03 March 2014

How to Query and Get an Agent

How Not to Query and Get an Agent

Query Tracker http://querytracker.net/
You can use query tracker to keep up with your queries, but the real use of this gem of a site is that it gives you insight about how long it usually takes an agent to respond. With so many agents using the no-response-means-no, it’s great to have an idea of whether the agent you’re querying takes a shorter or longer amount of time to respond when they request pages. Sign up for a free account and check out the comments for the agents you’re querying.

Janet Reid, a literary agent at FPLM takes readers’ queries and tears them to bits with her delightfully snarky advice. Start at the beginning and read these before you write or send your query in. Every. Single. One.

Publishers Marketplace http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
If you’re serious enough about writing to query, you need to suck it up and pay the $20/month to have access to his site. While agents and editors self-select to include their sales here, why would you want to query someone who doesn’t have any sales listed? Or someone who has not managed to make a sale to a NY publisher? This site is also helpful for figuring out which agents represent books like yours and which agents regularly get those change-your-life advances everyone dreams of.

Preditors and Editors http://pred-ed.com/
To be honest, I didn’t use this one much because I only queried agents with documented sales on Publishers Marketplace and agencies that were well known. It doesn’t hurt to check, though.

Nathan Brandford’s Blog http://blog.nathanbransford.com/
Agent-turned-middle grade writer Nathan Bransford is an amazing source for clear explanations on everything from how to write a query to what to expect from an agent.

Google: Seriously. Before you even thing about querying an agent or editor, Google the bejeezus
out of him or her. Read every interview, review, or website you can get your hands on. Know who that person is and who they work for. Don’t blind or mass query—do your research. In the age of Google, there’s no excuse not to.

The Nuts and Bolts of a Query Letter:
There are eleventy-million sites and books about how to write a query. Go. Read them. Find examples. Copy those examples. This is not the place to let your inner oddball show through.

·      Single-page business letter

·      State the title, word count, and that you are looking for representation somewhere (usually the beginning)

·      Include a Hook, Mini-Synopsis, and a short Bio—in that order (3-4 paragraphs)
*Start with your protagonist.
*Make the setting clear early on
*The synopsis should read like back-cover copy

·      For romance, you MUST give an indication of the conflict and the stakes in the relationship. The HEA is presumed, so why else would the agent want to read?

·      Contact Information- professional email, phone that your child/cat/boss won’t answer, address

Hints and Tips:
* Don’t Query Until You’re Ready to Let It Go
If you’re still tweaking and writing, don’t query. If you’re still so in love with everything about the story that ohmygodI’lljustdieifitdoesn’tgetpublishded!!!!!  Don’t query. When your manuscript is as good as you feel you can make it and when you’re ready to move on to another project, query.

* Make Friends With A Spreadsheet
I called mine The Reject File. I had the name of the agent, agency, email address, whether they responded or did a no-response thing, the average time for response, actual response, and pages sent. My spreadsheet kept me sane.

* Sell Your Talent, Not Your Book
Sure, you have a book you want to sell. That’s why you’re querying, isn’t it? NOPE! You don’t want to sell a book. You want to sell lots and lots of books. You want a career. To get that, you need to have an agent who wants you as a writer, not just this one shot at one book. Make your query about showing what you can do as a writer just as much as it tells about your one book.

*Put Away The Crazy
If you want to be represented by a professional, act like one. Put away the ego, put away the strange fonts, ridiculous claims about your book’s brilliance, impulse to call and check up on your query, glitter, chocolate bribes, threats, and any other impulse you have that you think will make you stand out. YOU don’t want to stand out. You want your writing to stand out.

* You’re Not JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, or Stephanie Meyer (yet)
Unless you’re making a comparison that elucidates something important about your book (other than its possibility of making the agent a ton of money), do not compare it to any of the big-named books.  Also, I’d watch comparing it to books/authors your agent already represents. Why do they need two of the same thing?

*Sit On It
So you have the perfect query, your pages are polished to a gleaming shine, and you’re ready! Great. Now sit on it for a week. Seriously. Just close that file. Don’t even peek at it for at least seven days. After that cooling off period, take another look and see what you think. If you make any changes, sit on it again.

*Query Like It’s Your Job
If you’re serious about being published, be serious about querying. No one is going to come knocking on your door, agents are not going to ask twice for pages, and nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen. Set a schedule for your queries, keep clear records, devote a portion of each day or week to querying and stick to it until you either have an agent or decide the manuscript is dead.

*Embrace Rejection, Revel In It
Did you notice how my query file was called The Reject File? Yeah, that. 

You don’t have to be pessimistic, but you need to expect rejection. It’s gonna happen, and that first no is going to hurt. You’re going to panic and go back to your query and your book and wonder if it’s good enough or if you did something wrong. The chances of a first-time writer getting their very first manuscript accepted from the very first agent they query who then sells it in the very first round of submissions is slim-to-what-have-you-been-smoking.

It’s going to happen. It is. Every rejection is one step closer to the yes. Check them off on your spreadsheet, pout or cry or drink or whatever, and then let it go and keep writing.

*Know When It’s Time to Move On
            Okay, so I lied. It might not happen. But that’s okay. You’re a writer. You wrote one
thing, and maybe the next thing you write (because you will write a next thing) will be the one. Make sure that you’re the one to decide when enough’s enough so that you’re not querying out of desperation. Do you really want that agent no one’s ever heard of just because he’s the only one that will take your book?

*Just Keep Writing
Everyone will tell you this, and at some point you will want to smack them all. Resist and get your butt back into the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. If you get an agent, he or she is going to want you to write more than one book. No sense making them wait. Remember, writing is the thing that keeps you sane.  Or is that just me?

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