My Tweets from QueryDay

As you know, Friday was QueryDay on Twitter. I think it went exceptionally well. Lots of great questions from authors, lots of agents and editors chiming in with answers. An incredible wealth of information was passed around! Several people asked me to compile my tweets from the day. So here they are. Just a whole bunch of random bits of information in 140-or-fewer characters. Keep in mind that many of these are in response to a specific question from someone on Twitter. Let me know if you want me to expand on any of these in a future blog.

* * *

“Learn your craft” = nothing to do with grammar. Style, voice, story, plot, pacing, dialogue, characterization, etc

A query that makes me laugh out loud is a great thing! Whether or not the book is for me, it gets my attention.

A query that talks only about the THEME of your novel is rarely effective. You need to tell about the STORY.

Being told “your writing is good” but still no? Remember–dozens of queries in the pile. Can only say yes to a few.

Christian writers: Best NOT to say you’re going to explain something about the Bible that no one has ever understood before.

Don’t misspell “query” in the subject line. Everybody makes mistakes and it isn’t an auto reject… but it looks bad.

DON’T say “the book gets exciting in chapter 5” or “the pace really picks up toward the end.” Make it shine from page 1.

Don’t send us something outside of our guidelines and try to impress us with how “out of the box” you are.

Even Jesus used fiction as the most effective way to pierce people’s hearts. Still true.

Everyone who doesn’t know how to schedule auto-tweets… you need to get an account at

Fiction writers… it’s ALL about the writing. Nothing’s as important as what’s on the page. If it rocks, nothing else matters.

Fiction: qualification=ability to write. Non-fiction: must have credentials and/or significant platform.

First time authors/fiction: must have complete MS. Nonfiction: proposal & 3 chapters.

For me, previously self-published is totally irrelevant. Neither helps nor hurts. See my posts:

For memoir, platform not quite as important as for straight NF… but the WRITING is all-important, must be GREAT.

Here are a couple of posts I’ve written about the “competition” section of your proposal.

Humility is much better than arrogance in a query letter. Try not to oversell yourself, but present your work with confidence.

I appreciate referrals from my current clients, editors I trust, and other friends in the industry.

I ask for 5-10 pages in the query. It’s enough for me to tell if I want to read more.

I do everything by email. No need for hardcopies… everything goes on my Kindle.

I don’t know of any agents who expect or even want exclusivity on queries. On requested partials, yes.

I love queries that are straight-to-the point and don’t “try too hard.” The matter of fact approach is refreshing.

I love women’s fiction. The easiest for me to sell is inspirational romance & historical.

I prefer your query NOT tell me what a great movie your book would make. If it has movie potential, trust me, I’ll notice.

I rarely find mixed comparisons helpful (“Jane Austen meets Frank Peretti”). Works in Hollywood but not for me.

I realize some people write great books but not killer queries; I give the sample pages much more weight than the ltr.

I understand it’s difficult to visit so many agent websites and read all their guidelines, but it’s worth the effort.

If fulls/partials aren’t getting you a yes, then go back and work on craft & story. Don’t rush. Take your time & get help.

If I can change my two-spaces-after-a-sentence habit after 25 years of typing, so can you. One space is standard in publishing.

I’ve said on my blog I don’t mind you using my first name. If unsure, use Ms. or Mr. to be professional.

If you mention a previously published book, make sure I’ll be able to find it on Amazon because I WILL look it up.

If you want to draw me into your novel, don’t write your query in a dry, boring, uber-business-like and/or academic style.

It boggles my mind how many queries don’t address me by name, when my name is right there in my email address!

It’s a big risk to say you’re “sick of vampires” (or anything else). What if it’s the agent’s favorite genre?

It’s all about the writing. The story. A title can help or hurt your chances, but not make or break.

Many great stories are difficult to summarize adequately. Everyone’s in same boat unless its high concept.

My last word on 1 space vs. 2 spaces: Anyone who complains about this should be banned from computer, forced to use typewriter.

Never, never, never phone an editor or agent unless they’re YOUR editor or agent

No need to reveal entire plot in query; give the set-up and premise; make me want to read it.

Professional does not mean boring. In a query letter, boring = pass.

Queries are first step in the door, but they’re not nearly as important as your book! Put 99% of your effort into your BOOK.

Reality check: If you are your family’s breadwinner, plan to keep your day job even after you sell several books.

Referrals definitely help. That’s why you go to conferences and network like crazy.

