16 Random Protips for Querying Writers

Okay, guys. I’ve been watching the PitchWars feed off and on because I’m jealous of all you and your party, and I know a lot of you have already submitted, but a lot haven’t yet. So I wanted to share some tips that I learned when I was querying agents (because it’s pretty dang similar). Either I came up with them randomly, or they are written as a response to something I saw on Twitter.

While this list is inspired by PitchWars, it applies to regular querying, as well.


Protip 1: Check and make sure the person you’re submitting to actually represents both the genre AND category of the thing you are sending them. Now check again. Now check again. Ready to send the email? Check one more time. Now send.

  • Protip 1.5: If you don’t know the difference between genre and category, educate yourself immediately. This is your business. Be a professional, know the language.

Protip 2: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, USE SPELL CHECK. There’s this misconception that agents (and mentors) will overlook shoddy writing and errors if your concept is stellar.

Agents and PitchWars mentors are looking for the cleanest prose they can find. Why the heck would they want to go into business with someone who is too lazy to have a computer check their spelling for them?

Protip 3: Research how to write a query. While there are a few different opinions on the exact way to do it, there is a more or less standard format. Begin here: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ and find a good, professional way to format here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03/how-to-format-query-letter.html

Protip 4: When you query, don’t act like you’re doing the agent/mentor a favor because OBVIOUSLY you are the next Rowling/Sanderson/King/Atwood/Orwell/whomever, but don’t grovel, either. Be normal, people. BE NORMAL.


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Protip 6: Research word count norms for your category and genre. Know the upper and lower limits, and know the ‘sweet spot.’ Aim for it. Please do not query a 100K contemporary MG. People will laugh.

Protip 7: Google is your friend. Google EVERYTHING, from average word counts to reputable agents to how to write an awesome query. Don’t assume you know. GOOGLE KNOWS.

  • Protip 7.5: It also tries to trick you from time to time, so always double check.

Protip 8: Agents/mentors are looking at your blogs. They’re looking at your twitter feed. They’re looking in your window.

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Okay, not the last one. But still, they *are* checking up on you to make sure you’re not insane. Don’t be insane. Don’t post things you wouldn’t be okay with a literary agent seeing. They don’t want to rep crazy people.

Protip 9: For the love of hot beverages, join a critique group! An agent/mentor should NEVER be the first person besides your mother to read your manuscript.

Protip 10: Personalize your queries (obviously this one doesn’t apply to PitchWars this year). I can’t even say how many times I’ve seen agents tweet snarky things about queries that begin, “Dear Agent.” And if you REALLY want to up your game, follow agents on Twitter or read their blogs so you can personalize your queries easily, and also learn things (but don’t forget to BE NORMAL).

Protip 11: READ SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. The inconvenient thing about querying is that agents all want something different. Some want just a query. Some want a query and a chapter. Some want a query and five pages. Some want a query, an author bio, a synopsis, and three chapters. Give them what they want.

Protip 12: The sweet spot for queries is usually between 250 and 350 words.

Protip 13: Don’t be didactic. No one likes condescending know-it-alls.

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Unless said know-it-all grows up to punch Draco Malfoy in the face.

Protip 14: Be specific. Phrases like, “Bob must learn to face himself before HE LOSES EVERYTHING HE CARES ABOUT” are (unless you have previously outlined the stakes) too general. What is everything? How could it be lost? Those specifics make your story unique. Use them!

Protip 15: Never write the sequel until you’ve sold the first book. That means, as you’re querying your YA Fantasy/Romance, do NOT start book two. Start a completely different story. Here’s why: say you DO land an agent. That’s great! But then, as sometimes happens, the book your agent signed you for doesn’t sell to a publisher. Your agent comes to you and says, “Joe, let’s shelve this manuscript for a while and try something else. What other stories do you have?” And you say, “Uhh… I have a sequel for that first story.” That’s helpful, Joe. That’s super helpful.

Protip 16: On a related note, the last I heard, standalones are making a comeback. But publishers still want to cash in on series of there’s cash to be had. So what you’re going for is “standalone with series potential.” Tie up all of your obvious loose ends at the end of your first book, but leave yourself room to grow.

That’s all for now! Do you have any protips of your own to add? Leave a comment!

About Caitlyn McFarland

Mom of three girls, writer of fantasy novels.
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