View Full Version : Query = Letter + 1st 3 pages???

01-18-2006, 11:57 AM
I was under the impression that I knew what a query was. Now I'm under the impression that I don't. (Good thing I haven't quite finished that novel yet...)

In Miss Snark's blog (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/) she has said many times (that I'm too tired to find and quote directly, but she has said it many times) that a query is your query letter along with the first three pages of the novel. I had never heard that before. She says it like it's not just her policy but the policy of agents the world over. So if they say 'send queries to:' with no other specific instructions, is it normal to send three pages?

I suppose this is a very newbie question! But I always thought sending a query was just a query letter. This three page thing really threw me.

Albedo of Zero
01-18-2006, 01:44 PM
Every agent is different...follow the guidelines of the agent you are querying...some ask for just the letter; some ask for 1 page; some ask for 3 chapters and a synopsis.

01-18-2006, 06:18 PM
Check submission guidelines. If the agent says "query only," just send the letter. If the agent says "query with sample chapters," send query letter with 1st 3. Some agent even specifies how many pages -- "query with first 10 pages." Follow the guidelines!

01-18-2006, 07:18 PM
In Miss Snark's blog (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/) she has said many times (that I'm too tired to find and quote directly, but she has said it many times) that a query is your query letter along with the first three pages of the novel. I had never heard that before. She says it like it's not just her policy but the policy of agents the world over.

Well, sorry to be blunt, but if that's truly what she said then she's clueless. I just sent out eleven query letters tailored to the specifics of eleven different top agents, and it broke down something like this:

3 query + 1st three chapters and synopsis
1 query + 1st 10 pages and synopsis
1 query + 1st 5 pages
1 query + 1st page
5 query only

Some accepted email submissions, some insisted on hard copy, some actually preferred electronic submissions (but most did not). Not one of them asked for the first three pages.

Julie Worth
01-18-2006, 07:36 PM
What they’ll take and what they say they’ll take are often different. I just got a request from a big NY agency for my latest book. That was based on an email query with the first chapter appended. This agency says they don’t take email queries (which I’d failed to notice), they're not interested in the unpublished (hardly ever, anyway), and they don’t want sample material. I’d violated every rule, and still they wanted the ms. Amazing!

Will an agent actually throw your work in the trash if you don’t follow their guidelines? That depends. Some agents might, but most won’t. If an agency says they prefer something a certain way, that gives you latitude. But some are insistent. Some are downright anal about their requirements. Anyone that rigid, I don’t want to work with anyway. (Unless everyone else says no!)

01-18-2006, 07:47 PM
It's hard enough for writers to compete with thousands of others, why take the risk? You might have been lucky with that ONE particular agent.

Always advice others to do the "safe/standard/expected" thing -- if they want to take risks, it's up to them, then. Otherwise, it's irresponsible.

Julie Worth
01-18-2006, 10:47 PM
It can also work the other way. A while ago I met a would-be author who had his own marketing firm. He wrote a dynamite query. (I know because he sent it to me, and it was the best I’d ever seen.) He sent it out, not including any other material, even when the guidelines asked for it. The result? Sixty percent of those responding asked for more material—and half of those were asking for the ms.

Alas, his book was not nearly as good as his query, and he didn’t get an agent.

(This is not advice, maestrowork, just an observation.)

Cathy C
01-18-2006, 11:13 PM
Opinions are just that, when it comes to the publishing industry. There are plenty of tales of exceptional new authors hitting the streets without casting a single eye on the "rules" and hitting it big. But the question is, can a GOOD author, a solid mid-list seller, do the same? Hmm... maybe. Or maybe not. That's a coin toss.

I've talked to plenty of agents and editors on the subject, and pretty much all of them say the same thing -- follow the guidelines. They didn't write them up and place them on their website as a joke, or to annoy people. They wrote them so that there was a standard that everyone would (hopefully) follow. Part of writing is following instructions. If you can't follow them now, how will you when it's time for edits?

Yes, MsSnark likes to get a few pages. Probably some others out there "hope" that writers will disobey the rules, too. A sneak peek can let an agent/editor quickly discover the potential. They don't have to get hopes up and reject the partial, or can skip the partial and ask for a full. It'll sort out the "exceptional" books. But it can also reject a "good" book just as easily.

But it's an agent to agent and editor to editor sort of risk. I wouldn't recommend the practice.

Julie Worth
01-19-2006, 12:14 AM
This is what the great Jenny Bent says on her website:

Some agents will tell you just to send a synopsis, but I feel it never hurts just to throw those sample chapters in. Generally, agents will read them if they're included, and the worst that can happen is that they'll get thrown out.

