Querying. The word of shaking bones, chattering teeth and chewing on nails as you wait for the agent or publisher to respond. Hours upon hours, days upon days…well, you get the idea.
As we said in a previous article (featured in NaNoProMo) about pitching, the publishing world is an absolute struggle. Agents and publishers are getting over-run with queries from authors wanting to publish their latest literary masterpieces. It is so easy to get lost in the nightmare known as the “slush-pile.”
Recently, FyreSyde had the privilege of opening our doors to the authors looking for a publisher who doesn’t require an agent. We received a total of almost fifteen queries in a short span of time (and that’s just the emailed ones).
Why is this number important? Because, it shows just how busy a publishing company can be and how many queries we receive (in just a month!).
Something we noticed in this submission period is how important it is for authors to be well-aware of what their publisher expects and to follow their rules for querying to avoid automatic rejection. Your publisher (or agent) should never have to instruct you on how to query them.
What Is a Query?
Look at a query the same way you look at a job application. You’re selling yourself to your potential employer by telling them a little about you, your work history, achievements, etc. What they don’t want is to be blasted with how much of a god-send you are to their company (more on how this applies to books later).
The query is pretty much the same thing. It includes:
- If you know the agent or publisher from somewhere (a connection) then tell them. If not, don’t.
- The title and genre of your book (maybe include the word count as well)
- A bit about your story (main characters, etc)
- Who you are as an author
- Any achievements, experiences, etc that you have gotten
1. Connection to the Agent or Publisher:
What do we mean by connection? Did you meet the agent at a conference? Were they recommended to you? Maybe you heard they liked a certain genre or sub-genre somewhere? Anywhere you might have heard of them, let them know. It creates a rapport and can help with the querying process.
FyreSyde loves to know where people found or heard of us. We often ask to get a feeling about the person and what they’re looking for in a publisher. An agent (or publisher) might want to know the same thing.
2. The Title, Genre and Word-count of Your Book
Yes, we want to know these things. They can often be a good selling point or help us in deciding if we want to pursue a contract.
Almost every publisher includes a list of genres they’re looking for, what they aren’t looking for and what they’re very picky with. Taking the time to learn these things can help you (the querying author) avoid serious heartache. It also gives you an understanding of the current literary market.
FyreSyde also has a word-count limit, as do many others. This helps us not only in printing costs but also to check and see if the book is marketable to our readers. Longer books tend to be cumbersome so we put a limit of 95K on our submissions (look for a later blog post on “over” and “under” writing, coming soon). Being aware of these can help an author do some final revisions before submitting.
Novels: 55,000 up to 95,000 wordsFyreSyde Word-Count specifications, FyreSydePublishing.com/queries
Novellas: up to 50,000 words; must have at least 10,000 words
3. About Your Story (avoid giving away the plot)
Of course we want to know about your story. It’s the main reason you’re contacting us after all, yes?
FyreSyde has specific things we look for when it comes to deciding on whether or not we want to ask for a partial manuscript:
What we look for when reading pitches: Strong world development, deep character arcs, flawed characters, showing not telling, well-edited writing, original ideas, and consistent characters. Having these things will be more likely to land our interest as we are avid readers as well.Found via FyreSydePublishing.com/queries
The same can be said of our fellow publishers. The more unique and strong your story is, the more apt we are to ask for a partial manuscript. If we like it enough, we’ll ask for a full.
A general rule of thumb: This is not the time to tell the publisher or agent (at least not FyreSyde) how badly we need your book. Please don’t do this. FyreSyde automatically rejects queries who say things like this.
You can include your main characters, the trials they face and the conflict we can expect in your story. You don’t have to give away the entire plot. Keep us guessing and wanting more.
4. Who You Are As An Author
Tell us a little about yourself but keep it about writing and publishing. What achievements have you accomplished? Have you attended any writing conferences, hosted any panels or received an award for your story? Now is the time to tell us. Keep it brief.
5. Tips from a Publisher
- Read the querying page in its entirety. By no means should the publisher or agent have to instruct you on how to query. FyreSyde experienced this many times during our first submission window. We will no longer be looking at queries that don’t follow our submission terms. It got ridiculous. So, please, read the submissions page. They are there for a reason.
- Keep it short. Don’t send two or three pages to the publisher or agent. One page is the comfortable maximum. Remember, we see many (and we mean many) queries we have to answer. This can be a source of auto-rejection for some agents and publishers.
- Make it exciting. An article via Nybookeditors.com that we found helpful when formulating a query letter had a great idea: Query in the tone of your book. It can be an amazing way to get us interested in what to expect.
- Build a rapport. Don’t just come to us and demand to query with us. Most of us have social media and like to engage as normal human beings (but a bit more professional). Getting to know us, following our social media and interating with our content can help when it comes to the querying phase. We might just help because we want to.
- Be Unique. Here at FyreSyde we treasure uniqueness in stories and in authors. We don’t like to see plots we’ve seen a million times. Be willing to be bold and show us who you are as a writer, not what the market expects you to be.
- Hire an editor (or have someone look over your letter). Many publishing houses require at least a rough round of editing and revision before even looking at a manuscript. The same can be said for a query letter. There is nothing more damaging than a query letter with missing words, bad spelling, incorrect grammar and poor wording. You’ve heard you never get a chance at a first impression?
- Be aware of submission windows. FyreSyde doesn’t even look at letters sent outside of these windows. They’re deleted immediately.
- Don’t be scared of us. Yes, FyreSyde may reject manuscripts and query letters but that doesn’t mean we’re something to be afraid of. We’re human beings just like you and often know what it feels like to be where you are. FyreSyde goes as far as to help critique query letters prior to submission.
- You are going to be rejected. Rejections happen all the time for a variety of reasons. Just because we reject one query, it doesn’t mean we’re going to automatically reject the next. If we have time, FyreSyde tries to say why we’ve rejected to help the author understand.
- Follow the template. Nybookeditors.com has a beautiful breakdown of how to format a query letter. It’s exactly what FyreSyde wants to see in the letters we receive.
If you liked this post, here are a couple of others that might help:
- How to Write a Query Letter: The 6-Step Formula for Querying Literary Agents
- How to Format Your Novel Properly Before Querying Agents