Conversations from the Chaise – Perfecting Your Query

By Amanda Rutter

Before I started working as a (SHIELD) agent for Red Sofa – sorry, I can’t help myself, I do love the ‘Dear Agent Rutter’ greetings I receive on a regular basis – I was an acquisitions editor with Strange Chemistry. In that role, I received many, many, many (continue ad infinitum) queries from agents. Now that I am an agent, I am receiving many, many, many, many (continue even further) queries from aspiring authors. And I would like to highlight some of the differences I have encountered i.e. how your agent takes your original query and makes it something an editor is keen to see.

Some of this information might be handy for you to think about, if you are planning to submit a query to an agent – any work that you have already completed for them before they begin the submission process to acquisition editors is going to speed up what is usually a pretty slow and laborious process!


1. That pesky elevator pitch

Yep, I know you all hate trying to come up with your one line elevator pitch, which encapsulates your novel in just a few words – but it is one of the handiest things that an agent can give to an acquisitions editor. It is used to sell the book both internally and externally; it is used on marketing documents and given to bookstores/loaded onto Amazon; it is what can pique the interest of foreign markets.

An effective elevator pitch – one that is sharp, on point and shows a strong grasp of the overarching themes/direction of the novel – is a powerful tool to take the novel all the way through the process.

For someone querying an agent, focusing on getting this right can lead to your query standing out over someone whose grasp of their novel is far more woolly.


2. Comparative titles

The best queries I have read as an agent are those that provide intriguing comparative titles for the novel being pitched to me. And this was exactly the same as an acquiring editor as well. You don’t want to hear that a novel can be compared to GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire – at the moment all epic fantasies are being compared to his work, and it is just so unrealistic. Instead you could say that a novel has the commerciality of Brent Weeks, with the mordant military humour of Steven Erikson. These are still big name authors, and recognisable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the fantasy field, but will help to show agents in particular that you are thinking hard about where your novel might sit best.

Comparative titles again help with all manner of marketing – enticing book bloggers to read a new novel, or getting booksellers to pick it up because they have a clear idea about how and where to shelve it, for example.


3. Author platform

This is an unfortunate/exciting* newer facet to query letters from agents to acquisition editors (* delete depending on your appreciation and enjoyment of social media!) We all know that authors are asked to do more on their own behalf than ever before in terms of reaching out to their readers. As such, I was always interested in seeing their existing platform prior to signing an author. It was never a complete deal breaker on buying a novel, but it was most certainly more gratifying when you knew a prospective author had thousands of Twitter followers and an established blog.

We’re not all adept at connecting on social media or maintaining an Internet presence, so don’t try to work one if it’s not your strength – it will be obvious to your readers. However, when pitching to an agent, if you do have a popular and well-known blog, or you review for an aggregate website, or you have a large number of Twitter followers, let them know. It might help you, and will certainly help the agent when submitting a novel to acquisition editors.


Having seen queries from both sides of the fence now, I can see the adjustments that agents make to a query letter in order to entice acquisitions editors, and have them excited to read a book. They produce those elevator pitches, write tight blurbs for the novel, highlight exactly what is unique or strong about the writer of the work. But you can make an effective start to this process before querying agents, and hopefully make your query shine.





Latest Posts

1 Comment

  1. colormusing on October 26, 2015 at 11:13 am

    This is so helpful! I am particularly struck by the elevator pitch part. I’ve been dabbling in a bit of screenwriting (how-to is my usual area), and Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! series includes a tough-love approach to the topic of the logline (a.k.a. elevator pitch): he says if you cannot sum up your story in one sentence, your idea isn’t focused enough. (He also includes fill-in-the-blank formats for creating log lines.) After some initial whining of the “But there’s so much more to my story!” Variety, I now think he’s absolutely right– I just had never thought about applying this concept to queries before. Thanks for this insight!