Sample Query Format

[Heading]
Your name
Your mailing address
Your email address



Dear [Name of agent, spelled correctly--you will look very silly if you write "Dear Sir/Madam" or, worse, "Dear Sirs"--most agents are female]:

[Introductory line that proves research]:

1. I am writing to you at the suggestion of [Name of agent’s client].
2. I am writing because I love that you said _________ on your Web site/because you represent ___________.
3. I am writing to you because of your interest in [description of your work]


[Line that launches into your story, followed by a paragraph describing your concept.]

1. Robert though he had it all figured out.
2. It wasn’t every day that Jeffrey Humpheldorpher found himself barreling through a window.


[Expand on your concept for another short paragraph]


[State your degree, if applicable, and your publishing credits/experience/honors—always italicize]:

I am a graduate of Fordham’s MFA program. My work has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and Glimmer Train.

[A cordial closing, such as, "I look forward to hearing from you."]

Timelines

An author can expect the following timetable:
  • From query to response: 1 to 8 weeks
  • From partial/proposal sending to response: 1 to 6 months (usually 3)
  • From acceptance to Author-Agent Agreement signing: under 3 months
  • Author-Agent Agreement signing through editing: 1-5 months, depending on what needs to be done. If an outside editor is brought in or the work needs heavy revisions, can be more. Keep in mind that we edit something on everything that comes through--as do most agents. We know you're eager--but we'd hate work to be rejected because it wasn't ready to go out.
  • Editing to sending out the work (if agent has another work with similar editor pool, there may be a delay): 0-2 months
  • First response from editors: 1 hour to 1 month or so. Agents will follow up.
  • First response from editor to offer: 1 hour to three weeks or so.
  • Negotiating offer, calling other editors to give them a chance to make counter-offers: 1-3 weeks
  • Finalizing offer: 0-2 weeks
  • Receive 1st draft of contract: 1 week to 1 month
  • Agent negotiating contract: 0-1 month
  • Finalized contract arrives: about one month later
  • Signing payment (1/3 or 1/2 of advance): within six weeks of counter-signed contract returned to the publishing house
  • Delivery of final manuscript: determined by contract delivery date. When final version is approved by house, there may be a delivery payment (if in thirds, yes).
  • Publication of work: in most contracts, Publisher legally must publish the work within 18 months of the acceptance of the manuscript.

The Importance of Titles

While doing research for a food author of ours (naturally this involved sampling the food...and the coffee...and the chocolate) on a new UWS establishment, my boss articulated a point about the proposals, queries, and titles wonderfully: The proposal is the microcosm of the book, the query is the microcosm of the proposal, and the title is the microcosm of the work itself. A good title is golden. An editor can walk into an editorial board meeting and have the attention of everyone in the room in just one line.

(A side note: I should mention that editors must pitch work to their offices--they don't simply have a pile of money to throw at any project they wish. Instead, they must have not only the rest of the editorial staff on board, but often the sales department, as well, before they can even make an offer.)

You should know this: we've agreed to take a look at work with ho-hum queries simply because of the title. My favorite title to date remains a (sensitive, charming, insightful) work by our author, Greg Wolfe: How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup: And Other Things I Learned While Trying to Knock Up My Wife. Hilarious, self-explanatory, intriguing, and brilliant to bring up at informal cocktail parties. The ideal title is all of the above.

What's your favorite book title? Comment below.

On Angry Author Emails

As the DOW declines and stresses rise, we've noticed a difference in our correspondents (some invited, some not): there is a certain tension in the emails. Today, already, I've received two curt emails from authors demanding explanations for their rejections. What used to be the poor form of the few ("Clearly you are not a real agency if you do not recognize the genius of my work"; "You should know that someone at your office is not capable of understanding author submissions"; "Won't you be sorry when this sells 100,000 copies?"; "Clearly your agency is for niche works and not bestsellers [like mine]...good luck with your company in this tightening economy") has become much more common.

To those reading and considering a job in publishing: you will encounter many of these. Sometimes you spend extra time going over a project you especially like--only for the author to contest every one of your well-meant suggestions. Sometimes you will spend extra time trying to be compassionate--it is, after all, never easy to reject a memoir about, say, the death of a child or caring for a parent with Alzheimer's--only to receive angry mail insisting that the only reason you've said no is that you are a cold-hearted person.

My boss has a theory: in this time, people are desperate. A book advance--even several months down the line, even if it's only $2,000 from a small press--could help a great deal. It would be horrible to think that, if only the author had pushed a little harder, maybe, just maybe, the assistant/associate agent/agent would conclude, "You know, you're right. Because you say so, I will take another look."

It's horrible to say that a few angry authors have ruined the chances of the sweet ones--there are many authors who are so very kind and pleasant that, were I to encounter them in my daily life, I would want them as my regular interlocutors. But because detailed rejections give angry authors something to take hold of--points to dispute, rather than the slippery, "This isn't right for us"--it becomes dangerous to offer specifics, and form letters--for the sake of efficacy as well, of course--become the standard way of doing things.

A friend--actually, the friend that got me the internships that got me a position at my current company--loves to say that publishing "steamrollers [one's] soul." Quantity makes any one item--be it a terribly sad memoir, or any object or experience--seem less special. We receive hundreds of such memoirs, can even file them into sub-categories--the terminal illness memoir, the Alzheimer's memoir, the breast-cancer-survivor-rediscovering-her-sexuality memoir. We must, for our own self-preservation, develop some sort of emotional distance.

As tough as we try to be, it's still hard not to be hurt, however, by author complaints. We seldom reply (for what could one say?); we've even considered an office-wide policy of blocking all but the very most promising rejected writers--so that we don't have to see these emails.

To be a writer--as so many of us are--rejecting the work of other writers feels, at times, like an overwhelming responsibility. Some joke; very, very few do not, when it gets down to it, take this seriously. Some become paralyzed with indecision, terrified of rejecting the next bestseller. We have the power to turn a few typed pages into a book that can change lives. We don't forget.