Straightforward doesn’t have to equal dry, uninteresting, or lacking voice.

The first book MUST be able to stand on its own, mention you have series in mind if 1st book hits. Give synopses.

The key to a query letter is the same as in good fiction: show, don’t tell. SHOW me that your work is amazing, don’t tell me.

There are NY agents who represent short story collections when the writer shows tremendous longterm potential.

This is the only time I will shout today: IT’S A SUBJECTIVE BUSINESS! Like art, TV, movies, fashion, etc. Not a reason to whine.

This may be hard to hear, but I suggest you avoid being in a rush to get published. Take TIME to develop your craft.

TOP reason I say “no” to queries is the story doesn’t sound unique, fresh, exciting. The problem isn’t the query, it’s the book.

We may not update AgentQuery or anything else, but we try to keep our websites/blogs updated.

We need word count, not page count, to determine if it’s something we represent.

We’re spending the day talking about queries, but remember they have limited importance. The BOOK’s the thing!

When I have a backlog of queries, I usually read them in the order they came in.

Writers are always asking for feedback; but often when we give it as concisely as possible, it’s interpreted as cruelty.

Writing credentials don’t sell your book, your WRITING does. Can’t stress strongly enough. Take time to develop craft.

Yes, we occasionally track down potential nonfiction authors and see if they want to write a book.

You can write all the amazing queries you want, but if you don’t have a great book, you’ll never get a book deal.

You don’t need comparative titles in the query, but in the PROPOSAL, you do.

You must include the genre. Publisher, bookstore, consumer all need to know! Find books/websites that discuss genre.

You’ll ONLY get accurate info about an agent from their website. All other sites (AgentQuery, etc) are out of our control.

You’ve got to sell that first book. The agent wants to represent YOU, not one book, but it’s based on that 1st one.

Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

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!


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  5. Michael Gray on April 22, 2009 at 10:10 PM

    >Wow. I need to proofread a bit better. When I was asking about memoir earlier, I meant to say three chapters, not three pages.

    🙂 Thanks.

  6. Anonymous on April 20, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    >Rachelle, I was one fo the folks fed up w/queryfail and loudly voiced my objections. What a change of pace this last “queryday” was and I must say, you seemed to have the best, most helpful responses…Well done!

  7. Nicole on April 20, 2009 at 9:32 PM

    >My faves:

    “This is the only time I will shout today: IT’S A SUBJECTIVE BUSINESS! Like art, TV, movies, fashion, etc. Not a reason to whine.”

    “My last word on 1 space vs. 2 spaces: Anyone who complains about this should be banned from computer, forced to use typewriter.”

  8. Dayle James Arceneaux on April 20, 2009 at 8:38 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle.

    I can’t believe I missed that post.

  9. Jeanette Levellie on April 20, 2009 at 5:00 PM

    Thanks for this; very helpful.

    Please talk more about not quitting your day job until you have several books published.

    Every now and then I get tempted to quit, so I can stay home and do nothing but write. I have to remind myself that this day job is what brings in money!

    Thanks, Jeanette

  10. Janet on April 20, 2009 at 4:04 PM

    >”I’ve said on my blog I don’t mind you using my first name. If unsure, use Ms. or Mr. to be professional.”

    You want us to call you Mr. Gardner? :-O

  11. Michael Gray on April 20, 2009 at 3:32 PM

    >Thanks for taking the time to write out all these tips. I enjoyed reading each one throughout the day.

    I’d like to ask you a quick question about memoir: Should a writer have an entire manuscript written before sending queries, or should he follow the traditional three page requirement that goes with other works of non-fiction?

    Thanks again for your regular insight. I’m learning something new from you every week.

  12. Carrie Turansky on April 20, 2009 at 2:36 PM

    >Rachelle, Thanks very much. This was terrific advice. Looks like Twitter helps everyone write short and tight. I check your blog daily and appreciate the helpful advice you always pass along. Thanks!

  13. Steena Holmes on April 20, 2009 at 12:56 PM

    >Rachelle these were great! Thanks for posting them. 1 vs 2 spaces – who knew it was such an issue 🙂

  14. Serenity Bohon on April 20, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    >Rachelle, I really enjoyed watching this conversation on Friday – and even chiming in once. Thanks for taking the time!

  15. Jill on April 20, 2009 at 11:19 AM

    >Thanks for the recap! I always learn a lot from your blog.

