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Query vs. Full Exposure

by Thomas Martinson, via Unsplash

The awesome agents over at Upstart Crow Literary have got me wondering...

Some agents require a query, a full synopsis, and anywhere from two to fifty pages of your novel right up front. Others don't need more than the query before they've made the decision of whether or not to fire off that form rejection letter.

Now that so many agents are dealing with email, saving thousands and thousands of grateful trees, I've started to wonder why they don't want to see a little bit more right off the bat. After all, someone can send an email with the query, synopsis, five chapters, a political rant, a thesis on the breeding habits of moose, whatever...and the agent can still simply read the query and hit delete.

However, if they think it has potential, then they already have all the information on hand to make their decision. It seems to me like they'd cut down on partial requests that way, which would be better for us writers in the long run (not getting our hopes up, and all that!). And it may save the agents some time, too.

But I, clearly, am no agent. Their job baffles and amazes me, and I don't know how they do what they do. What do you guys think? Would you prefer fully exposing yourself (um, literarily speaking) right at the offset, or do you prefer the "query-only" approach?
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. I can fully understand why agents don't want people attaching fulls.

    Besides virus issues and bandwidth and such-like - it's a time sink to sit there and open a doc, especially if the query was a rambling mess anyway.

    What I did, and it seemed to help, was (unless the guidelines specifically stated otherwise) paste in the first 5 pages of my manu at the bottom of the email.

    I think 5 pages is enough to let an agent know whether or not you have a basic grasp of the language, and a potentially engaging read, with voice/action/hook/whatever they're looking for.

  2. I can tell you that 4 out of 5 requests came off of at least the first 5 pages embedded in the email along with the query. The agent who ultimately signed me has a 50 page submission guideline!

    I agree that relying on the query alone makes it tough to break through that first barrier and get their attention. I have plenty of R's on query alone to prove that!

  3. I agree with not asking for fulls all around, because of viruses and the sheer mass of all that madness -- but "query only" without sample pages does baffle me. Query + 50 pages or 3 chapters pasted is probably optimal, negating the need for partials.

  4. I definitely think query+some pages seems optimal. Because sometimes queries are awesome and the writing doesn't live up. (Or just isn't what they're looking for).

    It seems like for their own sake, it'd make things easier not to be query only.

    But if they have a system, and it works for them, that's really what matters.

  5. Agreed.

    Cat- I'd never expect them to open attachments, for sure. And I think asking for a full right off the bat is a little ridiculous.

    But a few pages? Couldn't hurt.

  6. A few pages seems ideal to me: get a feel for the writing and go from there. I've found that many of the agents I've subbed to ask for the first five or so. It seems to be a growing trend.

  7. Michelle, I really love your group's blog. It's fun and interesting.

    As far as the query process. I guess I like it when they ask for a query and sample pages. This way they can see what the story will be about as well as see my actual writing.

    Then when they ask for pages, I know that they like something about my work.

  8. Hi, Christina! And thank you. :)

    I agree- there's something more satisfying about a request when the agent has read more than the query.


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Item Reviewed: Query vs. Full Exposure Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman