Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Incorrect query format

Someone out there is telling writers to start their queries with this:

Title: Title
Genre: Literary fiction
Page count (single-spaced): (number)
Word Count: (number)
Status: Ready for publication

I don't know who it is, or where the info is listed but it's WRONG.

The only other thing explanations is that someone read a screenplay book, and thought it applied to book publishing.  It does NOT.


For starters, your pages are double spaced (please god, I hope you know THAT) and I don't care about page count. I care about WORD count.

Second, you're using up your first look with things that are housekeeping.

The first line of your email query is:

Dear Janet (or dear Snookums or whatever you're calling me)

The next line is the name of  your character and what has just happened that is going to change his life.

Absent specific directions to the contrary from a specific agency about their specific needs, this is absolute ironclad industry standard.

As more agents are reading on their phones, the last thing you want to do is make it harder to get to what matters: the story.

I've gotten a bunch of poorly formatted queries lately, thus this blog post.

After almost ten years and 250+ examples at QueryShark, this kind of thing makes me snarl with frustration. 


Susan Bonifant said...

Well, I for one sat up a little straighter at his multi-colored alert. Thank you for the information.

And yes, very snarl-worthy.

french sojourn said...

I hesitate to ask, but would using the Carkoon Arial font be in poor taste for my Query?

(I took out the line where I mentioned I had 485k characters...I blame the word document line that indicates characters, then switches to total pages. It is addicting...I so want to hit half a million characters.)

Anonymous said...

I have seen some agents and publishers who have asked for that information in the subject line of the query.

InkStainedWench said...

Those "specific directions to the contrary" often, in my experience, include a request that we personalize the opening. Thus:

"My dear friend Stephen King urged me to query you with my debut novel, which I discussed with you at the Monte Carlo Book Festival (or was it Davos?) as we had a few giggles about our sorority days at Exclusive Ivy University."

Most of us have to just go with the story.

InkStainedWench said...

"Oh, and have I mentioned that I share your passion for Civil War battle re-enactments and the breeding and showing of teacup St. Bernards?"

Julia said...

Echoing Ink. There does (please God and Janet, let me not get exiled in under a month for this) seem to be a split in those writing blogs similar to this one about "why you," as in "why you, Megalodon," and not Joe Pretty-pants-Agent three cubicles down.

It sort of makes my hair stand on end, actually, because at this point, all I want to write is, Dear Ms. Sabertooth, Arwein was the bastard son of the last Prince of Wales until blah, blah, blah....

I see it in my sleep.

But I don't see it uniformly on Agent "how to write query" blogs. I see "suck up to me first" or "give me word count, status, and genre first," and that seems to me as if it would just suck all the air - and the fun - right straight out of my query. Splat!

So to speak.

But then, when my very first writing frenzy was over and I thought, "Well... I'd better figure out what people do next..." Guess who I found? So I'm sort of built this way.

With that in mind,

Dear Ms. Reid,

Julie Hoover is a baffled pediatrician-turned-writer who must learn how to write scintillating queries or her books will never sell and the mafia will come repossess her children and start the rural gang war Julie's held off with vague promises of publication for over a year.

Yada yada synopsis...

I'm swimming to you for advice because you are clearly the Queen of the Known Ocean, and besides, I've seen you about the reef and I like the Remora Fish you hang out with. I have hopes you won't pick my teeth with my bones. JULIE is a work in progress at forty-something years old, and can be reached by email, phone, or stingray. Platform is well established, and the author promises to deliver the Agent their choice of Magical Narwhal or Mermaid upon signing.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

I Am The Walrus

Amanda Capper said...

"...teacup St. Bernards..."

LOL, I'd love to see them. What other dog could you possibly breed with a St. Bernard to make them teacup size? LOL. This will tickle me all day.

I snarled just reading this post. Not a good look for me at the moment. I have a cold sore. Scared myself.

Everyone and anyone on the verge of querying should know, because of course they researched in between revisions, the first line of your query should be hookish. Not mundane. Hook'em, Dano.

Julia said...

Your teeth. Not mine. THAT wouldn't make any sense.

W.R. Gingell said...

It's obviously a plot to drive QOTKU mad. Gadzooks! It's working!

Woodland Creatures, rally to the defense!

Julia said...

