• Alexandra Kiley

Querying Q&A

Updated: Nov 9

I've been rounding up questions from Twitter and all the things I pestered my Critique Partners about when I was ready to dive into querying. There is so much information out there and I hope having all the nuts and bolts of querying in one place is helpful.


CHECKLIST

You finished writing and editing your manuscript and you're ready to get out there and get an agent!! Yay!! But first - there are a few things you need to do to set yourself up for success:

  • Polish your opening pages

  • Agents ask for all different numbers of pages. I saved off different versions of my final draft so they were easy to access. Common pages are 10, 25, and 50. Common chapters are 1, 2, and 3.

  • Write a query letter

  • Write a synopsis

  • Most agents ask for this to be between 1 and 2 pages long

  • Create an agent spreadsheet

  • Prepare a list of answers to common questions agents ask as part of their submission process

  • Write a pitch

  • Query!


Where do I find agents to query?

Query Tracker

*Different from Query Manager where you submit queries!

Query Tracker is a website with self-reported querying stats. That means once authors have queried an agent, they can login to the Query Tracker account and manually add the query and status.


To start, I would search the database of agents and get a list of who represents books in your genre. For now, include multiple agents at each agency.


Manuscript Wishlist

Manuscript Wishlist is a website where agents create profiles and add the types of books they are interested in and sometimes little tidbits about themselves.


This site is helpful to:

  1. See which tropes/trends/comps agents are interested in that might mean they want a book just like yours

  2. Narrow down which agents at an agency might be a great fit for you

  3. Find information about an agent that may help you personalize a query. "Oh, cool, we went to the same college!" etc.

*One note - some agents use this site and keep their wishlists updated. Some don't! It's always a good idea to cross-reference with the agency website.


Publishers Marketplace

Publishers Marketplace is a database of sales in the publishing industry. It is self-reported by agents/editors, so it may not be all the way accurate. Yes, there is a grain of salt with all of this!


PM is also a subscription-based service. I recommend doing the free trial once your agent spreadsheet is built and doing all your research in one go.


What you're looking for here is if that agent who is super active on social media and must be selling a billion books is *actually* selling books. If an agent is new and hasn't sold much, that's totally fine! But you'll have the background to ask a different set of questions on a potential call about the mentorship available at their agency and their sales strategy. If an agent hasn't sold anything, you might want to move them down your list.


Favorite Books

Authors who love their agents write glowing acknowledgements! It's also a great idea to look through comparable books and see who represents them because your book may be a great fit for their list.


Duotrope

I haven't personally used this site, but I've heard great things!


How to I organize all this information?!

I'm so glad you asked!! Okay, this was totally a planted audience question so I could yell about spreadsheets!

I promise you, it's worth the time. There is too much information to remember and you'll end up going back to the websites a billion times. Here are some things I recommend tracking:

  • Agent name (and pronouns, if listed)

  • Agency name

  • Agency type (is it gigantic/boutique)

  • Website (with a link!)

  • Submission materials (query, synopsis, how many chapters/pages, pitch, additional questions, etc.)

  • Submission method (email or Query Manager - with links)

  • Manuscript Wishlist (what are they looking for that matches your book? Anything to help personalize your query.)

  • Response time (so you know when to nudge. Things are notoriously slow right now. Add 3-6 months to their expectation. :( I know.)

  • Re-query rules (some agencies are "a no from one is a no from all" and some allow you to re-query another agent after one passes.)

  • Submission date

  • Response + date

*Mental Health Tip: when you get rejections, move those bad boys to a new tab and get them out of your sight. Same for your inbox.


How do I format all of these documents?

Query Letter

  • Single-spaced

  • Times New Roman, 12pt font

  • No indentation - use paragraph breaks

  • Round word count to nearest thousand

  • Capitalize or italicize book titles (yours and your comps)


Synopsis

  • Single-spaced

  • Times New Roman, 12pt font

  • No indentation - use paragraph breaks

  • Capitalize character names the first time

  • Written in 3rd person present tense


Manuscript

  • Double-spaced

  • Times New Roman, 12pt font

  • Chapter heading starts 6 lines down the page

  • Header with last name, book title, and page number

  • Cover Page with capitalized title, author name, pen name (if applicable), word count, and contact information


Where do I include a content consideration?

Content considerations can be so tricky, especially with things that don't feel as strong as a Trigger Warning *to you.*


My MS deals with grief and the off-page death of a loved one. That information was clear in my query and synopsis, so I didn't call it out. It's an entire character arc. It's also a really common backstory.


There are lots of opinions out there on this, but my advice would be to use your best judgement and if you add a content consideration, include it before someone encounters that content. For example, if your query doesn't explicitly mention the content consideration, put it at the bottom of the query. If you dive into the details in the synopsis, add it at the top. And for pages, include it under the text block on the cover page.


How do I name my files?

I always panic at this stage of the game. You're so close to submitting! Unless asked to name my file something specific, I named it [MANUSCRIPT NAME] [Last Name] [Length of submission - like 3 Chapters or First 50 Pages]


How do I address an agent?

I went back and forth on this. You can guess many agents' genders from their names. A query is a formal business document, so you want to make sure you're writing with the appropriate respect. That being said, you also don't want to misgender someone. Not to mention, many consider the Mrs./Ms./Miss situation to be outdated.

Some agents list their pronouns, but not the vast majority, in my experience.


I ended up going with Dear [First Name] [Last Name], even though it felt a smidge less formal because I didn't want to be disrespectful. Go with what feels most comfortable. And double-check your spelling!!


How do I find comps for my query letter?

Check out my query letter post for more specific info on searching for comparable books and what makes a good comp.


What are the word count expectations for my genre?

One Twitter mutual called out - some people get to break the rules!! And while that's true and sucky, it's in your best interest to stay within industry expectations.


Here's a great article with a list of word count by genre.


For a debut novel, 80,000 words is a great place to be. The minimum word count is 70,ooo. Anything over 120,000 is going to be a really tough sell and it probably needs to be an epic fantasy if it's that long. I would say that anything over 100,000 is going to get automatically rejected (because printing books is expensive and anything over 100k is too pricey).


What questions do agents ask on submission forms?

On most Query Manager submissions, there were consistent questions that showed up across agencies. It's helpful to keep a document of these with a polished answer you can copy/paste and not spend time re-creating the wheel.

It varies based on who you query, but here are the questions I saw over and over:

  • Bio (keep this short and sweet!)

  • Pitch (1 line AND 3-5 lines) These are brutal, in my opinion, and also have a specific format. Google how to do this right!

  • Target audience

  • Similar books (comps)

  • Influential author

  • Currently reading

  • Inspiration behind your story

What does a "substantial revision" mean? How much does my book need to change to resubmit without an R&R?

This is one of those "I'll know it when I see it" answers, but if you didn't cry at least once, it probably wasn't a substantial revision. I'm mostly not joking.

Substantial means this feels like a brand new book. You changed tropes/premise/entire acts/character arcs.


Need more guidance?

I hope this round up was helpful, but if you want one-on-one assistance, check out my editing services for querying resources. I love helping writers polish their submission materials to feel confident beginning their querying journey!

I offer query, synopsis, and first page critiques. Or if you want to talk through next steps or querying strategies, get in touch and let's chat!


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