Never hurts? Well, all right then!
(Alas, Ms. Bent's webpage says she is no longer accepting unsolicited submissions. Of course, that's just a guideline...)

01-19-2006, 12:27 AM
Well, it could hurt -- some agents or editors are very strict about following standards. I know my editor said that she received so many queries and ms and stuff, if she sees someone who doesn't follow the guidelines (which are posted CLEARLY), she will immediately toss the whole thing in the trash. Life's too short for her. Bent said she wouldn't mind -- well, if she says so, then send samples to her. Otherwise, don't test them.

01-19-2006, 03:09 AM
Didn't we have this discussion on another thread a couple weeks ago? I got chewed out there for saying that I put my first chapter (5 pages) in with my query letter even when the agent says query letter only.

01-19-2006, 05:26 AM
Sorry if you did already have this discussion. I did do a search first, but searching for 'query' and seeing if there's a similar thread is a gargantuan task. So I thought I'd just ask.

Given that no one knows Miss Snark's identity but she seems to be a legitimate agent. And the way she keeps saying that a query means the letter plus three pages like it's the industry standard has just really confused me.

01-19-2006, 05:38 AM
She's only one agent, out of the hundreds in the US. the 1 + 3 is her preference. Really, the best way to know is to check the particular agent's guidelines.

Andrew Jameson
01-19-2006, 05:51 PM
I think that many agents have specific guidelines for what they want to see in a query package. For my own amusement, I spent a half-hour searching for guidelines for agents whose names I recognized. A few I couldn't find a Web site for (but they might be in Jeff Herman's book, for example), but I found most of them, and they're all reasonably specific:

Donald Maass (http://www.maassagency.com/submissions.html): Alternately, you may wish to send your query letter by snail mail. We respond to every posted query that we receive. You may include the first five pages of your manuscript and a short outline, if available. Be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for our reply.

Richard Curtis (http://www.curtisagency.com/submissions.html): To submit your material, send the following: (1) A query letter outlining your professional experience. (2) One or two sample chapters of your book.(3) A self-addressed stamped envelope in order to receive a reply and sufficient postage for the return of your material if you would like it sent back to you.

Ethan Ellenberg (http://ethanellenberg.com/submissionguidelines.htm): For fiction, please submit a synopsis, the first three chapters (approximately 50 to 100 pages) and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) via postal mail.

Sanford J. Greenburger (http://www.greenburger.com/code/contact.htm): Please submit a query letter, the first three chapters of the manuscript, a synopsis of the work, a brief bio or resume, and a stamped self-addressed envelope for reply.

Writer's House (http://www.writershouse.com/content/submissions.asp): Please send us a query letter of no more than two pages, which includes your credentials, an explanation of what makes your book unique and special, and a synopsis. Also, please include a self-addressed-stamped-envelope for our reply, which generally takes six to eight weeks.

Natash Kern (http://www.natashakern.com/submitting_fiction.htm): Your submission package MUST include the following if you wish to have your work considered for representation: Include a cover letter that includes a 1-2 page overview of your book.. The genre of your manuscript (inspirational romance; medical thriller etc) An estimated length or word count A one-paragraph bio and previous publishing or writing credits (if any) Your name, address, phone/fax numbers, and email address Let us know if it is a multiple submission (we do accept them). A 3-5-page synopsis of your book that must include the ending . The first 3 chapters (up to 75 pages) of your manuscript When sending a query by regular mail, include an SASE (a self-addressed stamped envelope) for our reply. We accept queries only from residents of the U.S. or Canada.

Richard Henshaw (http://www.richh.addr.com/Submissions.htm): For Fiction we like to take a look at a query letter, short synopsis and the first fifty pages. For Non-fiction we prefer a proposal. ALWAYS include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) if you would like a response.

Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency (http://www.sff.net/people/jackbyrne/submissions.htm): I prefer brief query letters for the initial contact. If the project suits my current needs and interests, I may request fiction partials (the first 20-30 pages, a detailed synopsis, author's bio/writing credits and SASE)

Trident Media (http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/submission.html): To submit a manuscript or proposal, please send your query letter to one of our agents. Guidelines for your fiction submission: Paragraph about yourself, plot synopsis, previous publishing history (if any), contasct information (address, phone, fax, and email address).

Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (http://www.scglit.com/submissions.htm): Begin with a query letter describing your project, background, and credentials, which you may send by mail or e-mail. If you wish to receive a hard copy reply you must include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. For this first contact, nothing should be enclosed with the letter; don’t send any sample material until we advise you that we’d like to see it.

