The 10 Types of Queriers

If you’ve ever considered traditional publishing, you probably know about querying. In fact, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have seen me mention it a time or four.

Self-published authors get to skip the query trenches, but know that theirs is a hard road — full of marketing, and advertising, and building their brands — while working on the next novel. Without even the little help that small press or traditional publishing can offer.

But, for the rest of us, we all take different approaches to querying agents.

What type of querier are you?

Goldilocks

This querier follows ALL the query tips. They do enough research to personalize if applicable, then tweaks the query and first pages until the request rate is reasonable.

Then, they send out queries in batches of 7-10, and send out a new query every time they get a rejection or hit a time-out window. After 100 queries, this querier is either agented, planning to self-publish, or shelves the manuscript and has a new manuscript ready to query.

I-Know-A-Guy

This querier knows there’s nothing like that personal touch. She goes to conventions and signs up for all the one-on-ones with the agents in her genre, the ones who represent the novels that make the perfect comps for her manuscript.

This querier only queries agents she’s personally met, because she knows that’ll give her that extra level of attention from the agent. Anything to get ahead of the nameless crowds of the slush pile.

The Perfectionist

This (wanna-be) querier is almost ready. The novel just needs one more round of revisions, but he’s going to query as soon as this draft is done. — Or at least, that’s what he’s been saying… for the last 10 years.

Are The Signs Right?

This querier is superstitious. She only queries on Wednesday mornings, when it’s raining, and the dog let her sleep until the alarm. Each query has exactly 246 words in it, and she hits send while listening to the second verse of Hamilton’s I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot.

The Eager #NaNoWriMite

This querier wrote his first book in November, polished it in January, and is gonna query 3 agents a week until he gets that huge book deal! Who needs a beta reader? Inspiration was with him and this book is so timely!

Oooh, Squirrel!

This querier starts out well — ze sends out a batch. But then? Ze gets caught up in a new project or a writing contest and forgets to query that second batch. But, don’t worry, ze’ll get to it, as soon as this new project gets to a — Oh! Ze just got a new story idea!

The Doubter

This querier knows she needs to get her manuscript out there. She agonizes over her query letter, with about 4 bazillion re-writes, finally hits ‘send’ on the query. Then? She rereads it and sees INSTANTLY where those typos were and how she could have made it better. So, she eats a box of cookies, beats herself up for two weeks, and fixes the letter before she sends the next query.

After the first rejection comes in, she stares at her story. Her manuscript is probably getting drowned in a pile of similar tropes by her mediocre writing. Perhaps another tweak on the first pages? The query OBVIOUSLY could be improved. And maybe the market is wrong right now and she should wait and query later? Maybe another look at the synopsis? Hers stinks…

Sweet summer child

This querier has finally polished his novel and knows that he’s ready! So, it’s time to let the agents know!

He looks online and queries every agent in his genre on Query Tracker in under a week, and reaches out for suggestions on other agents to query — before he’s even heard back from the first agent.

Token Attempt

This querier knows their novel is too niche for the market. They’re gonna have to self-publish anyway. But? They might as well pop a few queries off to their dream agent. It’s okay, they’ve already prepped the manuscript and will hit the ‘publish’ button the day that last rejection comes in.

The Morgan

This querier does tons of research using all the social media — staying just this side of stalking. Rearranges and tweaks the query to the exact specifications of this agent and their tastes.

Then, revises her whole novel every 10 rejections, cause clearly there’s something she should fix.


I think it’s pretty clear which querier I am, which one are you? (Or do you think you would be if you were going to query a novel?)

Let me know if there are any I missed!


They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!

All industries have their own specialized terms, and even inside an industry, different people can want things done different ways. In the publishing world, you hear a lot about blurbs, queries, synopses, and more.

Now, I can’t tell you what ALL agents, publishers, and readers are looking for, but I can point you in the right direction.

High Level Distinctions

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the big picture.

For the most part, blurbs are what you find on the back cover of a novel. (Or want to, what’s with this trend of bigger-name-author quote on enjoying the book, without saying ANYTHING about the book, not even the genre??) What you see in the Facebook ad as you scroll past.

Queries, if you’ve been to my blog before, you should know, are what you send a literary agent (someone who helps you find and negotiate with your publisher).

And synopses? Those are for agents or publishers, to find out how the plot progresses.

Three different tools, for three different tasks, all describing the same story. But, they all go about it in very different ways.

The Blurb

Blurbs are your seasoning, without much substance. Blurbs push the secretive, trying to give away only enough to entice the reader to pick up the novel.

This is where you’re going to see all the cliches pop out, “a man on the run”, “a woman with a deadly secret”, “will it come back to bite them?”

Rhetorical questions are perfectly fine, here. In moderation. All things in moderation.

Blurbs spark interest, but shouldn’t give anything away.

The Query

Queries are nicely seasoned but have definite substance to them.

As I may have mentioned here once or twice, queries should be told in 3rd person, present tense. They should be about two paragraphs, maybe as many as four if you have multiple protagonists.

And? They should take the agent to the first major plot point, setting up the rest of the story.

They do NOT give away the ending.

How is this different from the blurb? In a query, the agent wants specifics. Readers are looking for ways your book is like things they’ve already read, agents are looking for ways your book differs from others in the same genre.

How is this different from the synopsis? A query is focused on the main character(s) – who they are, what they want, and what stands in the way. The stakes are the entire point of the query.

Some agents like a query that starts off with a logline/pitch. A single sentence (try to keep it to 2 lines or less), that almost summarize the story. These overlap a lot with so-called elevator pitches and work best with “high concept” novels. “Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book” (good luck!). These are what you can tweet during twitter pitch parties or say when someone asks you “what you write?” during a party.

Other agents prefer you skip the logline, get right to the story, and then give a brief stats paragraph (genre, wordcount rounded to the nearest 1,000, any novels/writers you’d compare your work to), plus, your brief bio.

Your bio should be shorter than the story part of the query. If you have no publishing credits, do what I do: brief and simple. “I write from my lair in the DC metro area.” Occasionally, I add a hobby or so, if my reading of the agent shows they have similar interests, or if the hobby is something displayed in the novel.

Just remember who the query is for and what it’s supposed to do, and you’ll be in good shape.

The Synopsis

Synopses have substance, but are light on the seasoning.

The synopsis is all business. WHO does what, WHERE. You can give motivations, you can add a little description. But you need to detail the major plot points and completely give away the ending.

Different agents/publishers ask for different length synopsis. Anything over 1-page is single-spaced. (Hence my insistence that 2-page synopsis don’t exist. They’re just double-spaced 1-page synopsis)

I’ve seen agents ask for 1-page synopses, 3-page synopses, or a full-synopses. So? I have 3 versions. My long one is 5 pages.

To write my synopses, I often just build my query up — adding the ending/etc, for the 1 page synopsis (plus, caplocking the first mention of any proper noun — person or place). For my full synopsis, I write a 1-3 sentence description of what happens in each chapter, then edit it for clarity and flow. My 3-page synopsis is my 1-page combined with my 5-page edited down, until they meet in the middle. This is usually the synopsis I like the best and what I’ll send unless otherwise specified.

The synopsis shows your plot and pacing, often delving into character development as well. It needs to be coherent and clear, more than it needs a strong narrative voice and descriptive imagery. If you can do both, more power to you.

If your query is strong enough, the agent or publisher is going to want to look at your synopsis to learn more.


By keeping in mind exactly what each is for, you’ll soon find that you too, can keep blurbs, queries, and synopses straight in your head.


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Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

Agents and Editors Share–Pitches We’re Sick Of!

What do agents want? What are publishers sick of? At Balticon52, I got the opportunity to hear a few of the industry leaders voice their opinions.

The panel was entitled “Pitches We’re Sick Of (And One’s We’d Like To See More Of), but since that’s not enough to fill an hour, it turned into a Question and Answer session.

***

Whose Opinions Were Shared And Why Should You Care?

Joshua Bilmes is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. His clients include NY Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon and Simon R. Green.

Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld. He is a six-time and current finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.

The panel was moderated by Sarah Avery. Sarah’s first book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Great Jones Street, and Jim Baen’s Universe, as well as Black Gate, where she was a regular contributor on series fantasy and teaching fantasy literature. With David Sklar, she coedited the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology.

***

Skull and bones, half buried in a forest.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Pitches They’re Sick Of*

  • The Paranormal Boom is DEAD.
  • Superhero piles are getting supersaturated.
  • Zombies are rotting.
  • Some urban fantasy subgenres are being overplayed.
  • Oz.

Note: Even if stories are still being published in a genre, that’s often because publishing contracts and schedules are arranged years in advance. Even when a genre is dead, it can take 2-3 years for a publishing agency to get rid of their backlog.