Actually, I spend a lot... well, not a LOT, but SOME... time thinking up silly cross breeds like that, and who would be dad and who would be mom. Great Danes and Chihuahuas.... Chinese Crested and English Sheepdogs... English Mastiffs (I love Mastiffs) and Mini Poodles, except I'd never do that to the Mastiff offspring. How humiliating.

We also think up worst-case scenario ice creams. My three worst ice cream winners have been Bacon and Eggs, Mayonnaise, and Chowder.

As you were.

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I've spit coffee out my nose...

Thewritingdeputy - I'm surprised to hear any agent is asking for a list format other than "Query - Title of Book (and sometimes by author name" in the subject line (barring a contest request which may include a hashtag). I'd love to hear who is requesting genre, page count, word count, or status in subject lines. It doesn't even really make sense to do this from a sales perspective because you're not clickbait. You're not trying to get an agent to open an email they wouldn't otherwise open. I spend about 300 hours on my queries, and about 30 seconds on my subject lines.

BUT, even so -- that strangeness would fall under the "Well I guess they want me to do it so here goes nothing" category of thinking. Opening a query with a block of mostly redundant and mostly useless information, on the other hand, is perplexing. Hmm...

That's like me walking up to someone on the street and screaming in their face "I MADE A THING! ITS 5 FEET TALL AND IT SMELLS LIKE CABBAGE, AND MOM SAID I COULD SELL IT TO YOU -- SO, YOU KNOW, WE'RE GOOD THERE!" and then acting like a normal human and beginning a regular pitch.

Pretty sure Thing-seller would get punched in the face at least once or twice.

W.R. Gingell said...

Hey Brian, I have a thing for you!

Brandi M. said...

This is a standard format for many query contests, and I wonder if those committing such a crime are using the contests entries as a how-to guide. If so, they aren't following the other rule most contests put forward. Always check the agent's submission guidelines before sending material.

Julia said...

WR - maybe someone wanted to make her drop the F-bomb.

Dear Mr. Friedman,

How's the wife 'n kids? Hey, I have this book and I thought I'd drop you a line about it because it's a sure bestseller. It's almost done I think or at least it will be soon you know how these things go LOL!!! :) Anyhow, I figure it'll be around 150k words long and it'll be a space-age Westerner novel book.

There's this guy and he has a hore that turns into a spaceship. (Like it so far? ;) ) he climbs in and flies only when it lands, he gets out and he isn't sure whether it went anywhere! (There's a metaphor here.) these aliens come and take him away only they look just like us! He get there and things get really bad.

So anyway, we can talk more about it later when I call; did you like the perfume I sent you? I think it's perfect for you. We can talk about that over dinner (please have a date and time in mind for when I call or you can call me, even better!!!) TTYL,

O Godno

(At the very least, you can tell I've read SOME of the archives.... Janet, would you hit delete immediately? Or would this be like a trainwreck that you had to keep reading just to see how bad it was going to get?)

Lay Terrine

Anonymous said...

HAHA! That's too perfect W.R.Gingell!

I wish I could be witty with links. I'm only occasionally witty with words.

W.R. Gingell said...

That's my favourite :D

(And don't tell anyone, but I still have to google to remember all the bits of html to make up a link. Shhh!)

Susan Bonifant said...

Somebody go get Colin at the bus stop. It's after nine.

W.R. Gingell said...

Maybe he did something naughty and got kept in after school?

Susan Bonifant said...

Well, let's see:

A. He overslept
B. He is being a good dad and packing lunches so his wife can sleep in
C. He has A LOT to say about today's post and is still composing/editing.

LynnRodz said...

I heard the snarl, but there are some really big tip-top agents who want to know why you've chosen to query them before you tell them about your novel. And some of them want the housekeeping done first before you entice them with dinner. So it all boils down to Absent specific directions to the contrary from a specific agency about their specific needs.... we should do it your way.

Julia said...

Brian - That would be telling. I have it on good authority that people know when they are cited on other people's blogs, and I am by nature unwilling to Drag Other People By Name Into This.

That having been said, I will point out that it is here (right here, right now) that I spend my quality time. But it does make me wonder... In the "Things that make you go 'Hm,'" sense.

Yet I do hate to cite without source, so let me ponder the paradox.

Badger of the Hundred Acre Woods

Elissa M said...

It might engender rejections, but my default query is going to follow Janet's template for everyone. I'll put housekeeping and "why I'm querying you" info after the pitch. I honestly think it makes for a more enticing query, and enticing trumps dry information every time. The exception will be those agencies that have you submit through a form on their web site, but I don't know how many of those I'll be querying anyway.

