Query Guidelines

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

It’s been over 100˚for so many days even my brain feels hot. (Next few days?  104˚, 101˚, 100˚, 101˚, 100˚, 104˚, 106˚, 105˚.) In spite of sizzling summer I thought I’d tackle the question of queries again.

We get a lot of questions about query submission etiquette. We always give a stock answer when writers ask us about how to contact an agent for possible representation. We tell them to check the agency website. Nearly all agents tell you exactly how to submit and what they’d like to see.


Today I’d like to go into this a little deeper.

For Books & Such agents, our queries all go to a central address. When I receive a query at my working email or *gasp* on Twitter or Facebook, I send a simple form letter that says:

Please see our guidelines before querying: http://www.booksandsuch.com/submissions/ Queries go to: [email protected] Thanks, Wendy Lawton

Let me tell you about submission guidelines. We have them for a number of reasons:

  • They guide a writer into the system so his query gets logged properly and read promptly.
  • They tell us whether the writer can follow instructions.  We look for a client who will work hard and follow direction just as that client needs an agent who will work hard and give direction.
  • It clues the writer in to our preferences, giving the writer willing to do the research an advantage over the scatter-shot query.

That said, I’ll let you in on a secret. We try to practice grace over law. If a great writer does it all wrong and we love the writing, all is forgiven. It helps when a writer follows our guidelines but we are not sticklers. We’re not looking for submission perfection, we’re looking for great writers and excellent manuscripts. Here are a few things you should know:

  • We do not set up the guidelines to trip anyone up. There are no gleeful chortles over each submission faux pas.
  • We do not keep score or keep records of the writers who did it wrong.
  • We do not hold mistakes against anyone.
  • The submission process is meant to serve the writer and the agent, not the other way around.
  • If you’ve submitted once and did not hear back– which is the response when we are passing on a query– you are more than welcome to submit your next project.
  • We ask that you only submit to one agent at our agency at a time, but since we all have different tastes, please feel free to query another agent in the agency if the first one is not interested.

The truth is, we are looking for writers and books we love. We ask you to submit because we want to see what you have. It may not be right for us at the time but the next one may very well be the perfect match.

Do you have any questions about the submission process? I’ll be glad to tackle them.

38 Responses

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  1. Wendy, thanks for this concise set of guidelines.
    * A question…I may be wrong, but I seem to remember one of the Books and Such agents saying that if a project was worthy but not within that individual’s purview, she’d pass it on to the others in the agency to give them an opportunity. Is this true…or was it once true…or did my brain just take a holiday?

  2. Mom was right:
    Wash your hands.
    Follow the rules.
    I still love you.

  3. I submitted to a writing contest a couple of years ago. I was not expecting a reply as they said no responses would be given unless the submission won. But someone responded and simply said, “Thank you for following the rules for submission. Thank you.” I didn’t win but I’m glad I made someone’s day!

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    Wendy, if a great writer does it all wrong, I’m assuming that writer has to have a name that you recognize immediately so you’ll actually move past the bad query. Otherwise, how could you ever know she or he is a great writer? A query is so short that I’m amazed that anyone can truly showcase their book’s potential to be a winner or their own talent at anything more substantive than query writing.

    • Yeah, that put an arch in my eyebrow as well.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Let’s say a writer sends the query directly to the agent’s email account instead of to the representation email. And say it’s a lot longer than a page in length. But say the idea is intriguing and the writer has a significant platform that matches the concept of the book– it won’t matter that the rules weren’t followed. We’ll be curious to see if the writing also delivers.

  5. Thanks so much, Wendy. The query process is pretty clear for me, but that wasn’t always so. It helps so much to have the detailed query guidelines up on the website and to go over it again as well. I remember pouring over the guidelines of each agent I submitted to. They give the writer just a tiny bit of control. Thanks!

  6. Lynn Horton says:

    Wendy, thanks for this post. Even as an out-of-the-box person, I do not understand an aversion to rules. When I was submitting queries, I followed them to the letter. I figured that agents were buried in submissions and that following the rules would make it easier for them to process my information. (And I’m so sorry to read about those temps in your part of the country. The only thing in life that depresses me is extreme heat. I consider my home, where it’s 58 right now, a huge blessing. Hang tough!)

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      58? How wonderful. I grew up in San Francisco where it’s pretty much 70˚ all year long.

      • Lynn Horton says:

        You were fortunate. I grew up in a place where it could be 100 from May through late September, and shorts and a T shirt were appropriate undergarments on Halloween, worn beneath a ghost costume made from a sheet! Remember! Fall is coming!

  7. If a query is submitted, and a proposal requested and sent, will there be a response, or is the lack of a response to be considered a “Thanks, but no-thanks” answer?

