Queries: To request a book or not?

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

I was asked recently, “What is the one thing that makes you request a project based on a query and what is the one thing in a query that makes you decide a book isn’t the right fit?”

I’m sure the answer to this question varies agent to agent, but I’d like to share my thoughts with you.

First off, there’s not a magical item to include in a query letter that will make an agent request the project. There are many things that will cause an agent to request a project. For example, platform size–if you are an author with a large following, an agent is very likely to request your project. Also, if your idea is something an agent knows a publisher is looking for, you are likely to get a request. For me, I think the topic or plot of a book is still most important. If your book is about something I’m interested in and the query grabs my attention, I am very likely to request more even if I don’t have a publisher in mind yet and even if your platform isn’t huge. I still allow the content to speak for itself and then determine after taking a look at the proposal or manuscript if I think I could have a good chance to sell the project. I’m not against taking a few risky projects on, but I mostly like to feel confident that there are publishing houses looking for the type of books I’m representing.

There are also many things that could make an agent say no to a query, but the one thing (two things?) that causes me not to request a project from a query letter is poor spelling and grammar. A query letter should be very clean. It’s only a page long and it represents you and your project. You want it to sparkle! If I can tell a person hasn’t spent any time on their query, I can be pretty sure that that project isn’t ready for representation yet. It’s easy to make silly mistakes when writing anything, so I encourage each of you to have a critique partner read your query letter for you. Query letters are often the gateway to publishing, so spend time putting yours together.

How has your query letter evolved as you’ve pitched your project?

What is the hardest part for you when you write a query? Bio? Summary? Hook? Something else?

13 Responses

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  1. Jordan says:

    Querying is hard work! I think it might be even harder than writing and revising the 75,000 word manuscript was, at least for me. Thanks for the advice and encouragement!

  2. Great information, Rachel. Thanks for answering this question.

  3. Thank you for these insights, Rachel! This an awesome post, one to bookmark.
    * The hardest part for me is ‘baiting the hook’; the hook itself isn’t too hard, but phrasing the conflict in such a way that encourages the agent to learn more…that’s tough.

  4. Jerusha Agen says:

    Thanks for this helpful post, Rachel! I appreciate hearing that you still look at the story itself before weighing in platform and other concerns. It can be so challenging to build a massive platform before being published! Like Andrew mentioned, I think my biggest struggle is engaging delivery of the hook.

  5. Julie Scorziell says:

    Once, while taking a writing course through UCLA extension, my class was given twenty query letters which had actually been sent to an agent (all private information had been redacted). The assignment was to read and evaluate them at the end of a long day when we were tired. It was eye-opening to see how little time and effort people put into the letters, as though they had had an idea and dashed off a letter without any thought. The few letters that were well written and typo-free really stood out. Thanks for this post, Rachel. Query letters are important. 🙂

  6. For me, it’s the hook. Although, summaries are no party, either.
    The bio is easy, as I could go on and on about myself.

  7. I’ve always heard people joke that they can write a whole book, but they can’t seem to summarize their book in a paragraph or two. Can’t summarize it in a hook. Amen to that. That doesn’t make an ounce of logical sense, but … there it is. I will say that I’ve taken advice from writers, and on my last WIP, I wrote my synopsis first, as best I could … I wrote my back cover copy. They both needed a ton of work afterwards, but it sure made the process easier.

  8. Carol Ashby says:

    Now that I’ve written more than one novel, I’ve started playing with the hook bait as I write. I try to find a sentence that captures the essence of the problem for one of the lead characters. The example from my next book, “Sometimes you have to almost die to discover how you want to live.” That single sentence is useful for the query, the tagline on the back cover, the text that shows up when the cursor moves over your book cover at your author website, the text on a bookmark that has the cover image…and the list goes on.

  9. The 1-2 sentence hook is my biggest challenge. I often spend an entire weekend rehearsing sentence combinations over and over until I am satisfied. Then I ask a couple of my critiquing pals to give me their input, and many times, the process starts all over again. I do not allow myself to become discouraged for very long with any step of publishing. Instead, I jump at the chance to make my work stand out in a fiercely competitive market.

  10. I agree that the hook is the hardest part. When I was writing press kits, I had great practice at writing hooks, tag lines, and pitches. But writing those things was hard enough for someone else’s work! Writing them for my own work had been a definite challenge!