I'm not really a contrary person who thinks rules don't apply to me, but I do think the only query rule that matters is "make the agent want to read the book."

Jenny C said...

Status: Ready for Publication

Ha. That's funny. Maybe I'll start putting that in my subject line.

But seriously. If I were an agent, and I represented everything from Middle Grade to a variety of adult genres I would definitely want to know what sort of book I was reading about before I read the first line of a query.

But as a writer, I don't want to muck-up my hook with "This is an 80,000 word YA Thriller" because though relevant, that's boring. So I've been putting the genre in the subject line: Query: TITLE - YA Thriller.

At 11:48 CT this morning I will have been in the Query Trenches for exactly one month!

Anonymous said...

I've run across some that gnash their teeth about wanting the housekeeping stuff up front. I suppose they don't want to waste their time *ducks the flying Macallan's bottle* I think I got that right. When I think of Scotch, I tend to think of William Lawson's fine drinking scotch

I'll adjust the query as per request, but Janet's guidelines are the gold standard.

Re the teacup St. Bernard, stuff like that is why I stopped breeding and showing Aussies. When AKC deigned to recognize Aussies as a purebred dog (some of my bloodlines traced back to 1850 California), I got out. I knew they were going to ruin the breed. Lo and behold we now have teacup and mini Auusies. AKC threw out all of our championship titles, refused to recognize our working titles, and, of course, the focus went to the dogs who spent their lives in air conditioned rooms so they have lovely heavy coats.

I spent untold hours studying bloodlines and refused to breed to anything that had any hip dysplasia or similar defects. No problem to many AKC breeders as long as they're pretty.

A pox on AKC.

Anyway, rant off. I'll do whatever it takes to be invited along for the ride. I'm sort of like an Aussie we used to have named Tina Girl. Don't leave the danged gate open and the tailgate down, because that was an invitation to ride.

I looked out one day and a road crew across the street had come to a complete stand still. They were all congregated around one of the trucks staring in the bed and talking. Some were very animated.

Out of curiosity, I went over to see what was going on. The boys had Tina out and had been playing with her. She saw a truck and was ready to load up and go. There she was in the truck, staring at the men with her two pale blue eyes. Some of them were Hispanic and thought she had the evil eye, so they refused to get close to her. I called her to me, so she unloaded very reluctantly. Then the argument was on over who was going to get the tools out of the truck that had been tainted by my devil dog.

Anyway, just show me the danged pickup and I'll load up. I'm ready to go. I'll follow directions. I won't adjust margins. I'll study query examples till my eyes fall out and try my best to write a good query.

If y'all missed my link yesterday,there was an interesting discussion about BEA in which Miss Janet was mentioned quite fondly.

Dena Pawling said...

Using that format, here's everything you need to know about my book. This will save you from all that tedious reading of the “industry-standard query.”

Title: My Awesome Life
Genre: Memoir
Page count (single-spaced): 1825.33 over 4 volumes
Word Count: 452,723.14159
Status: 1 of 4

Hey Babe -

The main character is, of course, ME!!!! And what just happened that's gonna change my life is I just finished writing the first volume of my most awesome autobiography, which I know you'll be excited to publish.

Colin Smith said...

Ha! You people are too much! You know, I have a full-time job and while I usually manage to keep it in check, occasionally it interferes with my life. Today is one of those occasions. I'm here though.

And I go back to my harried Agent example from last week (was it last week?)--that's who we're aiming our queries at. And for that reason, Janet's common sense, stress-free approach to formatting queries OUGHT to be the de facto rule among agents everywhere. While it is polite and good form to adapt to the requirements of each agency, would they really flip out if you ignored them and went with Janet's approach? If your query's sensational and your writing's socks-knock-off-ing, then it's a lonely agent without much of a life and too many clients already who's going to form reject because you put the housekeeping stuff at the end. IMO, anyway. But what do I know? I'm just a woodland creature... :)

And I'm not a robot.

Goo-Goo-G'Joob. :)

Susan Bonifant said...


I don't get the food puzzles anymore, just the sketchy house numbers. Did I fail something?

Anonymous said...

I know Dena is kidding, but every time someone asks for advice on how to write their memoir I cringe. I have a friend who drives race cars I think has an interesting story and might make a good memoir. She's been to hell and back and came out the other side smiling at the checkered flag. Remarkable woman.

