Q1: Query Etiquette

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Literary Agents. For the remaining questions, see here.)

Other than “Do not open your query with a rhetorical question,” what else would you list as Fundamental Etiquette of Querying?

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Be professional; your query is like a job application, so be sure to highlight what makes you and your books special. Follow the guidelines (I know there are a million agencies and they each have their own guidelines, but it is really worth your time to do the research).

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Research and follow each individual agent’s query guidelines. Your query is hopefully the start of a long, productive business relationship, and it’s important to put your best foot forward.

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Don’t address it “Query Department” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” You should know who you’re querying, why you chose them specifically, and how to spell their names.

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Be professional and follow stated submission guidelines.  Agents may have wildly varying guidelines, so it is always smart to check the instructions that each agent has posted.  I recommend checking the agent’s website as opposed to any general querying site or book (like Query Tracker or Writer’s Marketplace).  Agents don’t always post their own guidelines on the general querying sites so they are often inaccurate and the books are almost immediately out of date once they are produced.

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Be patient and do your research! (Oh–and always include the word count and genre!)

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Don’t assume you’re above the rules. Which is, of course, a lesson that the people reading this don’t need to be told. Still, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as reading in a query, “I saw your guidelines, but I’m going to do it this way anyway, either because I think the ‘guidelines’ are arbitrary roadblocks or because I think I know better than you what you want.”

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I would say spelling my name right but I am lax on that rule for obvious reasons.

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Be professional.  That’s really the key.  I don’t know you and you don’t really know me, and the query is your first impression.  Don’t try to be cool, or be too informal, or overshare. Basically don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a job interview in your query, because your query really is analogous to a job interview.

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Following my submission guidelines as outlined on my website. Also, Salutations and last names. Because it’s a business.

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To be honest, the etiquette is quite simple: query agents in your genre according to their submission guidelines. As I represent only fiction, I would also add that the queries focus should be on your story, not on you (although a small paragraph bio is fine). Other than that, treat it as any other professional email: don’t be creepy (“I saw your tweet about taking your kids to the zoo.” or “You have a beautiful smile.”), don’t sing your own praises (“This fast-paced, beautiful story will sell better than Harry Potter.”), and don’t sell yourself short (“It probably won’t sell, but I thought I’d give it a shot.”).

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Be your best self. And for Pete’s sake, PROOF-READ!

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