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From the Query to the Call_The Query Process Made Easy, Page 3

Elana Johnson

  Here’s another example:

  A dystopian novel for young adults, CONTROL ISSUES is complete at 84,000 words. Fans of Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES series and Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES will enjoy similar elements, and a strong teen voice.

  This one has the name of the novel and the word count. In the first example, that information was given in the introduction paragraph. It’s completely acceptable to move the parts around, as long as all the information is included.

  Note: If you haven’t actually read the books you’re comparing your novel with, don’t use them. You really have no idea if they’ll be the same unless you’ve actually read the book.

  Check out the examples included at the end of this e-book for complete samples of the query letters discussed in

  this section.

  Biography. You don’t need to go into your five-generation family history here. Give yourself one sentence to tell a bit about yourself.

  Here’s mine: I am an elementary school teacher by day and a contributing author to the QueryTracker Blog by night.

  Katie Anderson: I live in City, State and am a member of the SCBWI with a background in marketing and advertising.

  Lisa and Laura Roecker: We are sisters-turned-writing-partners.

  Short and sweet and gives a little detail. That’s it.

  Note: If you're a published author, perhaps querying for a second time, or venturing into self-publishing, you should list your publications in your bio. That one above? That's the one I used in 2009 to query literary agents.

  Here's the one I used in 2013 to find my second agent.

  My publications include POSSESSION (Simon Pulse, 2011), SURRENDER (Simon Pulse, 2012), REGRET (short story, Simon Pulse, 2012), and ABANDON (Simon Pulse, 2013). I also self-published a short story in the Possession series, RESIST (2011). I am a founding author of the QueryTracker blog, the League of Extraordinary Writers, and WriteOnCon. Through my various social media outlets, including my successful and popular blog, I can reach over 15,000 fans with just a few status updates.

  And if you're a self-published author looking to make sure your bio has all the necessary information (usually good to have everything listed on the sites where readers buy your books), you could go with something like this.

  Elana Johnson is a young adult author. Her work includes the young adult dystopian romance series Possession, Surrender, Abandon, and Regret, published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster). Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for free download, as well as a young adult dystoipan short story in the Possession world, Resist.

  She is also the author of ELEVATED and SOMETHING ABOUT LOVE, both standalone young adult contemporary romance novels-in-verse.

  Her novella, ELEMENTAL RUSH (which is available for free!), began a new futuristic fantasy series. ELEMENTAL HUNGER, a full-length novel, is the second part of the story. The series concludes with ELEMENTAL RELEASE, the final novella, which is also free.

  School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog ( or Twitter (@ElanaJ). She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog and WriteOnCon, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers, a blog written by young adult science fiction and fantasy authors.

  It's a little bit longer. It lists all my titles, as well it should, as I'm hoping that readers that like one of my books will pick up another novel I've written and published. I might not put something like this in my query letter, but I would definitely use it on the sites where I'm offering my self-published titles for sale.

  Publishing Credentials: Many authors agonize over this. If you don’t have publishing credits, simply omit this portion of the query. Many agents advise the same thing.

  If you do have publishing creds, make sure you list the title, the magazine and issue date, or the publisher and date it was published (see bio section, where I have an example of this). Agents want to know. They’ll check.

  Conclusion: Then you need to wrap it up with a simple, "If you would like to consider THE MIRROR, I'd be happy to forward the complete manuscript at your request.”

  And end with, "Thank you for your time and consideration."

  Include these things:

  Full name


  Phone number

  Blog and/or website (if you have one)

  Remember that you can see full samples of queries at the end of this e-book. So are you ready? Onto the query trenches we go!

  Once you’ve studied and written your query letter, you might consider posting it for further critique online. There are some very helpful forums offering this kind of service. Just like it’s ideal to have a critique partner or group to read your novel, your letter can be improved by having fresh eyes.

  Online Query Helps:

  Querytracker Forum

  Agent Query Connect

  Absolute Write Water Cooler

  The Public Query Slushpile Blog

  (no longer functioning, but the sidebar is full of amazing resources, and anyone can learn from the queries posted over the years)

  Query Shark Blog

  This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. It won’t matter how stellar your query letter is if your novel is not ready to send out. All steps (studying, improving your craft, critiquing) you completed for writing your query should be done for your novel as well. It doesn’t make sense to query something that isn’t ready.

