Top 6 Querying Dos and Don’ts

Must-read tips for authors hoping to survive — and thrive! — in the query trenches

So, you’ve written a book, and you want to find a literary agent. What’s next? Querying! 

Often referred to as the “query trenches,” querying literary agents can sometimes sound — and feel — like a big, bottomless abyss that you’re being asked to navigate without a headlight. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. 

These tips for what to do (and what not to do) when querying will  help make your process as seamless as possible. 

3 tips for tackling the query trenches

1. Create a querying plan

This advice is tired and true: do your research. Making a plan allows you to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions about how and when you enter the query trenches. A few things I found helpful include:

  • Agent name and literary agency
  • Query method (email, QueryManager, etc.)
  • Query materials
  • Open or closed to unsolicited queries
  • Average response times
  • Notable clients and sales
  • Manuscript wishlist (MSWL) highlights

Most information can be gleaned from resources like Publisher’s Marketplace, QueryTracker, Manuscript Wishlist, the agency’s site, or the agent’s personal site.

2. Think about what you want from your agent

Sometimes the desire to sign with “an agent” can overwhelm the importance of signing with “the right agent.” Consider whether you’re looking for an agent that will stick by your side throughout your career or one who will represent a single book. If you’re searching for someone who will be around for the long run, consider all the types of books you’d like to write in addition to the one you’re currently querying. Signing with an agent who only represents adult books when you’ve got a middle grade homerun in your back pocket might not be the right move.

Additionally, it’s helpful to be cognizant of the communication style you prefer, what agency perks you’re interested in, and what you want your agent relationship to look like. Do you want to work with an agent who is also an author? Do you want to sign to an agency with an in-house editor? What publishers and media are you interested in making sales in?

Being mindful of these things up front — and truthful with yourself about what your goals are — allows you to craft a querying plan specific to your circumstances and desires. 

3. Only query agents you’d actually want to sign with

It seems obvious, but my recommendation is to only query agents you’d like to represent you and your books. Sometimes, you can’t know with certainty if an agent will be a great fit until you have the opportunity to hop on a call with them, and that’s okay! You can always decide you’d rather pursue other options. But if you query someone as a tester, you might end up in a pickle if they offer representation. I’m a big believer in assuming success rather than fearing the worst. So, you when you compile that list of agents, make sure they’ll be strong advocates for your books.

Don’t make these 3 querying mistakes 

1. Don’t query slow responders first 

When you’re ready to send your first query, it’s normal to want to immediately throw your query package toward your dream agent — or agents. But what if that agent is a notoriously slow responder? You might send your query package and be stuck in limbo, unsure whether or not your pages are effective.

To test the waters, see if your query package is working, and get a taste of the query trenches, do yourself a favor, and carefully select agents from your list who will respond to you sooner than two to six business months. My recommendation is to query agents who typically respond between one and fourteen days. 

There is nothing wrong with agents who take longer to read — hello, agents have lives — but if you’re wondering whether or not your query package is effective, you’ll want to start with people who can thumbs-up or thumbs-down a la Roman Emperor in the Coliseum before the earth takes a full revolution around the sun. Save the slower responders until after your first full request, and you’ll save yourself from frantically wondering if your query letter works or your first ten pages are snappy enough. 

2. Don’t keep revising while you’re querying

Once you’re officially #amquerying, it’s time to close the word processor. Your manuscript is in the hands of literary agents, and if you keep tinkering with it, suddenly you’re going to end up with a million contradictory file names like Final_FINAL_Book_For_Real.docx. Not only will it stress you out, but continuing to revise while you’re querying is indicative that the book you’ve just shipped off to dream agent inbox purgatory… isn’t ready yet. 

One of the best things you can do for your querying journey is to wait. Don’t send that first query until you’re confident that your book is as polished as you can make it on your own. That’s your end of the bargain as a writer.

While you’ll certainly receive feedback while querying — too this, not enough that — this is not the time to put that feedback into motion while other agents are still reading. I won’t lie. It can be tough to hear! But you won’t have the same vision for your book as every single agent, and you aren’t expected to. Hearing the varied feedback (and it will be varied) from agents and trying to address all of it while actively querying has the potential to create a vicious, endless cycle of ineffective revising that could hurt your prospects at finding the right fit and tank your self-confidence in the process. 

Once you’ve signed an agency agreement, you and your new agent will collaborate on revisions that align with your vision for your book, your career path, and the marketability of the manuscript. 

