Answering Questions about Queries

people with questionsI get mail! My inbox is always filled with questions. Today I’m answering some I’ve received on the topic of Query Letters.

You’ve said on your blog, “don’t pitch a novel unless it’s complete.” Do you feel the same about query letters? Do we only query completed works, or are ideas fair game?

If you are sending a query to an agent, only pitch projects that are ready to go. If it’s a novel and you are not previously published with a mainstream commercial publisher, this means a completed manuscript. For non-fiction, a complete book proposal and two sample chapters will do. (But the more you’ve written, the better.) Think about it: If I read your query and I like it, the first thing you’ll hear from me is, “Please send a book proposal and sample chapters.” If that looks good and I’m seriously considering representation, I’m going to ask you for everything you’ve got. I can’t sell to a publisher without the whole shebang (unless you are multi-published and a proven commodity). You can’t query an idea, because ideas have no value without execution.

What about sending in a synopsis instead of a query?

Don’t do it. Some people send a synopsis and nothing else, not even a salutation or a closing. IMHO, it’s rude and unprofessional. In fact, I received one today. Just a one paragraph synopsis. Nothing about the author. Just a line saying, “Email me if you’re interested in seeing more.” I wasn’t interested, so I deleted it without responding.

I’m curious to know if there are any cliché phrases that you’ve found in query letters that writers absolutely, positively should avoid.

The thing about clichés is that in a few cases, when used correctly, they can be perfect in a query, especially if they make the reader laugh. In most cases, however, since your query is a writing sample, your best bet is to avoid sounding hackneyed or derivative. The best advice I can give about clichés is another cliché: When in doubt, leave it out.

I’ve heard about authors who strayed from standard guidelines and got picked up by a publisher or agent. Some people encourage us to do the same. We’re told to follow guidelines, then we’re told to stand out. I realize our writing will determine if we stand out or not, but what kind of things that stray from the guidelines would catch your attention in a good way?

I don’t expect you to be slaves to guidelines, I just try to offer tips to help you put your best writing forward. With all guidelines (on writing, pitching, querying, etc.) try to see behind the specific advice and get to the basic truth. With a query, the basic truth is that you need the agent/editor to want to see more, or you’re sunk. It’s up to you to figure out how to accomplish that goal. Use guidelines to help learn the craft of writing and the business of publishing… let them go when you don’t need them anymore. I can’t say “what kind of things that stray from the guidelines would catch my attention” because that’s as individual as the person.

Do you accept query letters for books that have been self-published? I ask this because I have one, but I’ve been seriously considering having it edited by a professional, rewriting it and then seeking representation for it.

Yes… no… maybe. It’s a common question these days but there are too many variables. The most important consideration will always be how good your book is, and how well it has the potential to sell. Most agents prefer you query with your next book, not the one that was self-published. But if you really want to give it a shot, I suggest a normal query to agents, including the self-pub information (release date, sales figures). You’ll find out soon enough if it’s catching anyone’s attention.

I know the importance of addressing the letter to a specific person, not just Sir or Madam or Dear Agent, however, even though I feel as if I know you from reading the blog, Dear Rachelle seems far too informal. Is Ms. So and So acceptable to most women who are agents?

Interestingly, I recently read some heated debate on another blog about the “Ms.” salutation. I was stunned to find that a few women seem to resent or dislike the term. Nevertheless, the correct salutation is Ms. Gardner or Mr. Smith. Once you’ve corresponded with the person, you can take your cue from how they sign their emails. I’m always just Rachelle and I’m okay being addressed that way. Personally, I don’t object to people querying with my first name rather than “Ms.” because I go to great lengths to be approachable by writing my blog.

Could you please provide the pronunciation of the word “query” that won’t make agents/editors wince? Does it rhyme with PRAIRIE or EERIE?

Leave it to an English teacher! Potayto, Potahto. Tomayto, tomahto. Your choice. Just make sure you use the preferred pronunciation of the editor/agent you’re talking to. (tee hee) As for me, I couldn’t care less how you say it. As long as you SPELL it right.

Questions, thoughts or comments about query letters?

Click on the icons below to share!


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Melissa Cronin on April 24, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    I have a completed memoir manuscript. Do I still need to send a full proposal to agents? Or is a query letter enough?

