Query Formatting

This is probably the most common question I get asked about queries at conferences, and it comes from Lyla:

I’m putting some final touches on my query and I have a question on format. Many of the agents whose blogs I subscribe to have mentioned that they prefer the ‘hook’ first and then personalization later on in the query, while as many have said that they prefer the personalization first. I’m assuming this is just a preference thing, so I was just wondering, Ms. Kole, which do YOU prefer?

As I have said before, there is a lot of undue anxiety about formatting, and even more undue anxiety about queries. As long as you have all the main building blocks of queries — query meat, bio, query personalization (if you have good stuff here, see my post on this in a few days), vital statistics (word count, whether or not it’s a simultaneous submission, contact info, etc.) — you’re fine to arrange them in whatever way you want.

The two most common formats are in Lyla’s question:

Query meat, personalization, bio, stats
Personalization, query meat, bio, stats

What I prefer is completely a matter of personal taste. I’ve seen both of the above. I’ve seen queries that lead with the bio. I’ve seen queries that lead with the stats (though this is probably the most rare). I’ve seen queries that follow no logic that I can possibly comprehend. I’d say that you should stick with one of the above and you’ll be just fine. There are as many answers to this question as there are agents…and writers.

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  1. Julie Daines’s avatar

    It’s kind of pathetic that as writers, we are so obsessed with the query. When it comes down to it, a query is not that difficult to write. Agents are people too (right?) and as long as the query is well written and a good representation of an even better story, we could save ourselves a lot of antacid not stressing about some of these nit-picky details.

  2. Lynn Townsend’s avatar

    I only wish that were true; however I have both heard of and know a few editors/agents who have gotten so used to having things done “just the way they want them” that they auto-reject anything that’s not done in their specific font or format.

    Now, admittedly, I think some of these stories are exaggerated, and others are used as excuses for why a story/novel didn’t get picked up. At the same time, I know too many people who – when in some position of authority – get a bit full of themselves.

    Agents and editors have been, for many years, the gatekeepers of the publishing world and eager writers by the score have been trying to please them. This is bound to go to some people’s heads.

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