I was visiting with Sgt. Kimberly Munley who helped take down Hasan at Ft. Hood. The case had special meaning to me, because Will, my youngest was supposed to be there that weekend and might well have been in the middle of that mess. There was a travel snafu and they changed to the next weekend.

Anyway, Kimberly wanted to do a memoir and asked for help writing it. I asked Janet about it and she said it needed more than one incident to make a good story. I passed on it even though I thought it had some intriguing elements.

I don't know, I think a person has to be pretty fascinating to warrant a memoir. Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Having said that, I have dozens of Civil War memoirs I do find fascinating, so maybe it's just taste. I just need something beyond, "I ran away from home when I was sixteen to marry my boyfriend." If it's, "I ran away from home when I was sixteen and pretended to be a man so I could join the Union army," I'm all over that.

Anyway, I'm rambling. No sleep last night.

Colin Smith said...

Totally off-topic but WHO CARES! My copy of DEATH EX MACHINA by Gary Corby is waiting for me at home!! :D

If you want to know what the book's about, visit Gary's blog (see list of the Fabulosity on the right) or visit my blog (see the list of Carkoon's most wanted). Or just go buy the book. Your eyes will thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

Julie - Listening to PubTalkTV now! :) Good stuff! Thank you for the link! :)

And now i'm anxiously waiting to hear the mention...

Jenz said...

Good point about the contest formats, Brandi. That could be the culprit right there.

And Colin, I think beginning with the query has become the new standard. Before I put querying on hold, I queried an agent who made a big deal about personalizations on her blog, complete with examples. She did not clarify where that personalization should go, though. I puzzled over that for a while and finally put it first--it made sense that agents who love personalization are often the ones who state they like to see that first. Got a form rejection, and the same day the agent snarked on Twitter that you're not supposed to put the personalization first and everyone knows that!

That's not the only instance I've seen of agents stating that housekeeping goes last, it's just the one that stung because I was trying so hard to guess what she wanted.

Julia said...

Wait, wait.

Hold the presses.

I just realized something.

Janet... if (and this is a big if, esp as I recall at one point saying something dangerous along the lines of "neither of us are in any immediate danger of working together, therefore..." [and yes, the double - and now triple - use of the word "danger" was completely intentional), so, once again, if I ever get to the point at which querying you becomes a valid endeavor...

I might open my QL with "Dear Snookums," and not be summarily sent to the spam folder (or worse - Carkoon)?

Question 1 Subsection A:
What if A Woodland Creature - say, a Badger (as discovered in last week's (or was it the week before?) quiz) such as myself - found their genre suddenly valid for Query Shark submission? Could we open with "Dear Snookums"?

(Ducking behind Julie The Greater).

I mean... as long as we spelled "Snookums" correctly.

You know. And obeyed all the other rules.

(Clearly, I'm starting late today. I had to take my son to the doctor. And I haven't had my coffee yet.)

But in the meantime, I've been thinking about the "Who said not to do it this way" question, and at the risk of showing my furry underbelly, I'll answer as specifivaguely as possible to protect the somewhat innocent. (See next)

Julia said...

There are two answers to this that I can give. The first is that I'm super paranoid about sending out the first MS. It's been edited and re-edited, fractured and rebuilt so many times that I suspect that if my betas weren't largely two and three timezones away, they'd come kneecap me themselves. Or hire Reacher, one or the other.

This time last summer, I had a word count of roughly 118K words, and I was very antsy about it. I have a historical fantasy novel that I wanted to be historical fiction; but I didn't want to ditch my characters as the years passed. When first I started - a year before - this is how things went. "Aha!" I thought. "I'll use time travel and Angels. Problem solved." So I got stuck with historical fantasy.

I should add at this point (about 18 mos ago) that I was very, very ill. "Sorry, but you can no longer work as a doctor," kind of ill. "If I'm ever going to write a novel, I'd better do it now" kind of ill.

So I wrote the first book. (It became the fourth in what is now my Angylaidd series, for any of you who are actually still reading - perhaps you can see how I ended up with 118,000 words). It took about 4 weeks, and I was still alive. Yay, me. But I'd discovered - good Lord - I LOVED IT!!!

Like - passionate loved it.

I was writing 18 hours a day. (I still do this).

I decided I really needed to explain how the story came about. So I wrote the next book, which was meant to be a sort of prequel, in 3 weeks. And I was getting better.

I started wondering what to do if I actually survived - and started doing this "for real."

And then I found Janet. First. Before anybody else. And somewhere in big letters on QS, it says, "Why you really, really want to read the archives first."

So I did.

And at some point, I asked her, "Do you have some kind of archive index?"

Predictable answer, now that I know things a little - "Nope." (i.e. You're here to learn.)

But I was still thinking along the lines of, "Yeah, but I may not be around long enough... But, okay. Your show." So I kept reading and found the blog. Threw in random questions. Started serious lurking.

Wrote another novel. Sent QS a query. Didn't get posted. Was a little sad, but life went on.

Fast forward to last summer. I had the 118K word book (and the answer to the question, finally). :) Well, I had no go on QS query posted; I was too shy to ask anyone here any questions; I was too much of a newbie on AQ connect to get much feedback there; and my betas were beta-ing the book.


Julia said...

Omigosh. The blog hates me.

Part III.

...there's this VERY LARGE, very well-known "writer's" magazine. (Cough). Inside, there are ads. Some of these are put out by people who are also well known. And they are willing to help people like me put together their query letters.

I hired one of them.

And according to this person, the genre and why I picked the Agent go first. I questioned this person on it, fought it a little, and in the end, "it doesn't really matter" was the end result, and I switched it around.

So that's answer 1.

Answer 2 comes from another Agent's site who runs a similar blog. On this blog are examples of successful queries. Several of these have "I love you because you're the Cat's Pajamas" right up front, and she came right out and said, (not putting in direct quote) flattery is very helpful. And the flattery was first.

So there were 2 examples.

As for what happened to my 118K book, I leached it down to 109K and then got very unsettled about it, sent it to a non-genre specific beta that I was pretty sure wouldn't like it, did NOT tell her what my concerns were, and waited. She sent me back a list of concerns that mirrored mine. So I held off on sending ANY queries and broke the book in two and spent the large part of this year fixing the first half. I now think I have a pub-ready MS.

And so. NOW the queries are... the immediate issue.

But that's another story. :)

And I've completely hijacked the thread and you all can fire your shotguns now.

Big Blue Whale

Anonymous said...


Gary Corby is always on topic. If anyone doubts the lengths an agent will go to in order to sign an author they want, they should read about the Great Gary Corby International Manhunt.


John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I worked for a while with a co-writer who asked me three different times how many "pages" we had to write. I answered the same all three times. "Just one, but it's gotta be a really big page because we have to fit 60,000 words on it."

Colin Smith said...

Jenz: Some of it does depend on the personal connection you have with the agent. For example, I wouldn't begin every query with "Oh Magestic Overlord of Carkoon, QOTKU, Mighty Shark, and Organizer of All Things Stationary (AKA, Snookums)" :)

Julia: That's quite a story. Talk about writing as if your life depended upon it. Sounds like that was literally true for you.

Julie: That's a great story, and I wish I could locate Janet's write-up of it otherwise I'd post a link.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Teacup St. Bernards made ME snarl ;)

Whenever I come across what I think sounds like the slightest bit hinky publishing/querying advice, I get me here and/or to QueryShark to verify it's wrongness. These blogs have been seriously valuable resources for me, and I hawk them to my library writing group whenever I get the chance, along with Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, etc.

Julia said...

@Jennifer - Yeah, at this point, this is pretty much Gold Standard for me, but - as you all know at this point... (shrug) I'm sort of like a gumdrop machine that doesn't work right now. I've taken a whole lot of pennies and the dispenser is full of gumdrops, but hasn't given any yet.

So my opinion will be worth a whole lot more once the gumdrops come out.

That having been said, I do a whole lot of "Jan-ervising" on FB, because by this point I've seen an awful lot of garbage out there and I've met an awful lot of Seekers. I've friended an awful lot of people Just Like Me who are too shy to stick their hands up and admit to pure ignorance.

So when I'm not in writing-frenzy mode, there are very frequent "Go See Janet's Blog And Do It Now" links. And sometimes there are other ones as well. :)

Write now, there aren't very many links to ANYTHING, and I have an appt next week with previously referenced Hired Query Helper (cough).

And now, back to our previously scheduled Writing Frenzy.

And, yes. For me, it WAS "Write-Or-Die." Or, actually, more accurately, it seemed to be "Write-Then-Die."

And so, you see, now I'm quite addicted. I got used to writing to THAT timeline. And so did my family. And the voices in my head only get louder.


Susan Bonifant said...