  Armed with an edited novel and a killer query, you’re ready to enter the query trenches—almost. There are a few more items to discuss before you actually adhere that stamp or press send in your email. Once you’ve done that though, it’s all downhill from there. Sort of.

  This section will discuss:

  1. Researching Agents

  2. Sending Your Killer Query

  3. Responding to Requests (or Rejections)

  4. Enjoying the Wait

  5. Revising for an Agent

  6. Fielding “The Call”

  You want to get your query (and ultimately your novel) in the hands of someone who can sell it. For most people, that’s a literary agent. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of agents, but that doesn’t mean that you should blanket query all of them in one marathon sitting. Quite the opposite, in fact.

  I think you should stick to these three areas when preparing your agent list.


  Reputation and Sales

  Online presence

  Let’s explore each area separately.


  It doesn’t make any sense to query an agent who doesn’t represent your genre. The reason they represent specific genres and not others is varied, but I believe it has to do with two things. 1) What the agent likes to read and 2) Who the agent’s editorial contacts are.

  If Agent X doesn’t know anyone in the children’s industry, it will be harder for them to sell a children’s book. Likewise with genre fiction like science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller or anything else.

  Make sure you have a solid definition of where your book fits in the genre world. Author Michelle McLean wrote an excellent blog post about defining your genre. In that post, she recommends limiting your genre to 2, maybe 3 categories, something I echo loudly.

  Basically you need to ask yourself: Which bookshelf would this be on at Barnes & Noble?

  The agent will need to know that too. And the editor. You should know before any of them. Now, things may change as the publication process continues, but you want to show the agent that you’re knowledgeable about the publishing industry and have a solid idea of where your book fits.

  Reputation and Sales

  Legitimate agents are in this business to sell books. They have sales records. You should be sure to research all agents to make sure they are indeed doing what they say—selling their clients’ novels.

  Preditors and Editors is an excellent website where you can see if agents have made recent sales and are legit.
P&E has rating criteria that you can explore and make decisions on whether or not you’ll add a particular agent to your querying list.

  Agents are not required to list their sales, but a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace wouldn’t be a bad thing. There you can see the sales of agents. Agent Query also lists recent sales as reported by the agent.’s own members report on their experiences with individual agents. If an agent has just sold something similar to your novel, it would probably be a good idea to add them to your list. Their success equals your success.

  Visiting all of these sites, reading and learning as much as you can about an agent before deciding to query them is a huge benefit. Don’t skip this step and include everyone. Be selective. Choose wisely. Research.

  Online Presence

  With the explosion of social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter, you can virtually find literary agents everywhere. Take the time to “lurk” and gather information. You won’t be sorry.

  The information you learn on these sites tends to be more personal. This can be helpful in deciding if you would be a good match in a client-agent relationship. Searching for an agent is a lot like dating. You need someone who sees the best in you and is willing to work with you through thick and thin.

  More traditional, but just as useful, online resources include blogs and agency websites. These places are generally the most current source for submission guidelines, what the agent is looking for and agency news. Read them, and then read them again.

  Another thing I recommend: search for interviews each individual agent has given. A great place for this? The Literary Rambles blog. I've used many of their links and agent profiles. Many times the interviewer will ask the agent what they’re looking for. Then you’ve got your lead in sentence and you’re showing the agent that you’ve done your homework on them. They like that, because then they know you didn’t just pick them randomly from a list.

  Just because an agent doesn’t have an online presence doesn’t mean they’re not reputable, successful or worthy. It just means they haven’t put themselves into that part of the publishing business yet. You’ll have to decide if you prefer an agent with a heavy online presence or not. To some, this is important. To others, it isn’t.

  Author Beth Revis uses her Google Reader to easily organize blog posts and websites that mention a targeted agent. Don’t know what a Google Reader is? Check out this post done on the QueryTracker blog by H.L. Dyer.

  Need help getting your list ready? Check out these websites: ( – lists over 1300 agents with links to their websites, blogs, Publisher’s Marketplace, Preditors & Editors, AgentQuery, and Internet search engines. Includes user comments, genres represented, and is free to join.

  Agent Query ( – searchable database of agents with agent websites, emails and links to Publisher’s Marketplace. This site also includes genres and submission guidelines.

  Now that you’ve got a well-researched list of agents you want to query, all you need to do is send that bad boy out! This can cause quite the tremor of trepidation to flow through some people. Don’t let that happen to you. After all, agents are in the business of selling books. You want to sell a book. It’s a match made in heaven, right?


