Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Query on Queries

I’m actually answering this question only because I think it shows how easily and quickly authors get themselves mixed up and tangled. It’s one of those instances where I wonder if agent blogs and web sites have made things more complicated rather than simpler.

Concerning queries...If an agent is not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, is it bad form to write or email (either him/her or their assistants) to ask if you may query? Or can you always query? I know you don't query to see if you can query.

First, let me explain that “asking if you may query” is “querying to see if you can query.” I’m not sure where you got the guidelines for this agent or what exactly they said, but I will tell you that few agents accept unsolicited “manuscripts.” Which would mean sending along your full manuscript without a request. If you got this from an agent’s web site I would assume the agent has query guidelines, at which point you should query.

Yes, it’s bad form to write or email the agent or the agent’s assistant to ask if you can query. Either query or don’t, but don’t query a query. It’s a huge waste of time, and my guess is you’re going to be told no, especially if the agent is in a bad mood that day.

If you can’t find agency guidelines for some reason, just query. The worst that can happen is you’ll get no response.



Mark Terry said...

Although I think overall agent blogs and all this writing advice is useful, there are times when I just sort of sigh, because:

1. There's a lot of value in learning by doing.
2. There's a lot of value in trial by error.
3. Although a typical query letter follows the following format:

A. Introduction, type of book, length, genre, log line/hook.
B. One paragraph synopsis
C. Author bio or why I'm so great.

I think that if you're such a great writer to have pulled off a novel that you think some publisher will shell out thousands--millions!--of dollars for, and some unsuspecting reader will offer $24.95 for, shouldn't you know that? And also, shouldn't you know when to vary it?

It's like all the discussions about what fonts to use and how to calculate word counts. I've been involved in this business one way or another over 20 years and I still dither about this, even though it's a totally ridiculous argument in the age of Microsoft Word.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

I think people get confused over the difference between a 'submission' and a 'query'. Almost every 'query' is unsolicited, but an 'unsolicited submission' means you haven't queried first, to see if you can send the proposal or ms.

And yes, I have been guilty of querying to see if I can query. Sigh.

Mira said...

I feel very grateful for all the information on agent blogs. It just makes the whole process easier and less intimidating.

For example, I know not to do this, but last year, before I came to agent blogs, I absolutely would have done this!

So, thanks to you and other agents for the time you spend!

Anonymous said...

I see the confusion all the time. Some writers think that if an agent says they don't accept 'unsolicited manuscripts' it is the same thing as not accepting queries. Two different animals but they think they are one and the same.

Ryan S. Kinsgrove said...

I used to feel similar to the way anon 9:43 is expressing confusion. Not knowing about things like that, is not fun. Thanks for clearing it up :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

A lot of the confusion over "no unsolicited MS" = "no unsolicited queries" comes from green newbies who would think nothing of attaching or printing their entire MS and sending it off to everyone they queried.

There's plenty of information out there now about how to (and not to) query, but not everyone does the research. And some of them are in the same boat I was a few years ago when I had no internet at my house and could only log on at the library (several miles away). In that case, there's no time to do anything but show up with a list of email addresses you've gleaned from books and send the emails.

Lauren said...

If someone is really not sure as to whether an agent is accepting queries or not, there are tons of resources to help the writer figure it out... without having to bug the agent. Check out or There's usually someone there who knows the recent status of any given agent. It's pretty amazing how much agent info is online these days.

Anonymous said...

I think this came about because of a writer called Nicola Morgan who wrote on her blog last week that it was okay to query an agent about sending in a submission.

She confused a realm of people, as was obvious by the comments.

Marcy lynn said...

I think that it's absolutely great that agents, published writers and even people just savy with the publishing world put out so much information. As much as I read what I can to learn this business, I'm guilty of not understanding the difference between the two until a few years back.

Catch phrases and words are the problem, not the abundance of information in my opinion. You have an agent who may say on their guidelines: 'Submit' your query as part of their guide, while another says we do not accept unsolicited 'submissions'.

Your brain can fuddle you into thinking the two words mean the same exact thing. When it's not even close to the same thing at all. Combine that with the agents or editors that won't take queries or submissions from unpublished/unagented writers. Maybe an auto response to those emails should be "Join a writers group". lol

Nicole said...

Donna Lea got it right. When I was just starting out, "unsolicited manuscript" didn't throw me off. It was "unsolicited submission" that did.

I'm glad for blogs like this one where agents and editors take the time to clear things up and help out newcomers, though I still think many of them could do with reading a book about the business before jumping in. After all, knowledge is power!

Kristi's Book Nook said...

Being new to writing and just starting the submission process. I find I have to read the guidelines a few times just to make sure I follow the instruction.

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