one of those random query posts

In an attempt to further elaborate on the “ins” and “outs” of the query process….

# queries read so far this year: 138
# proposals/mss. requested: 0

That’s only 15 queries per business day so far this year, which means they are coming in faster than I am responding to them, at present. But I have client pages to read, contracts to review, etc. etc. Please be patient.

I’m looking — really, I am. I want some new and interesting projects, from either published or unpublished writers. I want to expand my mystery/thriller list this year. I want to fill in my romance and women’s fiction some more. And I am always looking for the next thing in speculative fiction.

I continue to wonder why people query with me with non-fiction when everywhere on the net it says I’m a fiction specialist.

It continues to amaze that some of the 17 year olds who query seem more articulate than the adults. And more polite.

Things you don’t want to hear your side-kick say while you’re reading queries: “This is more disgusting than cholera.” Ouch.

“Enclosed is an SAS post card for your convenience to repsond.” — Post cards are not convenient. I realize they save a dime per submission which can add up to a dollar for every 10. But they don’t fit through the printer. And the form rejection that I have labored for years to make (hopefully) not emotionally scarring, doesn’t fit on it. Also, they are more likely to get eaten by the post office’s automatic sorting machines (or so I’m told). If you simply must use a postcard, it’s helpful if you give me checkboxes. Oh, and you should probably put the agency name on it somewhere so you know which answer you’re getting from whom. Most time I notice, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it given the volume of queries.

Check your spelling. Especially your name. Having it wrong in the header of your sample pages is embarrassing, isn’t it?

Check your mail merge. Having the address right and then listing an agent who has never worked at our agency must be a software issue.

Several of the snailmail queries lacked the SASE. They are unlikely to get responses. And check your postage. If you use an odd-sized envelope, you have to pay an extra ounce whether it weighs that much or not (luckily, I had a spare 17 cent stamp, so that person will be getting an answer). Also — in your email queries, include an address and phone number in case there is a bounce or a spamfilter with an over-active imagination.

And, now, since I’m on the topic — you can ask questions about the query process (just queries, please) in comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

77 responses to “one of those random query posts

  1. When you look at a query, if the first line doesn’t grab you, do you read the second? How far down do you read if you’re not immediately sucked in by the first sentence? And, if you respond to emailed queries, do you send a ‘no thanks’ response if you’re not interested?

    • I usually will read at least the first page of every query. (They aren’t supposed to be longer than that, but sometimes people don’t know that, or that’s what I’m assuming.) Sometimes I admit I end up skimming if they aren’t particularly compelling. Our submission guidelines suggest sending the first (the first!) five pages of the book, and I will almost always glance at those too, unless the book is clearly a mis-match for me.
      I attempt to respond to every “electric query” (I called them that last night and got a laugh for it). It can take me up to 3 weeks (not including holidays and weekends) sometimes, though I try to be quicker. But there are just so many.

      • Right. I hope you make regular spa appointments (don’t forget the cucumber treatments for the eyes); it looks like you deserve ’em!
        Thanks for answering my question. πŸ™‚

  2. Are you generally (or always) looking to fill a hole you perceive in the market, or are you simply looking for high quality work, even if it means you might have to struggle a bit more to place it? I ask because it seems (maybe, anyway) that agents may be incentivized to chase the market rather than make the market.

    • I think it’s a little bit of each, actually. I am always looking for quality and will take on something that is a tough sell if I fall in love with it (I have one of those on my list right now and I am determined to sell it). I also look for projects that expand my own list and increase the variety of projects I work on. I like to stretch and discover and learn. But there is, to a certain degree, an instinct of the market, as is and as it will be, employed as well.

  3. I really appreciate being able to come here and learn something everyday. Have you ever read a so-so query letter, but loved the work they sent in? I know that the query letter is indicitive of the overall writing, but I was just wondering if you ever came across a bad query writer where the work knocked your socks off. Thank you.

    • I’m sure that *must* have happened at some point, but I can’t think of a particular instance.
      Of course, there’s also the opposite – where someone writes a very compelling query but the enclosed pages don’t live up to it.

  4. I’m looking — really, I am. I want some new and interesting projects, from either published or unpublished writers
    Would it be impolite of me to ask what you consider new and interesting? Something that just catches your attention?