3. Don’t only rely on batch querying

Batch querying is a tactic that involves sending queries in batches of five to ten to agents to gauge response. It’s often recommended, but it isn’t the only way to query! If you’re seeing a positive response on your query package (as in, agents are requesting partial or full manuscript submissions), you shouldn’t feel obligated to wait until the current batch has run its course in order to send more queries. After all, one of those full requests could offer representation tomorrow! Once you’ve seen a positive response from your query package, consider sending more queries to make sure everyone on your list has the opportunity to read your incredible words. 

Are you ready to start querying your book? 

Querying doesn’t have to be panic inducing, and your journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. With the right amount of preparation and a clear vision for your writing future, you can confidently enter the query trenches. Want to hear more about my querying journey? See how I got my literary agent.

3 Reasons to Start Making Pitch Decks for Your Books

Establishing tone, creating a vision, and more reasons a pitch deck could be the missing piece for plotting your next novel

If you’re a writer, there’s a massive possibility you’ve procrastinated the putting-words-on-the-page part of writing in lieu of the scouring-Pinterest-for-photos-for-a-beautiful-aesthetic part of writing. And making aesthetic moodboards is an important part of writing if you ask me. 

When you sit down to make a thematic, color-coordinated, moody aesthetic, you’re actually narrowing in on the tone of your book. This is a crucial part of telling a cohesive story. So, how do you take that one moodboard to the next level? 

Answer: a pitch deck.  

What is a pitch deck?

Pitch decks (slide decks, pitch books, etc.) are brief presentations used across numerous industries for the same purpose: an easily digestible, aesthetically appealing high-level overview of the work.

I use pitch decks during the prepping phase before fully outlining the book in order to establish a few key elements of my story. Creating a novel pitch deck is a fantastic tool you can use to see your story come to life before you ever write the first word.

Typically, I make mine in Google Slides so that I can quickly and easily send it out to my critique partners during our brainstorm sessions.

Why make a pitch deck?

1. Establish a tone touchstone

One of the most important aspects of your story is the tone itself. It’s challenging to create the story you want to if you don’t know what kind of story it is. Is it a heart-wrenching family drama? A spunky romcom? An edge-of-your-seat legal thriller? Creating a pitch deck helps you narrow down the scope of your story so that every decision you make can be vibe checked against the tone you’re working toward.

2. Meet your primary cast of characters

It’s a no-brainer that you need to know the ins and outs of your characters before you can tell their story! Creating a pitch deck and establishing that high-level overview of their misbeliefs, desires, and needs (and, also importantly, how they conflict with each other!) is crucial in establishing stakes and tension from page one.

3. Create the shape of your story

Even before you sit down to plot your story — or dive right in, if you’re a pantser! — knowing the overall shape of your story’s plot arc can be a time-saving exercise. Looking at your plot from a bird’s-eye view allows you to find bridges that lead to nowhere and plot holes that could’ve been easy to miss from the ground level. 

How do you make a pitch deck?

Pitch decks can be completely customized to your brainstorming needs and purposes, but here are a few elements that I always include in mine. 

Title Page 

Establishing the vibe of your story starts here! I always put the working title and “By Rachel Moore” because it is indicative that I will write this book. 

Premise

A one-sentence pitch of your book including the general idea and a few notes on tone if you can. Per the advice of Maggie Stiefvater, a formula I like to use is “tone + idea = premise.” 

Tone Touchstones

For each project, I choose three words that capture the feel of the book I want to write. It can be difficult to pin these down, but don’t give up! I typically write a few paragraphs about each tone to begin envisioning the way the book makes readers feel as they turn the pages. I come back to this page in the pitch deck the most while drafting. 

Mood Board 

Pull out your Pinterest! Here’s where you get to put those hard-earned aesthetic-making skills to work. Create a mood board with images that speak to you regarding the novel you’re going to write. 

Playlist 

I typically choose eight songs to start a project playlist. Even if I don’t listen to these songs while I write, it’s fun to find music that captures the emotions and overall energy that you want your project to radiate. 

Main Cast 

Write blurbs about each of your main characters. These don’t have to be neat and tidy. Just start to outline who they are, what they want, and what stands in their way. 

World Building

Regardless of the genre your book is, you need to clarify some world building. This can be setting, magic systems, family lore, the ins and outs of vampire sociopolitical schemes — whatever your work in progress requires! 

Brief Plot Overview

Lastly, I like to start imagining the shape of the arc by writing short paragraphs about each act so that I can envision the rises and falls of the plot structure.

The best part about making your novel’s pitch deck? It doesn’t need to be perfect, and it’s totally malleable. Your story will shift and evolve as you delve deeper into it, but the pitch deck is a fantastic launch pad for writing the story of your heart. If you’re looking for more writing tips, check out these posts for more information.

