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!