When writers begin the querying process, there always seems to be that moment at the beginning of the research process where you find SO MANY RESOURCES. All with great advice. All with advice on different things. And nothing that seems to cover everything or in simplified terms for an overwhelmed writer.
I remember when I first began querying, I tore apart every article, every blog, and every how-to on querying, particularly ones that provided examples of successful queries. But what I really wanted was a (moderately) comprehensive checklist of things to include (or not to include).
Now, I know not everyone thinks in concrete terms and bullets (like my brain always seems to gear towards), but perhaps you think in checklists.
Consider perusing this querying checklist before you click send on your next query.
Check the Guidelines
- Go to the literary agency’s submissions guidelines page.
- Check how they want unsolicited (vs. solicited) submissions—attachments, no attachments, etc.
- Go to the individual agent’s page/bio on the website to see who is open to submissions.
- Select one agent who represents books in your age group and genre to submit to.
Format Your Subject Line
- In the submission guidelines, did the agents say what to put in the subject line? Yes? Follow that.
- Nope? Consider something to the effect of: Query: [MANUSCRIPT TITLE IN ALL CAPS], Genre, Age Group (Attn: Name of agent)
Personalization isn’t always necessary or advantageous. Many agents prefer simply getting right to the meat of your story. But there are some instances when personalization is handy:
- If you met the agent at a conference or other event, mention that at the beginning of your query.
- If the agent requested your manuscript through a contest, such as a Twitter pitch event, mention that at the beginning of your query.
- If you were given a referral by someone in the industry to query this particular agent, mention that at the beginning of your query.
- If you found the literary agent you’re querying online and simply noticed they are open to the same genre and age group your manuscript fits into, no need to go crazy on the personalization. Simply stating you noticed they are open to submissions in [genre/age group] is fine.
- Spell the agent’s name correctly. Honestly, it’s the best kind of personalization you can do.
Include a Hook
- Grab the literary agent’s attention with a bold first line. It could be a traditional hook or it could be a daring first sentence that serves as an introduction to your story that screams PAY ATTENTION TO ME.
For examples, check out Kyra Nelson’s post, titled Examples of Great Hooks.
Summarize Your Story & Its Marketability
- Introduce your protagonist and summarize the plot and stakes while being careful not to reveal the ending of the story.
- Ideal length: 1-3 paragraphs. (Again, check the agency guidelines in case they specify preferences.)
For more information on how to write the story summary, check out my blog titled How to Write the Perfect Plot Summary for Your Query.
Craft a One-Paragraph Bio
Credentials to include in your one-paragraph bio:
- If you’ve been published previously
- If you’ve had an agent previously
- If you have certain experiences that are relevant to the story or show why you’re the best person to write this story
- If you have a significant social media following (tens of thousands of followers)
- A brief sentence on what you do other than writing (job, hobbies, etc.)
Include a Signature
The following elements are good things to include in your signature:
- Full name
- Pen name (if you have one)
- Website/blog URL
- Social media handles/links
Follow Up… Sometimes
- Some agencies specify on their websites that if you don’t hear back from them, it’s an automatic pass. For those agencies, be respectful of their wishes and don’t email to follow up if you don’t hear from them.
- For agencies that specify to follow up if you haven’t heard from them, reply to your previous submission, including your previous submission materials (such as a query, first five pages, synopsis, and so on) if they aren’t already included in the body of your email, and respectfully inquire as to the status of your submission.
Remember: A query is a one-page cover letter to market your book and convince the literary agent they need (not want) to read more. You can do it!