  2. […] emphasizes the importance of a well-thought-out, professional book proposal. Rachelle Gardner answers questions about queries, and Janet Reid describes what to do when you realize you made a mistake in your query after […]

  3. Ruth Taylor on April 12, 2016 at 8:02 PM

    I selected agents for the ACFW conference in August. Since I don’t know which ones I’ll get for my appointments, I considered sending a query to all of them. I thought it might be helpful to introduce myself beforehand so I can at least introduce myself in person to the agents I don’t get an appointment with and refer to my query. Does that make sense? If so, would it be beneficial to do so?

    Ruth Taylor

  4. dreadaOwneste on April 12, 2016 at 4:09 PM

    Honest like the compendious rompers that became in vogue a scanty seasons uphold, these jumpsuits are cosy to be subjected to and depilated easier to throw.
    Blow the whistle on buy GoJane to end up up with monstrous ineffectual prices on a numeral of snazzy rompers and jumpsuits, including options as regards the aggregate from sporadic days at day-school to unmanageable weekend nights out.
    Our easy as can be, athletic-style jumpsuits look sublime with a team up with in wedlock of sneakers and a distressed denim jacket.
    The single silhouettes on these strapless wide-leg jumpsuits kisser dramatically wide-ranging legs in ankle-length or cropped styles, as unexcitedly as slim-fitting bodices that equal finished the spacious bottom.
    Settle upon from options in lazy chambray, fluorescent, soft materials or consistent light-hearted styles with valorous prints and patterns.
    The menswear look is also unqualifiedly viewable on go west, and GoJane carries menswear-inspired jumpsuits and rompers in shapes that are the score with totally ladylike.
    Enquire about manifest a utilitarian denim romper as the daytime or a tuxedo-style jumpsuit with vegan leather shipshape and bristol the craze on the side of the evening and bring into being a look that no lone else thirst have.
    Slaughter in cocktail-ready cami styles and party-perfect nosedive neck designs, give your tastefulness occasion ready closet some sass after nights thoroughly of the closet with an all-out demeanour all-in-one – it’s the terminal after-dark fumarole one’s spleen!
    they are not usable away the actress, they put in an appearance to be made exposed of a leather jumpsuit, the numbers are made of polyester, and the sphere and other components are aluminum.
    They are made of leather, titillating with a yellow zipper, and the innumerable of the Vault is on the chasing of the jacket and on the worst of the collar.
    The Vault utility jumpsuit is a modified mark of the criterion Vault Jumpsuit, designed since handbook labor and routine repair.
    The trappings features high-top, converse-like, red shoes which is a good form b in situ against to its normally grubby appearance.
    The Armored Vault fulfil or Armored Vault jumpsuit is – as the naming suggests – a Vault remodel supplemented with pieces of armor and a digest up of pouches.
    The loudly and collar at-home on the authorized jumpsuit are both potty, and the suit itself is considerably less rumpled.
    The usual Vault acceptable supplemented with a stab-proof vest, a Plexiglas visor, gloves and tougher-looking vambraces.
    During the All Anticipation Is Gone times, Slipknot reverted cloister oneself from to the red jumpsuits which were extremely like to the firsthand they started with.
    Corey and Jim wore their self-titled masks in search half of the restraint and wore their All Warrant Is Gone masks oppose of the other half.
    As an alternative of the American stump of the interval of navy, they wore their red Iowa jumpsuits along with some corresponding to their Iowa masks.
    Also on the IOWA ones they affair a for twopence ribbon on the standard step pass out with the Tribal-S logo on it (kinda like the nazis had).
    both had unquestionably coincide to cut with the Goat logos and were slenderize unalike from the original self-titled jumpsuits .
    a sizeable order of clothing was acclimated to; some bulk members appeared in jumpsuits after some tours whilst other kept the more household lowering jeans and jackets.
    After Paul Grays demise, the cover performed a cyclopean skulk and performed in the red jumpsuits as seen in the self-titled photo above.
    They wore the red jumpsuits mostly, and it was to honor the delayed passing of Paul Gray, charming the ribbon finance to consumed circle.
    I vivacious in South Africa and was mistrustful but for discomposed to assert that after making long-standing I checked the measurements of each garment and ordered correctly, all my garments custom-made me unmistakably including this
    To vulnerable prices at an appropriate pull down at the make a note of we updating the tariff of products in eleemosynary or in smaller side.
    Jumpsuit at referred to the utilitarian one-piece garments reach-me-down close parachuters and skydivers, but has grasp to be habituated to as a old stretch in requital for any one-piece garment with sleeves and legs.
    who every in the same breath in a while weariness insulated, fire-retardant jumpsuits or covey of grouse tailor s where other types of clothing can potentially glide or get hot under the collar thither in zero seriousness or during high-G maneuvers.

