Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lessons from the Trenches: Practical Query Tips

Courtesy of Getty Images.
Sure, you can find endless blog posts from Agents, Publishers, Writers both Published and Unpublished on how to query.  What makes a good query letter?  How do I know which agents to query?  What not to do with your query letter.  It's all been covered.  Maybe someday I'll amass you all a nice omnibus list of great query resources.

But, as I have recently become a querying machine, I have a few more practical tips.  Things you might not think of when you're starting out writing your letters.  Things that will make your life easier.


1.  Create a Draft Query:  No matter what e-mail program you use (I use G-mail) there should be a place to save a draft.  Put your query letter in that spot without anyone in the To: field.  Why?  Because e-mail programs sometimes do some quirky formatting stuff, and if you get it all right the first time, you can copy and paste it into a new message whenever you're ready.

2.  File Names:  Save your completed manuscript with a properly formatted cover page (in Word 97/2000 format, please--a.k.a. .doc NEVER EVER EVER .docx).  In the header, put your e-mail address on the left side.  On the right side of the header put TITLE / PAGE NUMBER.  I personally put my last name on the right side as well, but to each his own.  Just make sure you've got contact information available all the time.  Name the file  LastName_ManuscriptTitle_Full Manuscript

3.  Other Essential Files:  From the completed manuscript, create a new document for each of the following:

  • The first 3 chapters
  • The first chapter
  • The first 50 pages
  • The first 5 pages
  • The first 10 pages
4.  The E-mail Ready Format:  When you've got your first chapter (or 10 pages, 3 chapters, whatever you've got the ambition for) saved.  Save it as a new document.  Select all, right click and use Paragraph to single space it.  Then, go through the WHOLE thing and put an extra return after every paragraph.  You absolutely must do this manually, even through Paragraph lets you do it the easy way.  Why?  Because then you can just copy and paste it into the body of an e-mail without making your recipient go blind at the massive block of text.

5.  Memorize This:  If you've saved a longer portion in the E-mail Ready format, memorize where your 1, 3, 5, and 10 page breaks are.

6.  Get the Greeting Right:  When you create a new message for your query, CHANGE THE NAME IN THE SALUTATION TO THE PERSON YOU ARE SENDING IT TO BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE.

7.  Join QueryTracker:  The free version will do you just fine unless you start juggling a lot of projects.  Create a list of agents and keep it updated.  Do your fellow QTers a favor and put in a new comment when you get results from a query.

8.  Check For Yourself:  When you use QueryTracker, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go to the agency's actual website and double check the submission guidelines.  Follow those.  Even if they're not up-to-date, you can't be faulted for following an agent's own guidelines.

9.  Be A Google Genius:  While on QueryTracker, each agent page has a list of links to the left.  Click on the Google link.  But don't stop there.  Change your search to include "agent interview" and probably get rid of the agency name in the search.  Why?  Agents don't always stay at the same agency, or agency's merge, change names, etc.  Their personalities and tastes don't really change though.  There's gold in them thar interviews.

10.  Save It All for Later:  Create a folder in your e-mail program for Query-related messages.  Whenever you get one--even form rejections--save them to this folder.  Why?  Because if you are querying the same agent in the future, you can look back and see what kind of personalization you wrote the first time.  You can see if you got a form rejection or personalized rejection.  If you got something personalized, you might be able to mention it in the future.  You never know what might be useful.

Will these tips help you get an agent?  Not if your story's not ready.  Not if you're chasing a dead trend (and believe me, I know all about that one).  Not if you query the wrong agents for your book.  But, they will help you be professional, efficient and avoid being a #pubtip on Twitter.

Does anyone else have a great querying tip?  Share it in the comments.

- Liz


jasouders said...

These are great tips! I wish I would have done a few of these while querying. Probably would have made my life a heck of a lot easier.

Julie Musil said...

These are such great tips! I love the one about saving the first 10 pages, 50, first chapter, whatever. Thanks!

I've heard we should add our email address to the top of every page in the header.

kellye said...

Thanks for the great tips! I've read so much about queries, I almost didn't click through your tweet, but am glad I did! Good luck.

Kristan said...

Frickin amazing tips. I didn't use QT when I was querying this summer, but I discovered more or less the same other tricks as you. We are geniuses!!

I also had a Word .doc where I saved all major iterations of my query letter, so I didn't have to hunt through my emails to find the most recent version, OR to go back and find something old that I liked.

If you're not using QT, I highly recommend Google Docs or an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of who you sent it to, what agency they're at, the email address you have for them, when you sent it, when they responded, whether or not they will respond (or if they don't respond if they're not interested), and any other notes.

julie said...

Brilliant advice - Number 4 was so specific/helpful. All were, actually. Thanks for the tips ~

Laura Pauling said...

Super organizational tips. I do create a master copy in plain text format to be pasted into the email for 5 and 10 pages. But these are tips that the newbie querier can appreciate!

Sarah said...

Great practical tips! There is a lot of information on querying out there, but not so much on developing an organized process. It can save you from a lot of headaches. I'm reading number 4 thinking, "Yeah, that would have been smart."

Danielle said...

Unless it says, specifically, on the agent's website not to send pages, I'll send one or two along with the query. I post them in the email, below my signature so they can ignore them if they want to.

Why? Because most agents agree that, regardless of how good the query is, they can't make a decision without seeing a writing sample. If they like the premise, they'll check the sample to see if I'm a good enough write to pull it off.

Kate Larkindale said...

Very helpful tips!

I have so many saved versions of different parts of my MS, I should do a clean out of my folder. I'm always terrified I get asked for 50 pages and send the 50 pages from draft 4 not draft 6....

Eleven Eleven said...

You are the queen of the querying dance, and I'm so glad you've drawn your footprints all over the floor. You know I'm getting ready, so I'll be following these footsteps, number six especially. That one has my name written all over it.

Abby Annis said...

Great tips! Thanks! I'm very close to querying so this will definitely come in handy. :)

On number 4, instead of going through and manually putting in an extra return at the end of each paragraph, you can do a find and replace. If you enter a tab after every return instead of just formatting for the indent then do this:

Find what: ^p^t

Replace with: ^p^p

Or without the tab:

Find what: ^p

Replace with: ^p^p

This has saved me tons of time. :)

Liz Czukas said...

@Jessie: Thanks! Lucky for you you don't have to worry about it anymore ;)

@Julie: Glad to help!

@kellye: I'm glad you clicked, too!

@Kristan: I did the Excel thing first, but I've found QT easier. Then again, I'm lazy. ;)

@julie: Thank you!

@Laura: Thanks for the comment!

@Sarah: You'll know in the future, right? Thanks for stopping by!

@Danielle: Good advice! I'll try that!

@Kate: There is a danger of in that. Whenever I make significant changes, I redo all my saved partials to match. Time consuming, but worth the effort later. I also create a new folder in my documents for each draft and only work in the most recent one.

@Eleven: Can't wait to see you get started!

@Abby: Brilliant! Thank you!

Thanks to everyone for stopping by and commenting.

- Liz