

That’s when your heart starts singing lyrics from The Cardigan’s “Lovefool”

So, I cry and I beg for you to
Love me love me
Say that you love me
Fool me fool me
Go on and fool me
Love me love me
Pretend that you love me
Leave me leave me
Just say that you need me

4. After You Get Yet Another Form Rejection Letter

By now, you’re starting to feel a little panicked. Frustrated. No. More desperate. Surely, some agent has to like your stuff. Right? Maybe you just haven’t found the right one.

That’s when it’s time to break out Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”:

Don’t you want somebody to love [YES]
Don’t you need somebody to love [YES]
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love [Obviously!!]
You better find somebody to love [ I’m TRYING! Hmmmm, maybe this isn’t the right song.]

5. When You Decide You’re Not Giving Up, Today

You’ve gotten rejection after rejection, but you believe in your story and you’re not ready to give up.

That’s when it’s time to break out Rachel Platten’s Fight Song.

But there’s a fire burning in my bones
Still believe
Yeah, I still believe
….
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me


This isn’t all the emotional states of a querying author — not by far. What songs do you tie to your emotional state when you send out your manuscript and ask someone to love it.

Getting An Agent – Querying In Batches

I talk a lot about the querying process. Maybe someday I can talk about actually working with an agent. But, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that traditionally published books need an agent and that most publishing houses don’t accept submissions for unagented works. You know, in order to get an agent, you need to send them a one-page query letter, telling them about the story — the characters and the stakes, the manuscript’s stats and comparative novels, and a brief biography of yourself. I’ve talked about how to pick who to query. I’ve even let you know about my worries about when to send that query letter.

But that’s not all you need to think about.

There’s debate about how many agents to query at a time, when to stop, and whether to give up and ‘drawer’ the manuscript or self-publish. I know I have the bad habit of revising my whole manuscript every ten queries or so, which I shouldn’t need to do unless I’m getting consistent feedback or my manuscript isn’t ready.

However, I’ve been running into querying writers who are sending out ten queries a day, without stop, until they’ve queried everyone in their genre, (or at least not opposed to their genre.)

Stop it!

You’re only hurting your own chances.

I agree that queries should be sent out in batches — but of 3-5, maybe up to 10. But then you need to wait. You need to see what sort of responses you’re getting.

If you’re getting form rejections, that doesn’t tell you if the agent doesn’t find your voice or story compelling, nor does it say that it’s not what the market is looking for. It simply means your query (and/or your first 10-pages) aren’t working.

It’s a LOT easier to edit or tweak a query and opening chapter than it is to revise and revamp an entire manuscript. But, industry standards are such that one does not re-query with the same manuscript unless there have been substantial changes — plot, pacing, characters — to a majority of the story.

A slight aside about those opening pages – a lot of publishers and agents and even veteran writers have told me that newbie writers often start the story in the wrong place — even if their writing is great.

Now, back to the query talk. If you query every agent immediately, you’ll never know if the problem is your query and opening, or the story itself.

If you query in smaller batches, you can tweak and adjust until you’re getting requests for more pages, or more personalized rejections. Both mean you’re getting closer. Feedback is useful, but lack of feedback just means you haven’t hit the mark yet (or you’ve been querying the wrong people).

Don’t waste your query chances with your first polished query. Once you’re getting rejections on partial or full requests, it may be time to query more widely, because you’ve got the query just right. Or, it might be time to look at the story. But all a form rejection means on a query is that the query isn’t working.

Slow down your querying. The publishing industry is a slow process, and rushing the querying process won’t do anything but close doors to your current manuscript.


Have you queried a manuscript? What did you find to be the right size for a batch?

Have you mass queried and actually had it work?

What Does a Form Rejection Mean When Querying A Novel?

I’ve queried before.

I’ve queried this story before.

Thirty-six rejections in, this story has been decently queried, but has not blanketed the literary agent world. (Especially since I find myself revising the entire piece every ten rejections or so.)

One of those revisions was based on a revise-and-resubmit, one of those times was based on finding a writing mentor who could help me bring my writing to the next level.

After I finished my latest round of revisions, I queried five agents back in July. The most recent rejection arrived just last week — two months after I’d closed out the agent as “no reply means no thank you.” But, closure is kind.

Why haven’t I queried more? Well, I told myself I was finishing the revisions on my middle-grade story for Pitch Wars. I was prepping for my NaNoWriMo story. And I wanted to see how my new query and first pages worked.

All I’ve gotten is a stack of form rejection letters.

