1. If you don’t follow the guidelines, your query will be deleted, unread and without a response.
2. I'm now using Query Manager, a system that's generally been proven helpful to both agents and authors, and all queries should be submitted via https://querymanager.com/JoshuaBilmes.
3. Once upon a time, I asked only for the query letter, but it's been a long time since queries were sent in #10 business envelopes with an SASE. At this point, I'm not longer accepting paper queries, and I'm asking you to send ten sample pages with your Query Manager query. This will help speed things along, since I can more easily give a "yes" or "no" on borderline queries where the pages themselves are serving as tie-breaker, and I'm less likely to ask for a full manuscript only to realize when I finally get around to reading it that I really maybe shouldn't've.
4. The query letter should be brief. If you were to print it on old-fashioned paper - and I suggest you should as a test - it should fit onto a one page standard business letter without having to squeeze the font and font size to 9-point Tahoma.
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 (I don't think it's 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 one of my colleagues. 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. And yes, I will look at something that has been turned down by someone else at JABberwocky, but have a really good reason before you do that.
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.
I want more non-fiction, and I've been selling more of it. Aki Peritz's Disruption came out in 2021 and was named a Year's Best title by both Kirkus and Christian Science Monitor. Film books by Sean O'Connell, Tres Dean, and Steve Kozak. Query Manager lists specific categories, but a few hints. I was a history major in college. I started reading Variety when I was in high school and have been fascinated by show business since forever. I see 100+ movies a year, and in 2021 when a lot of other things were shut down saw - all in movie theaters - 170. I read at least three newspapers a day, and I look at pretty much every page of every section, like not reading every single article, but there isn't much that's happening in the world that I'm not at some level interested in. All that said, most non-fiction requires credentials of some sort.
The executive summary here: I want to see fiction in just the “core for me” genres of sf/fantasy and mystery/thrillers, and a few other categories detailed in Query Manager, but I mostly want to stick with what's gotten me through my first 35 years in publishing. Nonfiction, I’ll look a little more broadly.
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 for either myself or my assistant to delve into the query box come sporadically. I've always got manuscripts from current clients, some due to publishers that need to be read ASAP, and there's a lot of prioritization and triage to keep on top of it all.