I know I’ve given you guys advice on querying before. But I figure I’d add to that and throw some opinions out. Bear in mind, I’m not an agent (yet), though I’ve spent a couple years sorting queries for them, and I mainly see them in Pitchwars. Which, to be blunt, is a higher caliber than what I often saw in the general slushbox. I suspect most of that difference is that all new writers learn quickly to query. By the time you learn about contests, you’re more advanced, and the quality of the entries reflects that.

None of these things are hard and fast rules. I absolutely guarantee you could find examples of queries that got requests that did things I’m going to say to avoid. Why? Because agents don’t all have the same pet peeves, or sometimes they see a project as really marketable and connect with the voice, and ignore the query almost entirely. Amazing pages will almost always compensate for a lousy query, sure, but if they’re on the fence, a bad query will result in a rejection.

  • Don’t use rhetorical questions- They’re not a hook. People use these to start queries sometimes, and it just feels like filler. “Have you ever wanted to just pick up and leave your life behind?” would be better done as “Jesse walked out of the McMansion she’d bought with her husband without looking back. Armed only with a few thousand dollars, she hopped a bus to NYC to chase her dream of being a Broadway star.”
  • Get to your story first-Some agencies will have you putting the personalization (the quick bio) up front. I suggest putting it last unless they say otherwise, because it’s mostly to show you’re human and not a jerk. It’s not going to make them more disposed to requesting your novel if you like their website or share their love for Zebras. If they posted an #MSWL for it, you can mention it if it’s not obvious how that element plays in. Keep the personalization to a couple lines, tops, and keep it light. This isn’t the place to expose your secrets. Remember: This is a business letter, no different really than a cover letter attached to your resume. Don’t give them a reason to say no before seeing what you have to offer.
  • When it comes to comp titles, tread carefully. Too popular, and everyone’s using it. Too obscure, and they won’t know what you’re talking about. Your best bet? Don’t focus on plot. Find a nice, solid midlist title that fits the emotional themes, style, or character types instead.

I’ll leave you in suspense as to what next week’s post will be. It depends on when I finish these edits for #pitchwars. I wanted to have this pass half done by now, it’s a third done. My dayjob office moved locations over the weekend, so I expect things to be even more chaotic than usual there this week. If anyone needs me, I’ll get to you when I can, shout if it’s priority, please.

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