    • It’s certainly not impolite. It’s just a hard question to answer. Because I don’t like to tie myself down to a particular direction. It can be one of those “I know it when I see it” sorts of things, too.
      We are working on our monthly update at the site for the what we’re looking for page. It’s supposed to be our wishlist books for this year. My contributions are as follows:
      #1 A brilliantly written, page-turning novel with the psychological twists and turns of Donna Tartt’s A SECRET HISTORY or Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
      #2 A romantic (not romance) novel in the tradition of Peter Beagle’s A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE with highly emotive characters and a compelling depth of texture and description.

      • #1 A brilliantly written, page-turning novel with the psychological twists and turns of Donna Tartt’s A SECRET HISTORY or Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
        So you’re interested in antiheroes with some amorality and suspense thrown in?
        Love Ripley. Have to step away from the books occasionally, but like Ripley lots. But Highsmith’s writing has a sort of merciless inevitability that’s difficult to emulate. You have to put a little bit of yourself in your back pocket while you write that way.

        • You have to put a little bit of yourself in your back pocket while you write that way.
          I totally agree with that statement.
          As for the wishlist…zoinks. *gulp*

          • Well, the wishlist doesn’t preclude other submissions certainly. Often you don’t even realize you were looking for something when it shows up and knocks your socks off. But, since it was a wishlist, I figured why not shoot for the highest point possible.

      • #2 A romantic (not romance) novel in the tradition of Peter Beagle’s A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE with highly emotive characters and a compelling depth of texture and description.
        I spent years as an editor looking for that book. Finally gave up and tried to shake one out of Peter himself. I have hopes someday that the manuscript I read will actually get published…

  5. Jennifer,
    Hi and thanks for answering our questions! :*) Have you ever had a client who queried you more than once with the same novel? Do you encouraged writers to query you more than once if they’ve been rejected? Thanks!

    • Just today I had to do something I’ve never done before. I had to put someone on my kill file because they have queried me for the same novel once a month for the past four months. I’ve replied each time, politely declining, but, even though I felt terrible about it, it just left such a bad taste and made me feel so hassled I had to do this.
      Keeping this cautionary tale in mind, I certainly don’t have a problem with people re-querying. I’d like it to be either for a revised version or a new project. On rare occasions when I decline to represent something I’ve read a proposal or manuscript for, I specifically invite resubmission. There are several clients on my list that got that response (e.g. Elizabeth Bear, Kameron Hurley, C.E. Murphy and others) and we continued to explore the options and now work together.

      • I cannot believe someone queried you for four months straight! Plus, I’d like to think that no one in their right mind would re-query if they haven’t rewritten the book (if samples pages were sent). I am polishing mine right now. This is the 3rd or 4th rewrite and I am loving the finished product. I cannot wait to see what my betas have to say, and then agents! :*) Thanks!

  6. I’m sorry if you’ve already answered this question before, but I can’t find it by searching through your archived posts.
    When a writer queries the whole agency (via the address), how does that work? Like, do the emails all go in a pot and then you sort out what goes to whom? If they don’t have a specific name listed (or use Mr. Maass’s to query everyone at once), do you guys have a hardworking intern who screens them and sends any good looking ones to the agent she/he thinks would like it best?
    I find the inner workings of agencies fascinating, any light you could shed on the subject would be most appreciated!

    • The general submission email is sorted by an erstwhile assistant into the various email boxes for the agent they are addressed to. Anything not addressed to a specific agent, whether e-query, or snailmail, is treated as if addressed to Donald Maass. We do all try to forward queries to each other if we think they have merit and might find a match with one of our other agents.

      • Ah, thank you! Agenting is such a strange business where supply and demand are flipped, I’m always interested in the backstage goings on. Thanks so much for your answer!

  7. Is the Fantasy market oversaturated in your opinion?

    • If you listen to everyone out there, every market is saturated all the time.
      As to how this relates to the query process, if you were thinking of waiting for the market in order to query something, that can become a massive guessing game. Wouldn’t recommend trying to time things out.

  8. Completion
    When you receive a query letter, would you prefer it be for a completely finished work, or is it acceptable to send the first pages and summary if it is well on its way to completion?
    Thank you.

    • Re: Completion
      Personally, I don’t think you should begin sending out queries until you are absolutely positively ready to also submit the polished manuscript.
      Note: this is for a debut author. Previously published authors who are targeting the same genre should be able to initially submit just a proposal.

