We talk a lot about queries here on Pub Crawl. How to write them, tips and tricks to write them successfully, mistakes to avoid when querying. You name it and at some point one of our fantastic contributors has written about it.
But since becoming an agent I’ve become familiar with the dreaded pre-query. And it happens frequently enough that I thought it might be worth talking about what a pre-query is and why you shouldn’t do it.
What is a Pre-Query?
A pre-query is essentially putting feelers out with an agent to test the waters and gauge a reaction without actually sending them your query. This happens a lot on social media or in comments on blog posts, and sometimes even in emails (at which point, why aren’t you just sending the actual query itself?)
I understand the motivation behind pre-querying. This is a business filled with rejection, and why put yourself all the way out there if you don’t have to? Why waste your time querying someone who isn’t going to be interested in your book? What’s wrong with just reaching out and asking an agent if your book is going to be up their alley? It might seems harmless enough when just a single writer does it. But agents aren’t corresponding with one author at a time; we’re corresponding with hundreds. You might not want to waste your time querying an agent who won’t be interested, but you’re definitely wasting our time by sending us pre-queries that we can’t fully evaluate.
Because that is the biggest problem with pre-queries–they don’t give agents enough to go on. If you send me a tweet asking, “Would you be interested in my book about underwater girl gangs?” I can’t really make a determination. I don’t know if I’m interested in a book about underwater girl gangs, and if I am interested in that topic, I don’t know if I’ll be interested in your take on it. I don’t know anything about the plot or the quality of writing or the characters based off an inquiry like that. A proper query that adhere’s to an agent’s guidelines is designed to give them all the information they need to make a determination about your manuscript. To give them anything less is to do your book and yourself a disservice.
How To Avoid Pre-Querying But Still Know Your Book Is In An Agent’s Wheelhouse
Research. Believe me, agents want to get queries tailored to them, and we put a lot of effort into getting our taste out there for writers to see. So researching the agents you want to query is crucial. Look for their blogs or agency websites, google for interviews they’ve done, follow them on social media, look them up on Manuscript Wish List, look at their current client list and recent sales. Agents know that the best way to drive the kind of projects we’re looking for toward our inbox is to broadcast what it is we’re looking for!
This kind of research is time-consuming, but so valuable. And Agents themselves have to do exactly this kind of research on editors to find out what they like and what they don’t. Whether we’re talking about queries or submissions, it is always better to do your research and target people most likely to connect with a manuscript than it is to just throw things at the wall and see what sticks.
And if you’ve done your research and you’re on the fence? Maybe it seems like certain aspects of your project are a perfect match with an agent’s wish list, but then another part of the book deals with something they’re not too fond of. Well, make an educated guess. Weigh your options, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll tell you to just query anyway. If you get a rejection so be it, but at least you know.
How To Ask Questions Without Pre-Querying
Agents sometimes hold Q&As and this is a great way to find out more about a particular agent. But how to ask questions without falling into pre-query territory? Think broadly. Don’t pitch your book, and don’t get into the specifics of your project. Remember: a tweet doesn’t give us enough information to make an evaluation. Stick to large-scope content questions. A perfect example of this is when Angie Thomas tweeted during an agency Q&A to ask about YA books on sensitive current issues. Her question was broad, and was more about the marketplace than it was about her specific project. She wanted to know: Is there room in the market for a book about Black Lives Matter? And when agents told her, yes, there was definitely room for those books, she moved forward and sent out traditional queries for the book that soon became THE HATE U GIVE.
Although pre-querying may seem like a way to shield yourself from rejection heartbreak, the only thing it really accomplishes is short-changing yourself and your book. I know the query process is cumbersome, and I know it’s rough out there in the trenches. But when you start looking for short-cuts, step back and remind yourself that the querying process really is designed to give agents the tools they need to do their job. Your best shot at connecting with an agent involves doing your research and giving the agent the information they ask for so that your story can shine.