***

Pitches They’d Like To See More Of*

  • ‘HopePunk’ (even if the term stinks)
    • I *think* it’s a dystopian future, where we actually solve current crisis. Like climate change or evolve into a more accepting species.
  • Diversified stories
    • It’s what the publishers are looking for
    • As the book reviewers themselves become more diverse, a wider variety of stories resonates with the reviewers.
  • Vampires seem to be coming back
  • Steampunk can’t be counted out for the next 3-5 years, but it’s on a downswing.
  • Short Sci-Fi sells better than short Fantasy.
  • But really? Whatever you’re passionate about! Agents can tell if you’re just chasing trends, and earnestness shows through. THAT’S the spark they want.

***

When To Approach Agents or Editors

  • NOT when they’re going into the bathroom – that’s their safe place
  • If they’re attending a convention and are on panels, they typically want to be found.
  • If they’re in a restaurant?
    • Is it next to the convention?
    • Are they at the bar, chatting away? Or off at a table in the back with one of their writers? Pay attention to context clues.

***

Rejections!

As any querying writer can tell you, a personalized rejection is worth its weight in gold!

What does it mean when an agent/publisher says, “It’s too similar to something I just bought/sold”?

It depends.

  • For some, it’s a polite brush-off.
  • For others, they only say it when it’s true.
  • For anthologies? Very likely true.
  • For magazine publishers? They can stagger release dates if needed…

*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***

Rejectomancy!

Once upon a time, Joshua submitted a story he was excited about from one of his writers to an editor. And this is what he heard back.

“I had to get a second read…”

“… because I couldn’t believe you’d sent me something so bad.”

Even agents get rejected.

***

Player 20 winding up to throw a pitch.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pitching Your Story

The Dos and Don’ts of Preparing Your Pitch

  • Don’t use an adjective to describe your book itself
  • Don’t go over a page!
  • Don’t be cute or suck up
    • Your query letter is somewhere between a job interview and a cover letter for a resume.
  • Don’t write it from the main character’s point of view
  • Don’t summarize your story, especially when querying a short story
  • Don’t have a query longer than the story itself
  • Do include wordcount
  • Do follow the guidelines
  • Do pick a genre
    • Decide where your book goes on the library shelves and pick one.

Is it ever appropriate to respond to a rejection letter?

  • If they personalized the rejection, you can send a very brief ‘Thank You’ note.
  • NEVER respond negatively. If you can’t say anything nice, this is when you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

Is ManuscriptWishList.Com useful?

Joshua doesn’t use it, but at least one of his other agents does. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean the agent isn’t skilled, inclusion doesn’t mean they are skilled. You still need to do your research.

Comp Titles

Comp titles (comparison titles) are often included in a query letter. Typically either two authors with similar writing styles and markets, or mash-ups where you can specify what aspect of that story you’re using. They have to be under 5 years, (preferably under 3), in your genre, and not run-away successes.

As I’ve said before, what sold 50 years ago isn’t what appeals to most modern audiences. Pacing, themes, POV preferences change.

So, what did our panelists have to say?

By using current novels, you’re showing that the trend you’re writing for isn’t dead.

Verdict? Useful for novels, but only if it’s a good match. If you’re trying too hard, it’s obvious and you should skip it.

Joshua noted here that no one can use Game of Thrones as a comp, (even if it wasn’t too popular) because there hasn’t been a new one published in over 5 years.

Not useful for magazines, but can be useful for anthologies.

***

Writing Contests Tips

  • NEVER pay to enter a contest or pay a “reader’s fee”
    • EXCEPT – Tenure-track professors often pay the entrance fee for college magazines…
    • EXCEPT – Some contests offer critiques/other services as a matter of course for having entered (RWA)
      • Fees currently should be <$50, preferably under $30
      • Verify their validity first, though.
  • Look at the contest’s readers
    • Who are you writing for?
      • Is that the path you want to go down?
  • Look at the past winners’ work
    • Did they write just for the contest, or are they writing like they want to be published?
      • Often, these will read very differently
  • Pay attention to how much time it takes away from your writing
    • Do you have to campaign for votes?
    • What other obligations does it create for you?

***

And finally:

When Is My Story Ready To Query?

As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!

Storytime!

Brandon (Sanderson) submitted several manuscripts to Joshua. And Brandon kept getting rejected despite his wonderful (and steadily improving writing) because he couldn’t plot. Finally, when he submitted Elantris, Joshua looked at it and saw that the plotting could be fixed. That’s when he made the offer.

Submitting different stories to the same agent can pay off. But only if you keep working at your craft.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

***

Make sure to reread these dos, don’ts, and preferences! And best of luck as you work towards perfecting your craft.

* Yep. I ended those with prepositions. Whatcha gonna do? Throw red ink at me? Besides, it was the title of the panel!