Tag Archive | query letter

Understanding an Agent’s Response to your Query Letter and Replying Appropriately

There are several different responses you can get when you send out a query letter to an agent. They are:

  • A form rejection- This is the least helpful response. It means absolutely nothing, other than the agent felt like they couldn’t take your project on at this time. They have lots of different reasons for this, such as; not wanting to take on a client that will compete with one of their own, not representing the genre that you write, not connecting with your writing, not liking the premise, worrying that they can’t sell it, etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad or that there is a problem with your novel. It just means that particular agent doesn’t wish to represent it.
  • A personalized rejection- These are sometimes only a line or two, but can contain nuggets of helpful information. For example, if they mention there was too much action or they had trouble identifying with the characters that should help you with any revisions you might make. Pay attention to what they say, because often, they’re right.
  • A partial request- This is usually the first three chapters or the first fifty pages. It means they liked what they saw and are hoping you can sustain the same level of writing throughout the next fifty pages. If they like your partial, they will request a full. If not you will receive one of the two forms of rejection described above.
  • A full request- This can mean one of two things, one- The agent is in the habit of requesting fulls and does it for every query that even remotely sparks her interest. Two- They really, really liked your query and sample chapter. A good way to check this is to use QueryTracker. If you go to the agent’s page and click on the reports and statistics button, you’ll see a drop down menu. Click “queries” and then “generate report.” For example, one of the agents that currently has my full has request 138 partials, but only 49 fulls, so that’s a good sign. However one of the other agents has requested 3 partials and 32 fulls, so that makes me think that I don’t have as much of a shot with her. Of course, it’s all speculation until you actually hear back from them, but the statistics do help.

So you’ve had a full or partial request, now what? You send it to them, of course, in exactly the manner they ask for it. If they ask for it as an attachment you do it. If they ask for it snail mailed you do it. Follow their instructions exactly. For an email, make sure you put “Requested Materials: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT” in the subject line. Some agents also suggest you put your name in the subject line as well. If they asked for an attachment, save the file as “Manuscript_NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Don’t just save it as requested materials. That’s an easy way to cause confusion. Make sure you include a copy of their request and a copy of your original query letter in your submissions package to remind them of your story. Then, write a letter that looks like this:

February 17th, 2012

Dear so-and-so,

I was delighted to receive your request for a partial/full copy of my manuscript, NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I have attached my manuscript in MS Word format as you asked. You will find a copy of my original query pasted below. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your name

Your mailing address

Your phone number

Your email address

Your website

 

Then, you wait! Good luck!

Querying a Literary Agent

I was reading over my series on querying an agent and realized I forgot to cover two very important things; one- How to actually query the agent and two- What the various responses might be and how to handle them. We’ll cover the first today and the second topic tomorrow.

So, you’ve got your polished, sharp query letter in hand, along with your revised and polished manuscript, and succinct synopsis. Now what? Compile your list of agents, and get started!

You can query either by snail mail or email, but make sure you check each agent’s specific preference. Many will only accept email query letters and a handful will only accept snail mail. Make sure you follow their guidelines to a T. You don’t want to get automatically deleted just because you made an avoidable mistake.

A snail mail query is a standard business letter. If you don’t remember how to do one of those, get a good writing reference and look it up. An email query is just as formal. I know a lot of people think email is more casual, but in this case it isn’t. Make sure you date it and include a polite greeting. Also include as part of your signature your name, phone number, mailing address, email address, and website if applicable. In the subject line put “Query: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Yes, I’m telling you to write the name of your manuscript in all caps. I’ve heard agents say they prefer it because italics often get reverted back to plain script in the process of emailing.

