Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, July 28, 2006

Query Etiquette

Ah, query etiquette. As I mentioned in a previous posting, your number one goal in writing a query is to convince people that yes, you have a great project, but also that you're SANE. You're cool. You're not going to go crazy on your agent. You won't freak out if they don't email you back in five minutes. You have social skills. You're going to win "Client of the Year Awards."

You don't want to tell your agent how sane you are (because that would be an insane thing to do), you want to demonstrate your sanity by being a calm person at every stage of the query process. All of the answers to the below questions have that goal in mind.

Q. Is it ok to follow up on a query?

A. You're well within your rights to follow up on a query. But I would advise against it. If you haven't heard back in two months, you can assume it's a no. Agents are very, very busy, we get tons and tons of letters and emails, and the unfortunate fact is that while you have one letter to think about and worry over we have several hundred to deal with every single month. So if you haven't heard back in a while I'd just let that one go.

The exception to this rule is if an agent has specifically requested your manuscript and you haven't heard back in two months. In that case it's ok to send in an exceedingly polite letter or email inquiring about the status.

But never call to follow up. Always send a letter or email. It's much less of an imposition and thus much more polite.

And never act annoyed no matter how annoyed you are. Be understanding and patient. It's much better in the long run.

Q. If I get a rejection, is it ok to ask for suggestions on other agents?

A. I'm not sure how other agents feel about this, but I'd advise against it. When I really really like a project only I don't specialize in that particular genre, I will occasionally suggest an agent who might be more appropriate. I'll volunteer that information without being asked.

But if I just passed on a project, I don't want to be an imposition on another agent who will then have to take the time to consider something I just rejected. There's an awkward dynamic at play there -- by recommending something I just rejected, I'm sending a message to another agent that essentially this isn't good enough for me, but hey, I'll pass it off onto you.

So I'll always answer "no" when someone asks if I have recommendations.

Q. I've written five books, should I tell the agent about all of them in my query?

A. No. Pick the best one and don't even mention the rest. If you've written five unpublished books, you're not showing the agent that you're an amazingly productive writer, you're advertising that you haven't been able to find an agent for any of them. You don't want an agent to think that. Pretend this is your first book.

Q. If an agent just rejected my query is it ok to send them another project?

A. Not immediately. There's nothing worse than reading a query, deciding it's not for me, writing a polite letter or email and then five minutes later receiving a query for the sequel. Wait six months -- by that time the agent probably will have forgotten that they rejected another one of your projects and will be much more inclined to give your new project a fresh look.

Q. Is it ok to write queries to different agents at the same agency?

A. This is complicated. In theory there's no harm in writing separate queries, but one thing you have to keep in mind is that agents often share assistants (who often have the job of reading queries). So if you happen to query two agents who share an assistant you might be advertising that you are sending out blanket queries. Agents don't want to feel like you sent a letter to everyone in town.

So if you are going to send queries to agents at the same agency choose one and write to them first. If you get a rejection make sure you wait a while before you try again with another agent. And make sure that you've researched each agent individually and tailor your letter appropriately.

Q. Is it ok to send a thank you note to an agent after they rejected my query?

A. I've never changed my mind about a project because someone wrote a very nice thank you note, but good thank you notes have definitely made me feel guilty. So if you want revenge on an agent, a nice thank you note is the best weapon.

Good luck!

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