  9. SASE
    My apologies if you have answered this one before in your archives – I just found your blog and don’t have the time at the moment to go searching…. I have heard from many places that international reply coupons are a no-no and they hate them with a passion. But what’s a Canadian (or British, or Australian..) writer to do regarding postage for an SASE?
    Thank you!

    • Re: SASE
      One alternative is to query by email if the agency allows for that.
      Coupons and FedEx and so on are inconvenient because they require special trips out of the office to send the replies.
      But I’ve even seen people enclose dollar bills to cover postage.

  10. Have you completed all the queries you have received this year so far, or are you still weeding through them? Because if you have, then I can assume that a rejection is on it’s way to me. If not, I can continue to cross my fingers.
    (from an anxiously waiting victim.)

    • I haven’t done everything that’s come in this year so far. I’ve gotten about 250 queries since the office closed for the holidays. Assume a 2-3 week turnaround time – FROM RECEIPT. I hope to have replies to everything from prior to the New Year in the mail (electronic or snailmail) by end of business day Monday.

  11. Requery
    Two-pronged question.
    1. If you are requeried should the original query be mentioned? I queried you more than a year ago, and received a nice note suggesting some minor changes but no invite to requery.
    2. Several agents I’ve read tell writers to not mention that the manuscript has been vetted, or rewoked at a workshop or edited by a professional editor. Where do you stand on this? Does this information help or hinder?
    Your blog is outstanding, and thanks for helping all us who desire to write to entertain.

    • Re: Requery
      #1: I’m 50/50 on this. If it was a form rejection, then I wouldn’t necessarily bring it up. If there was previous correspondence of considerable substance, it might be worthwhile to continue that conversation, so to speak.
      #2: I think it depends on which workshop or editor. I’ve met a couple in person and always take their referrals seriously, but from someone I wasn’t familiar with, it wouldn’t carry any weight, I must admit. I think some agents have the feeling that if you require that much editorial support, that could add to the potential workload. If that makes sense.

      • Re: Requery
        Thanks for the answer. It was helpful and now I can make a decision.
        Your response about an editor, etc. certainly makes sense.
        I really appreciate your taking time in a busy schedule to write this.

  12. Ms. Jackson,
    What is your take on this whole “cat with live-in writer phenomenon”? I believe most of your clients are owned by cats and therefore due to transitive property of association I can with certainty deduce that my chance of finding an agent are greatly increased by owning a cat.

    • That might very well depend on whether the cat in question is willing to approve of said agent. In my case, I have so far been adopted by both Bear’s and meerkat’s respective owners. But you might want to consider this factor beforehand.

      • I will be sending my cat query immediately. I will make sure I include proper postage to return said cat. πŸ˜€
        *meoww* ***Rooooorrrrrrr*
        What’s that?
        FedEx Guy: I’ve got another 10 packages marked cat query for Ms. Jackson… who’s gonna sign for these?

  13. Completed Project Vs…
    Hi there –
    I have read various authors blogs who say that they’re pitching an idea to their agent/editor. How does this process work and how does it differ from the traditional query process? Is it better to contact an agent when the piece is completely done, or is it possible to do so before you spend six months of your life on an idea that a host of agents have no interest in?

    • Re: Completed Project Vs…
      My instinct would be to say that these authors already have an established relationship with said agent/editor. Once I take on a client, I’m in it for the long haul, hopefully. We discuss ideas and brainstorm and try to plan how to best build the author’s career. This can happen at various stages of development.
      If you are contacting the agent/editor for the first time, it’s essentially a cold call/query, and I recommend having a finished manuscript ready to go in that case.

  14. Email vs Snail Mail
    In your opinion, is it better to send in a snail mail query or an email query? It sounds like you view both of these, but which do you prefer?
    By the way, thank you for the opportunity to ask these questions. It’s been very helpful!

    • Re: Email vs Snail Mail
      I review both. But I prefer snailmail. In general, you should check an agent’s website and see if they state a preference. I know one agent who only takes e-queries and another who only takes snailmail.

  15. A question about your personal preferences:
    Do you like queries that start right in with a hook and then go into the genre, etc? Or would you rather know the genre, page count, etc and then read the story?
    Don’t know if you’re aware but there is an oft-debated question of whether rhetorical questions are ok for query hooks. Do you find you often aren’t a fan of the rhetorical question?
    I too would like to take the time to thank you for this blog. It really is a fascinating window into the behind the scenes of being an agent. πŸ˜€

    • Actually, I don’t have a preference when it comes to hook vs. metrics. I just want the query to tell me what I need to know about the book. The question, I think, is how relevant metrics are to the substance of the story.
      Can you give me an example of what you mean by a rhetorical question?

