June 17th, 2008

Query Dos and Don'ts

I did this list years ago for a talk and have since modified or added to it as things have come along.  Thought it might be useful to post here:


-The query letter is basically an introduction to the writer; the synopsis is the introduction to the story.

-The query should tell the agent/editor something about you, perhaps by what authority you write about the things you do. For example, if you’re writing medical suspense, perhaps you or someone close to you is a doctor or nurse.  This would be important to note because it goes to your credibility. 

-It should be written by the writer (not your secretary, mother, best friend, fictional protagonist, etc.).

-This is an agent/editor’s first introduction to your work.  Do not rush it through the door without careful proofreading.  Standard mistakes often seen: typos, mistaking the agent/editor’s name or sex (a Mr. instead of a Ms.), mixing up letters and envelopes so that one agent/editor receives a letter meant for another.  Do what research you can to target the right person at each agency or publishing house.

-Check an agency's website for submission guidelines and then follow them!

-For hardcopy submissions, always include a self-addressed stamped envelope (stamped, no meter strips) for the response even if you don’t want the material returned.  In case the SASE gets separated from the query, your address and manuscript title should be included in your cover letter.  Your name and the title should appear on each page of a manuscript or synopsis. 

-This may seem obvious, but make sure you've put enough postage on your submission that it actually gets to its destination.  When I took hardcopy submissions, I received at least four a week with postage due.  The agency won't pay your postage.  Also, if you want delivery confirmation, pay for it.  Don't call or e-mail the agent to ask whether your query is among the 200-300 they received that month.

-Arrogance is a turn off.  Do not suppose that your first novel will break all sales records and become a blockbuster movie.  While this does happen on occasion, it is rare and an agent/editor does not want to take on someone they suspect will have unrealistic expectations and thus be difficult to work with.

-Do not use an unreadable font because you think it is interesting and different.  Do not use neon paper or stationary with busy backgrounds.  Everyone in the field has troublesome eyesight due to squinting at so much small type.  The more work the professional has to do, the greater the chance that your work will be put aside.

-Synopses may be single-spaced, but manuscripts should be unbound, double-spaced, 12 point type and printed on only one side of a page.  The manuscript title and author’s last name should appear at the top of each page.  All pages should be numbered.  (Note: be sure that the length of your manuscript is appropriate for the genre in which you’re writing.)

-Allow humor to show through, but don’t try to get too cutesy with your queries.  [You may laugh, but I know editors who have received plastic fish (plural) and other oddities from aspiring writers who thought that this would be a unique way to approach editors.]

-Do not put down other writers of your genre.  Remember that the agents you’re approaching should love the genre in which you write and will only be offended by disparaging comments about your peers.  By the same token, you should not put down other professionals who have declined your work or include previous rejection letters, no matter how complimentary they were.

-It’s not a good idea to query on many books at one time.  While you may want to let an agent/editor know that you’ve got more than one novel in you, it’s best to choose one book on which to focus.  While many successful writers were first published several manuscripts down the line, it will not give the best impression. 

-Do not send a letter encouraging an agent or editor to go visit a website to read your submission.  We have too many queries awaiting our attention to go looking for work.

-Don’t try to rush the agent/editor along with a line like “I look forward to your speedy response.”  Rejection takes much less time than a careful read.

Query Etiquette

-Do mention if it's a simultaneous submission.   At the query letter stage this is expected, but at the partial or full manuscript stage, the status should definitely be disclosed.  It's good manners and can hurt your chances with an agent if we find out later what we should have known up front.  In addition, if you sign with an agent, do the other agents looking at your work the courtesy of letting them know right away so they don't spend their limited time reading something that's no longer available.

-If an agent or editor spends significant time commenting on your work, give him or her the courtesy of a first look at the revision should you decide to revise. 


In Closing

-All this aside, remember that an agent is looking for good material.  One of the most exciting things about our job is finding new talent.  The above aren't meant to be discouraging but simply to give you the best chance of standing out in the right way.

Promotions/Publicity Director

TKA has just announced that Jia Gayles has joined us as our new Promotions/Publicity Director.  The announcement is below and there's a post on The Knight Agency site here if you want to learn more.

The Knight Agency is pleased to announce a new addition to its formidable team. Jia Gayles has joined the agency as Promotions/Publicity Director. She will be responsible for handling online promotions, newsletters and marketing for the agency, as well as supporting TKA clients. She brings a wealth of creativity to the table, and, most importantly, is passionate about the written word. Her goals include ushering the talented TKA author roster into the spotlight and driving the agency's presence in the industry to even greater heights.

Previously, Jia served as marketing coordinator for an architectural and interior design firm and worked as an associate editor for a real estate business magazine. "Books are like cherished friends to me," she says. "I have always dreamed of working in the book publishing industry, and I am delighted to be a part of such a highly regarded agency."

A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she majored in English-Literature/Creative Writing and attended the prestigious Columbia Publishing Course. She has maintained a relationship with the media community through freelance writing for magazine and online publications, ghostwriting and reviewing books for the Atlanta Writer's Club, where she is a member. She is also involved with various public relations and media associations.