Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Great Query Caper with Agent Elana Roth

Elana receives 10-20 queries by email daily

She's been an agent for 2 years (so relatively new).

She reads queries in the order they came in.

And she reads about 20-30 queries in the morning over coffee in the morning after she wakes up.

According to Elana, when you read so many you start to see the same thing over and over again.

So for this workshop, Elana is giving everyone about 20 queries and 15 minutes to read them and we have to reject 15 at least and request 5--which is a way higher number than would normally be requested.

---Going off to read 20 queries....omg...---

So I just read 20 queries and my eyes hurt! They hurt! Ah! I could never be an agent, wow!

If you can tell Elana your hook really quickly--right up front--the rest of the query isn't as important. A strong hook can count for a lot.

The writing is very important--can you construct your sentences well? Are you able to express your ideas clearly? 

Sometimes we get so obsessed with the content in the query that our writing isn't always the strongest.

Shorter letters are always better. Be clear, concise and to the point.

And don't forget that your query is a business letter. So don't have your animal narrator write it, because animals don't write business letters. You do!

Having a strong voice in the query lets the agent know that you are a strong writer. If your book is humorous you shouldn't have to say your book is humorous, it should come through in your writing.

Don't go overboard on the sell--meaning, don't include a whole paragraph as to why the agent is perfect for your novel. Let your hook and query speak for itself!

It's a one-page letter. It shouldn't be harder to write than your 60,000 (or ummmm 120,000) word novel.

Elana is open to hearing you're planning a series, but...most likely she'll shop only one book for you.

Donna spotted the query for one of Elana's clients whose book is out there (Pam Bachorz's Candor). Nice, Donna!

Two queries were requested and the writers signed with agents other than Elana because she passed them onto other agents whose tastes better matched the books. <--That's nice to know.

Elana also mentions that agents do A LOT of revisions and editing with the writer before sending it to editors. Books really need to be almost ready to go before they hit acquisitions.

Elana tends to requests the books from queries where she can clearly grasp and pull out the concept or hook. If you can't sum up your story in 3 sentences, you don't know what your book is about. She needs to know the hook or concept and if she has to dig for it, she won't, she doesn't want it.

Also if you can't edit yourself in a query letter, it's a good chance your book is overwritten.

Remember that this is an agent's first taste of your abilities as a writer.

Not every book has to be high concept, but you should know your hook or log line--single sentence about your book...check out the descriptions of books on the NYT best seller's list.

Think about what's the key conflict in the book? What makes it stand out? That's what you need to include? That's your hook. Don't worry about the whole plot.

One of the queries that came in was for a book that Elana wanted, but the writer signed with an agent super quickly and she missed it.

Elana recommends  for agent info and If you're willing to pay, subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace for deal information. She prefers the websites where the agents control the information that gets posted, but most agent info sites have pros and cons.

For finding an agent, don't always go with the first offer just because it's the first offer. It's not always the best offer.

If you're making writing your career, then you need to do the research behind it, and take it seriously and learn as much as you can about the industry.

Elana's definition of high concept--the Hollywood pitch, one sentence and you know EXACTLY what the book/story is about. One common way to do this for movies is to take two things and mash them together -- like Alien = Jaws in space.

BUT even if your book is quiet, you still should be able to whittle it down to few words in a logline. Check out the New York Times lists for the 5-10 word descriptions of all different genres.

This session was kick-butt and hopefully you learned a lot. And now....

We're taking a nap in our room!


  1. Ooooh, this is all GREAT info! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great info, Frankie! Thanks for the near instantaneous updates. I compared reading queries once to listening to all the versions of Carol of the Bells on amazon mp3 download. After a while you just start going insane, DYING to find something that stands out from the pack. What a cool exercise to be a part of.

  3. Great sum-up of what Elena said, Frankie. And how instructive to allow attendees to read a big handful of queries. Nothing like being in the agent's shoes for a bit, is there? Thanks for this!

  4. This post is very insightful. It can only be an advantage to see things from the other side of the desk. I definitely need to put some work into my query and into my synopsis for that matter (which is worse than the query, in my opinion).

    Thank you, Frankie!


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