      • To me a rhetorical question would be one for which formal answers aren’t required or expected.
        Here’s a made-up hook that is an example of what I mean. It’s from Nathan Bransford’s journal where the rhetorical debate rages:
        “What would you do if all your fears had been made real?”
        No easy answer to this one, as opposed to starting your query off with something like, “Have you ever felt sad?”
        Is one more acceptable than the other or do both make you cringe and want to shred queries?

  16. As I am hoping to send you a query some time in the next three months (depending on how fast I can do the final polishing on the manuscript itching to get out the door), I am very grateful for your expressing your wishes re: postcards! *^_^*;; Thank you very much!

  17. Reworkings
    If someone else in your firm has a rejected a story, but the author has spent some effort reworking it, is it wrong to try submitting it to you? Do agents opinions on this vary any?

    • Re: Reworkings
      I’m sure agents’ opinions on this widely vary. They may even vary within our own office. But I think re-querying based on a significantly reworked project seems reasonable.

  18. At a conference, I talked to an agent about the novel I was working on at the time, he read the first chapter, and asked me to query him when I finished writing it. Since then, I’ve decided that this novel isn’t good enough for publication, and would like to query him with another one. But now, his website says he’s not taking unsolicited submissions. So, is it still okay to query him about this new novel, provided that I explain this situation? Or since he’s not specifically asked for this other novel, would it be inappropriate to query him?

    • I’m wary of answering a question like this on behalf of another agent because we all have our own styles and approaches. If this agent were myself, I would suggest a query for the new project with a very brief explanation as to our previous encounter. (I would avoid denigrating your earlier work, if at all possible.) The agent then has the opportunity to gracefully decline if they are simply no longer in a position to consider your work.

  19. Prologue vs 1st ahcpter
    When you send a query with the first pages of the book, do you send the prologue or the first chapter? I ask, because if the prologue is just background, say to link a potential series, it may not relate to the rest of the book. Whould you rather have the start of the main storylime that begins in the first chapter?
    Thank you for answering our questions. I hope we can all put them to good use for you. πŸ™‚

    • Re: Prologue vs 1st ahcpter
      I have, actually, gotten a query with the prologue, where the prologue was very promising but the chapters when subsequently requested took an entirely different direction and this didn’t work. My instinct is to say that if your prologue won’t hook the reader, it shouldn’t be there because it will have the same effect on the agent, and then an editor, and eventually on the potential buyer in the bookstore. Ask yourself what your prologue does for the story.

  20. Tsk tsk.
    “it’s helpful if you give me checkboxes.”
    Just so you know, Ms. Jackson, every time I see an agent blog decrying queries with checkbox response forms, I’m linking them back to this post.
    (Be sure to check your chair for whoopee cushions before you sit down at a conference panel discussion.)

  21. Okay, this is news to me! I’d always believed that if I’d queried you (indeed, any agent) with a project, and it was turned down (either flat, and especially after a partial or full sans an invitation to resubmit with changes) that the project was essentially dead for that agent (and in some cases, that agency). But you are saying that I can rewrite a query and send it again a few months later? I’d love some clarification.
    Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Once I have representation, I hope to be as generous as a writer as you are as an agent for people who are in my current shoes.

    • I have to be careful with this kind of answer because I think it is too easy to just query/re-query/re-query to the point of frustration on both sides. But I also have to admit that I have signed people who were initially rejected on their first query. Sometimes it’s much later down the road, sometimes for a different project, sometimes they needed to re-imagine the query and/or perhaps go back and do more work on the book.
      So, yes, there is no reason you can’t re-query. But. I think you should have a good reason for doing it. Because most of the time, when you ask the same exact question twice, you will get the same exact answer.

      • Thanks for answering. In fact, I have queried you guys, did get a no–but have reworked the book since then, so maybe I will do a new query down the line. Sure would be nice to have DMLA on my team!

      • Thank you!
        Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Someone else asked my question for me and your answer was perfect. I just wanted to thank you for all your help!

  22. I wouldn’t do it, but is it ever okay to query an unfinished manuscript (if you’re unpubbed)? I know the standard reply is “NO” and I would agree, but I’m curious. I know people who have sent things out that they weren’t confident were ready, and so I’m wondering.

