Writer to Agent Q&A: The Query

Back in January 2014 I joined a Writer’s Digest Boot Camp called Agent One-on-One where the wonderful, informative agents from Kimberley Cameron and Associates critiqued our queries, synopses, and first few pages. It was an invaluable experience and I highly recommend the Boot Camps to all writers looking for help in their writing journeys. Here are *some* of the Q & As that were asked by various writers and answered by the agents during Boot Camp. Many questions were about the writer’s personal works and were not written down. Hopefully this helps some writers out there!
This is Part One of the Kimberley Cameron and Associates Q&A. Check out Part Two (The Manuscript) here and Part Three (The Platform) here
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Starting with a Hook: 

Q: I’ve heard many times that agents like the query to start with a “hook” that draws them into the story immediately then mention the other details near the end of the query. How critical is the placement of information around the Query letter?

Agent Mary C. Moore (MM): Although all agents have their particular preferences as to how a query letter is drafted, as long as it is clean and concise it will not be slushed based on your placement of paragraphs. In the personal case of KC&A, the reason we like to see the information up front is, because we also accept the first 50 pages of your MS with your initial query. If the title/word count/genre is of particular interest to the agent, they probably will skip the rest of the query and get right to reading.


Rounding the First Ten Pages when Querying: 
Q: If an agent asks for ten pages, is it normally a good practice to submit a complete chapter if that chapter is only 11 or 12 pages long (thus allowing the potential agents to see the end of the chapter)?
MM: It’s best to round if it’s not too far off.
Querying a Series:

Q:I am currently querying for my debut novel and it is the beginning of a trilogy. I don’t want to beat around the bush – I definitely want my agent to know that I’m querying a trilogy right off the bat, however I don’t want to scare anyone away either. I only have the first book written, is this something I should mention? Is that a problem? Should I focus solely on describing the summary of the first book or should I reveal at least a little of the overall trilogy arc?

MM: When querying a trilogy it is important to remember that if the first book doesn’t sell, the publisher will not pick up the next two. Therefore your first book must be okay as a stand alone. It cannot leave us hanging on the major plot points, although it can leave some questions unanswered. When querying your first book, do mention in the last line of the letter that there is potential for more in the series AND that you’ve started working on them. DO NOT attempt to draw the agent/editor’s interest by telling the overall trilogy. If the agent is interested, (usually, as I can’t speak for every agent out there 🙂 they will read your first book, and then ask about the plot points of the next.


The First Book of a Series Didn’t Do Well:

Q: Hypothetically if a first book (intended as a trilogy) didn’t sell well would the agent/author combo then prefer to move on to another story/book? And could the Author, at that point, choose to shop for a different publisher or self-publish the other two novels?

MM: In the changing publishing landscape, anything is possible! Traditionally, the agent will first attempt to get you a two-three book deal, which means that even if the first doesn’t do well, the publisher is still tied in for the second. That will be the agent’s choice/responsibility. On average most publishers are willing to at least take a chance on the second, because trilogies sell better and sometimes the first book doesn’t do well until the last book is out. However, this being said, in the case of a newbie author and a first book that does so horribly it was a loss for the publisher, than the subsequent sequels will not be picked up. Usually another publisher will not pick up the sequels either, because they are going off of the same stats as the first publisher. Then your agent may choose to publish the book for you in their publishing arm, or guide you through self-publishing.

Overall, you should just worry about making the first novel the best it can be and get it signed with an agent. Once that happens, they will guide you through the rest.


Researching your Comparatives: 

Q: What are the best ways to research comparative/competitive books?

Agent Kimberley Cameron (KC): For non-fiction, find through Amazon or a bookstore what titles are similar to yours. Your agent can help you find tune this by finding the sell through numbers on Bookscan, if they have access. For fiction, Goodreads is a great source of information for comparible titles, and if you are talking about a query letter, any book the agent has sold that might be similar in genre is always a good idea!


What do I look for in Comparative Titles?

Q: What do you look for in comparable books?