JABberwocky Literary Agency (http://www.awfulagent.com/query.html): We only accept unsolicited queries by mail accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or, for international queries, an international reply coupon (IRC) if US postage is unavailable. WE DO NOT ACCEPT QUERIES BY PHONE, BY FAX, OR BY E-MAIL. Furthermore, DO NOT SEND ANY MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL UNLESS REQUESTED. A brief one to three-page synopsis can be included with your query, but is in no way required.

Spectrum Literary Agency (http://members.aol.com/ruddigore1/contacts.htm): Anyone interested in representation must send a query letter* with a return stamped (not metered ), self-addressed envelope to: XXXXX The letter should describe your book briefly and include publishing credits and background information or qualifications relating to your work, if any.

01-19-2006, 07:54 PM
You rock my world for posting that. I found two great agents on that list I hadn't even seen yet. Why doesn't Writers' Market list these people???

Cathy C
01-19-2006, 08:06 PM
Writer's Market is only a tiny little sampling of the agents out there. Generally, the publication sends out an annual questionnaire to agencies and those who respond get inserted. Sometimes, those who DON'T respond accidentally get inserted (much to the agent's annoyance if the info winds up wrong in print for a year.)

Generally, if an agency doesn't have the time or inclination to answer the questions like recent sales and naming specific agents per genre, or filling out the "tips" section, they don't get included in the issue. (You don't think that the staff actually searches the information, do you?)

Now, I don't believe that agents have to pay to be included, but I could be wrong on that front, because nobody has ever said for sure. I do know that agents I've asked who aren't included indicated that the questionnaire is long and cumbersome and a waste of valuable time when they already get plenty of queries without being in the book.

Andrew Jameson
01-19-2006, 09:56 PM
siren: I actually peeked at this thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3338) for list of agents, and plucked out some of the ones whose names I recognized (mostly from reading Locus). You might find a few others there if you're a SF/F gal.

01-20-2006, 11:48 AM
I agree that you step outside people's guidelines at considerable risk. But sometimes the guidelines aren't as clear as they might appear to be. For example, I heard an agent at a conference state that she strictly accepted "queries only!" Now, most of us might think that 'query only' means 'nothing but a query letter.' When someone asked exactly what she meant, she said, "A 'query' is a cover letter, a short synopsis, and some sample pages of your writing."

The issues are even more muddled if you look closely at the details. Some agents say one thing in interviews (or in books), and another on their website. Some agencies post guidelines, but some agents inside the agency have very different guidelines (this is apparent in some of the more detailed Jeff Herman listings, for instance).

Many of the best agencies don't have websites, and the only information published on them outside sources such as Agent Research & Evaluation is their address. They appear to be closed, though I have queried some of them successfully in the past. But good luck finding out what their 'guidelines' are.

When I couldn't find details, I always sent query letter + first three chapters. When they say 'query only' I still sent sample pages. I'm a writer, and I'm a writer of fiction, not cover letters or advertising. It is my sample pages that show what I've got. If they dumped me in the recycle bin because I sent sample pages, fine--I'm glad I avoided them. I'm not recommending that strategy to everyone, but it was mine.

And personally, I'm sick of hearing agents repeat tired nonsense like, "If you can't write a compelling query letter that draws me into your book, why should I assume you are competent to write an entire novel?"

Gee, I don't know. And that Yo-Yo Ma guy--if he can't play the harmonica, why should I assume he can play the cello?

01-20-2006, 06:15 PM
"If you can't write a compelling query letter that draws me into your book, why should I assume you are competent to write an entire novel?"

I've always assumed this is a nice way of saying, "If you can't spell or make a complete sentence, save your postage."

01-21-2006, 01:59 AM
I've always assumed this is a nice way of saying, "If you can't spell or make a complete sentence, save your postage."

Hey, SirenSix. I'd believe that was what they were suggesting if they didn't toss in words like "compelling." That's what turns it into judging your ballet skills from your breakdancing.

Sure, they can tell if you DON'T have basic writing skills from examining your cover letter. But that doesn't mean that a good novelist necessarily ought to be able get someone really excited by the way they craft a cover letter or synopsis.

Face it: a novel's a novel. Those otehr things are ad copy.

I met a woman in the marketing profession who gets endless requests for manuscripts through queries and face-to-face pitches. She can write a compelling query letter--a better letter than anyone. So agents all over the country are deluged with her partials and manuscripts. What she can't do is write a compelling page of story. All that comes of this is a great waste of trees.

I don't want to read her stuff. But I'd sure love to have her write my flap copy.

Agents also say, "I can tell whether or not the writer can write a novel within the first two pages." Now, that one I can believe.