John Ol'Chumbucket Baur: I like that a lot.

Christina Seine said...

Can you imagine real estate listings being worded like this?

* House at 1234 Maple Street
* Painted Yellow on the Outside
* Kitchen Sink Leaks Sometimes
* Next-door Neighbor Guy is Creepy
* We Are So Ready To Move

That's the beauty of the internets though. Everybody's an expert. Even when they're not.

REJourneys said...

My question: The people who are suggesting this format, did they use it themselves and signed with an agent? (Double-barrel question...) Or at least had an offer from an agent?

As it was said, "you can break the rules," creatively of course. And say Woodland Creature receives an offer with said creative query, that's great.

Then comes wayward woodland creature, looking for advice from people who "made it."

"Mr. Creature, congratulations on your success. I was wondering if you would be willing to share your query."

Mr. Creature obliges.

But what Wayward doesn't know is that was a special circumstance where the writing, plot, character were killer, but the format was different.

Wayward would then share this information with all the other wide-eyed, bushy-tailed forest dwellers.

The problem: It ONLY works for Mr. Creature.

I forgot where I was going...

Oh, yes, this is what I hope would be happening when people are giving poor advice.

*Second day in a row for reSteak. Pretty sure one of those was grilled chicken.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Christina, speaking of real estate, we were weren't we, and even though this is a little off the rail of even that, I once won a trivia contest by guessing which town name is the most used nation wide and what street name is used most often.
Here's a hint, one is a president and one is a tree.
Regarding the comments of the OP, which happens to be Snookums, I really have very little to say other than I've had dozens of queries rejected but when you get it right, you know, you just feel, this is the one.
Still thinking of the answer of the trivia question which got me two free ice cream cones from Dairy Queen?
Ah ha, I think I'll wait to give the answer.
Buy my house.
I almost forgot we were talking about real estate, weren't we?

Suzy Ince said...

Interesting that this should come up. I recently took a WD class on how to get an agent, write query ect. The instructor (Who shall remain nameless) said we should write a personal salutation, the hook, the housekeeping and then the body of the query, author bio etc.
What's a young minnow to do?

Julia said...

@Suzy - Interesting. Very interesting.

Anonymous said...


Yep, I see more than a few agents who want the housekeeping stuff at the top. I guess if they specifically say in their guidelines to do abc, that's what you do. Otherwise, follow the shark's instructions. Personally, I don't want them reading my word count until I have them hooked. I'm not putting that sucker up top unless someone puts a gun to my head.

Maybe I can paraphrase a famous politician's line, "You have to request it to see how many words are in it." *ducks* Ouch. I was kidding. Put the teeth away.

Colin Smith said...

Suzy: I would perhaps ask the instructor, "Why?" After all, what matters most--the personal stuff or the novel? I can imagine that the personal stuff might move an agent to request if s/he's not sure. But the agent has to read the query before s/he decided that s/he's on the fence about it. And I can't see that the personal stuff would change a "no" to a "yes." It might change a "yes" to a "no"--but that's why you put it at the end. Make sure the agent reads the query before you tell them you wear an aluminium hat and hunt sharks for a living. :)

The Sleepy One said...

Suzy, I've heard agents suggest the format your instructor mentioned. Others suggest getting straight to the query and followed it with the relevant manuscript info, then why you queried the agent, and your bio.

You can check agency sites and agent blogs for their suggested formatting. Because this really is just formatting. The general info is the same, just in a different order. Follow the agency guidelines if they have them (some request personalization first, etc).

The times I've started with why I'm querying the agent (versus getting into the manuscript) is if there's a very specific reason I'm querying the agent. Like we met at a conference, they've read a manuscript before, they just tweeted something relevant (like a manuscript wish list tweet that fits my manuscript), etc. Unless, of course, they say they want personalization first.

Note: I've yet to sign with an agent, but I do well at the query stage. I've also helped organize a conference and have sat in on a lot of query workshops. I ran out of fingers and needed to use the toes on both feet to count my requests when I queried my last manuscript (which is still out). So while you should take my (and everyone's) opinion with a grain of salt, I don't think I'm sending you down the wrong path.

Christina Seine said...

Well, the way I see it, if the hook is awesome, an agent will almost certainly keep reading to get to the housekeeping. But visa versa? Not so sure.

Julia said...

Is there a particular reason why there is this schism in formatting? It seems like a veritable Mason-Dixon line amongst Agents.

