Query Letter AMA with Jenny is now closed for questions. Thanks to all who participated!

Hello everyone.  Just finished a great weekend at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles.   I ran out of time at my query letter workshop so promised to do a query letter AMA (which stands for Ask Me Anything, if you’re not familiar with the term) on the blog.   I’ll answer the first 25 questions (from the first 25 people who ask, to be fair to everyone)  on query letters in the comments section–maybe more if I have time (and if I even get that many).  Please ask ONLY ONE QUESTION at a time.  I won’t respond to comments with more than one question.    Fire away!


P.S. Even if you didn’t attend SCBWI, feel free to ask a question!  

Jenny's posts

65 Responses to Query Letter AMA with Jenny is now closed for questions. Thanks to all who participated!

  1. I've read that if you write that you have more than one manuscript in other genres, the agent becomes overwhelmed to take on that client. True?

  2. Jenny Bent says:

    Well, not exactly. I think it's more that you should just query one project at a time. If you query with two manuscripts in two different genres, that certainly might overwhelm the agent. But an agent truly committed to your career will want to rep you cross genres–just bring it up after they've offered representation, not before!

  3. On average, how many queries do you stop reading after the first paragraph?

  4. Jenny Bent says:

    You know, not that many, actually. Usually I read the whole letter unless it's just very obviously wrong for me (meaning not a genre I represent, like serious non-fiction about sports or something).

  5. Thank you for replying. 🙂

  6. Christina C says:

    I’ve read that when querying you shouldn’t say your book is in a trilogy, because they don't need to know about future projects yet. Is that true if I’ve written and am currently editing the second two volumes?

  7. Jenny Bent says:

    It is true that you should only query one book at a time. However, when a book is part of a series or a trilogy, it is perfectly appropriate to mention that.

  8. Renita Mongo says:

    Hi Jenny!

    Can you help distinguish between what is considered Women's Fiction and, say, Chick-Lit or Romance?

    Thanks for doing this, by the way.

  9. Jenny Bent says:

    Well, women's fiction as a genre can encompass both chick lit and romance. But genre Romance is usually published as a mass market paperback and follows certain conventions–it's usually not in first person, the plot emphasis is on the relationship between the two characters, and there is always a happy ending, where the two characters end up together. Chick lit is usually first person, the emphasis is on the (female) main character, and she may or may not end up with the love interest. The plot encompasses other happenings beyond a romantic relationship (although usually one is included). Often people will distinguish women's fiction from Romance or Chick lit, and then they mean fiction that is published as a hardcover or trade paper original, with the focus on a woman's story, or a story that would be interesting to many women, with a variety of plots and in a variety of time periods.

  10. Renita Mongo says:

    NOW I know what street I'm driving on…thanks a bunch!

  11. Hong says:

    If someone wants to query you and an editor from a well-known publisher has expressed an interest in working with the unpublished author, what kind of information would you want to know (other than writing an awesome query pitch & bio)?

  12. Jenny Bent says:

    I guess you would just mention that in the letter, and maybe explain briefly about how you met and how that came about? A short paragraph at most…

  13. Cheryl says:

    Thanks for this opportunity. What are three common mistakes you see in queries?

  14. Jenny Bent says:

    1. No bio
    2. Querying an agent with the wrong kind of project (easily preventable by checking query guidelines)
    3. Failure to follow other query guidelines (sent the wrong address, failure to include the first 10 pages)

  15. I noticed on your agency website you're not currently considering queries for science fiction. Does this include YA? Thanks!

  16. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Eric, I am very happy to consider YA Sci fi, and I'm pretty sure Molly, Susan and Gemma would all look as well.

  17. Hi Jenny,

    I keep hearing about genres that are pretty much "dead" at the moment (dystopian, Paranormal Romance), and some that are taking off (Sci-Fi, Historical Romance). Would you recommend writing toward the trends or should someone write what they enjoy, even if it is something that might be a hard sell?

  18. Jenny Bent says:

    This is a tough one. I wouldn't write a book in a genre just because it is popular at the time; for one, by the time you finish, the trend could be over. But, on the other hand, if you know that a trend is passed, like Dystopian or paranormal romance, you might want to rethink writing one, at least for now. I never want to tell people what to write, or stifle creativity though…so if there is, for example, a dystopian that just won't let go of you, you should probably write it–just know that it would be a very tough sell.

