5 tactical things you need to have ready before you query

If you read any articles about querying, they all say the same thing – get your query ready and send it out.

What they don’t tell you, is you need a couple other things ready to go as well.  This is a very tactical list, it’s all the stuff you need after you’ve written your brilliant, perfect, agent-grabbing query.

Not every single agent will ask for every single thing on this list, but if you’re planning to query more than 20 agents, you’ll need each one of these:

1. A synopsis

Very few sites mention this, but in addition to a query letter, you’re going to need a synopsis.  Unlike a query letter, which is more of a brief marketing pitch, a synopsis is a summary of your entire book, over two to three pages.  It’s like the pre-written Wikipedia article.

Here’s a sample of what an agent might request:

Agent request.jpg

Oh yeah, notice how this one is saying 3-5 paragraphs?  The length of synopsis they’ll request will also change.  In addition to having a synopsis ready, you need to have it ready at different word counts

2. Various cuts of your story – first page, first five pages, first ten pages

Here’s another sample of what an agent might request.  You see the synopsis request again, except this time they want 1 -2 pages, not 3-5 paragraphs.

Agent 2

Did you notice the other difference?  Agent one wants the first ten pages of your manuscript.  Agent two wants the first five.

Before you start, you should have a folder with a bunch of variations that include:

Story – first page
Story – first five pages
Story – first ten pages
Story – First chapter
Story – First two chapters
Story – First fifty pages

Seriously, you’ll need each and every version.

3. Everything formatted for email

So you’ve got your query, you’ve got multiple versions of your synopsis and you’ve got a hundred different versions of your manuscript.  Nice.  You’re ready to query.

Wait, not so fast.

Let’s take a look at another sample query instruction

Agent 3.jpg

Have you spotted a theme with these instructions?  NO ATTACHMENTS.

What this means is that after you have your query, your synopsis (of different lengths) and your manuscript versions, you need to make sure all of this is FORMATTED FOR EMAIL.

I actually sent practice emails to myself, just to make sure the formatting didn’t screw up.  And remember, you have no idea what mail client the agent is using to open your email, so you essentially can’t use any client that relies on formatting.  If you do, your perfectly crafted email and query might appear wonky.   Your best bet is gmail, with zero special formatting.  Just a text-only email.

4. Tactical details about your book

You see a bit of this coming through the above samples.  In addition to wanting to be wowed by a query, the agents will request more practical information.  It varies from agent to agent.  Let’s look at another sample:

Agent 4.jpg

The bare minimum you will need to understand about your book is the word count and the genre it fits into.  The genre is really important because some agencies are incredibly specific on what they do / do not represent.  For example, did you write a book set in present day about a vampire detective agency?  Well, that could be considered Urban Fantasy, but it could also be Magic Realism Fantasy.  It’s for sure not High Fantasy, but it might be Low Fantasy.

Do you research and make sure you understand what genre you’ve written in.

5. List of agents

Okay, you’re ready to go.  You have your synopsis, your killer query, your manuscript, formatted for email and you know tactical details about your book.

Who should you query?

There’s a few ways to go about this.

  • Twitter: Just start following a shitload of agents and find out which ones are asking for manuscripts in the genre you’ve read.  This takes a bit more time, but probably has the ancillary benefit of matching you with an agent that’s a better fit
  • Google: Obviously
  • Writer’s Digest: In addition to have a section of their site devoted to agents, you can also save time and subscribe to The Writers Market

This covers about 95% of what agents are looking for.

Good luck!  Get to it!

One comment

  1. This is such a good post. I have been learning all this recently in preparation for starting queries in the next few months. This is so well laid out and clear. Thanks for sharing x

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