Query Procedures – And Why Authors Should Follow Them Closely

I’ve been on legal blogging hiatus over the holidays, but today, I’m returning with a post about the importance of following posted procedures when querying agents and publishing houses.

When querying agents or publishers, it’s critical that authors follow the posted submission or query guidelines exactly

Authors are often tempted to deviate from posted guidelines, either to shoehorn multiple queries into a single cover letter, to make querying “easier,” or for other reasons. DO NOT DO THIS. EVER.

Literary agents and publishing houses do not create query guidelines to make authors’ lives difficult – or even to make their own lives “easy.” (Reviewing tens of thousands of queries a year is not easy – even with guidelines. The guidelines exist to make query management possible.) Query procedures and guidelines exist so that agencies & publishing houses receive the information they need to evaluate new potential clients.

Agents (and editors) often have slightly different personal preferences when it comes to the materials they want or need to receive from querying authors. Some agents want only a query letter, because they prefer to evaluate authors and works based on summaries of the concept. Other agents prefer to read both a query letter and pages. Some agents like synopses, while others (mine among them) hate synopses and don’t want them as part of a query package.

Authors who “shortcut” or fail to comply with specific agency guidelines are depriving the agent of the materials the agent needs to evaluate the author’s work. The agent is in the best position to know what (s)he needs to review and consider new clients – smart authors pay attention & deliver what the agent asks for. Ironically, so many authors don’t follow query guidelines that delivering a compliant query is itself a point in the author’s favor.

Authors who fail to comply with query guidelines are telling the agent “your needs are not important to me” – a dangerous message to send a potential business partner.

Also, many agents reject noncompliant queries without consideration – making a noncompliant query a waste of the author’s time. Agents don’t reject noncompliant queries to be mean – they simply don’t have time to modify their process for one individual. Only uniform processes make it possible to consider tens of thousands of queries in any reasonable way.

The good news is that following query guidelines exactly, and tailoring query letters to each agent as an individual, substantially improves an author’s chances of success.

When querying, research each agent and be sure to comply with his or her query guidelines precisely. The rejection you prevent could be your own.