Part Two of the Boot Camp Q&A with Talcott Notch will cover questions asked about queries. Check out Part One (The Manuscript) here and Part Three (The Industry) here.
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Queries that Attract Agents:
Q: I know there really is no cut-and-dry way to write a query that will catch every agent’s eye, but what do you look for? What makes it stand out? Is there a great subject line to use?
Jessica Negron (JN): When I read queries I’m looking for the basic information first and foremost (Title, word count genre), and then I need to know your character, setting, and most importantly: THE CONFLICT. The point of a query is to give me a brief taste of what your story is about, so you can hook me in and I can ask for more.
Every single agent has their own guidelines for how they want their subject lines so my best piece of advice is to ALWAYS read an agent’s website/blog/guidelines so you know what they want specifically. A lot of writers tend to think they can be the exception to the rule, without realizing that there are probably specific technological reasons the agents need that subject line to be exactly as they requested it. By not following an agent’s guidelines, a writer is hurting themselves. (not maybe, they are, period.) For agents who don’t specify how they want their subject line, the basic way to title your email is: QUERY: [Title of Your book]
There are TONS of sites that help writers perfect queries. Here are some of the more popular ones: QueryTracker.net, Absolute Write Forums, Query Shark
Special Query Advice:
Q: Any special advice about queries?
Rachel Dugas (RD):
o 1. Above all else, make sure your query makes your book sound like no other book out there. A story that sounds unique will get my attention. Don’t try to make your book sound like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS or THE DA VINCI CODE, for example–if anything, strive to make it NOT sound like big books like that.,
o 2. Always include the basic info like genre and word count. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.
o 3. I can’t understate the value of a distinct subjective line. Titling your e-mail “Query” basically guarantees it will be months before I read it–along with the other 500 e-mails titled “Query” sitting in my inbox right now. Now, if your subject is something like “Query for YA Novel About the Pressures on Honors Students” or “Query for Romantic Suspense Set in Rome”, for example, I have something to go on. I always open those e-mails first.
o 4. Focus mostly on giving me the flavor of your novel–it should be more exciting than a plot summary, but I do want to know what happens. A query is sort of somewhere between the back of the book and a short synopsis–I want to know what it’s about, but it shouldn’t be dry. It should be written in your own voice.
o 5. Don’t forget about competitive titles–but be smart. Don’t compare yourself to the blockbuster hits. Pick something in your genre that is known and successful, but not HUNGER GAMES or DIVERGENT huge, for example. It will show you actually read your genre, which is important. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to use pop culture references. I am increasingly finding that editors respond well to those, because they are part of our collective cultural knowledge and we can all usually access them.
Important Things Looked at in Manuscript:
Q: What are the three most important things looked at in a manuscript when you receive it? Is there anything for you that sets one apart from the other?
Paula Munier (PM):
o 1) Good idea and good execution of that idea
o 2) voice
o 3) hero you can fall in love with
o 4) plot
Series or Single Novel:
Q: Do you find that agents, unless they are an established author, will shy away from book series more than just a single novel? Are novels easier to sell than series across the board or depending on their genre?
PM: Agents do not want one-book wonders. we want writers who are in it for the long haul, and have more than one book in them (series or one-offs, whatever)
Querying a Series:
Q: How is the best way to handle a series in a query letter? Or, should the first book in the series be the initial focus of the query?
Gina Panettieri (GP): Yes, the first book should be the focus and the query should say it is the first book of a ‘proposed series’, and at the end, offer a brief story arc of the entire series.
(Please note, the above question was also addressed by an agent from Kimberley Cameron and Associates in the previous Q & A post. Feel free to look at her answer (here) as well.)
Times of Year to Query:
Q: Is there any specific time of the year when it is best to send querying letters to agents?
GP: Good times are right after the holidays (early January) and again in September when they are returning from the summer lull and everything in publishing is kicking into high gear.
How Many Queries an Agent Receives:
JN: Most agents don’t accept snail mail anymore. It’s a waste of paper and space. As to how many queries we recieve a day, it really depends on the agent. There are some who get a hundred a week, there are some who get a hundred a day. It varies. Personally, I get about 50 a day.