  16. Anonymous on April 20, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    >Thanks so much for posting. I’m not a tweeter, and find it kind of hard to follow things on twitter. I was especially glad to hear about the one space thing. I wasn’t sure what the norm was, and this is the first time I’ve seen it addressed. So, Yay you!

  17. Dara on April 20, 2009 at 10:51 AM

    >Great info!

    I found it interesting that many of the Tweets stressed the importance of a stellar story over a good query. I’m glad you mentioned that because I think writers sometimes get so caught up in crafting an amazing query that they forget to apply that to their actual book.

    I would think that stellar writing should be evident in both the query and the book. But for those of us who struggle with the query, I appreciate the sample pages request that you and other agents ask for 🙂

  18. Melanie Avila on April 20, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    >Very helpful! I caught a few of these on Friday but missed the majority. Thanks for the recap.

  19. Teri D. Smith on April 20, 2009 at 9:42 AM

    >Looks like we all should start twittering to learn how to pack so much in so few words!

    I’d love to hear more on your thoughts about Jesus using fiction to reach hearts.

  20. Rachelle on April 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >Gwen-the last tweet was in response to numerous writers asking about pitching their 3-book or 5-book series. If you’re new and unpublished, your first book must have the ability to stand alone. You’ve got to sell the agent/editor on that first book in order for them to be interested in considering a series.

    Dayle-On my blog sidebar, under “Find Posts on this Blog,” click on “Competition section.”

    Chatty Kelly-Devotionals are a category unto themselves. However please note my post “What I’m Looking For” (top of sidebar under Quick Links) which says I’m highly unlikely to take on a devotional, they’re near impossible to sell from unknown authors unless they’re super unique.

    Jessica-Everyone in the world was taught to double space between sentences. In many disciplines, it’s still standard, but not in publishing. Search/replace fixes the problem easily.

  21. Dayle James Arceneaux on April 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM


    In my proposal (fiction), I’m having trouble coming up with comparitive titles. How comparitive do they have to be?

    Thanks for all the info.

  22. Jessica on April 20, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >LOL about the spaces. I’m fairly young but even I was taught to double. Imagine my horror when I finished my manuscript and realized I had to put one space behind every period. It was horrible. I didn’t know about control F so I went through the whole thing several times. Grrrr…
    No one should complain about this. Control F can fix most stuff.

  23. lynnrush on April 20, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >Love these. I watched QueryDay most of the day. I learned a lot. Great tips.


  24. Chatty Kelly on April 20, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    >I loved all this little tidbits of information! Very cool.

    Do devotionals count as non-fiction, or a separate category. Specifically related to your quote – “Non-fiction: must have credentials and/or significant platform.”

    I’m hoping to query you in May! I’l excited.

  25. Krista Phillips on April 20, 2009 at 8:21 AM

    >I do have to say, I LOVED #queryday. Such great information!

  26. KINDRED HEART WRITERS on April 20, 2009 at 7:26 AM

    >Thanks Great advice! I continue to read your posts from our link on kindred hearts

  27. Sharon A. Lavy on April 20, 2009 at 7:23 AM

    >Please keep posting your daily posts. This is the one blog I read daily.

    And I read your archives.

  28. Lisa Jordan on April 20, 2009 at 6:37 AM

    >Concise information, yet extremely helpful! Thanks!

  29. Jody Hedlund on April 20, 2009 at 5:27 AM

    >What great information! I always learn something new everytime I read your blog. Thank you!

  30. Gwen Stewart on April 20, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    >Love your take on the importance of queries, Rachelle! I always suspected that a decent query and great pages would trump a polished-til-it-gleams query and subpar pages. Kinda like the job interview trumps the cover letter.

    I wondered about your last tweet. Does that refer to writers pitching more than one manuscript in the initial query? Or pitching themselves as writers rather than a single work?

    Thanks for this great information, as always.

  31. Anne L.B. on April 20, 2009 at 3:30 AM

    >Good grief! After this post and all the ones that came before, is there anything left for you to tell us, oh Great Publishing Guru? 😉

    Maybe it is time for you to go down to once or twice a week posts.

  32. Janice on April 20, 2009 at 2:12 AM

    >This looks like very good advice, I was making mental notes as I went along.


  33. Kim Kasch on April 20, 2009 at 1:27 AM

    >I love these quick tips.

    They are the fast-food of publishing facts, only less fattening.