Friday, June 26, 2009

Definition of Query

According to the definition of a query as it relates to publishing is:
an inquiry from a writer to an editor of a magazine, newspaper, etc., regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article, news story, or the like: usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece.

So what, I ask you, is a prequery? If a query is “an inquiry regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea,” then why would you need to prequery, I ask? It amazes me how so many seem to want to waste my time. Maybe that’s the idea: if enough time is spent with one author and queries, prequeries, preprequeries, and simple questions, eventually the agent will just assume they’re working together.

At least once a week I reject a query only to later be berated by the author because in fact it wasn’t a query, but she was just checking to see if it might be something I would be interested in. Or, I actually get queries that state that before querying she just wanted to make sure I’m accepting queries. Huh? And then of course there is the query that’s actually labeled “prequery.”

A query is a query is a query no matter what you want to call it or how you want to spin it. If you don’t feel you’re ready to query then don’t, but don’t waste the agent’s time by tiptoeing around the process. If you are sending any question pertaining to your book you are querying the agent, so make it good.



Rick Daley said...


Are you actively soliciting feedback on this topic, or is this a closed discussion?


Anonymous said...

Jessica wrote:
I actually get queries that state that before querying she just wanted to make sure I’m accepting queries. Huh?

I agree with your post and definitely empathize with the time is valuable position. Just wanted to shed some light on your example above, though.

This sounds like a writer who is interested in Bookends and you, and was doing 'research' in his/her mind before sending an official letter.

Why? Because some agents will post a note on their web sites that "we're not accepting queries for the next 3 months. Anyone who sent queries to us in the last three weeks should send again in 3 months time."

While I understand agents get bogged down and need a "no query zone" to catch up, this somewhat cheats the author for the agent to "backtrack" and say that anyone who submitted recently is in the same boat. I think that's why this particular author just wanted to make sure you were accepting queries. I'd take it as a sign that they are interested in your agency, and have heard good things about the agents there, including yourself.

Just my thoughts :)

Bija Andrew Wright said...

I think if someone says, "That wasn't a query, just a note to see if you were interested," the only logical response is, "Then this isn't a rejection, just a note to let you know that I'm not interested."

Or, you know, ignoring it.

MeganRebekah said...

So you're saying I shouldn't mail you my letter asking if it's okay to utilize your email address for the purpose of sending a query?

Mira said...

This was funny.

I will say, though, that so much rides on the query, in a way I can't blame the writer for looking for ways to expand the process.

On the other hand, I completely understand why agents would prefer not to.

Rick - lol.

Aimlesswriter said...

Who would think of such a thing? this actually gave me a laugh. (I'm sorry!I'm sorry!) But who would do that???

This might be a sign of a creative mind. I never would have thought to do something like that. . . perhaps I live in a bubble.

Julia Weston said...

Drat. You had to go and get technical on us. Still, maybe I should send a test letter to make sure the postal system works...

Rick - that was too funny.

Christina said...

Hahaha!!! I'm sorry but that is just plain funny. I mean seriously what would be the point of that?

Author: *sends "prequery"*
Agent: *sends rejection*
Author: "No wait that wasn't my real query." *Sends query*
Agent: *sends rejection*
Author: "No no no wait. Nope this one is my real one." *Sends query 2.0*
Agent: *sends rejection*
Author: "Um best two out of three?"

Rosemary said...

Maybe a pre-query is like pre-dating, that testing-the-waters stage of courtship:

Are you single? (Are you taking queries?)

Am I your type? (Do you rep my genre?)

Can you support me? (Are there dollar signs next to your name on Preditors and Editors?)

Will you let me down gently? (Do you personalize rejections on partials and fulls?)

Will you give me another chance if I come crawling back? (I queried you last year, but may I try with another project?)

Anna Claire said...

Too many writers are constantly looking for ways to make the process more complicated and confusing. Like, despite being told on EVERY agent Web site and blog to 1) follow the d**n directions and 2) write well, there are still authors out there who think there *must* be a different way. They'd rather spend their time barking up what is clearly the wrong tree than doing a little bit of research and approaching the whole process professionally.

Vivi Anna said...

