Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

#NLAquerytip #9


In New York and ready to kick off a month of meetings. That’s 2 dozen lunches, countless afternoon teas or coffees, the occasional breakfast (some editors are early birds!), and some drink dates in there.

Listening To:

GEORGIA ON MY MIND by Willie Nelson

Question: Why can’t agents simply skip the query pitch altogether and read the sample pages the author includes with the letter?

Here’s why:

One blog reader has called my series of query tip blog postings as a “much needed foot to the groin.” That certainly creates a visual! What they are really trying to say is that I’m not pulling the punch here. I’m outlining the bald truth about the query process.

At conferences when I’m teaching my query workshop, participants will often lament about how difficult it is to write the one page query letter. A hundred times harder than writing the novel itself.

Why can’t agents simply skip the query pitch altogether and read the sample pages I’m including with the letter?

The answer? Because all agents get far too many queries in any given day. Since I began blogging regularly again on Pub rants and using Twitter (egad!), my per day incoming email queries have more than doubled from 40 to 50 a day to over a hundred.

That’s crazy! And here’s the truth of it. In all the years of agenting, I’ve discovered that this is true:  mediocre query pitches are rarely supported by really excellent opening pages of a novel. I’ve tested this theory numerous times because I’m an optimist. I’ll sometimes give a mediocre query pitch the benefit of the doubt and I’ll pop down to the pages to give it a read. It’s a pass for me every time.

So your query letter is the place to show off your talent in the short form first. Convince me to read the pages you’re including.

7 Responses

  1. Allen sawan said:

    In my profession there are always some exceptions. I got a professional to help me with my query, and the sample also does not tell the whole story. Sometimes the plot and characters gain momentum specially in coming of age stories. However, when you get over a 100 query a day. It’s impossible to read all of them and give each serious thought. Some fell by the cracks, it’s the nature of the beast. Thanks for the explanation.

  2. Alison Kenyon said:

    I have never once thought to ask myself why an agent can’t ‘just’ read a sample instead of the query! I figure it’s like the cover letter to a resume, giving another opportunity to sell myself. I relish the challenge of condensing my work and myself into one concise page, niggling over words choices and sentence structure.

  3. Carla Conrad said:

    If agents and editors make their decisions on the first three pages (less if the pages are bad), I’m not sure this answers the question. Some query letters are more than a page long.

    1. Liz Brooks said:

      Carla, from what I’ve seen, agents prefer shorter queries–ideally one third of a page. So if people do keep their queries on the shorter side, the agent saves time in the long run.

  4. Elissa said:

    The query blurb and the pages do two different jobs. The query tells what the book is about. Pages show how the book opens. I think you need both to really sell your book.

  5. Anna Langford said:

    I think that a query does so much more than the first pages. A query is a writer’s chance to capture the essence of the book. Yes, the first couple of pages are important, but when I pick up a book, I look at the back cover first to see if the premise is interesting. It’s about selling the book

  6. Sabrina Schwartz said:

    Thanks for the query tips, something new has clicked for me in my query writing process because of your articles. Thinking of the query letter as its own short form art… it reminds me of applying to college and writing essays in the applications. It wasn’t about telling them anything so much as it was an opportunity (for a writer anyway) to display themselves in essence.

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