I follow The Reid Protocol.

Oh yeah?

I follow The WD Protocol.

(Not that I'm suggesting that this is where I got The Other Side, just... you know... suggesting that that might have been one potential source of confusion.)

And I'm just betting that there's a Shark circling out there wondering what the heck is causing the comment count to rise. I bet she wrote this yesterday some time, or maybe overnight, thinking, "Man, they better all be on board with this. This is so beyond question by now..." And now it's 3:00, and there are 40 some-odd comments (which isn't really that bad, honestly), and I have this image of The Devil Wears Prada - meets - Vampire's Kiss featuring Meryl Streep as Nicholas Cage. If you see what I mean.



(I've decided that Captcha is the Blog's way of telling me that I've posted enough for the day. Let Julie Eat Cake.)

Dena Pawling said...

In my trawling out and about the Internet, the reason I've seen given by agents who want title, genre, and word count up front is so they can quickly reject if it's not worth their time because they don't rep that genre or the manuscript is way too short or too long. It saves them time. Some of them say they'll skim the query if that info isn't first, so they read it first even if you put it last.

Julia said...

70K. Two more chaps, and first draft is done. Yeah, baby.

Colin Smith said...

Dena: I usually put the genre in the subject line, which I thought was the standard thing to do. So the only info the agent doesn't get up-front about my novel is the word count.

Karen McCoy said...

Very late to today's party, so not much to add...other than guffaws at what's been posted so far. You guys are a riot.

And good job with the 70K, Julia!

The thing that's struck me about the query format is that it seems to adapt ever so slightly every couple years, mostly with decreased word count. But the "gold standards" seem to remain consistent.

There's a "How to Write a Query" book on my shelf from a few years ago, and the example query inside is so long it's laughable. I'll probably end up chucking it in the giveaway pile.

Anonymous said...


"And I'm just betting that there's a Shark circling out there wondering what the heck is causing the comment count to rise."

1. Janet knows we have the attention spans of Chihuahua's in a meat house at times and are prone to veering off track at the slightest provocation.

2. She already stated: "Absent specific directions to the contrary from a specific agency about their specific needs," and we have well and thoroughly plowed, harrowed, and dragged that field, too.

I'm sure she was quite prepared for anything that popped up. I doubt much surprises her these days when it comes to the mating habits of woodland creature comments.

Anonymous said...


Yep, congratulations on finishing the novel. It's a great feeling. A friend just finished her historical about a lady pirate and she was bouncing with joy. It's always such a satisfying feeling to type The End.

Good job.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Not that anyone is interested, (I thought it was mildly amusing) and (getting the little lines to line up vertically was a challenge), the answers are Madison and Elm.

Climbs up on soapbox.
(Janet please don’t delete this. It is written from the heart).

I’ve been reading this blog for years. There are marriages that have not lasted as long as my presence here. I have submitted questions which Janet has answered every single time in a manner of acknowledgement I would call precise. We have, at times, had a little back forth regarding posts, issues and query content which I have found, exciting, informative and yes, sometimes personally disappointing. She puts up with some really dumb comments. She brings out in many of us, the silly, the clever, the smart and the dark side of what we do. She also protects us from the know-it-all correctors and I like that. After all this time there are two things I know about Janet, (no, I haven’t a clue what she looks like); she knows what she’s talking about and she respects what we do.

Because my hopes, dreams, efforts and abilities are yet to be in cinque with the reality of long-form traditional publishing I come here to learn and to bounce off all of you.

In the beginning I came here to find the golden ticket, to be given a key and to be shown the path, and every single day I have found, been given and have followed. To this group of commenters, and you lurkers, (we know you’re out there because we’ve been there too), to this amazing, funny and talented community of people I am asking, no imploring you to do whatever it takes to convince this woman, this shark, this agent among agents, to WRITE A GOD-DAMNED BOOK.

To Janet, it is beyond me that you chose not to share within the very forum of which you speak, the wealth of your knowledge. It is the written page we strive for, the written page many of us look to preserve, and if there is one person on the face of this earth who understands the impact of that it is you. Your blog is an amazing writing encyclopedia but a book I can hold in my hand, even a book I can download, is that which I believe your followers clamor for.

Yes we are followers.

So it is with resolve I am changing your name from QOTKU to Saint J.
This may not be a religion but it sure as hell is a cult. My God woman, you would make a mint.


Anonymous said...