Send out your query in batches to your chosen agents. I try to send ten at a time, with the ten being a mix of dream agents, and those that I feel are more attainable. Always check out the agents on Preditors & Editors and make sure they’re legit before you mail your query. Be aware that some agencies have a policy where querying one of their agents is like querying all of their agents. If that’s the case, and you get a rejection, you are not supposed to query any of the other agents in that agency. This is another reason you need to check the guidelines. Also, some agencies want to be informed if your submission is a multiple submission. Make sure you tell them if it is. If they don’t specifically request it, leave it out. The minute you get a rejection, OR a request, send out another. Yes, that’s right; even if it’s a request, send out another. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Then, after it’s sent write down the agent’s name, the agency, and the date you sent it. Then, congratulate yourself. You’ve just accomplished one more step towards becoming a published author!

The Last Paragraph of your Query Letter: the Author Bio

This is the section (one paragraph ONLY!) where you tell the agent a little bit about yourself. And by “yourself” I mean any publishing credits you have, your writing background, any platform you might have, etc. Most new authors don’t have any publishing credits, so it can be hard to know what to put here. Do include the following:

  • Any writing education you have (i.e. a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, an MFA, any classes taken with prestigious authors or writing instructors, etc.)
  • If you have a mentor, particularly if that mentor is a published author or professor
  • If you work with a critique group, and if so, for how long
  • If this isn’t your first novel, say so. Agent’s actually like to know you have other projects finished and tucked away.
  • If someone referred you
  • If the agent requested pages or a full of your last manuscript
  • How long you’ve been writing seriously
  • Anything that might make you an expert on the subject you’re writing about (i.e. if you’ve written a medical thriller and you’re a doctor)
  • If you have a following through a blog or twitter (Only include this if you post regularly. Agents like to see that you can make a schedule and stick to it.)
  • Include if you’re a member of a professional writing organization such as RWA or SCBWI

Don’t:

  • Lie or stretch the truth
  • Say it is your dream to be a writer (If you’re bothering to send in a query, they know it’s your dream.)
  • Don’t say you’ve been writing since you were a child.
  • Don’t list self-published projects unless you’ve had large sales
  • Don’t include unrelated publishing credits unless they are very prestigious
  • Don’t include any personal information unless it is pertinent to your book

Writing the Hook for Your Query Letter

So this is the hardest section of all to write for a query letter. How do you distill your four hundred page novel into three sentences? These three sentences have to make an agent or editor want to request more. The task seems monumental.

First of all, you need a hook, a sentence that tells the agent your story is unique and interesting. For an example, let’s take a look at the classic story, Cinderella. This is what a hook for Cinderella might look like: “In a fairytale world, a young girl (16) is cruelly imprisoned by her stepmother shortly after her father dies.” Or you could say, “A young girl (16), forced to be a slave for her stepmother, is rescued from a life of drudgery by the appearance of a magical being, who transforms her into a beautiful princess.” Just keep brainstorming ideas until you find the best one.

There is no right or wrong way to write a hook. It is just a short sentence that you feel captures the unique and appealing nature of your story. Admittedly, this is a lot easier to do for someone else’s story then your own. I struggle with it as well. Just spend a lot of time on it, polish, polish, polish, and don’t send it out until you feel it is the best possible hook you could write.

The next two sentences (okay you could do three, to bring your total to four, but NO MORE THAN THAT!!!) are a short description of your book. Back to our example. First, our hook, “A young girl, forced to be a slave for her stepmother, is rescued from a life of drudgery by the appearance of a magical being, who transforms her into a beautiful princess.” Now our descriptive sentences, “Suddenly, Cinderella is living a dream, one filled with grand balls, fine food, and the young man of her dreams, a handsome prince. But when her stepmother learns of her deception, and exposes it to the entire world, Cinderella is over come with shame, and wonders how a prince could ever love a dirty servant?”

That’s it. You’ve written the hardest part of a query. Make sure you only focus on your main plot line; ignore all subplots for your query. It also helps if you practice on other novels and stories, before you attempt your own. There are lots of good books out there with exercises to simplify the process. The best one is in Donald Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (make sure you get the workbook, not the book, although the book is excellent as well). This book is worth the purchase price, just for that exercise alone, but is chock-full of other wonderful exercises as well.

Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts

Don’ts

  • DO NOT query unless you have a complete, polished manuscript.
  • DO NOT send out a mass email, with every agent and your aunt Martha in the subject line.
  • Do not send a query letter that is more than one page.
  • Do not write the query letter from the point of view of the character.
  • Do not be self-critical.
  • Do not, however, say you are the next Stephen King (or whoever). Agents don’t like to work with authors with inflated egos.
  • Do not wait a week and then check to see if it got there. Read the agency’s submission guidelines. If they are a “no response means no” agency, that’s it. If they say they respond to every query, wait the stated time and then another week or two. Then, and only then, may you re-query or send a “nudge.”
  • Do not pitch more than one project.
  • Do not tell the agent your mom, boyfriend, great-aunt Martha, your dog loved your book. They don’t care and it makes you seem like an amateur.
  • Don’t mention subplots.
  • Do not quote your own writing.
  • Don’t include small talk. Get to the point.
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions. (“Would you like to represent the next Nora Roberts? That’s me.” Umm… no.)
  • Do not disparage another author’s work.
  • Do not mention any previous attempts to find an agent.
  • DO NOT send a mean, nasty email if you are rejected.
  • Do not send sample pages if the agency guidelines say not to.
  • DO NOT LIE!!! DO NOT STRETCH THE TRUTH!!!
  • Do not say you wrote “a fiction novel.” A novel is always fiction. It is unnecessary to restate that it is fiction. This, too, will make you seem like an amateur. (If you write a memoir, do not call it a narrative non-fiction novel. It is NOT a novel.)
  • Do not enclose a photo of yourself.
  • Do not compare your novel to a movie or TV show.

Do’s

  • Do personalize your query letter, stating why you chose that particular agent.
  • Do spell the agent’s name right (and make sure the Mr. or Ms. part is right as well!) and make sure that the agent you address the query letter to is also the agent who’s email address you type in.
  • Do be polite and concise. Remember, no more than one page (three paragraphs).
  • Do find good examples of query letters (both online and in writing guides) and copy their format.
  • Do follow standard formatting: Times New Roman, 12 pt., one inch margins, date in the upper let corner, left side justified, right side ragged, single spacing with a double space between paragraphs
  • Do mention your title, genre, word count, and a comparison to another author who’s writing (both topic AND style) is similar to yours.
  • Do put your book title and any other publication credits in all caps.
  • Do give a short author bio.
  • Do include your name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.
  • Do run a spell check before you send it.
  • Do include a SASE if you are using snail mail.
  • Do say if you’ve been referred. (Boy, wouldn’t that be nice?)
  • Polish, polish, polish. A query letter represents YOUR WRITING. Many agents will base their decision whether or not to request pages on JUST your query letter. Polish it as well as you would a manuscript.

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!)

Vetting a Literary Agent you Think you Want to Query

Today’s post is a few days early, due to the holidays! And yes, we will still be interviewing a literary agent on Thursday! Have a wonderful week everyone! 

Remember, when you are selecting an agent, be choosy. You’re hiring THEM to work for you, even though it might seem like the other way around. Don’t just say yes because it was the only offer you got. No agent is better than a bad agent. A bad agent can take your money, negotiate a bad contract, place your manuscript at a poor choice for publisher, and screw up your publishing career for life. There are a lot of fraud agents out there. There are also agents who mean well, but just don’t have the contacts or the experience it takes to be a good agent. Some of these agents might acquire these things over the years. Those who do not will fold.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure an agent is the right one for you:

  • Never NEVER sign with an agent that charges reading fees. Yes, there are a very few legitimate agents out there that charge fees, but it is very few. Why take the chance? In fact The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR- the literary agents’ guild) won’t allow any of their members to charge reading fees. It’s best to avoid agents that do.
  • Double check each agent you chose to query with the list of resources below. If they’re listed with at least two, they’re probably legit.
  • Just because an agent is not a member of AAR, doesn’t mean they are not legit. To become a member, you need to make a certain number of sales within a certain time frame, which can be hard for newer agents to do until they become more established.
  • ALWAYS check submission guidelines-both with the agency AND the agent. Sometimes the agent themselves will ask for something different. A good way to check on the specific agent is to use the resources I mentioned yesterday, especially Publisher’s Marketplace. Also, QueryTracker will list in the agent’s overview if they have a blog, Twitter feed, Etc.