Query letters from Pynchon? Faulkner? Joyce, pitching 'Dubliners'? Imagine Tolkien's cover letter for 'Lord of the Rings,' Tolstoy's for 'War and Peace,' Hemingway's for 'Sun Also Rises.'

In fact, now that I think about it, writing query letters for these--or coming up with elevator pitches for them--could be a lot of fun. Maybe we should have a contest?

01-21-2006, 04:40 AM
Dear Agent,

Though the Greeks and Romans no longer believe literally in the existence of celestial Mount Olympus, much of their national pride and sense of cultural identity is tied up in the fascinating ancient mythology of Zeus and Hera, Mars and Venus. It has often saddened me that the inhabitants of the British Isles have no such fantasy heritage to call their own. As a linguist and lifelong student of English cultural history, I have taken it upon myself to create just such a narrative, a 900,000-word trilogy* which I call The Lord of the Rings.

Our hero is a young unassuming halfing or "hobbit" named Frodo who lives the mythical land of the Shire, a place whose green tranquility reflects the poignant, haunting ancestral images that linger in the minds of its British readers. Young Frodo, unaware of his role in the shaping of our world's history, comes into possession of a ring with the power to destroy the world. He sets out upon an epic journey with eight companions, to the heart of evil itself, where he must cast the ring into the fires in which it was forged. Along the way, this childlike innocent learns the dark truths which lurk in the hearts of men, elves, dwarves, and others, tossed to and fro in the currents of betrayal, bloodlust, pride, and folly. Yet through it all, he never becomes a helpless pawn, but finds inner strength with which to complete a task which all the world believes to be impossible.

I am currently a professor at Oxford University, where I also received a degree in English Language and literature. My intensive studies of linguistics, particularly the origin of language, helps give a "historical" flavor to my narrative, which includes lengthy passages of simulated poetry and song in the languages of various mythical races. In addition to historical research, my personal experiences on the Western Front of the second world war also inform the detailed battle scenes in the book. My previous publication credits include the widely acclaimed lecture "Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics," my essay "English and Welsh," and the children's book The Hobbit, which is set in the same mythical world as this epic trilogy.

I thank you for taking the time to consider this project, and look forward to hearing your response.


John Ronald Tolkien

*possibly an exaggeration - possibly not.

01-24-2006, 10:58 PM
A real joy to read (could have been written by Tom Shippey); had me laughing in several places.

Had me laughing even harder when I imagined agents reading it!

Now will you do "The Sun Also Rises"? Pleeeeeeeeeese?

01-25-2006, 08:58 AM
Dear Agent,



John Ronald Tolkien

Dear Mr. Tolkien:

I am in receipt of your query letter and synopsis for your trilogy, The Lord of The Rings. I am accustomed to receiving such commercially unpromising queries from academic types like yourself, and I normally do not take the time to reply to such flaccid dreck. However, your dreck is so outlandish that I feel called upon to comment in depth.

First, you must understand that the market is not ready for such an extended work, and never will be. I can tell immediately that you are a victim of what Steven King called “writer’s bloat.” My first suggestion is that you reduce your 900,000 word trilogy to a single novel, of length somewhere along the lines of 150,000 words (120,000 would be better, since you are an unpublished author in the adult literature field). You could do much to achieve this by removing any poetry, since most readers will skip over it anyway. My agency would be pleased to provide the necessary editing services on a fee-for-services basis.

Additionally, for your Frodo to have eight companions is unworkable. Most readers have difficulty remembering four characters, never mind nine. This is especially so if, as you note in your synopsis, they all have weird foreign names like Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn. Remember that the bulk of your readers are English-speaking, and prefer names like Charlie, Brett, and Nick, unless they are the villains, in which case foreign names are fine.

The context of your trilogy is also fatally confusing. On the one hand, historical novels are placed in a recognizable historical situation (The French Revolution, etc.). This allows readers to feel smart without actually doing any work. On the other hand, butter-brained fantasy readers prefer silly, nonexistent milieus, like Narnia. Not only that, your elves with their pointy ears can easily be mistaken for people of the planet Vulcan. The ear thing has been done to death, and in any event it is clearly stated in my website that I don’t handle science fiction.

My opinion is that you need a genre consultant to help you hone your target market, which is provided by my agency on a fee-for-services basis. However, a few quick comments to give you some idea of our capabilities. Perhaps you may want to consider something a bit more current and recognizable. Al Qaeda themes are hot right now, so perhaps you can recast Gandalf as a grizzled colonel seeking to obliterate their stronghold in Afghanistan, Turkistan or some other Stan. The other eight characters are all black ops types, each with their own weapons specializations. Gimli’s axe would be a nice touch, since you don’t often get to see a special forces operative ripping through Moslem extremist internal organs with a good old fashioned double blade.