Yes, she does know what she's talking about. Trust me, if I ever get published, she will be in the acknowledgments for many reasons. In the link I put up earlier, it was amusing to listen to the ladies talking about Janet giving them advice about how to survive a BEA.

It's hard telling really how many writer's lives she has touched.


Anonymous said...

While I have a few minutes of wifi atmy sister's place.

I have VIEWS about teacup breeds and crossbreeds. I'll keep them to myself. Typing on a tablet isnt conducive to rants.

I attended a session by Kristin Nelson. She prefers the housekeeping up front... yet she said that agents usually skip past it anyway to get to the good stuff. So there's that.

Brian: genre is also often included in the subject line. Not wordcount or status, though.

REjourneys: I once took a workshop from a very successful traditionally-published author who hated traditional publishing. He told us to ignore all the advice from all the industry professional. Break All the Rules. That was an eye-opener for me. I learned that authors usually only know their own experience, and take their advice with a grain of salt.

Sleepy One: Yes. I'll often mention in the first paragraph how lovely it was to meet them at The Conference. I'll often put something in the subject line, like (SiWC) or (Backspace). Then the agent knows it's not a cold query, but something she requested.

Karen: Wouldn't giving that book away to another writer screw them up completely? Unless the idea is to thin out the competition... smart!

My internet is bolluxed until tomorrow. I blame Kitty in Retrograde.

Colin Smith said...

Carolynn: I've said it countless times, but since you brought it up, I'll say it again:

SNARK & SHARK'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING by Barbara Poelle and Janet Reid.

You know it has to happen sometime. It would be a bestseller. :)

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: See--I called you Carolynn! I haven't forgotten how to spell your name!! :D

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dena. Seems like wanting the housekeeping stuff up front is in order to facilitate rejections, which leads me to suspect those agents are overwhelmed with queries from writers who haven't done research about which genres an agent reps. Whatever. I still plan to put it at the end.

In news of the Woodland Creature variety (I know you all are on the edge of your seat), I now have male raccoon pheromones sprayed in my attic and am awaiting The Great Raccoon Exodus. I did not know that male raccoons eat the babies, which causes the mom to stop lactating and go into heat. Those randy bastards. So these pheromones will make the mom gather up her babies and flee for their furry little lives. Either that or it will attract more females in heat, whereupon I imagine they will be sorely disappointed by the collection of Legos and Barbie dolls. Details at 11. Or perhaps 3AM.

Google has a very liberal definition of "hamburger."

Anonymous said...

Or cause a great chain reaction of in heat racoons. Keep us posted. The problem is heat tends to be contagious. That's why we always left a cow that was bulling in the pasture until the next check. If I noticed them on my morning ride, I'd gather on my night ride and vice versa because she'd tend to trigger another cow to come in heat. So, I'd gather one to bring in to artificially inseminate and hopefully another one would be cycling soon.

Lust is is in the air.

Keep us posted on the great raging racoon romance. There's probably a book in that adventure.

Karen McCoy said...

BJ--nope, definitely wasn't where I meant to go with that! :) My woodland creature quiz pegged me as owl (not mongoose!). I guess it's the librarian in me that feels seedy about putting books in the dumpster...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, heads up.
Y'all might want to check out a recent comment for the Polish writer on the 16th. I wish the writer well. Success for someone who does what they do out of passion is the greatest of achievement. We certainly can understand that.

Anonymous said...


I certainly do wish them success. Just finishing a book is a great accomplishment. Getting it to publication stage is remarkable. Publishing in another language is just phenomenal.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Heidi-come-lately says,

I figure, what's the most important thing the agent needs to know about my book? Why you want to read it.

And that's how I start my query. I tend to put housekeeping at the end, because if I can't hook an agent with a gorgeous voice describing how my MC's life has gone snafu, how long the book is isn't going to trump that, nor is my publication history (and the fact I now have a backlist).

Megan V said...

Eek! I can picture gnashing shark teeth and I almost considered fleeing. Sometimes, getting query advice from non-agents online seems like playing a game with children. One kid is always trying to change the rules and that kid's new rules don't exactly help the other kids win. It's like "Simon says" with one too many players trying to be Simon, or at least tell the other players what Simon actually meant to say.

As others mentioned, the QOTKU provides a gold standard. Aka, the Shark is a great Simon to follow. The few times I've strayed from her advice were times when the agent I was sending material to specifically requested a different format. And that format, was definitely NOT the one illustrated in the original post.