I wish writers would realize there is no secret door, or secret handshake, or secret way to query an agent. Write the best book you can, write a kick-ass query letter that showcases your hook and the best of your book and you, then make a list of your top ten agents, (there are lots out there folks) and then query them all. While you wait to hear back, start writing your next great book.

It's really quite a simple system, it's just the waiting that bites.

Chris Stovell said...

Oh dear, I'm blushing here! Many moons ago I wrote to an agent asking her opinion of the setting of my book and I got a short, sharp reply telling me I could set in in the Gobi desert if the writing was strong enough! I learned my lesson about making a pre-query then!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of a pre-query until now, and I’ve been researching the process for over six months.

I always, always look websites for guidelines. Or if no website, check their information on agent query or query tracker. Different agents want different things. Five pages, ten pages, a chapter, some even take a partial with the query letter!

I can see why agents get annoyed. The information is out there. Just freaking look it up! Are these people lazy or clueless?

Anonymous said...

I always, always look to websites for guidelines.

Sorry,forgot the to up above.

Laurel said...

Rick, you made me laugh out loud.

Another writer on another blog recently mentioned that they wanted to get feedback from agents on a story idea to see if it was worth pursuing. About a jillion people posted saying "Don't do that!" so evidently the blog surfers get it.

The temptation to avoid wasting your time if the hook isn't there is understandable. The trouble is you don't always know how things will develop once you start writing. And there is always the benefit of writing itself. Even if it isn't good you can learn from it and practice skills you can use in your next project.

If writing has turned into such a chore that you don't want to pursue an idea that captures your imagination whether or not you think it is marketable (and it's up to you to make it marketable while you write it) then maybe you need a break.

Everybody deserves a stack o' crap under their bed that should never be published. They're battlescars and you should learn something from every one. Agents don't need to give you permission to start on your next project to add to the stack.

T. M. Hunter said...

It could very well be that the author is taking Anon 11:12's advice, and checking various websites and getting different answers along the way. I know in my own agent search, I've stumbled upon agent's websites that don't tell whether they're accepting new clients or not, and then other sites out there which tell me they are, and others that tell me they aren't. In that case, myself, I'd just send it off and hope for the best. But I could see some being hesitant and wanting verification.

Granted, that's probably not the case, and they're just wanting more "face" time (without the face, obviously)...thinking that will help.

J MacKrell said...

Is there nothing in all the Publishing World for you "posters" to talk about other than "query letters"? Have you no other ideas for writers, No helpful hints about publishing or any of the other myrid of details involved in bring a book to market

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

J MacKrell:

I'm always open to questions and suggestions and you can certainly email me at with any questions you have for the blog. I'll admit, the majority of the posts, at least of late, seem to be on queries, but I would say at least 75% of all questions I receive relate to queries and submissions leading me to believe that that's what the majority of my readers want.


Chris J said...

Perhaps "prequery" is to writing as "preboarding" is to air travel. Neither term makes any sense.

Central Content Publisher said...

I'm tempted to write a book called Prequery, just so I can send you a query titled "Prequery".


It all goes terribly wrong when a writer takes a hostage whom he curiously chooses to cage in the company of a wandering goat. Our would-be writer stalks and ultimately kidnaps his prospective agent, but can never bring himself to ask the agent to represent him. Prequery is a story of unrequited love; where frustration meets horror; rejection meets denial; and yes, a wandering goat.

The Paranoid Blogger said...

As difficult and time intensive as it is to write a decent query letter, I find it hard to believe anyone would actually work up and then send out a prequery. Talk about overkill!

Jinxie G said...

Ha! My issue is that I keep rewriting the query because it's never good enough for me, but I hadn't heard of the prequery until now. And no, I don't send those out.

Marjorie said...

Omg, you and Janet with this ongoing dialogue regarding "queries..." Ken brechen already.

If you don't like the "query," just follow the advice of Max Reger and deal with it in a similar way.

All these entries regarding "queres" has so "jumped the shark..." It's like "The Gong Show" of topics... :-D

Marjorie said...

Excuse the above typo: it should be "queries."

Frances Jeanette said...

All this idiotic crap over and over about queries makes me want to say blow it out of your ass.