Also, be conscious of the gender issue. Nowadays, publishers in the traditionally male-oriented genres are trying to boost female readership, and your synopsis shows them doing precious little. Perhaps you can make Gimli a woman. You could keep the beard, perhaps she is plagued throughout the trilogy with heart-rending excess facial hair (I think there is a name for this, but for the life of me I can’t remember). Her hand-wringing anguish over its impact on her sex life would make her a sympathetic character to female readers, rather than just another “man’s woman” with enough firepower in her walk-in closet to blow a fifty-foot crater in her subdivision. If need be, my agency would be happy to provide a woman to ghost-write this portion of your novel on a fee-for-services basis.

This reworking of genre would require retooling of your characters, which needs to happen anyway. You have an astounding excess of vertically challenged characters – four hobbits and Gimli the dwarf (and please note, we don’t use words like that anymore) – and black ops types simply aren’t that short. Can you picture your Frodo in Kevlar and night vision goggles savagely wielding a fourteen inch knife with blood grooves? I didn’t think so.

In fact, your obsession with little people makes me wonder if you yourself are of reduced physical stature. Long experience has made me and the literary world at large suspicious of short writers, and I suspect that you, sir, are one. Be mindful that this is the commercial publishing arena, not some soapbox for you to trumpet your narrow, twisted personal agenda just because girls used to titter at you in high school and you didn’t lose your virginity until your thirtieth birthday. I myself am six foot five, my wife is six foot five, and all three of my children are very big for their age. If what you are surreptitiously trying to say in your precious 900,000 words is that short people are equally capable and desirable to the opposite sex, well, you can bite me and the horse you rode in on.


Charles Mangleword

Charles Mangleword Literary Agency

01-25-2006, 07:24 PM
I think we have a high and hilarious concept here. In the spirit of the Booker awards. Query letters of the famous and the replies they'd get today!

Or at least an op ed piece in the Times Book Review.

01-25-2006, 07:27 PM
Dear Mrs. Tolkun

Sorry, but I find myself unable to fall in love with your proposed science-fiction offering. I apologize for this form letter, but we are simply so inundated with submissions that we cannot be bothered. Rest assured we have read every single page of your attached manuscript/synopsis/sample chapters (circle one).

Attached is an order blank for my book How to Write a Novel, on sale for this week only at only $29.95. In it, I tell all the inside secrets of the publishing industry and how to get published in today's competitive market.

Best of luck,

Ima L. Literate
The L. Literate Agency, Inc.

01-25-2006, 10:09 PM
Thanks for those "Replies." I really needed a laugh this morning. :D


02-02-2006, 04:44 AM
I am so scared to write a query letter. (thus the name) I got "The Complete idiots guide to publishing", which turned around and told me that since I have children's stories I should buy "The complete idiots guide to publishing childrens stories". They made the Query letter sound like it was the hardest, scariest thing to write. Now I have psyched myself out thinking I won't be able to write a good one.

02-03-2006, 07:51 PM
1) Sit down and write it. Put it aside and reread. Then rewrite it.

2) Then show it to your writing friends. (If you don't have writing friends, get some.) Heck, maybe post it on a few websites (possibly including this one).

3) Try and have fun. Write that other book.

Fear of the query letter is really just fear of rejection. You don't have to learn to love rejection, but you have to learn to live with it, because it will come. Probably by the truckload. It doesn't mean a damn thing.

4) Did I say "Try and have fun?"

Julie Worth
02-03-2006, 08:12 PM
I am so scared to write a query letter. (thus the name) I got "The Complete idiots guide to publishing", which turned around and told me that since I have children's stories I should buy "The complete idiots guide to publishing childrens stories". They made the Query letter sound like it was the hardest, scariest thing to write. Now I have psyched myself out thinking I won't be able to write a good one.

Your perception is right on. It is hard, because you have to sell a hardnosed, bored, seen-it-all agent, who just swore off representing unpublished authors ever again.

“Idiots!” he says to himself, opening a query at random from the huge stack in the burn basket—It was a dark and stormy night...I found your name on firstwriter.com... I’m 112, so please, can you represent me before I die? He puts it down, but that sad plea gets to him, especially because the return address is only a block away. He opens his top drawer and takes out the loaded .38 he always keeps there, in case some idiot writer should stop by unexpectedly, demanding his overdue royalties. He drops the gun in his pocket on the way out the door. An assistant agent, a beautiful Vassar girl who is also his girlfriend, looks up.

“Are you going to kill another one?”

“Only when they ask for it, sugar.”