The Exhaustive Lessons from Query Shark

I have spoken at length about Janet Reid and her Query Shark blog in the past. You can read that article for details if you missed it here. As a quick refresher, she is a literary agent who kindly donates her time to rip your tender query letters to shreds. That’s right, you send your best work to her and she lovingly destroys it. It’s for your own good.

Anyway, should you decide to send something her way, there are a few basic rules to follow.

  • Make sure the query is for a work of fiction. She doesn’t do memoirs or nonfiction queries. Don’t waste either of your time.
  • Read the entire archive of past queries. That currently means over 300 queries, some with as many as 5+ revisions.
  • Take notes as you go, revising your query with the notes you’ve taken.
  • Set it aside for at least a week, then go revise your query again.
  • Include the word count, the title, and the contact info (which will be redacted). Details on where to put this will appear in another post to follow this one.
  • Make sure you have return carriages in the email. Many of the familiar word processing programs don’t transfer all of your formattings into an email. Avoid blocks of text. While we’re at it, make sure you put it in the body of the email, not as an attachment. No one opens unsolicited attachments.
  • Add this exact phrase at the beginning of your query: “By submitting this query, I agree it may be posted and critiqued on the QueryShark blog and included in the archives for the life of the blog.”
  • Put this exact phrase: “Query Shark: I promise I read the archives thoroughly” into the subject line. Don’t be cute. Don’t add to it or change it in any way. It won’t work in your favor.
  • Optionally, you may add a paragraph before your query of 100 words or less. This option exists solely as a means of allowing you to express why you made certain choices or to ask questions. DO NOT put this at the bottom.
  • Send your baby off to and wait. You’ll get acknowledgment within a week. If you do not, then look at what you sent and recognize that something in this list wasn’t done correctly. If it is one of two things, you can edit to fix the problem and resend. The first is mistakes in the subject line. The second is making some obvious mistake that she has exhaustively spoken about (not putting the addresses in the right location, etc).

Congratulations. You’ve mastered the basics needed to send your work off to Query Shark and had an acknowledgment that it arrived. Brace yourself. In all likelihood, you will never see it torn apart. Janet Reid expressly notes that she’s asked for more fulls from authors than the number of Query Shark entries she’s done. You either have to have made some amazing new mistake that others before you haven’t managed or you have to nail it right out of the park. Still, it never hurts to try.

My list of notes on editing a query follows, based on the mistakes already covered. Just because I have compiled these is not an excuse not to read all of the previous entries. After all, I might have missed something myself. Most of these are useful in the generic sense, though several are Query Shark specific. I try to note when this is the case.

Lessons from the Shark Tank

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