QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Queries: They Aren’t Just For Agents Anymore

Whether or not you decide to approach an agent for representation, there is no denying a simple fact: you need to learn how to query, and to query well.

I am talking to everyone here, even the folks who say “I choose to self-publish and will not be querying an agent.”  In fact, those are precisely the writers whom I’m addressing today.

Every writer, regardless of which philosophy (self-publish or traditional publishing) needs to learn the proper techniques for writing an arresting query. The success of our books depends upon it.

Obviously, a writer who wants to become represented by a literary agency needs to learn how to query in order to get “discovered.” By comparison, writers have far less opportunity to pitch in person, such as at a conference or in an informal blog contest—and, even then, proper follow-up is needed to seal the deal.

Learning to write a query letter teaches us 1) business etiquette 2) how to pitch 3) patience. All three things are absolutely key if we want to make the jump from writer to author with the help of an agent.

There are a lot of writers who aren’t seeking the assistance of a literary agency. Yet, they still need to learn how to write an effective query. Authors who approach a small press (as I did) still need to query the house editors. Same query, same rules, same lessons. I can’t imagine an editor being happy to find an unsolicited manuscript, wrapped in string, shoved into a box without a cover letter. (That’s why a query satisfies the good business etiquette aspect.)

I still can hear many self-publishing and potential-self-publishing writers protesting my assertion. “Self-publishing doesn’t mean small press,” you may be saying. “Still don’t need a query.”

And my response is “Oh, you most certainly do.” After all, how else will you approach strangers for book reviews?

All books subsist on the meat of reviews for survival. Traditionally published authors (small press included) often have the power of their houses—and their marketing departments—behind them. There are teams who send out review copies in order to secure reviews for new books. Those people are essentially querying book reviewers, pitching books to them in the hopes they can generate some interest and word-of-mouth.

Many self-publishers do not have their own marketing departments to send out requests. In fact, I’m willing to skip the research and postulate that many self-publishers are solo venturists who operate with a team of one. I myself have self-published, and I can count the number of people on my staff on one finger. (Me.)

That means one very important thing—I need to know how to query if I want to get my book reviewed. Querying a book reviewer is pretty much the same thing as querying an agent.

First, there is the business etiquette. Book bloggers are business people—they set forth guidelines for preferred genres, they have rules for submitting requests, and they should be approached with the same care and respect as any literary agent. I’m trying to resist sounding Darth Vaderish by saying BEHOLD THE POWER but, really, they are a powerful lot. Many book bloggers have massive followings, readers who trust their reactions and their recommendations. Being received well by a book blogger can mean a surge in readership for your book. Query them with dignity and respect, so that they may return the respect to your book.

There are many great book touring companies who will organize review tours for your book, for a fee. I’ve used a few such companies, myself, and appreciated the time and energy I was able to re-direct into writing. However, good tours are pricey and a debut author may not feel comfortable with the expense. All the more reason to make sure you can do it by yourself.  

When I sold my Demimonde series to Pink Narcissus Press, I thought my querying days were over. In actuality, I got a mere vacation from it, that’s all. Although my publisher sent review copies to the big review sites, it was up to me to create my blog tour and to secure reviews by book blogs. My previous experience in querying made me an old pro at writing those letters.

And I need to be an old pro, if I’m going to continue seeking reviews for my books. Of course, my query evolves with every project: a single novel has turned into a series and I’ve gone from a debut writer to a multi-published author. But the essentials are still there. The need for proper business etiquette. The necessity for an unforgettable pitch.

And the third element, patience—unfortunately, that’s part of the querying game, no matter who you are or to whom you’re sending a query. That’s still the hardest lesson to learn.
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For more tips on querying reviewers, check out Lisa Shea (of BellaOnline) and her article "Common Mistakes When Seeking Reviews" or Laura Pepper Wu's "How To Get Amazon's Top Customer Reviewers to Review Your Book"

And don't forget: the Query Tracker Blog has an archive full of great articles on how to write that killer query...and the Query Tracker forum is full of friendly folk who are willing to read over your query for feedback.

Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde (Pink Narcissus Press); "Blood Rush (Demimonde #2)" was released May 2013. Additionally, her urban fantasy novella "Stranger at the Hell Gate" (The Wild Rose Press) was released in July 2013.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Sure, burst my bubble that I don't have to write them anymore. Though in truth, even if you have an agent, you might still have to write a query. She might want to know what your next project idea is. Same with editors. They might want a few blurbs to choose your next book from. But at least it doesn't have to be perfect like with a query. Nor do you have to personalize it. It's just the blurb.

Ash Krafton | @ashkrafton said...

Sorry about your bubble. :)

Why do we hate writing queries so much? I rank them right up with synopses.

Wonder which would win in a cage match...

Rosie said...

Ash, You're so right about patience. I'm convinced that half the reason writers find success is a willingness to hang on.

Melody said...

Excellent advice! I've decided to self-publish after a couple go-rounds with agents, and I'm so very thankful that I still have my query {which I think was pretty good} from that experience. I won't have an opportunity to cheat myself out of a good query since I've already done all that work, haha.

Ash said...

Same here, Melody...I dusted it off, updated the bio, and used it to query editors. A year later, I sent it to book reviewers.

I got a lot of mileage off that first query!