Querying: A Guide to Knocking My Socks Off, Part I

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be asking some of my amazing interns to write something for the blog.  In a happy coincidence two interns sent me their pieces within hours of each other; both write about querying, and what they’ve seen – and learned – as a result of reading queries.  Here’s the first, the next will follow on the 13th – and taken together this is a boodle of good advice on the best way to query.  Thanks amazing interns!

Three things I've learned behind the scenes

As one of Susan's interns, I read a lot of queries and manuscripts. And in these last few months, I've learned so much about what goes on behind the scenes at a literary agency - stuff I wish I'd known a little more about when I was querying my own manuscript a couple of years ago. So I'm going to share three things I've learned as a literary agency intern (and as an agented author, too): three things that I think you should know as a writer and query-er.

1. There are so many queries to read.

I always guessed from the size of the YA blogging community that a lot of people want to become writers. But I didn't understand just how many until I logged into Susan's inbox for the first time, and then started spending time in there every day. We get a lot of queries from a lot of writers.

The problem with this is that it takes a lot for a query to stand out. I might read five or six or ten queries for a YA fantasy, and three or four queries for a boy MG just in a couple of hours. The good thing about this is that you, as a query-er, can do some easy things to make your query not just shine, but blow me right out of my computer chair.

Research. Spend a couple hours trolling the web for advice. Find out how to structure your query, what to say, and what not to say. Susan's blog is a great place to discover this, and there are others, for instance Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/). A quick Google search will give you enough articles and blog posts to learn from for the rest of your life, if you wanted.

Ask a friend or two to read. This is hugely important. Post your query on a site that offers critiques, such as the Absolute Write query forums. Or just ask your best friend/husband/co-worker to give you some feedback. Chances are, your first or second draft isn't as gripping as you think - and some ideas from friends or strangers will definitely push your query to the next level.

From my side of the inbox, it's so easy to tell (I repeat, so easy to tell) which authors have dedicated some time to these two simple steps. Their queries are clearer, more concise, and so much more exciting. Do the work; it'll pay off.

2. But agents WANT to fall in love with your story.

Querying is a beastly process. I get that. But. The best thing about it is that agents really, really want to find stories to love. I'm just an intern, but I want to find lovable stories, too. I plunge into the inbox with my sleeves rolled up and my treasure-radar on, hungry to find that query or two that snaps up my attention. I know that Susan is even MORE excited to find queries and sample pages to adore.

As a query-er myself, I forgot that. I thought agents were sharks, monsters, query-chompers that swallowed me whole and then spit up endless rejection letters into my inbox. But take heart. We're looking for you. We want to fall head-over-heels for your characters, sink into your eerie or beautiful setting, and get sucked into your blockbuster plot line. We love stories. That's why we're here.

3. Revise, revise, revise.

I don't know about you, but I was kind of a delusional query-er. I had this idea that, after I'd revised my manuscript and polished my query, my book was all done. All I had to do was find an agent, go on sub, snap up a book deal, and relax. I first found out how delusional I was when I signed with my agent and she said Now we are going to revise. A lot.

I'm learning again the key role of revision as an intern. When I fall in love with a manuscript, I write an exclamation-filled email to Susan, explaining the juicy and beautiful parts of the novel that I LOVE - and then explaining the things that didn't quite cut it for me. Basically, we don't read with rose-tinted glasses even if we're obsessed with your book. We want it to be the best it can be; often the full manuscripts we request are just a glimmer of the best they can be - full of potential, but in need of a good polish.

My advice to you, as a veteran of revisions: seek critique. Thirst for a good revision letter. LOVE your agent when she tells you she thinks your manuscript needs some work. Most of all, understand that your work as a writer is never done. Actually, it's just beginning!


  1. This was a great and helpful post. I love the idea that you, as interns and agents, want to fall in love with our stories. I want you to fall in love with my story, too! Thanks again!

  2. Great post. It's scary to think how many queries agents receive, but it's a good reminder that the query really has to be THE BEST it can be.

  3. A wonderfully great host!! Thanks so much for the reminders - especially before Monday! :)

  4. This is a great article. Thank you!