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January, 2008

Food of Love

You’ve Got Rejection!?
Dos And Don’ts Of The E-Query
By  Anne R. Allen

By SASEs or email sending unrequested manuscripts is a waste of time.
Writers who’ve been submitting novels for more than a decade remember what rejection used to sound like.

I’d get a dizzy-sick feeling when I heard it: that thwap, sl-i-i-i-de, thunk of a returned book manuscript landing on my doorstep.

I hated dealing with that sad, battered, Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope I’d sent off with such hopes months before. I knew what was inside: my now useless, dog-eared typescript, topped by a one-line rejection letter from an agent or editor saying, “Sorry, not for us.”

But nobody in the book business has time to glance at a “slush pile” in these lean, mean days, so sending off an unrequested manuscript is a waste of time and money. A one-page query letter (with short synopsis, sample chapter and SASE) has become the standard method to contact an agent or publisher. Response time varies, but the wait is usually less than six weeks instead of endless months.

Now email is becoming the popular—and even faster—way to query. In fact, you may be asked to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript electronically (usually as a Word or RTF attachment.) I sold my last two novels without ever using a tree-based product.

This has some obvious advantages:

  • Nice for the trees. Plus major savings on postage and ink.
  • Fewer trips to the post office for stamps/or international postal orders for that SASE.
  • No more endless months waiting for a response. I’ve actually had positive responses within minutes.

But there are drawbacks:

  • You don’t know if your query has been junked by an over-zealous anti-spam program.
  • You can’t include samples, clips, or even a detailed synopsis. A five paragraph letter is your only shot.
  • You may not get a response at all. Without the SASE as a reminder, many agents and editors simply don’t reply if they’re not interested.

But publishing is still a tradition-bound business, so here are some standard dos and don’ts for the e-query:

1) Do check the agent or publisher’s website. Many agents and publishers now include a handy onsite query form.

2) Don't send a query on a novel that isn’t in polished, final draft. Since you may get a request for the full ms. tomorrow, you don’t want to blow your big chance with unfinished or unedited work.

3) Do include the word “query” in your header. This keeps you out of the spam folder. Also identify your genre and title.

4) Don't include attachments. . Because everybody fears potential viruses, never send an attachment unless it’s specifically requested

5) Do remember people still have dial-up. Nothing gets you rejected faster than locking somebody into slow-download hell. Skip the graphics and sound (and save the funny signature and smileys for your buddies.)

6) Don't rely on a link to your webpage for vital information. You can include your website URL at the bottom of your query, along with your e-and snail address, but don’t demand a reader travel to another site.

7) Do save the letter. If you get a request for a read, whether via e-mail or snail, include a copy of your query as a memory-refresher. We’re not as memorable as we’d like to think.

8) Don't query more than one book at a time. My own favorite bad. Brevity: soul of wit and all that.

9) Do use the following format (Thanks to Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency for her helpful website.):

  • Why? Explain why you are contacting this person. Did you get referred by a client? Hear him speak at a conference? Read her article? Why is it the right agency/house for your project?
  • What is the project? Here’s where you sell your novel in four sentences or less. Not easy. But we’re in the sentence business, right? Give the title and pitch (what screenwriters call a logline—like a one-line entry in TV Guide) followed by a two or three sentence synopsis.
  • Who are you? List published fiction, awards, relevant education, conferences attended, etc.
  • Where and When: If the novel is set in a particular region, time period or industry, give your background in that area.
  • Thank the agent or editor for her time.

10) Don't forget to spell-check.

If you hear nothing after six weeks, it’s OK to resend your query, in case it did get eaten by the anti-spamware. If the answer is “Sorry, not for us,” you still may not hear anything, but personally, I prefer that to the old thwap, sl-i-i-i-de, thunk.

Read Anne R. Allen's' excerpt from The Best Revenge.

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Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and book editor who has been living part time in the UK. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, an historical novel of the nineteen-eighties, (Babash-Ryan) debuted  in the UK on Sept. 1, 2005. Her first novel, Food Of Love is now available on and as well as Her latest non-fiction piece, Letting my Bitch-Light Shine, appears in the September issue of the litzine Chick Flicks.

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