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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Joshua's Query Guidelines

After being closed to queries for a few years, I decided to reopen in early 2016, and I've kept on it since. It's always special finding something great through the query box.  One of the first and most important things to do, however, is follow...


1.  If you don’t follow the guidelines, your query will be deleted, unread and without a response.

2.  Submissions can be made electronically to queryjoshua[at] or via old-fashioned query letter with self-addressed stamped reply envelope.  Since reopening to queries, I have already deleted a number of queries sent to a different email address.  Remember, follow the guidelines.

3.  The only thing I want is your query letter.  No email attachments at all.  You may choose to provide a brief one-to-three page synopsis, but it’s not required, and if you do, it should be pasted into open text at the end of your e-mail, and not separately attached.  Any query with attachments will be deleted unread.  

4.  The query letter should be brief.  If you were to print it on old-fashioned paper, it should fit onto a one page standard business letter.

6.  And while brief, the query should have relevant information on both yourself and your manuscript.

In May 2016, I found this wonderful "Is Your Query Ready" diagram via @davidrslayton on Twitter. Take a look before you hit "send" on your query.

I want to talk a little more about relevance, starting with "relevant information about yourself."  For a published writer, your credits are relevant.  For other authors, it might be having a job or life experience of some sort that ties very directly to the book you have written.  For authors without credits or credentials, it might be adding something that suggests your knowledge or familiarity with the genre or category you plan to write in.  And when all else fails, tell us about where you grew up, where you went to school, but always something.  Check out this article from Publishers Weekly (if not behind paywall), about a writer finding an agent.  Hate to give spoilers, but basically, the only agent who read the manuscript appears to be someone who thought he recognized the name as that of a high school classmate.  If you think it's silly to start telling me where you grew up, where you went to school -- well, I can understand why; it does seem silly.  But it's a lot less silly than writing a query letter that suggests there isn't a single interesting thing about the author.

Relevant information about the manuscript:  Avoid adjectives.  You're not a third-party observer who's earned the right to say your manuscript is "romantic" or "thrilling" or "fast-paced" or any other adjective you might choose to apply to your own work.  And remember it's a business letter, and not cover copy.  

Here’s what I want:

I always like science fiction and fantasy, but there are also at least three other people at the agency who look at science fiction and fantasy.  Will I look?  Sure!  But ask yourself if there’s some extra special reason that you want to direct the submission to me instead of Sam or Eddie, and Lisa is likely to reopen to submissions in the next few weeks.  I tend to shy away from the more literary part of the sf/fantasy spectrum, but I’d rather make the call here. If it looks intriguing, but not in line with my personal tastes, I may share with someone else in the office.

On the other hand, I also like good mysteries and thrillers, and there aren’t as many people here who share that interest.  I’d love to see some great projects in these genres.  People forget that I was working with Charlaine Harris for many years as a cozy mystery writer before Sookie Stackhouse hit it big, and the very first novel I ever sold was a mystery novel.  I’m open to the full range of work in these categories.

With JABberwocky having grown so much, we’re wanting very much to represent more non-fiction.  One of my accomplishments in 2015 was reaching out to Gil Griffin, an author of a great article on the SB Nation website, and turning it into a new non-fiction book (on NCAA basketball players striving to break into Australian Rules football) that was published in Summer 2016.  I was a history major in college.  I love watching movies, follow sports, am interested in business and many other topics, and I spend an average of 90 minutes a day reading newspapers very thoroughly.  So there’s hardly a non-fiction project I won’t look at.  BUT -- you’ve got to have credentials to write non-fiction, and I’ve got to be very blunt that most memoirs and auto-biography proposals I’ve ever seen in 30 years in the publishing business aren’t of broad enough interest.  If you don’t have credentials or have a deeply personal story to get off your chest, even the time it takes to address an email is probably not going to pay off for either of us.

You can try me after you’ve tried someone else in the office; tastes differ.  But have a good, hard think on whether that’s the problem.  I might be more likely to enjoy a military sf novel than Eddie, but if Eddie turned down your literary sf query it’s pretty slim odds that the solution is querying me.

The executive summary here:  I want to see fiction in just the “core for me” genres of sf/fantasy and mystery/thrillers, and will reject submissions in other categories.  Nonfiction, I’ll look a little more broadly.

The process:

It may take several weeks for me to get to the query in-box.  I'm eager to be looking, but good windows of time to devote to the task arrive sporadically.  If we like your query, we’ll generally request opening pages/chapters (for fiction) or detailed proposal (for non-fiction) as our next step.  And again, response time may be unpredictable, since it depends a lot on the overall work flow at the agency, including how many manuscripts I’m juggling from current clients, and a “no” will often come a lot quicker than a “yes” because the manuscripts we like, we need to spend more time with.  We will respond to all queries which follow the guidelines and are in the categories and genres requested.

1 comment:

Taramoc said...

Great news!

A couple of questions:

How do you feel about YA? My SF novel is borderline (teens protagonist, but broader theme).

Also, I have two manuscript ready to go. Can I send them both (obviously separate submissions) from the get go, or should I wait to see how the first one goes?