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!

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!

#38 Query Corner – “Bat Kid And Banana Slug”

Welcome to:

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Fresh eyes for your query quandaries.

All Sophie wants is a best friend, but camp is hard for this weirdo.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

This querier’s story was fun, upbeat, and almost there! They mostly wanted confirmation they were on the right path. Of course…

  • I did tighten the story-part a smidge…

Queryist’s Original:


Dear Specific Agent,

I’m excited that you are actively seeking [example: friendship stories in middle grade fiction, and books that include main characters with invisible disabilities]. BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 46,000 word contemporary MG novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity.


When eleven-year-old Sophie discovers that she can navigate like a bat, she hopes her new skill is her ticket to fitting in–until the other kids at summer camp decide she’s rabid like a bat too.

All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But that was before the other kids decided she was a weirdo and before Sophie gave away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her.

Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. She’ll definitely leave camp as alone as she arrived. But with the talent show coming up, Sophie might just risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–as long as it means winging her way back to friendship.

My picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Q38


The query was solid, (although whether to include loglines is always a personal choice.)

I just trimmed some of the plot, to focus on the stakes.

My Revision:



All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But when she learned how to navigate like a bat (by shrieking), the other kids decided she was a weirdo. Even giving away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her didn’t get them off her case.

Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. With the talent show coming up, Sophie got to risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–if she wants to wing her way back into friends with Banana Slug.


Q38 was happy for my input, tweaked her query, and …

Just reported back that she got an AGENT! With this query.

Dear [Agent],

Thanks for accepting my referral! BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 44,000 word contemporary lower middle grade novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity.

Eleven-year-old Sophie knows she’s different – after all most kids don’t wear noise-muffling headphones or barf when they get overstimulated. Plus, most kids have a best friend. Sophie hopes to find a friend at sleepaway camp, but social skills aren’t her strong suit. She spends a lot of time studying bats instead. Luckily Sophie’s roommate – a kid nicknamed Banana Slug – thinks Sophie’s bat fascination is cool and crochets a bat hat for Sophie.

Then teasing drives Sophie to give the hat away, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the new friendship. The only way Sophie can think to fix things is through the camp talent show. But even if she can convince Banana Slug to join her in a performance, there’s the risk that they’ll go down in camp history as the weirdest kids ever. Sophie must convince herself that quirky doesn’t have to mean friendless – and that the Amazing Bat Kid and Banana Slug might be the greatest duo ever.

My unpublished picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Q38

Let’s all congratulate Q38, and hope their agent finds a publisher soon!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!