Last week, I shared with you a quick three-paragraph formula for writing a query letter. This week, I’d like to share some dos and don’ts of querying that I learned along the way, as well as some tips for deciding which agents to query.
- Always personalize your letter in the “dear” section. Please, please make sure to spell the agent’s name correctly.
- Follow the agent’s submission guidelines. They will delete your query often without reading it if you don’t. Check their agency web site for specifics. Most don’t allow attachments at the query stage.
- Be sure to include the genre you are writing in and your word count. (80,000 is ideal for adult, YA and MG tend to be shorter. A quick Google search show you what is normal for what you write.)
- Revise your query letter. If you’re not getting the results you want to see, change it up. I went through about five or six drafts before landing on the one that worked for me.
- Take advantage of query critiques. Second Draft (Part of Writer’s Digest) offers them for a nominal fee, but many agents and writers offer them as well as part of contests or workshops.
- Be professional, both in your letter and after. Don’t respond to rejections. If the agent has specific thoughts for you, they will send a personalized rejection. If not, take it for what it is and move on.
- Some agents say not to bother including a paragraph about why you chose them in your letter, while others say it’s a must. I usually included one just to be safe, unless I knew from Twitter or some other source that the agent didn’t like them. If you do include this information, do your research to find out why they’d be a good match.
- Don’t query if your manuscript isn’t complete. For fiction writing, your book must be finished before you send it to an agent.
- Don’t address the letter as “Dear agent.” They hate that. Address them as Mr./Ms. LastName
- Don’t use funky fonts, colors or other visual tricks to try to stand out. Let your writing be what sets you apart.
- Don’t send multiple queries in one email. Write a separate letter for each person.
- Don’t send attachments unless the agent asks for them. This can get you deleted.
- Definitely don’t harass an agent. All that will do is get you a bad reputation, and agents talk.
Narrowing Your List of Agents
Wondering where to start deciding who to query? It can be overwhelming, but the easiest bit of advice I can give is to do your research into who represents the genre/age group of your writing. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Make a list of your favorite author’s agents. They will likely thank them in the acknowledgements section of their novels or they will be on their web site.
- Writer’s Digest (both online and in print) features new and established agents (my agent happens to be in the October print issue!)
- Buy or borrow from your library the Guide to Literary Agents, which is updated annually and lists agents both by agency and genre. There’s also a blog by the same name that features agents and advice.
- If you’re looking for online resources, try QueryShark and Query Tracker.
- Don’t forget Twitter and other forms of social media. Many agents are on social media. The best way to get to know their personalities, what they’d like to see in a manuscript and to just get to know them is my interacting. But please don’t pitch them on Twitter unless they ask you to as part of a contest.
- Query contests – Usually you’ll find out about them through blogs or Twitter (Brenda Drake does several a year. Miss Snark’s First Victim does them monthly. There are many more.) I think they are a great way to hone your pitching skills and get exposure to agents you otherwise might not. I had a few partial and full requests from contests and made a ton of friends from them, so even if nothing else comes out of them, they are great for networking.
- If you’re ever in doubt about the reputation of an agent or small press, check the boards at AbsoluteWaterCooler and Writer Beware. You can also Google them to see if any negative stories come up.
- Some people suggest categorizing agents into an A, B and C list based on how much you like them and want them to be your agent. It’s not a bad idea.
What About New Agents?
You may have heard Writer’s Digest say that new agents are a gold mine for new authors and that is true. At first I wanted an established agent, but now I’m glad I went with a new agent. Here’s why:
- They are eager to build their lists and establish their client lists, so they are more open to new authors.
- They are learning right along with you, so you have that as something to bond you. Just make sure they have an established agent as their mentor whom they can go to with questions.
- They have fewer clients so you’ll get more time and attention.
I was my agent’s very first client. While that might scare some people away, I’m glad I did it. I had an instant connection with Jen and I thought that just like someone has to take a chance on me as a debut writer, someone has to trust in her as a new agent. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
Finally, be patient. I sent out probably around 30 queries before my offer. I’ve read stories of people who got 50, even 100 rejections before they found the right match and then went on to be very successful. If writing is your dream, don’t ever give up! And as author Alyson Noel told me, “Don’t count the nos because it only takes one yes.”
Next week we’ll talk about what getting “the call” from an agent is like and I’ll give you some tips for working with one. Then, I’ve got something very special planned that is Celtic-related, so stay tuned!
What are your query questions? Do you have any dos or don’ts to share?