How to Write Books Using the Four Act Structure

Let’s take a closer look at how the four act structure bolsters commercial pacing, provides purpose to your plot, and eradicates soggy middles!

There are a million different ideas and methodologies for writing books, but let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there is no one way to tell a story — there are only ways that work for you and ways that don’t. Not every story is going to fit nicely into four pre-conceived boxes, but if you’re interested in writing fast-paced commercial fiction, the Four Act Structure could be exactly what you’re looking for! Let’s take a closer look at what the Four Act Structure is and how to use it when plotting. 

What is the Four Act Structure?

The Four Act Structure is a plot organizational device that allows you to chart the rises and falls of your story, and personally, I think it’s made of magic. But before we dissect how the Four Act Structure can work for you, let’s debunk some myths about what it is and is not.

Myths about the Four Act Structure

  • Using the Four Act Structure produces longer books
  • You can’t use Save the Cat as a reference if you want to have four acts
  • I can’t use the Four Act Structure because I’m a pantser
  • The Four Act Structure won’t work for my story because [insert any excuse here]

Facts about the Four Act Structure

  • The number of acts does not influence the length of your manuscript. This tool helps provide structure within your word count so that your plot always has a purpose. 
  • Craft tools are not mutually exclusive. Mix and match, baby. We’ll use Save The Cat as a touch stone throughout — it’s one of my favorite craft books!
  • Let the tools work for you! If you prefer to dive into your story head first without any plotting, by all means dive. You can utilize this outlining tactic at any point, whether you’re prepping or revising. (But if you want my two cents: plot your books!) 
  • The Four Act Structure is not genre or audience exclusive, but if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to! 

Whereas Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheets (and, later, Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel) utilizes a three act plotting mechanism, the Four Act Structure breaks your book into slightly smaller, more manageable chunks in order to provide shape and purpose to your plot. Essentially, the Four Act Structure is created by splitting the hefty second act into two pieces. That’s the primary difference. It’s really that simple! 

Why you should try writing with the Four Act Structure 

So, what? You split act two in half, and suddenly everything makes sense? In my experience — yes! Breaking act two down has a slew of benefits. Here are a few reasons I think you should give it a shot:

  • More detail makes pacing easier. If you’re hoping to write the kind of book that grips readers and doesn’t let go until it’s over, you can’t afford to get lost along the way. Plotting with a more detailed hand will help you stay on track. 
  • 50% is a daunting portion of your book to tackle at once. A second act that takes up literally half of your book is often too much to swallow at one time — especially when so many crucial things happen in the middle of stories. Breaking it down into bite-sized pieces helps to not overwhelm the writer (and underwhelm readers.)
  • Provides the “Fun & Games” section the attention it deserves. This is it! Fulfilling the promise of the premise! Perhaps the most fun part of your book, and you’re going to lump it in with all the Bad Guys and Dark Nights? I don’t think so. 
  • Understand and explore your character’s challenges and growth. Splitting into four acts gives you more mental room in the Fun & Games section to truly examine and challenge your main character so that their growth can be effectively highlighted in act four!
  • Emphasize the midpoint. In the three act structure, the midpoint is buried in the second act, but now you’ll be able to highlight what is perhaps the most crucial turning point in your entire book the way it deserves.
  • Foster more accentuated turning points. Not only will your midpoint be emphasized, but all of your turning points now have more room to shine. 

How the Four Act Structure works

Have you heard about soggy middles? It’s the stodgy, bogged-down section of your book right before the midpoint. Your characters are wandering aimlessly, your plot is nowhere to be seen, and everyone’s eating taquitos and talking about what needs to be done, but nothing’s actually happening

Soggy. Middle. 

Your book may feel like it’s dragging on and on and on for readers if you’ve lost sight of the character’s motives and agency, which is so easy to do when the second act is a whopping 50% of your story with very little direction. 

Thinking of your story in four separate chunks can help you see the picture clearer. 

The two trickiest parts of a book are, in my opinion, the parts with the least amount of structure: Fun & Games and Finale. Although the names are different, I find it helpful to remember that each act you write (no matter how many!) has its own set-up, catalyst, debate, and forward motion. Because it’s organized into smaller pieces, the Four Act Structure gives us enough direction to apply this technique easily.

What now? 

Next time you sit down to plan a book, try using the Four Act Structure instead! See how shifting your perspective from three acts (25% – 50% – 25%) toward four equally-sized acts (25% – 25% – 25% – 25%) changes your approach to plotting. 


And if you’re interested in learning more about writing, stick around! I’m always happy to talk plot — especially if it’s about one of my favorite movies, *ahem* Son in Law (1993).