Also, one other tip: keep track of who you query, and which agency they are with. Many agencies frown on querying another agent within their agency if the first agent has rejected you. There’s no point in ticking off people at the very beginning of your querying process. Try to stick to their rules and submission guidelines.

Resources for vetting agents:

  • AgentQuery
  • QueryTracker.net
  • Preditors and Editors– This is the number one site for checking an agent or publishers legitimacy. ALWAYS check with them. Their rating criteria are listed here.
  • AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler: These forums are a great place to see what an agent is like to work with. There are threads on most agents, and sometimes some of their actual clients stop by and talk about what it’s like to work with them. There are also warnings posted about bad agents.
  • AAR

 

 

 

Resources for Finding a Literary Agent

When selecting an agent, you not only need to find an agent that looks at your genre of fiction, but you must also make sure they are legit. I’ve compiled many helpful resources over the last four years. To help you, my fellow writers, I’ve decided to put all that information in one place. This post turned out to actually be longer than I expected, so the resources to use for vetting agents will be posted next Tuesday.

To find agents:

  • Querytracker.net– Organize and track your query letters to agents and publishers. Other than Publisher’s Marketplace, this is the single most helpful resource I’ve come across in the querying process. You can search for agents by genre, see other writer’s comments about them, and see statistics for query response, response time, submission response time, response to certain genres. They also have an awesome system for keeping track of who you have queried, and what their response was. The only draw back is if you want to use the tracking system for more than one project, it costs $25 a year.
  • AgentQuery-Agent Query offers the largest, most current searchable database of literary agents on the web. They offer in-depth info on each agent, more so then querytracker. Also, they try to only list legit agents, so it can also be used as a source to verify an agent. (More on that tomorrow.)
  • Literary Rambles– Spotlighting children’s book authors, agents, and publishing (for YA, MG, and picture book writers) An excellent resource that targets just agents for children’s books. EXTREMELY in-depth information for each agent they spotlight. HIGHLY recommended.
  • Writer’s Market– A searchable database for agents. I used their books when I couldn’t depend on our spotty internet. I will say that I’m not sure the online subscription is worth it. You can get the same info from the first two resources I listed and for free.
  • Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc- These agents are the best of the best. They have to be legit to belong to the AAR, and they also have to have made above a certain amount of sales. You can also search by genre here.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace-Track Deals, Sales, Reviews, Agents, Editors, News. This is an invaluable resource. This is the only place where you can see the approximate number of sales an agent has made and the approximate worth. Also, many times an individual at a big literary agency will have a page here where they ask for different submission package materials then their agency and will also give their personal email address. The only draw back is that to see the deals, you have to subscribe at $20 a month. You can subscribe to the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, which comes once a week and is free. They will post the biggest deals of the week in there.

 

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?

Partial Request of my Manuscript!!

Sorry folks, the query letter series will have to wait one more day, because yesterday I got my first partial request for my new manuscript! WHOO HOOO! I totally wasn’t expecting it either, because I’ve only sent my query out to a select few agents. I was SHOCKED to see it in my inbox yesterday!

Okay, okay, I know I shouldn’t get my knickers in a knot. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much, because then they’ll have so much farther to fall. But I will say this. This partial request couldn’t have come at a better time. If you follow my blog at all, you know how discouraged I’ve been lately. A small part of me was even wondering if I should throw in the towel, while a much larger (and much louder) part of me was yelling at the smaller part. This yelling was mostly made up of unsavory names, such as “quitter” and “dream crusher,” among other, much worse names I can’t repeat on this blog.

Anyway, this was exactly the boost I needed to get back to work. My sprits are lifted and hope has sprung eternal once again.