Tag Archive | how to query an agent

Parts of the Query Letter

There are three parts to the actual query letter and each part is only one paragraph. Query letters must be short. They should never, EVER be more than a page.

The first paragraph is a short intro, with one sentence that lists the title of your novel, the word count, and the genre. The second sentence should explain why you chose to query that particular agent. Personalize it if you can; agents like to know you didn’t just randomly pull their name out of a hat. If, however, the only reason you are querying them is because a search engine said that the agent represents your genre, then I would strongly suggest you leave that sentence blank. Some agents say that you don’t need to do this, that you can jump right into your query, but I will say this: 90% of the request I have gotten are from agents that received personalized queries.

The second paragraph is a short (and I mean SHORT; no more than THREE sentences) synopsis of your novel. It should read like the blurb on the back cover or jacket flap of a book; short, to the point, and most of all, interesting. We will discuss this section of the query letter on Friday.

The last paragraph of the query should have a short author bio, with any publishing credits you might have. What’s that you say? You don’t have any publishing credits? That’s okay; we’ll discuss what to put here on Monday!

And, finally, you have the closing, which I tack on to the author bio. It should read something like this: “Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.” (You have your manuscript done, right? Because you might need to send it in IMMEDIATELY. The partial request I got the day before yesterday came only TWO HOURS after I sent the query. You need to be ready to send it out almost immediately. Some agents say they expect your manuscript within the week, but really, the sooner the better.)

Then you sign your name and include you mailing address, your phone number, your email address, and your website address if you have one. You want to give your potential agent as many ways as you can to contact them!

And that’s you’re basic query letter. Tomorrow, we’ll cover a list of do’s and don’ts for a query letter. Trust me, there are a lot of mistakes a new writer can make that will irritate an agent. Luckily, you have me, with my hard-won experience, to tell you what NOT to do. (To bad no one told me! My mistakes could fill a giant bucket!)

Selecting an Agent to Query

So installment two in my series about the querying process, is about how to select an agent. So there are several ways that you can go about selecting an agent. Here’s the problem. Some agents want aspiring authors to approach them because their manuscripts are similar to what they represent. However, other agents will turn you down for this very reason, because they don’t want your book competing with the ones already on their list. (“Their list”, by the way, is what they call the clients and books they represent.) I’ve had this happen to me, so I know this is true, although you don’t hear it mentioned in books on writing. The problem is, you never know which kind of agent they are until after you hear back from them.

For lack of a better place to start, I always start with agents that represent books similar to mine. The best way to do that is to look through those similar books until you find an acknowledgement page. Lots of times the author will thank her agent. Then you have an agent to query! (Tomorrow, I will talk more about how to find the agent’s email or snail mail address, how to keep track of your queries, and how to find agents that don’t have clients similar to you.)

Don’t just pick one agent; select several. If there is one agent you really really want to work with, you can query them exclusively, but most writing guide books don’t recommend this (although, I have done it). Normally I pick three or five, the best of the best, to query first. Usually, these are agents that represent famous clients, or work at big literary agencies. To put it bluntly, they are the ones I have a slim chance with.

Then after I send those out, I wait. When a rejection or request for more comes in, I send out another query. I like to send them out in batches, because then, if something seems to be not working, you can tweak it as you go, instead of exhausting all of your chances at once. You might get lucky and score an agent with your first query, but realistically, it will probably take LOTS of queries before you have a positive response. Did you know it takes, on average, one hundred queries on a single project for an unpublished author to find an agent? Don’t give up, keep trying, and keep sending them out. And in the meantime, the best way to stay busy is to start your next manuscript. If you do sign with an agent, I guarantee you that they will ask to see more examples of your work. You want to have something to show them, don’t you?