How to handle rejection

  1. Indulge in self-pity — Not forever. Not even for a week (unless you really need it). But? For a night or two? Wallow in it. Let yourself grieve over the hope that has been shattered and eat chocolate or junk food. Complain (privately) to a few trusted friends.
  2. Distraction — Got other projects to work on? Books or shows to binge? Maybe you’re also moving, or helping school your children. There’s always stress-cleaning your house from top to bottom and re-alphabetizing your bookcase (forgetting this sorted-by-color trend). Distraction can help a lot.
  3. Track it — If you can, see every rejection as a step closer to publication. Maybe you’re going for 100 rejections. Maybe you’ve decided if you hit a certain number without getting an agent, you’re going to self-publish. So, update your querytracker.net account, or your spreadsheet, or wherever you’re tracking who you’re querying and from which agency (because some agencies only allow one query for all their agents combined). Some people paper walls with printed out rejection letters, or add a bead to a necklace, or in some way commemorate every rejection on their path.
  4. Assess — What is the problem? Do you have a writer friend you can trust to tell you? Can you glean anything from the rejection? Some tell you something… others, are just polite form rejections.

What can one gleam from form rejections?

A form rejection tells you… nothing. Although, there are a few different things one can think.

  1. The query is badly written and not pulling people in. But… I felt my query letter was solid, if not amazing. Although, it is easier to write someone else’s query, I feel confident in my query writing skills.
  2. The query is well-written, but the story is trite and no one is interested. Maybe. I’m my own target audience, but sometimes, from a higher level, a lot of fantasy quests can feel repetitive.
  3. The first ten pages let the story down, and that’s why no one wants more. It feels weird to say this, but… the last time I read through my story, my first third of my book even impressed ME, and I’m the one who wrote it. Although, the one revise-and-resubmit did suggest more backstory before the inciting incident, and maybe I am starting too quickly, before you care about the characters?
  4. Maybe 2020 was a horrid time to be querying, especially young adult fantasy. Agents were too wary and not picking up much of anything. I mean, it can always be the market, right. My book is on the cusp of YA and adult, should I do a few edits so I can query it in the wider adult fantasy market? Should I just wait a little for people to recover from 2020 and then send out, as people feel more eager for new stories?
  5. Those five agents weren’t right for the story, but the right agent (and publisher) are out there waiting. Possibly! This is what I keep telling myself. Maybe I’ll start querying again in mid-January, waiting a week or so after the agents re-open to not get lost in the flood, probably a Tuesday morning, after the coffee’s kicked in, before the lunch hunger starts to distract them…

Querying is scary. There’s very little solid feedback — thanks to both outlier writers-of-yore-and-today who argued and harassed agents, as well as the massive number of querying writers these days, as technology makes the process more accessible than ever. One has to have faith in one’s writing abilities, confidence that the story can stand on its own, and the perseverance to see it through.

Best of luck to all of you in the query trenches. If you’re self-publishing, I salute your bravery! And? Wish me luck in 2021!

Querying and Agents: Now I’m Confused

While I consider myself rather well-versed with the querying writer’s life and expectations, I recently ran across something new and worrying.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, literary agents are well-read people, familiar with the industry, who are versed in contract law and help writers find a publishing house. While you can go it alone, the larger publishing houses often do not even accept submissions from un-agented writers. Querying is the process by which we entice the agent with the characters and stakes of our story, let them know where our story fits in the market, and include any relevant biographical information. It’s a one page letter that works almost like a job application — only, if the agent selects us (with that lovely external validation) — they’re working for us, to promote our writing.

Back toward the end of October, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, waiting to hear that I did NOT make the cut (again) for PitchWars, when someone in my Middle Grade Waves PitchWars support group (middle grade is what comes before YA books, but after chapter books) mentioned that they’d queried an agent… and the agent had:

a – gone on twitter to complain about someone querying outside of business hours
and
b – rejected them promptly

Wait. WHAT?

First of all, email is asynchronous communication.

Secondly? Queries are business emails. No querying writer should ever expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. But, that might be the time of day that the house is quiet and they can put their thoughts together and work up the nerve to send the email.

We should never expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. In fact, most of us expect our query letters to be filtered into a ‘queries’ folder and only looked at when the agent has finished dealing with their pre-existing clients. Maybe just before lunch on Wednesday, or Friday evening before they head out for the weekend. Sometimes, we suspect agents just set aside a day, maybe not even once a month, where they go through and clear out the queries that are pushing ‘past due’.

An immediate response was never an expectation most of us even thought could be a possibility.

So. Now I’m not just worried that my story isn’t ready, or that my query needs work, or that the market is oversaturated, no matter how good my story and query are. Now I get to obsess over timing of my email!

I’m already factoring holidays, school schedules, and elections into the mix. I usually hold off if there was just a pitch contest on twitter, because I know agents usually bump those to the top of their queue because they seem a bit more time sensitive.

How do I handle this?

Was this just one agent? Do I just assume an agent who dislikes this is not the match for me? Or is this more a common pet peeve?

Maybe I’ll start prepping my query letters and schedule them to submit on Tuesday mornings. Not Monday, because they’ll have all the weekend backlog, but not so close to lunch that they’re hungry and distracted…


Agents — is this a common practice?
Do you feel frustrated when you get emails outside of regular business hours?

Querying writers — what else have I missed about properly timing my query letters?
Anything else I should be stressing about?