The Five Queries You’ll See in Publishing



For an author just starting to look for representation, queries sound intimidating. There’s a lot of varying opinion regarding what constitutes a good query, and it’ll vary from agent to agent, or editor to editor. I’m going to try and break down the different types of queries you’ll be writing depending on the type of manuscript you want to submit, as well as offer examples of successful query letters.


This includes young adult, middle grade, fantasy/sci-fi, historical, general fiction, etc. (For romance, see point #2 below) Probably the most common query available.

I cannot stress this enough: all agents and publishers want is your manuscript. They will not care 🎶 who you are, where you’re from, what you did, 🎶 as long as they love your manuscript (unless you’ve committed a felony or a murder. Please don’t commit any felonies and murders, guys.) Most publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, e.g. unagented authors.

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Writing a query letter for fiction can be difficult. Here are some steps you can take to prepare:

1.) I will not go into details about query-writing itself for this post when there are already fabulous people out there who’ve tackled this in greater detail (I may or may not explore this further for a future post). If you want an idea of how to write a good query letter, here are some excellent sites:

Query Letters
How to Write a Darn Good Query Letter (with examples)
How to Write the Perfect Query Letter (with examples)
23 Literary Agent Query Letters that Worked

2.) If you haven’t already, go to Agent Query for a list of possible literary agents (sign up, it’s free!) This site will help you keep track of agents you’ve already queried, and those that you plan on querying. Agents will be listing all the genres they’ll be looking for here, as well as guidelines on how to submit.

Don’t query all these agents at the same time! Separate your agents into an A-list (the ones you really want), and a B-list. Send your query to 4-6 agents on the B-list, and perhaps 1-2 on the A-list. Wait for replies. If you don’t get a bite, that might mean your query didn’t work and you’ll have to revise. If they reply with personal rejections, incorporate their suggestions into your revisions, then try again.

Remember: YOU CAN ONLY SEND A QUERY FOR THE SAME BOOK ONCE TO AN AGENT, UNLESS THEY SPECIFICALLY ASK YOU TO SEND AGAIN! This is why getting your query letter as perfect as you can before sending it out is important. Annoy agents enough times and you can be looking at a blacklist.

3.) IMPORTANT: every agent has a list of guidelines for you to follow. FOLLOW THEM CLOSELY. Some will want you to attach 3 chapters with your email, some might want only the first 5 pages. Read their agent website to see how they want you to send your MS. They will more likely reject your letter without reading your writing sample if you don’t follow! But if they’re interested, they’ll email you again asking for your full manuscript.

(Some people worry that sending your full MS to an agent without a guarantee they will represent you means agents might steal your work and pass it off as their own / someone else’s. This is highly unlikely, and I’ve never heard of any agent doing this. Literary agencies are a small enough industry that everyone knows almost everyone else, and this is a guaranteed career-ender.)

4.) Query Shark is a very good site run by an agent who receives examples of query letters and dissect why she hates some but likes others.

5.) Agents have their own preferences. Remember – just because they give you a pass doesn’t mean it’s a bad MS – it’s just not what they’re looking for. Some agents will pick John Green over JK Rowling. Some will pick Becky Albertelli over either!

6.) I would also suggest, for your MS, that you look for beta readers that AREN’T close friends. Close friends tend to be biased and won’t give you the criticism you’ll need for your MS. (Beta reading also takes awhile to do, so be considerate when you ask people for their time to read, especially if they might be busy!

7.) Forums like Absolute Write, and offer query letter critiques as well as critiques on your first five pages for an unbiased view of your work.


I’ve separated romance from the fiction category for one main reason: it is possible to NOT have an agent in order to have a romance book deal with a publishing house, though I must stress the importance an agent can bring to the negotiations.

I recommend getting an agent even after getting a book deal (mention in your query that you have an existing deal, and agents are more likely to take you on). Agents take a 15% commission from any book sales you make, which means they will fight to increase your advances/royalties so they can also earn more. Contracts can also be complicated, with a lot of legalese, and agents will be able to spot clauses not in your favor and re-negotiate. I’ve seen authors signing away rights they shouldn’t have because they had no agent to tell them otherwise.

For a lot of publishing houses that accept unagented/unsolicited manuscripts, the general agreement with your book deal is that your novel will be limited only to digital imprints of your books rather than physical copies. Once your ebook surpasses a certain sales quota, then there might be a clause in your contract that offers an option for print copies. Some publishing houses will also offer much lower advances and royalties than others. Harlequin publishing, in particular, had been notorious for paying its authors lower than the market share in the past few years, and isn’t something I can recommend UNLESS you score some six figures and up with them. I’ve known romance authors who need to write several books a year in order to stay afloat because they’re not getting the standard contract offered to other authors!

Querying directly to a publishing house will be roughly the same as querying for an agent in terms of query letter format. Again, remember to follow their guidelines!


Just like romance, you may not require an agent to publish your poetry. But in many cases, it would be advantageous for poets looking for rep to build an online presence. Start with Instagram – posting poetry there can help attract followers and build your base (please make sure you don’t post the whole collection that you want to have published, though!). Certain publishing houses (Andrews McMeel comes to mind) accepts unagented poetry collections, but also have their own guidelines. Querying, again, should roughly be the same as fiction and romance, unless their website states differently.


