que·ry /ˈkwirē/ verb

gerund or present participle: querying

  1. ask a question about something, especially in order to express one’s doubts about it or to check its validity or accuracy.
  2.  in publishing – a short letter to agents or editors to interest them in your work.
  3.  something you should be super excited about because every well-polished send carries a spark of possibility.

Querying is hard. You have to boil all your hopes and dreams, huge ideas, and wonderfully crafted stories into a brief letter to a stranger trying to get them to bite. It takes time, patience, fortitude, and skill, but in the end – you’re supposed to be a writer – this is what you do.

I’ve sent out an embarrassing number of queries (according to my spreadsheet – 214 for seven separate works since 2011 – but I started submitting about a decade before that). I’ve had nearly a dozen full requests – which I imagine elicit almost the same feeling as an offer of representation. But insofar nothing has been a full bite. That’s okay. Really, it is! I continue to revise and rewrite my work (this is a CRAFT, after all, folks) and my letters. At this point, I’ve lost all nervousness and fear of rejection, which is a gift. I now am confident in my writing skills along with my ability to represent myself as a professional writer.

Generally, I’ll heavily research agents, send out a few queries, wait patiently, then, if needed, recraft the letters and resend. In cases where I’ve done a few rounds of this and received many rejections, it’s time to review the work again. Or lay it aside and focus on a new project.

There are lots of guidelines for writing queries online. I like the simple – Hook, Book, and Cook technique – writing a great hook to keep the agent interested, starting with the first line. Then, a brief explanation of ‘the Book.’ As always, keep it simple and boiled down – which is hard! It’s useful to lay out these questions as you write your letter: What does the main character want? What is blocking them from getting it? What choices do they face? What is at stake with those choices? If you can’t answer these questions, you should reexamine your work (is it boring and hard to understand?). After the Book part comes a short bio of myself relevant to writing and pitching it (the Cook).

Every single piece of this takes time and craft. You can’t overexplain or confuse, and you need to catch the agent’s interest immediately and with every sentence. Easy right? Of course it is – this is your gift 🙂


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