  5. Deb Palmer on April 12, 2016 at 10:05 AM

    Thank you for these insights on writing a query. I always find your posts helpful. Soon my book will be polished and ready for publication. I have a specific issue, I would love advice on.
    I have no major publishing kudos to share… yet. My publishing history is all small town newspapers. Worse, I have a huge time gap with no writing experience. Do I list some of my published works, taking the risk it will provide a good laugh? Or is it better to not mention any experience? I know the book has potential. How will I ever get past the query? Thanks very much for any help you can give.

  6. SaraD on April 11, 2016 at 3:06 PM

    I’ve seen several sample query letters that were for non-fiction or magazine submissions, but few that were for the submission of novel-length fiction. Could you point me toward a good example of what you like to see in a query letter for a novel?

    Regarding the “Ms.” abbreviation: I wonder if it was older women (such as I) who objected to it. I was taught to use “Miss” or “Mrs” if I knew the woman’s marital status, and “Ma’am” if I didn’t. Anything else was considered highly disrespectful. When “Ms.” was introduced as a form of address, I had a hard time accepting it. I don’t object to someone who speaks a regional dialect using “Miz” conversationally. I also don’t mind being called “Ma’am”, something I was also taught was a sign of respect. I still can’t help finding “Ms.” offensive. (Too much information?)

  7. Richard Mabry on April 11, 2016 at 1:44 PM

    I appreciate the way you try to be approachable for all the people who read your blog posts. Knowing that the agent holds the pass-key to editors and publishers, it’s hard not to put the agent on a pedestal. Thanks for your practical suggestions.
    (And the proper spelling is Kwerrie…right?)

  8. Yvonne Trimble on April 11, 2016 at 1:38 PM

    I have queried over 300 agents for my missionary memoir Shout for Joy – walking w the God of miracles. One agent signed me for representation but now is suggesting POD which I simply refuse to do. What next? I’ve rewritten the opening 3 times at his request and the closing once. I know my story and work are high quality but since it is a memoir and I’m not famous with a huge following no publisher want it, or so I’m told. Is this true?

    • Carla Day on April 12, 2016 at 3:09 AM


      I have the very same problem! Although my candid story is a revealing, warts an all plot, with a completely riveting story line – let’s say I haven’t exactly lived a sheltered life – because I am not ‘famous’ it’s difficult to jump into that complex arena.

      Although the protagonist – me – is writing, in part, about the fall out with a twenty-year friend – who is about to become very famous indeed, because I will not exploit his name, and I prefer to write in a mysterious fashion, nobody is willing to take a punt – so to speak – although, the story is captivating on its own merit,

      I feel it’s better keeping the reader guessing, my beta readers are desperate to know who this man is, I won’t reveal. It’s alluring and most definitely daring and positively intriguing. But, I am not ‘well known’ enough for any of that to matter. Surely it is about the marketing of a book. Doesn’t that sort out the sales side, if the story is interesting enough to capture an audience?

      Again, hmm… It’s all a mystery to me. I think, never give up hope and continue to work hard, heed good advice and some day it will pay off.

      • Yvonne Trimble on April 12, 2016 at 8:32 AM

        My story exposes a violent Italian household, neglected abused childhood & sixties’ drug fueled run from God that end in jail & dramatic salvation experiences for two NY teens who marry & heed God’s call to the voodoo capitol of the world. Drums, witch doctors dancing in flames, children healed from diphtheria & a church plant that unexpectedly grows from six people to two thousand all b/c the lights went out, is a true story of God’s miracles & faithfulness that is tough to top. And this is only the beginning of a rare missionary success that brings those two NY losers to national recognition in a country over run with missions.

        • Carla on April 12, 2016 at 8:59 AM

          Ooh Blimey,

          Sounds exciting! Mine is laced with armed robbery, buttered with heroin addiction and fuelled with barbaric & psychotic behaviour. Oh did I mention refugee smuggling, and it is linked to a soon to be famous person and its all 1oo percent true!Yet still not enough!

          Ha Ha, what more exciting than that? Ah, maybe, most of my partners dying, yes its true, I’m the original black widow!

          Perhaps we should swap MS’s, yours sound wonderful & intriguing!

          As I said, keep at it, it is also a matter of personal choice/preference & style, and captivating a particular agent at the right moment.

          They are all looking for something unique to them. Something fresh and new, an undiscovered talent and a new story rather than the same old just rehashed.

          I think my story is original, of course it is, it is my very own life story, no body else’s, no matter how bonkers its all mine.

          Happy searching