Writing Workshop Basics: Querying Literary Agents

Writing Workshop Basics: Querying Literary Agents

First Things First: Writers Beware! I’m not proclaiming to be an expert in querying agents by any means; I’m just here to share my own querying experience, because I think it helps to share with each other. Sharing from others’ experience is a great tool for learning. And in case you don’t know anything about me, I chose to quit querying and self-publish anyway. So, if you’re still interested…read on…

Querying? Where To Begin: I started to query Username: Bladen a long, long time ago. Actually, it’s been about three years now. I wrote quite a few different versions of my query letter, but I didn’t attempt to do it until I checked out online what agents were looking for. One of the best and most useful blogs I found for this (also one of my favorite agents out there) is Kristin Nelson’s blog, “Pub Rants.” She has numerous examples of query letters in various genres, and she annotates throughout the query; so you know what she likes and doesn’t like.

On that note, I think it’s important to choose agents that you like who are interested in the same genre as your finished manuscript. You can work on your query as you look up agents. I did this at the same time, because I wanted to make sure I included everything the agents were looking for in my query.

So how do you find the agents? There are free listings of agents on Agent Query and Query Tracker. I found these websites incredibly useful. However, I became a member on Publishers Marketplace for only $25.00/month, and found that to work best for me. You can find agents on there and also all their recent sales. Are they an agent finding publishers or not? Can you be sure they’ll do a good job if they choose your manuscript? The Publishers Marketplace is where you can do that. Don’t kid yourself, there are some nightmare agent stories out there, and you don’t want just anyone for your manuscript. After all it’s your baby you’ve worked on for months or maybe even more than a year, right? So, be careful who you choose.

And remember they’re also careful about who they choose, so be respectful to agents. They may receive literally hundreds of queries a month. Look up your agents interests; see what you have in common; show them that YOU took the time to look up their work and value their time.

Now The Nuts And Bolts Of The Letter: First and I know obviously, start with the introduction. That may sound basic, but I read a lot of agents sites where they have discussed the fact that they receive quite a few letters addressed to the wrong agent or misspelled. Then connect with them and give them the quick lowdown of why you are approaching them. Tell them why you came to choose them as an agent. Maybe they worked on a book similar to yours. If so, let them know. If you think your book is similar to someone else’s, let them know that too. It can give them a good idea about what you wrote. Remember to make it short. Then let them know the title, word count and genre. After that, throw in a short one or two sentence log line. Some agents specifically ask for one. Write your query in exactly the format they’re asking for. Make sure your log line captures the essence of your book, i.e., tone, genre, age group. Can they tell if you wrote a YA, adult or children’s book? If you wrote a fantasy, can they tell?

After that, let them know what your book is about. It should be similar to the back flap of a book. I’ve read that it should include a short explanation of about the first three chapters. Again, listen to exactly what the agent asks for. I remember one agent only allowed for 150 words in this section of the query letter. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the tone of your letter matches the tone in your manuscript. If you’re writing a sassy romance, show that in the tone of your letter. That way the agent knows what to expect of your writing in your manuscript. If you write a dull query, an agent will think that your manuscript writing is probably dull too.

Next, let them know about you. If you published anything or won any awards, let them know. Can you be found online through FB, a blog, Twitter or a website? If you have room in your letter, let them know. They may want to find you. Also, if you’ve never published anything, be straightforward about it. Don’t wallow in self-pity. If they like your query they’ll ask for a sample. Finally, remember to thank them for their time, send out that letter and be patient when you wait for a response. Don’t spam by sending out a single letter to multiple agents at one time. Send them out one at a time. If you really like an agent, you can send your letter exclusively to them. Make sure you let them know that in your query.

Wahoo the letter is done. Now what? Edit! Edit! Edit! Make sure it’s clean and polished, better than all of the silver you own. When it’s squeaky clean, and you’ve sent it out, here’s what you can expect: 1. No response (ouch, bummer, take a breath). 2. A form rejection (bummer too, one more deep breath). 3. A personal rejection (nice, hopefully it gives insight as to why a rejection so you can change things if need be). 4. A request for more of your manuscript (yay, but it doesn’t mean they’ll like the whole thing). 5. A request for your manuscript and an agreement to move forward together toward traditional publishing.

Synopsis Of My Query Adventure: I received no response, form letters and personal rejections. I received enough personal rejections with encouragement to continue to move forward and query, that I felt like I was on the right track. I didn’t quite reach halfway (40 letters or so) to my goal (100), when I decided to stop, a decision I made for several reasons. I appreciated the querying process, though, and plan to do it again with my next novel. There’s a lot of rejection in publishing, but if you want to query, go for it. Keep your chin up and good luck!

About jvcarrwriterauthor

Everybody has realistic dreams, ones that start with a seed in the heart, are watered, then grow. Well...I finally published my dream, my young adult novel entitled Username: Bladen. The idea to write it literally struck me in the darkness of the night. I began this project not too long ago, though now it feels like forever. This book, in its original manuscript form, meandered down a typical publishing path in many ways, until it recently settled (Yay!) on the shelves of cyberspace. Soon, I hope it will find a happy home on the shelves of many book lovers, in a real home not just a virtual one. After all who doesn't like to see their dreams come true? Today, with the technological advances that we enjoy, dreams of publishing are well within a writer's grasp. Every mom, much to their chagrin, experiences sleepless nights. With six kids, I honestly can't remember the last time I slept through the night. Typically, when I wake up and can't fall back to sleep, I think too much about things, meditate, or pray. One night as I was praying, the plot for Username: Bladen literally flooded my thoughts. I got so excited about it that I decided to sit down and write and write and write. I spent a lot of time learning about publishing. I joined forums and writers' groups. When I finished my manuscript, I entered it into The Sandy Writing contest, which was a terrific learning experience. I didn't win, but one judge loved my story and gave me almost a perfect score. That gave me a lot of encouragement. I also queried it a little, and am amazed by how much I learned and loved the process. I know nobody likes rejection letters, but I appreciated the personal letters I received from agents that gave me insight into why they rejected my manuscript. Then finally, after I learned that publishers don't have a lot of shelf room for young adult novels with a male protagonist, I decided to stop querying and publish through Westbow. I found an extremely talented editor, and rather quickly finished the process of publishing my book. I couldn't be happier with the final result. If anyone has a story to tell, are willing to be diligent, and have a dream to be a published author, you can do it! Believe in yourself and make your dream come true!
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