I’ve worked with a lot of slush piles–from Pitch Wars to my job as an assistant editor at Entangled Publishing. The query is so important to your writing career. It’s the pitch that could help you land an agent or a book deal. Yet I’ve come across writers who don’t think the query is that important. Some believe if the agent or editor or mentor just gets to the sample pages, they’ll definitely request. This is a self-sabotaging way to think about your query for two big reasons:
- When you send a poorly written query to an agent or editor, it sends them a message that you don’t care enough about your book to give it a proper query. And if you don’t care about your book, why should they? If a writer can’t be bothered to make the book sound interesting, with the goals, conflict, motivations, stakes, etc., why should an agent or editor bother to read it?
- Not every agent and editor reads sample pages. It’s tough, but true. There are agents that only want to see a query letter in the submission, no sample pages. If you don’t have an irresistible query letter, you’re not moving forward with your submission.
Agencies and publishing houses can get 100+ queries a week. Part of my job is going through that general slush pile and pulling things I think my boss would love to work on. A couple months ago, I pulled one just from the query letter; I didn’t even read the writing sample before alerting my boss to it because from the query, I knew the story itself would be good. We acquired it just a few weeks later. In just a couple hundred words, the writer made me intrigued enough to care about her characters before I’d even opened the sample pages.
Just because you’ve written a great book doesn’t mean you can write a terrific query, and that’s okay. But if you know that’s an issue, invest in an editor for it, or run it by CPs and beta readers until you’re satisfied. Take that extra time to give your manuscript the chances it deserves.
For some quick tips on query letter writing, check out my post on conflict and stakes. There’s also this unbelievably thorough post on writing query letters from Jane Friedman.
And I’m giving away a free query edit to one writer. To enter, simply comment on this post, OR comment/retweet this tweet.
Dotti Enderle says
Thanks for the awesome advice and links, Judi! So important.