#QueryFail: A Frustrating Process

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

Weather: May flowers mixed with May showers

If you are familiar with Twitter then you’ll be familiar with the title of this week’s blog entries– #QueryFail. That’s a hashtag* for complaints about the query letters writers send to introduce themselves and their book to agents. When you see this hashtag it’s usually from an agent commenting on some aspect of a failed book query. I know #QueryFail raises the hackles of many writers but I think it’s time to address some of the realities and many of the problems with queries and with the system.

Tomorrow, I’ll debunk some commonly held misconceptions about queries and then we’ll have some fun with dos and don’ts. I’ll even give examples from real queries. Don’t worry that your query will show up as a cautionary tale. Details will be changed and identities carefully obfuscated. 🙂

But. . . before we start I’d like you to tell me your frustrations with the whole query system. I want to give you a chance to weigh in (and sound off) before I begin. Please use the comment section and tell me what you think of the system and how you’d change it. Don’t be shy. Jump in and tell us what makes you crazy and what, if anything, works.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into the subject of query letters.

* Hashtag is the Twitter term for a subject grouping. It’s always preceded with a #. Readers can use the hashtag to pull up that subject and follow all the tweets in that grouping.

11 Responses

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  1. Lynn Dean says:

    I’ve only written query letters for magazine articles–never for fiction. Always just pitched at conferences, but I think my frustration with queries and pitches is the same:

    You have one, short opportunity to summarize everything you’re excited and passionate about and fear of failing to convey the project effectively can be almost paralyzing.

  2. I’ll preface this by saying I’m not at the ready-to-query stage just yet, so my opinion is mainly based on blogs and idealism… But from what I’ve read over and over I just can’t figure out a better way to revamp the system. I think a query letter plus a few pages seems to be the best of both worlds – even if agents wouldn’t always end up reading any of the pages, it gives a good enough sample for their trained eye. Nathan Bransford recently ran a week of his blog about queries and letting writers experience being on the other side of the fence. It helped me see the agents’ perspective in this.

  3. Paula Haenchen says:


    Some agent’s submission guidelines advise writers to include a “vision for marketing” in their query letters. Being a first-time author sans previous works or national recognition, I’m not sure what is expected. A comparison to other successful books that are similar in style and content? A promise to develop a website and/or go on tour? I’m clueless.

  4. Deb Wuethrich says:

    I, too, feel the “paralysis” (even desperation) of trying to cram every important thing in a one-page query/pitch. It feels like there’s no room for voice or style to emerge. I know the importance of grabbing readers quick, and the hook, and holding their interest, too. I just wish more editors/agents could look at a couple sample pages along with that one-page query, but I know they are already overloaded. I also have trouble trying to understand how to find truly “similar” books to compare my title with. Look forward to Wendy’s posts.

  5. Nicole says:

    Okay, here’s my deal. The subjectivity of the individual agent can be a maze. It would help to truly know what he/she is looking for–I mean really looking for–on any given day. If their sites provide a sample query or two as examples of how they prefer to receive their information in query form: perfect. If they could update what they’re seeking periodically if and when it changes: truly helps. If they could hint at what they really don’t like or want, this would eliminate some, of course not all, of us from even trying them because we’d recognize our voices and styles don’t mesh with their personal tastes.

    If they’d include a list of their favorite fiction for us novelists, that tells a lot about their preferences.

    I’d rather know even in a form rejection if an agent doesn’t want to rep me. No reply exacerbates the entire process. Let us know how long we should wait to hear. Send a form rejection if nothing else.

  6. I’m excited to read your take on the query system, Wendy! I met my lovely agent through a writing conference. I always wonder if I’d have been able to land an agent through the query process. I think the writing conference thew everything into fast forward.

  7. I don’t particularly like the query process. It’s tough to distill the heart of a story down into a couple of sentences and then make those sentences enticing. I still haven’t mastered it, or probably even come close. BUT I’m working on it. To me it seems that it’s a good exercise. Someone who can clearly convey the essential heart and magic of a story in a clear and concise way, has probably managed to bring that same skill to the story itself. It engenders the desire to throw things because it is so hard to do well, but that’s also why it has value. You show that you’ve mastered your craft if you can do it well.

  8. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this one! The things that drive me nuts about the querying process- the waiting. And waiting. and waiting. with little to know updates in between. I have about the patience of a flea though so even a few weeks is too much for me. Other than that, I can’t really think of any innovations to the querying process. Agents are kind enough to tell us what they’re interested in and how to submit. We need to take the time to submit accordingly and make sure our queries are the best and most honest representations of our work.

  9. Eva Ulian says:

    I think Nicole has hit the nail on the head about her stating what agents really want. The problem is, agents can only give broad outlines on what they want but they don’t know what they are really looking for until they see it. So really, it’s for us writers, a game of blind man’s buff… and don’t we know it.

  10. Lynn Dean says:

    Lisa, that’s such a good point! I never looked at it that way before.

  11. Eva Ulian says:

    Frankly, Lisa and Lynn, if it were that easy to get an agent to take you on, there would not be so many of us who are not. Even if your query is brilliant, tip top, if it doesn’t fit what the agent is looking for it’s a no no… on the other hand, I bet there’s more than one agent who received a not so brilliant query but it was what they were looking for and that author hit the jack pot. Like I say, the ways of agents are many and quite unfathomable.