10 Query Tips from a Literary Assistant — Week of 6/20/2014

I’m a literary assistant at The Seymour Agency. Our agents, Mary Sue Seymour and Nicole Resciniti represent a range of genre: Christian/Inspirational, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Women’s Lit, Romance.

As usual, this week’s tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont). Enjoy!


1) William Shakespeare once said that in order for the audience to remember something (a name, location, idea, etc.) that it must be said three times. This is a good guideline to fo follow, but there are times where you should repeat a piece of information more than thrice. If someone has anxiety attacks, if your character has a limp, if your character is envious of another. Shakespeare was referring to plays/performances which were far shorter than a novel. “Say something three times” should be taken as a mantra for writing in a way that reminds your readers of whatever it is you want them to remember. Just don’t over do it!


2) Urban Fantasies are a hard sell right now. But, remember the market is cyclical, so they’ll come back around. This is why it’s a good idea to follow the market (Publishers Market Place, Publishers Weekly, etc.), so that you can see where the trends are, where they are heading, and where they not. You should always be writing what you want, but keep the market in mind in your query.


3) I read a tweet this past week with a fascinating and beautiful analogy. It really is self-explanatory.



4) A great tool to help structure your novel is Blake Snyder‘s beat sheet. It was originally designed for screenplays, but exemplifies what is best in the three-act structure. After all, every movie you’ve ever seen is structured according to the Snyder’s beat sheet, even those “weird” films like The Tree of Life.


5) For the love of bumblebees, please put your word count, title, and genre in your query! This IS Query 101. If you’re not doing this then you’re not ready to query anything yet. Just as writing is a skill, a craft to be honed, so is querying. Study successful queries, compare them to yours. Where does yours differ? Where doesn’t differ?


6) Your life story doesn’t belong in a query. Congrats on being a track star in high school (however long ago), but get to the pitch. Point blank. We’ll care to learn more about you as a person after we fall in love with your manuscript.


7) Here’s another great analogy from Archit Jaswal that I just love!




8) Keep your complaints about agents and editors off social media, at least about the respectable ones. Like every industry, people in publishing talk and besides, nothing is private anymore.


9) Here’s another great query tip — which is so very true and important —  coming from agent Michelle Richter at Foreword Literary:



10) Backstory doesn’t belong in your query. Keep us in the now. Show us your character’s current goal, the conflict which he/she will have to face, and the story of it all.


That’s it for this week’s query and writing tips. Thanks for joining in, and remember to check back next week!