  19. What wows you in a query letter (other than following the guidelines. 😀 )

  20. Jenny Bent says:

    I like to see voice, a really strong plot, that there are high emotional stakes, and that the author has an interesting reason for writing the book, maybe some sort of life experience that ties into the story. I also like to see that the author has done their homework on agents and has a specific reason for querying me.

  21. ninidee says:

    Is it a bad idea to query two separate books at the same time?

    Thanks, Maribeth

  22. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Maribeth, good question. It might get complicated, say, if you got an offer of rep for one book, and then you had to let the agents considering the other book that you got an offer–but for a different book. But then I guess you could just let them read it too, if they were interested. I guess it's not a total no-no, but could potentially get a bit tricky.

  23. If you are rejected by an agent at an agency, can you query another agent at the same agency? What if you never hear back from agent, what then?

  24. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Mike, individual agencies differ on this, check the guidelines. We are fine with it and I have taken on at least one project that was rejected by one of my colleagues.

  25. Julie DeGuia says:

    Hi Jenny!

    I had the pleasure of meeting you (and sitting down to lunch with you a few other ladies) at a conference last year. You expressed interest in my (lower) MG query. My question is if you see potential in a manuscript but it is not right for you at that time, will you share it with the other agents at TBA?


  26. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Julie! Yes, we are collaborative that way, and Susan Hawk just sold a ms that I passed along to her–and I sold one last year that she passed to me. Also, you can always try another agent here if one of us passes (see the above question).

  27. Sarah says:

    You mention adding a bio. What happens if you don't have any publishing past — is a general bio fine? Or does the bio need to be specifically related to writing?

  28. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Sarah, Some agents will tell you not to include a bio if you don't have writing credentials. I disagree and am interested in any information about you that is interesting or ties into the subject of your novel. See my post here: http://jennybent.blogspot.com/2012/06/its-really-not-about-who-you-know.html

  29. If your manuscript has a sarcastic tone is it better or worse to have that carry over into your query? I get lost in that voice/professionalism bit.

  30. Jenny Bent says:

    I think that in the description of the plot, you can use certain turns of phrase or sentences that show the sarcastic tone of the novel. You don't want the letter to come across as sarcastic, of course, but the summary could have the general flavor of the voice of the book.

  31. Julie DeGuia says:

    Thanks Jenny! I look forward to querying you.

    Must. Go. Write. 🙂

  32. Hi Jenny,

    I'm in the thick of querying right now. If an agent asks to see a partial or full, should I expect to hear back from that person, regardless of the answer? Just wondering what the etiquette is!


  33. Jenny Bent says:

    Unfortunately that differs from agent to agent. It is my goal to ALWAYS respond to every manuscript I request, even though sometimes that can take me a regrettably long time. You should feel free to follow up on a manuscript request after a month or so–a polite email check-in is fine.

  34. Great advice– thank you!

  35. Sarcasm is like a living, breathing thing to me. It's hard to part with, even momentarily. Retail ruined me. Thank you so much for your time and answers!

  36. Connie says:

    Hi, Jenny. I've heard varying views on this part of the bio. If you hold a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing, would you want to know that? Some people have said that if it's not an MFA, it's not worth mentioning.

    Thanks for doing this!

  37. Jenny Bent says:

    Yeah, I guess I agree with that. I would want to hear about the MFA but not the BA

  38. Connie says:

    OK, thanks Jenny! 🙂

  39. ninidee says:

    One more question if you get a chance. When agents have assistants and the assistants read the work, do they run their decisions by the agents or make the decisions based on how they think they agent would respond?


  40. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Maribeth, unfortunately, this is impossible to answer, because I don't know how it works in other agencies. I'm a control freak and make my own decisions but I can't speak for anyone else…

  41. Jenny, what do you like to read in the query's first sentence?

  42. Jenny Bent says:

    "I am a NYT bestselling author looking for new representation." Hahahahahaha, just kidding. It's hard to say exactly what I like to read in the first sentence. I'm a fan of the snappy opening, basically. If you search the blog for "yangsze choo" and "lori nelson," (search box is below), you will see the query letters they sent me for their books, maybe that will be helpful.

