Every query has key components it must contain. If you’re a little shaky on those, hop over to Katie’s post to learn to lay the all-important groundwork. Done? Great, let’s get started, because there are some querying rules you might want to consider.
Like so much else in writing, querying is subjective. There are things you must include such as your hook, your conflict, the stakes, etc. However, there are also these ambiguous rules everyone talks about. “Never do this. You have to do that.” Pfft. Whatever.
Let’s be honest. Some of the querying rules are firm, some are guidelines, and a few are down right bendy. The key is to know what the rules are, and break them only if merited.
Don’t use rhetorical questions.
Don’t introduce secondary characters.
Don’t beg or be arrogant.
Let’s look at a few of the “querying rules.”
1 . Don’t Use Rhetorical Questions
Without a doubt, my biggest pet peeve is the person who says you should never use a rhetorical in you query. What they should say is, “don’t use a certain type of rhetorical question in your query.” You should never open your query with a rhetorical like this: “What would you do if your old flame waltzed back into town and was hotter than ever?”
When I’ve spoken with agents, I’ve found that this kind of rhetorical will get your query thrown away. However, a more subtle rhetorical not used to try to put the reader in the character’s shoes can work in your favor.
Psst. I had a rhetorical in my last query that allowed a funny, voicy transition from introducing heroine to introducing hero. Tons of writers told me to pull it, but I took a huge chance … and agents loved it.
However, a rhetorical that tries to put an agent in the story is a bad idea. Engage them with your hook, not a question. And use with caution.
2. Don’t Introduce Secondary Characters
This is a little bendy. The query should focus on introducing your main characters, the main plot line, and the stakes involved for them to be together. The exception would be if a secondary character is integral to the plot line. A love triangle, a frenemy who sabotages the MC’s relationship, etc. However, make sure you keep it brief.
3. Don’t Overshare
“Oh my best friend loved this and I’ve been writing since my teens and I read all 45 of your clients’ books and I need to make rent.” Just, no. Agents want the story itself without all the extras. Let your writing, your voice and your story shine. Don’t bury it with TMI.
The exception would be if you want to share something personal that adds to your validity with regards to your book: legitimate writing credits, degrees in your subject matter, and so on.
For instance, I wrote a book with a chubby heroine and I included this line in my bio,“…and I know something about living large in a size six world.” It let prospective agents know that I’ve walked in my heroine’s shoes, and the agent I signed with remarked how much she loved that line of my query.
4. Don’t Beg or be Arrogant
We all feel a little desperate for an agent to acknowledge we aren’t writing in vain, but never beg them to request material or make an offer. Telling an agent that if they don’t offer you a contract you’re going to give up writing only makes them uncomfortable. Do think they’re going to want to work with you when they’re uncomfortable, think you’re neurotic, beat yourself up? Exactly. Even if your writing is on par with best-sellers, you could sink it by begging. Confidence and grace are essential in publishing.
Also, know the line between confidence and arrogance. Telling an agent, “My book is the next Twilight, and if you don’t pick me up, you’ll miss out on millions,” is a bad idea. Yelling at them in shouty capitals when they don’t request after you’ve queried them because you think you’re the second coming of Ernest Hemingway is even more atrocious than begging.
Bonus tip: Carefully consider the amount of personalization that’s appropriate for each agent. Never send your query to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Agent,” and don’t come off as stalkerish, but this is really dealer’s choice as long as you keep it tasteful.
If I interacted with an agent in some way—chatted on Twitter, spoke with them at a conference, or they requested material during a pitch contest like #KissPitch—I take the time to include that interaction in the query. If I really do love one of their authors and think my voice has a similar tone, I personalize.
However, if you’re spending time making lists of every author they represent, your time might be be better spent studying what they like to see in a query, how they like to see it structured, etc. The agency websites often have pages for queries tips, even occasionally providing copies of queries they love.
Lastly, if I’ve learned anything about querying, it’s that there is no one template that works for every agent. Sorry to burst your bubble. However, here’s a little tip from my Pitch Wars mentor. Query in small batches, sending five or ten queries at a time, especially in the beginning. Gather feedback and tweak the query before the next ten, and the next ten. Don’t burn through your whole A list of agents in one mass query fit just to find out something wasn’t working in the letter. How do you know it’s working? Simple: you get requests.
Best of luck querying. May you get all the requests. I welcome all of your questions and comments. (Oh, that rhetorical question I used? “What’s a curvy girl gotta do to get laid on vacation?”) 😉