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      There “should” be a response but several agents who shall remain unnamed are far enough behind that it just means it is not an automatic no. *blushing*

  8. Thank you, Wendy. There is little more precious than forgiveness, grace. The whole writing process for a beginner is so scary and so humbling. You’re at times afraid that you’ll do something that will be unforgiveable, even amongst a Christian community. Your kind words were so touching to my heart, and I’m just on the verge of tears right now anyway. I’d given my book over to a specialist in the field of my novel’s topic, and she’s an avid reader, she says. She’d helped me with an article I’d written on this topic a few years ago, so she was more than willing to help me again. So blessed me. At first, she told me she really liked my writing style. Then, weeks passed by without hearing from her. My heart hurt. I just knew she didn’t like it, or it was so far off base of reality that she’d just chosen not to respond to me. So I braved it, and I wrote her, asking if she was struggling to get through it … I received an email from her this morning that couldn’t have come at a more sweeter time. She’s on chapter 20, and she loves it, and she can’t wait to find out what’s happening with my characters. She’s having to help her elderly parents, so she’s not able to read as fast as she’d like to. She elaborated on all the positives. And I know when she’s finished, she’s elaborate on how I can improve things to ensure the story is as close to reality as possible. But just when you think you’ve done things all wrong, and you humble yourself expecting the worst, God comes along and picks you up. I don’t know why I’m always so shocked, when He promises that He will.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      You know, Shelli, we forget how tender it is for many writers to give their work to those who must judge it.

  9. Jerusha Agen says:

    Great points, Wendy, on why the guidelines are important. I appreciate the positive intent behind them, at least at B&S–that they are not meant as a pass/fail trick, but rather to help all concerned. Thanks for the clarification!

  10. Michelle Aleckson says:

    106 degrees?!? Good thing you’re coming to MN soon, Wendy! 😉

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      But I noticed yesterday Minneapolis was in the 90s with 75% humidity. Right now it’s 101˚ but with only 13% humidity. I think they are pretty comparable.

  11. Kristi Woods says:

    Try to stay cool, Wendy, in those toasty temps, and thanks for sharing. I’m gathering all these helpful tips and storing them for future use. (Soon hopefully!)

  12. Some of the first things I need to know when I’m doing something new and “official” are the exact expectations and the framework of those expectations.
    I can’t wing it.
    For example, I once brought maple syrup as a gift to someone very important. Upon opening the gift bag, he pulled the bottle out halfway and immediately got very upset with me. He thought I’d brought whiskey.
    What an enormous faux pas! I got a very serious eye roll and a shake of the head on that one.
    But the confusion was my fault because I didn’t do my homework or run through a list of “what ifs” prior to meeting him. Next time I see him, he’s getting a coffee table book on Canada.
    In any process in which I submit something of mine to someone who I want and need to impress, I make a concerted effort to know *exactly* what to do, and what not to do.
    I spent a long time on my query to Mary, and I did everything I could to make sure it was perfect.
    Then again, I shouldn’t toot my horn so much.
    Pancakes, anyone?

  13. Being in Phoenix, I can totally commiserate on the heat!!

    One questions I’ve wondered about…if the response time
    Comes and goes is it bad form to rework the query and try again? I’d never know if it was the project itself or my query that they didn’t like.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      If you have something new to add. The trouble with our policy of not answering queries (which we have to do of necessity because of sheer numbers up against available time) is you don’t know why it was a pass. Maybe because we just took something similar, maybe because we need to see a bigger platform for that specific topic to succeed or maybe because it just didn’t intrigue us enough. But let’s say your platform exploded almost overnight. Yes! Re-query.

  14. I so appreciate reading there is grace with mistakes in submitting. Reading of the mindset you ladies hold for those querying is en encouragement. 😀

  15. Thank you for the clarification about submitting to another agent within the agency. I’d wondered about that.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Yes, it’s important not to do it simultaneously but querying a different agent after a pass is perfectly fine.

  16. I do have a quick question for you, Wendy. Since all queries go to a central email address, is it preferable to include the name of the agent you’re querying in the subject line or merely in the body of the email? I wasn’t able to find a preference in the guidelines.

  17. Teresa Haugh says:

    52 deg. and rain. Yesterday, today and forever, or at least this summer.

  18. I found when moving to the Sierra foothills from the San Francisco Bay Area that the climate near the ocean is more humid than up here. When it’s 100 degrees here it feels like 90 in the Bay Area. That means 100 degrees for you must feel like 110 here where the climate is drier. Please be careful not to get overheated!

  19. This was exactly what I needed to read today. I’m preparing to query, so thank you!