  The point is, though, that agents are people too. They are not gods—although they can get your manuscript places you can’t. Be professional with them. Follow guidelines. Be polite. But don’t grovel.

  Getting Ready to Send Your Killer Query:

  Get a respectable email address

  Double-check your research

  Follow guidelines

  Be professional and polite

  Prepare for rejections

  Query in small batches

  Once the research is done, this step can take a single day. You’ve got your list. You’ve got your query. You’ve got your edited novel. You’re ready.

  But first you need an email that is respectable and professional. Get rid of your college email with “partygirl” in it or a string of letters and numbers no one can decipher. Use your name—or at least the name you’re going to use in the publishing world. There are many free places to sign up for email. Be professional right from the start.

  Then double-check your notes, re-read that interview and memorize the guidelines for a handful of agents. Maybe 7-10. Start with a small batch, just to test the query letter and ease yourself into the realm of querying. After you’ve determined if the query is doing it’s job, you can send in batches of 10 or so until you have lots of fish in the sea.

  Brace yourself for the rejections that will inevitably come. It’s okay to let them sting a little, but don’t let them linger. When a rejection comes, choose another agent from your prepared list and send another query.

  And then you wait. I have an entire section devoted to waiting, so check that out. In the meantime, one of two things will happen. You’ll either get rejected on the query alone, or you’ll get a request for more material.

  There is nothing more heart-stopping that seeing Re: Query – TITLE in your inbox. Or a self-address stamped envelope in your mailbox. Nothing. Well, maybe cliff diving.

  When you get that response, it’s either a rejection or a request. Both should be handled basically the same way—with tact and professionalism.

  On Rejections:

  My advice? Simply file them away in a folder created especially for them. I created one in my gmail account called “Rejections” and they go quietly there where I can count them later. Or better yet, just delete them. And be sure to empty the trash so you can’t dig through it to find them later!

  Don’t respond with an angry email. Don’t respond with a “Thank you anyway” email. Just select another agent from your prepared list and hitch a smile on your face. You were prepared for rejections before you started, remember? Don’t let them get you down now.

  On Requests:

  First, laugh out loud. Maybe whoop or squee! or whatever it is that you do when you’re excited.

  Then get down to business. Give them exactly what they want. If they want the document formatted as a .pdf or a rich-text file, do it. If they want 3 chapters, give them 3 chapters—and don’t cheat and start combining chapters together until your first 3 chapters are 75 pages long. Take the time to send the submission out the most professional way.

  If the request is electronic, following these suggestions:

  Change the subject of the email to: Re: Requested Material – TITLE

  Reply to their email, so their request is directly below your message

  Include a little message in the body of the email (suggestions below)

  Be timely, professional and personable

  Format your document so they know exactly what it is and how to get in touch with you

  Many times when we get a request, we have the uncontrollable urge to edit the manuscript just “one more time!” Resist this urge. Have your manuscript ready to send out at a moment’s notice BEFORE you begin querying. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to send out the full five minutes after you get the request. Be sure you have enough time to craft your email, double-check that you’re sending the right document and can think clearly about what you’re saying and doing.

  Formatting your Submission:

  Let’s discuss submission formatting first. I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I am going to note two things: 1) Name your document something specific and 2) put your contact info on every page.

  Look at the names of some documents below. Which ones do you think are more specific? If you were a literary agent and you downloaded five manuscripts to read in a given week, which ones would you remember easily?

  1. THE RED COUCH by Georgia Newman

  2. TheLittleRedHenNew

  3. My Novel

  4. BEHIND THE COUCH first 50 pages by Harold Wheeler

  5. XBOX RULES! By Dave
y Jones

  Hopefully you said #1, 4 and 5 are the easier ones to remember.

  Give your submission a name describing what it is. If it’s the first three chapters say so (GOING TO TOWN first 3 chapters by Sarah Scottsman). Be sure to put your name in the document name. Titles should be in all caps. This will help remind the agent what it is they’re reading and who wrote it before they even open your submission.

  Contact Info:

  Inside the newly named document, be sure to include your contact info on every page. Using the header and footer options, this is quite easy. Personally, I put the TITLE (in all caps) and my last name in the header on the left. Page numbers go in the header on the right. In the footer I put my complete email address (also my full name) and my 10-digit phone number. Now, no matter what page someone reads, they know the name of the book, who wrote it and how to contact me. It’s a win/win for everyone.