  43. Hi, Jenny!

    I've read that if a writer wants to illustrate their own manuscripts, it should be a suggestion instead of a requirement. Is a query letter the appropriate place to bring something like this up, or is that down the road with an offer of representation?

    Thanks for sharing your time with us.

  44. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Garrett, I would work that it later, when you talk to the agent offering rep. Unless you have really great credentials/experience as an illustrator, because I hear everyone is on the hunt for author-illustrators right now.

  45. Jenny, thank you. I looked at Yangsze's and Lori's interesting websites, but I haven't found their query letters.

  46. Jenny Bent says:

    Barbara, search THIS BLOG (sorry for all caps, couldn't figure out how to bold) for their query letters. The search function is just below the comments.

  47. When sending simultaneous submissions to agents, when do you contact all the other agents about someone who is "intersted" in your work? Does "interested" mean an offer of representation? Is it simply a request to see the (Picture Book) manuscript? Do you need to give the name of the agent who has shown ineterest?

  48. Jenny Bent says:

    For me, anyway, I like to be contacted only when you have an offer of rep, not when you have a request from someone else. I think most agents would agree. And you don't have to say who it that offered rep, although it is okay to do so.

    If you send the ms to an agent who has requested it, and other agents are currently considering it, it is also fine to say, "Other agents are currently considering this ms" in your letter.

  49. Jenny, this time you got it through my thick head. I have located and will study both their queries and your follow-ups telling what you liked about them. Thank you so much and yes, this IS helpful.

  50. Bria Burton says:

    Hi Jenny,

    I'm not sure if your Q&A is still going or not, but I'll throw out my question just in case.

    I try my very best to search high and low through the websites of any agents I am querying to follow their specific requests. If an agency does not specify on their website whether they will consider a self-published book, what is the best approach:
    a. to query the agent who is looking for my genre on the off-chance he/she will consider self-published material
    b. to email the agent who is looking for my genre with the simple question of whether he/she will consider self-published material.

    Thanks! Even if I'm too late to get a reply, the rest was extremely helpful.

  51. Jenny Bent says:

    Hi Bria, I just realized that we don't specify whether or not we will consider a self-published book, but we absolutely will. So I guess the answer is to definitely just query.

  52. Kim Bullock says:

    Hi Jenny,

    I have a rave review from one of the historical fiction authors I use as a comparison in my query letter. Would using a carefully woven-in snippet of this in my query come across as professional or off-putting?

  53. Jenny says:

    If an agent has different guidelines for non-fiction and fiction submissions, how should one submit a memoir? It's not fiction, but it's told in the form of a story and seems to come across better using the fiction submission guidelines.

  54. PK says:

    Hi, Jenny,

    I apologize if I've exceeded the number of questions you'll answer about queries, but I thought I'd try since no one has been able to answer this one for me.

    I recently finished a book with a friend who had begun writing the queries, but she passed away suddenly. Do I still send the queries, signed by her? I feel this is misleading (since the agent would not know she is no longer alive), but her expertise and life experience are much more important to the storyline than mine

    How should I proceed? Should I explain her death in the beginning of the query in a separate "note" and then leave query as is?

    Thanks for any guidance on this very difficult issue. Your help thus far in this section has been wonderful.


  55. Thank you Jenny! I thought that would be the answer, but wanted to be sure. If I may expand on the question, would anything change if an Art Director has requested to see my Picture Book dummy and is reviewing it?

  56. Sarah says:

    Ok, thanks so much!

  57. Thanks! I try to avoid being one of those people who send agents exactly what they said they don't want.

  58. Jenny Bent says:

    I would definitely include that!

  59. Jenny Bent says:

    Yes, I think it's better to use the fiction submission process.

  60. Jenny Bent says:

    I would do exactly that, explain her death in the beginning and then leave the query as is. So sorry for your loss!

  61. Kim Bullock says:

    I'm glad you said that, because my query (including it) is now in your inbox. 🙂

  62. PK says:

    Thank you so much, Jenny. I really appreciate your advice and support.