Agent Elizabeth Kracht (EK): Find books in the same genre that you can compare to in voice, setting, narrative style… Comps can be similar to some aspect of your writing. Are there authors who are similar to you in pacing, voice, writing style, setting…? You can approach comps from different perspectives. But you should be able to find at least two. You may be able to get an agent without listing comps, but your agent will eventually want to know who you compare your work to and why for the pitch they craft to editors.


What should Comparative Titles be based on?

Q: With regards to the query introduction your colleagues discussed including “comparitive titles.” Should these titles be based on tone, plot, story, theme, sub-genre, etc?

Agent Pooja Menon (PM): It could be all of those or some of those. Usually you could give one comparison title based on the tone and pair it up with another comparison title that deals with the theme. What a Comp title needs to tell agents or editors is that the book isn’t exactly like the books you’ve compared it with, but the audiences who enjoyed so and so book will enjoy your book as well because it explores similar themes, etc.

Writing that you’re Self-Published in the Query:

Q:Do I write that I’ve self-published something in my query?

It can show that you’ve finished a book and feel your work is strong enough to put out there.

Agent Amy Cloughley (AC): unless the sales are very large over a short period of time, it isn’t something I typically take into consideration.


Mentioning Marketing Plans in Query:

Q: In the Query, should we mention, briefly, if we have any marketing plans? For example, a Visual Effects team at the ready to create a book trailer?

MM: In the case of fiction, leave it out of the intial query letter. If the agent asks for the full manuscript, you can then give them that information. Consider it this way, an agent’s reading time is very valuable. The less they have to read to get hooked into your story the more likely they will get hooked. This means the query letter should be as to the point as possible, and the point is: YOU WANT TO READ MY BOOK. 🙂 Nonficiton: The marketing plans go in the Proposal – which is sent like a Query.


Reason for Querying a Specific Agent:

Q: Why do you like to see why we decided to query you?

KC: I really like to know how or why a writer found me, and decided to query me.

Example: ” I was intrigued by your website and bio, and would love to interest you in my novel.” (whatever the genre).

Or, “I’ve seen your deals in Publisher’s Marketplace and would like to submit my non-fiction proposal.”

Any little nugget that lets us know why you are querying us always makes it more personal.


Querying Different Agents in the Same Agency:

Q: What is the etiquette for querying different agents in the same agency about the same project once one agent rejects it? Is there a certain amount of time to wait or is it not recommended at all?

MM: Usually the website of the agency will tell you if it is or is not okay to submit to another agent within the agency once the first rejects it. IF the website is not specific, then it is okay to requery the other agent. Just keep in mind, if the agency is a smaller one office type agency like ours, then if your project was felt to be a better fit for someone else in the agency, we usually just ask the other agent if they would like to read it BEFORE rejecting the author.

As for requerying, if you have significantly revised everything AND a reasonable amount of time has passed (six months to a year), you can feel fairly safe requerying. Odds are the agent won’t remember the orginial query anyway.

HOWEVER, I have had a case where an author persistantly requeried me, (once every few weeks) and I was nice enough to send him a response the first three times, before I finally had to warn him to stop or we would mark his email as spam. Trust me, you do not want to be remembered for that.


Querying a Publisher Directly:

Q: Is it ever a good idea to query the publisher directly or is it basically novel-suicide to go in without representation from an Agent?

MM: o   It’s fine to query publishers directly. Odds are, if your book is good enough to be picked up by a publisher, it’s good enough to land an agent. An agent will help you negotiate better terms, thus even though they are taking %15 percent, you are still making more than you would if you went through the publisher directly. The big paying publishers won’t even accept cold submissions so you have to have agent to get a contract from them.

HOWEVER, if you are struggling to land an agent, and you manage to place your novel with a small publisher or indie-press, that is great! Get your book out there, write the second, and then you have a strong author profile to catch agent’s interest on your second novel. Again, the goal is to get your work out there, build an audience and fanbase. If you have that into place, most agents will be eager to read your next book.


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