The requirements for non-fiction are a little bit different than querying for fiction, because most agents and publishing houses may require you to have an existing platform to prove your expertise in the field you wish to write about.

As part of your query letter, you may have to link to publications where your articles have appeared in, your social media presence + number of followers, your academic and professional qualifications, etc. An author writing about Philippine issues, for example, will need to show which publications they have written for regarding these, how long they have been reporting about the Philippines, where they pursued their journalism degrees, any articles or interviews they’ve written that have found particular success or popularity either locally or abroad, how far their online social media reach extends, etc.

A major difference with the other kinds of query letters is that you do not necessarily need a completed manuscript before you make your pitch, which means the right term is a BOOK PROPOSAL rather than a query letter. Should the editor like your proposal, they will pay you to write the book. (Note: it is also possible for you to contact an editor at a publishing house first BEFORE getting an agent.) Jane Friedman has great tips when it comes to writing a book proposal.


Picture Books. Probably the “easiest” query letter, in that you can keep it short and simple (picture books don’t tend to require complicated plots to explain). Most agents ask authors to send the full picture book manuscript along with the query, so the MS tends to speak for itself. Here’s a good example of a picture book query. Remember to provide a link to an online portfolio of your book illustrator, whether it’s you or someone else! I would recommend having multiple picture book queries available – some agents might want to see your range!

Graphic Novels. Same as a query, but you must provide an online link to where agents can access the comics itself. Make sure that your site is easy to navigate and legible to read. Most agents won’t ask you to attach your comics with your email, and will ask for a link. You can choose to show them a password-protected site with the password in the email, if you’d rather not make them public. While this usually requires having a website of your own, free alternatives are possible (an exclusive album on imgur, for example, or a free wordpress site, or even a graphic novel community page where membership is free and private works can be uploaded, like drunkduck or comic genesis. Generally, agents will only ask for the first five pages as well, though you should probably have enough for one complete volume by the time you query. Here’s Larry Young talking about what he looks for in graphic novels.

The great thing about graphic novels is you can choose to submit to both comics publishers AND traditional prose publishers who specify that they are looking for graphic novels!


I’ve been asked in the past about querying for scriptwriters, which is a completely different process altogether. Agencies that accept scripts will be different from agents that accept books, so here’s a list of the former. You won’t need a query letter – from what I know of this, all you need would be a log line (a one-sentence summary of your movie or TV series) and most agencies provide a form in their website for you to submit instead of email. Again – follow their guidelines!


Here’s the query letter I wrote that got me an agent and a book deal. While the book title used for this query was THE UNNATURAL STATES OF DEAD GIRLS IN WELLS (because I’m a pretentious oddball), some people might probably recognize the book now as THE GIRL FROM THE WELL.

I’ll be adding numbered citations at the end to explain certain parts of the query letter, which will be emphasized in red bold.


Dear {Mr./Ms. Agent’s Name} [1],

I have read that you are interested in multicultural projects and a ghost story “to get under your skin” [2]. I am seeking representation for THE UNNATURAL STATES OF DEAD GIRLS IN WELLS, a 59,000-word young adult psychological horror novel I would describe as The Grudge meets Dexter in the Dark [3]. It is a modern spin on the famous Japanese ghost story, Bancho Sarayashiki (where notable ghosts like Sadako from The Ring are based on), and I hope this is something you might be interested in.

In the small town of Applegate, there is a dead girl walking – and killing.

Her victims are child murderers, much like the man who bound and threw her then-sixteen-year-old body down a well in Japan, three hundred years ago. Unable to move on, she justifies her existence by slaughtering these killers and freeing the spirits of children whose lives they took. But though she spares the innocent out of a self-imposed duty, the living holds little interest for her.

This changes when a fifteen-year-old boy moves into town. She finds herself drawn to his strange, unearthly tattoos, repelled by the intermittent apparitions of a woman in black haunting him, and curious by the growing number of deaths he seems indirectly responsible for. But the boy has more connections to the spirit world than either realizes. Soon they are drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan. Here, they will make a terrible discovery:

There is a malevolent, horrific ghost trapped inside the boy – and it is trying to get out. [4]

I have included the first ten pages in this email, as per your submission guidelines. [5]

Thank you for your time and consideration.


[1] PERSONALIZE your query. Do not send a query with “To whoever is concerned” or “Dear Sir/Madam”. Do not get their names wrong. Call the agent a Sir when she’s actually a Ms., and sometimes they’ll stop reading altogether.

[2] Most agents’ websites will tell you what specific genres they’re looking for, sometimes in detail. If your manuscript matches these, be sure to be specific! It will show that you’re following their guidelines AND personalizing your query to suit their tastes.

[3] Have an “X Meets Y” comparison available. In this example, I compared my MS as “Grudge meets Dexter”. Find something similar for your own work!

[4] Explain your story in about 2-3 short paragraphs. As a measuring standard, make sure your query letter fits in only one page on a short bond paper. Also, use present tense.

[5] This particular agent requests authors to attach only the first 10 pages of their MS to the email. Make sure to follow their guidelines, including file type (do they prefer .doc, .rtf, etc.) and formatting (usually double-spaced, 1-inch margin all around)

Good luck!

Any other questions you’d like me to answer regarding publishing? Let me know!