  23. Re: An agent’s “stable”
    This is a complicated question. Since you’ve already brought it up, let’s take on urban fantasy. I have several clients writing in that category, so it may be true that I do not want another book that is *exactly* like those. That said, I obviously enjoy the subgenre so I’m a good mark for it. Going to an agent with no experience at all in that category may make you a bigger fish, but may also be outside of their usual mode and make the sale a bigger challenge for both of you. Some agents like to expand and that might be a good thing. I think you have to decide what *you* are looking for in representation and that will give you your answer.

  24. Hmm. Maybe you can give me a word of advice on this. I’m looking for a new agent and am trying to compose a query letter.
    I have one book that a Roc editor asked me to write for her when she read the one I sent and said “This sounds like the second novel in a trilogy, I’d love to take a look at the first.” I did, sent the first 60 pages, she asked to see the whole thing, I wrote it, she… left Roc.
    Similarly, I sent a novel to an editor at Tor, who wanted to buy it but who left before she could get me a contract. The editor assigned to her workload didn’t like it as much and didn’t want to buy it.
    Do I mention these not-quite-orphaned works? If so, how? :,

    • If the editors who requested the materials have moved on, then the playing field is open. If the editor has moved to another editorial position where they can acquire the same materials, it might be useful to know they are a potential target, er, I mean, market. Otherwise, I’m not sure what relevance previous submissions might have.

  25. Thank you for answering so many query questions for us!
    I also find it encouraging that you don’t toss out re-queries on sight. After spending six months revising my novel, I was hoping to re-query again and see if I’ve changed some agents’ minds.
    In any case, I have a question about publishing credits. For debut novelists, that dreaded ‘query paragraph with your prior experience’ can be a doozy. If I don’t have any publishing credits, should I just skip this paragraph altogether? Or should I come up with whatever I think might be pertinent (how many years I’ve been writing ‘as a hobby’, or the school newspaper I worked on, or whatever) in a desperate attempt to put SOMETHING down?

    • I think it’s okay to skip any paragraph about credits if you don’t have credits. Mentioning it seems a bit redundant I suppose. And if they aren’t relevant credits they don’t have much of an impact. Hope that helps.

  26. Query
    I am embarking on my first agent query extravaganza! I find it baffling that I already have interest from someone at Scholastic but am jumping through hoops to get an agent. Would saying that I have hundreds of requests from fans for the book, or interest from a major publisher sound over confident in a query? How much ego does one inject in a query?
    Leia Stone

    • Re: Query
      I would definitely mention the interest from the editor at Scholastic.
      Requests from random readers tend to hold less weight. They shouldn’t necessarily since the readers are your ultimate audience, but I find it tends to be the case, probably partially because they are a random sample and there is no way to know what they are bringing to the table.
      There’s a difference between confidence and hard-selling. I think your best bet is to make your query sound like you. Go to this entry: on my client Jay’s blog and read “what you did’t write”.

  27. So if you have a connection…
    So if you have a connection, (ie being an assistant to a national bestselling author) is this something you should mention in the query? Is that considered relevant information to any agent?

    • Re: So if you have a connection…
      I think it may depend on the agent. Being an assistant to another well-known author means you have some insight into how the business works. That can be helpful. Referrals from authors who know the agent and/or their list increase the likelihood of being a good match. Authors who are willing to give pre-publication quotes to assist in the sale would also be something worth mentioning. In any case, any of the above might help but it is your writing in the end that will make the connection.

  28. What You’re “Not” Looking For
    Hello. I too must thank you for this blog, as it’s so helpful for new writers to get insider information about the query process.
    You say in your most recent post that you’re looking to expand your Mystery/Thriller list. I’ve written a dark, gritty paranormal thriller that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Do you represent genre-benders? Are there any sub-genres within the ones you take on that you DON’T want?

    • Re: What You’re “Not” Looking For
      Actually, genre-benders (as you call them) tend to appeal to me very much. They’re challenging, both to write and represent, so they can be tough. But they also have the potential to break out.
      I think I’m pretty equal opportunity when it comes to fiction types. I read very widely on my own time as well.

  29. I hope you don’t mind me asking a question almost two weeks after you posted this, but if you have time to answer, I’d be very grateful.
    My question: Should an author living in the UK only query UK agents, or is it all right to query agents in the US too? (I’m not sure whether I would do this, but the question has been on my mind a while.)
    Many thanks.

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