To say that writing a query isn’t easy is an understatement, a huge one.
A query involves introducing yourself to potential agents or editors, pitching them your story in a way that will make them want to read more, providing a synopsis of the plot and your characters’ development, as well as offering a sample portion of your manuscript. A query is painstakingly worked over by an author and many times within their critique group.
In this post, I’ll share a discussion of the ins and outs of a query from an agent’s point of view with my daughter, Grace Milusich, literary agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. I’ve benefited first hand from her keen editorial eye and concise constructive criticism. Her input has always helped to make my work stronger and I’m excited to share with you her perspectives on what makes a stand out query.
Q&A with Grace Milusich
What are a few important things you would suggest authors do when querying?
First of all, make sure the query is addressed to the right agent at the right agency. It’s your first chance to make a connection with an agent, so make sure to do your research to find an agent who you think will be most receptive to your work. It’s also always good to refer to something that drew you to that particular agent. It could be something that was on mswl or on the agent’s social media.
How can an author catch your interest when querying you?
I like to be hooked right off the bat. The best way to get my interest is to send me something fresh and unique. I’m specifically looking for YA, upper YA and adult fiction and fantasy, and those markets are very competitive. If you can pitch me something that is different from anything else already out there, you’ll get my attention.
Do you have a format you prefer for authors to use when querying you?
I like to use a Query Tracker form in which authors can copy and paste their pitch, query letter, synopsis and first chapter into the form. I also have a link for authors to upload a moodboard, specific to their submission, if they’ve done one.https://querytracker.net/
What is it you want within the query letter itself?
Within the query letter, I like to find out about the word count, a description of the story without the ending being given away and without each plot beat summarized, those are for the synopsis. I’d also like to know a little bit about the author, and what drew them to submit their work to me.
What are you looking for when you read the bio of a writer?
I want to know where you are within your writing career. Have you been published before? Have you received any awards? I’m also always interested to know what writing groups you might be involved with, if your story has an ownvoices focus, and then a sentence or two about who you are.
Are you looking for any particular ownvoices?
I’m openly seeking diverse protagonists and authors from all walks of life.
On Query Tracker the tab description for a pitch identifies a paragraph length pitch. What is your ideal pitch length?
I prefer a one sentence pitch, because it tells me the takeaway of the entire piece.
Do you have any suggestions on how best to write a pitch?
It depends on who you’re submitting to and what their preferences are. I like a pitch that can tell me a small bit about the world (especially if the genre is fantasy), the characters and the stakes.
Can you give us an example of a well done pitch?
I have an example of one written by Rimma Onoseta for her book, How You Grow Wings. “Two sisters in a small village in Nigeria want nothing more than to break free of their oppressive home. When one sister is given the opportunity to live with her wealthy aunt, she takes the chance and escapes, starting off a chain of events that leads the sisters on different paths.”
Are any portions of the Query more important to you than others?
No, the query letter tells me in general what the project is about, and if it captures my interest enough I will often jump to the pitch to see if I want to go further with it. If I do, I will have a look through the synopsis or I will skip the synopsis and go straight to the first chapter submission sample, so they’re each just as important.
Is there anything that would make you stop reading when you’ve opened a query?
One thing that would make me think I’m not sure if this is the project for me, would be if the word count was wildly above genre standards, also I won’t accept AI generated queries or submissions. I believe this is a generally accepted rule among most agents.
As a new agent, would you pass on a submission to another agent that you knew might be interested in it?
Would you walk us through your day?
The first thing I do is clear up administrative responsibilities, such as following up on preexisting projects, arranging calls with other authors, reading ongoing projects, scheduling calls with editors, checking in with publishers in order to make sure they are keeping up with publication or post-publication requirements, the list goes on.
Once I know what’s on my plate for the day, I can go through my queries. I have to put on my creative thinking cap for that. I find it’s best for me to look through queries in bursts so I don’t get reader fatigue; that wouldn’t be fair to the authors. I want to give their submissions my best energy, so I set aside about two hours a day to go through Query Tracker. That’s where the majority of my queries are coming from. I go through them in chronological order.
You’ve only just recently open to queries, have you found anything you’re interested in?
Yes, and I’ve requested a few full manuscripts.
That’s exciting! Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to share your take on queries, Grace.
Below is the mswl link for anyone interested in finding out more about the submissions Grace is looking for.