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.
What exactly is querying, is probably the first question you have in this process. I’ve talkedaboutthisextensively, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
On the Podcast “Writing Tips and Writerly Musings”:
Will You Read My First Chapter? A Rant – I love being supportive and encouraging of my fellow authors, but sometimes, I’ve just got to rant. And one thing that makes me rant is being asked to read a first chapter.
On The Blog(In Case You Missed It):
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.
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.
author of dark fantasy and technical consultant for a clinical laboratory
Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome toKevin Buckner
Kevin is certified as a Medical Laboratory Scientist who enjoys writing fantasy and sci-fi in his spare time. He is a devoted husband and father whose interests include playing guitar, zombies, knitting, playing video games with his kids, and listening to heavy metal.
Kevin, thanks for agreeing to be here today. While most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
Dungeons and Dragons has what I would want. It’s a creature called a Psuedodragon. They’re basically playful, cat-sized dragons.
I love them! The joy of a dragon, the mischief of a cat? You’ll be getting into plenty of hijinks with that one!
What do you write?And how did you get started?
I mostly write fantasy but also do a bit of science fiction. I got started writing stories in elementary school and found I liked it. I took a creative writing class in high school, in addition to AP English Literature. I graduated with a diploma of merit (slightly more prestigious than lettering) in English and Science. I knew at that point that I wanted to be an author, but chose a career in science because it had the promise of a steady paycheck.
I don’t think NPR is against covering genre fiction! It’s been known to make it’s way on there from time to time. From avoiding literary academia, I’ve yet to actually encounter genre-shaming in real life, just a lot of writers with trauma from their time there. I hope we’re in a better time now, where things aren’t derided as “not real literature” because people want to read them — outside of classrooms and people wanting to say they read something to impress people.
What do you like to read?
Fantasy, science fiction, classics, and horror.
Well, that sums up your reading pretty quickly. A lot of variety there.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
Limit dialogue tags
A lot of people say to limit dialogue tags in writing. I have a hard time doing this because I find it frustrating when I’m reading a book and have to re-read a section in order to figure out who is saying what. Some say that including multiple dialogue tags in a conversation between two people pulls the reader out of the story and interrupts the flow; I find the opposite to be true.
I’ve definitely heard push-back on this lately. There’s a growing opinion that “she said/he saids” are skimmed over and don’t slow the reading. Although, even without dialogue tags, “they” usually suggest having an action attached to the speaker in that paragraph.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
Write the book you want to read.
It’s the only way I can be satisfied with what I’ve written. I know there are authors out there who write books that they don’t particularly care for because they know they will sell, but if I don’t like it, there’s no way I’m going to finish it, let alone publish it.
I’ve one-hundred percent there with you! I *am* my target audience. Fortunately for my future publishing hopes, my tastes aren’t too far off from things I can find being published (and winning awards… hey. If you’re gonna dream, might as well dream big. Right?)
Several years after a demon prince is summoned to the terrestrial world, a respected politician is found murdered in his home. While the hunt for the killer is on, a secret society of necromancers discovers that the artifacts of their legends are real.
As they search for these artifacts, their enemies gather to fight against them in an effort to prevent the necromancers from taking over the world. All the while, neither side knows about the demon prince, who is still at large, manipulating people and events to stir up trouble wherever he can in a city that holds a dark secret.