do and don't · query problems

Accolades to include in the query

jenni c ipdegirl

Now that you’re terrified of inadvertently lying, here’s what to put in your bio. You want your query as short as possible, so list important accolades briefly and stop there.

Short story publications –

  • List the magazine. Don’t name stories.
  • Publications in bigger mags–Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Glimmer Train, The New Yorker–are in your favor.
  • Small, unknown mags neither hurt nor help.
  • Don’t include credits in local or university publications, or scholarly credits.

Awards –

  • If the manuscript won a significant award (through a large writing organization, like DFW, RMFW, or your RWA chapter), you may say so.
  • Nominations don’t mean anything. Some awards nominate 100 authors.

Traditionally published books –

  • List the title and publisher.
  • If you had an agent, give one respectful sentence why you’re not with them anymore. “We parted amicably” works fine. We don’t need to know whom.

Self-published books –

  • List the title only.
  • If it got within top 50 on an Amazon top-tier list, you may say so.
  • Don’t include sales information, unless you sold (not free downloads) a significant number of copies over the course of a year or two.
  • Don’t dredge up accolades: it looks desperate. Less is more.
  • Remember: you’re selling your new manuscript, not your already-published books.

Writing career –

  • If you’re a journalist, say so. What and for whom is unnecessary, unless you were a book reviewer or something pertinent.
  • If you interned at a publishing house, freelanced as an editor, worked for an agency, etc., state your position and whom you worked for.
  • Don’t include writing degrees. A degree doesn’t make a better writer.

Personal info –

  • Don’t bother including if an author read your pages or liked your book: I can’t verify that. Do include if an author mentored you for a significant amount of time.
  • Don’t mention professional editing.
  • Don’t mention conferences or workshops, unless very prestigious. If you worked one-on-one with Donald Maass for a week, I want to know.
  • Don’t explain why you write. Everyone has an important, personal story, but this isn’t the place for it.
  • If your book has LGBTQ, interracial, multicultural, or other diverse influence and you’re part of that community, you may say so.

If you have no accolades, no awards, no writing-related career, that’s fine.

Either omit the bio or provide 1-2 short sentences such as: “During the day, I teach history and math at the local high school. I write horror, commercial, and women’s fiction.”

As always, you may break the rules if you do it right.


Photo by Jenni C.


8 thoughts on “Accolades to include in the query

  1. Thank you for one of the most informative and readable blogs on querying and the life of an agent generally I have ever read. I know you are busy, so I don’t expect a reply to this comment, but it would be wonderful to clarify my understanding.

    I have been a self-published author for the last two years. My books have sold (or been downloaded via Kindle Unlimited’s subscription service) around 10,000 times. One has won a minor award (an IPA Silver Medal). Two have hit the Top 50 Science Fiction list and the Top 10 of the Science Fiction sub-genre lists in the Amazon US, CA, and UK stores. One has been in the Top 1000 in the Amazon US Kindle Store. I have recently been commissioned to write the third and fourth books in a bestselling author’s already successful series and the first of those comes out in October this year. Therefore, as co-authors, I have worked extremely closely with a bestselling author.

    Finally, I am the principal editor of a highly-regarded adventure travel magazine in the UK (which seems to me to be irrelevant).

    According to your blog post, some or all of the above information, perhaps in edited form, might be included in a query. Much of the advice I have seen online suggests little more than stellar self-publishing success, which mine is clearly not, is of interest to agents. Do you feel that some information of the type I have outlined above would be useful in a query?

    Thank you again for your time.


  2. Thanks for the compliments! You ask great questions. I’ll tackle these out of order:

    • Your job as editor is an optional line for your “about me” sentence (I assume this is your vocation). If you feel it shows you know how to meet deadlines and market yourself, it won’t hurt.
    • I admit I’m not familiar enough with KU to say if/how those sales numbers count. Just talking straight-up whole-book sales, 10,000 copies in 2 years is a healthy number. Subtract KU sales and any sales from when the book was free for promo; if your numbers are still pretty high, include it.

    • The Top 50 SF list isn’t easy to get into. If this was for/during real monetary sales and lasted a few days, you could mention it.

    • Contracted to write 2 books in a bestselling series — congratulations! DEFINITELY mention that. Include the author’s name, but the particular series isn’t important at the query stage. I assume you’ll be a ghost author; but if your name will actually be on the cover, mention so.

    All this should be in 1-2 sentences. Something like, “I have two self-published books that sold X copies in X years and both hit the Top 50 SF list. I am ghost-writing 2 books with so-and-so.” Less is more, as I’m sure you know. Agents like people who come off humble, and if we have questions about previous books or experience, we’ll ask.


    1. By the way, twice I’ve gotten queries from people who coauthored/ghost-wrote for bestselling authors. Both times, the books were superb and I requested. One author already received so many offers of rep they declined us outright. They signed with a very successful agent and the book sold a few months later at auction (which is rare!).

      I can’t promise you’ll have that experience 😉 But if full requests pour in, start querying big-name agents. If someone makes an offer, you can email everyone who has your query and give them a week or two to counter-offer, possibly netting a better-connected agent. (It’s rude to send queries after someone has offered rep.) It sucks for agents who miss out, but it’s a good route for you.


      1. I was hesitant about posting as it seemed all too self-serving, perhaps even arrogant (which was not my intention), but your advice is invaluable so thank you. The 10,000 sales are pure sales/KU downloads – these are not during promotions when books were free. Those have different figures and are obviously much higher, but less relevant. Sales sound like something to work in somehow.

        As to the co-authoring, I will be on the byline rather than ghost-writing, so that very much seems like something to mention. I am sure I can find a way to summarise everything above in two sentences. I am working on a new series at the moment for which I will eventually seek representation so there are some very pertinent points to take away for me. I’m realistic and my expectations are pretty level. Most important of course is to write something outstanding to seek representation. That generally works pretty well!

        Thank you again.

        Liked by 1 person

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