LITERARY AGENTS AND QUERY LETTERS
I want to talk about agents and query letters on this post. Most of you who read this blog, likely, don’t have agents. I don’t. I have been working towards one for the past few years at this point and life, relationships, rewriting, and rejections have all gotten in the way.
It’s a tough road to finding an agent, no doubt about that. The majority of people who write actually never will find or land an agent, and that’s the cold, hard truth. I have received much feedback, via both professional editors like me—but who’ve been in the business longer and can see my book with fresh, objective eyes—and agents, and I have a newly rewritten draft of my adult suspense book, that I’ve been working on for 3 years now.
There are a few things you can do right off the bat, as a writer, that will save yourself a lot of time and potential rejection. Go to Amazon, or your local bookstore if they carry this type of book, and buy Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents, 2015.” He comes up with a new, updated version every year, and the 2015 one is already out. Buy it. In this helpful, informative resource guide, you’ll find a list of agents who are currently accepting various manuscripts. You’ll see their desires and dreams, how to submit to them, through what medium to submit, and a little bio and contact page. In addition, there is info on writing query letters, synopses, and all other kinds of things you’ll need to know in order to submit.
You can also find Chuck online. Click here for that info. He has a new and updated New Agent Listing online, through Writer’s Digest. And if you’re still wondering at this point, and you haven’t clicked on the link or typed his name into Google, Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance book editor, an author, and a writer for Writer’s Digest. He commonly appears at writers’ conferences and is a speaker at these events, hosting informative classes, etc. He is very knowledgeable about agents and the world of writing in general. I had him edit my first 50 pages recently and he’s worth the money. Give him a try, if you don’t go with me as your book editor J
Query letters. These are the most common and simple letters to write, and yet, they are a modern-day phenomenon and writers today, in general, still struggle with crafting them. I get it. They’re tough. For those of you who don’t know what they are: Query letters are a very short introduction to you, your book, and your credentials and platform/plan for your commercial success as an author.
Basically, a query letter is your first handshake with an agent. It’s the first thing they’ll read, before they even glance at the manuscript. Actually, the truth is 90% or more of the time, unless the agent is brand spanking new, you’re actually submitting to the agent’s assistant. I would know; I used to be one. I worked at a firm in Tiburon, in the Bay Area, where I live.
So remember, the ms might be fantastic—make sure you have several critique beta readers first, and hire a pro book editor like me or Chuck Sambuchino—but if the query letter is weak, then kiss that chance goodbye. An agent is insanely busy. Think of them as literary nurses; they work 24/7. When they go home on weekends, that’s when they do most of their heavy reading, or while on “vacation.” The competition is high: Hundreds of thousands of other “writers” are trying to get through the same tiny gate. And agents are the gatekeepers, no doubt. So heed my advice. Spend whatever time necessary to make sure you hone that query.
Here are some basic rules to follow:
• Keep it to 250 words max if possible. A little over, if absolutely necessary, is okay. But shoot for 250.
• Keep the letter very simple, concise, to-the-point. Read it to a smart, discerning friend. Does it make sense? Is it clear, simple, understandable, enticing, intriguing? Would they want to read the book?
• Think of the query in three sections: 1) The book logistics: What is the title and word-count; what is the genre; is it contemporary or older; is it similar to other commercially successful books already on the market? (Some agents like this; some don’t.) 2) The book’s plot: This is your chance to tell a 1-2 (try for 1) paragraph synopsis of the plot, demonstrating your tone, voice, and style. Keep it very brief, to-the-point, and concise. Have a little fun with it, but stay professional. 3) About the author: Who are you? Have you been published before? Any accolades, awards, short stories published? Have you been involved with a notorious writing school or workshop, etc? If you’ve never been published before, don’t mention that; just mention anything related to writing or the book itself. This is also the area to mention social media: Are you active and promoting your writing through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google-Plus, etc? Do you have a writer’s platform? Who is your audience? How will you market your book? (Try to make the whole query 3 solid paragraphs if possible. IF you must, 4 paragraphs is okay. Always 1 page or less.)
• Keep it professional. Always address the agent as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Never “Dear Agent.” If in doubt, address them by their full name. Follow Chuck’s examples online or in his guide to properly format the greeting and letter in general.
• Make sure you add in all your relevant contact info: Name, address, phone number, and email. Most agents will use email initially and then, if they decide to sign you, will move to making phone calls.
Remember, the whole point of a query letter is to entice the agent to want to see more, to see the book. It’s frustrating that we have to do this in order to even get an agent to look at the book (and they still might reject it), but it’s what we have to do in today’s competitive market. Do yourself a favor: Don’t worry about other writers and whether or not they are landing an agent; just focus on your book, your query letter, and your synopsis. Synopses are a whole other thing for another blog post.
For now, get on those query letters. And write the best damn book you possibly can. Leave the rest up to the fates.
Michael Mohr is a freelance book editor and writer. To contact Michael for potential book editing services, please visit the “Editing Services” page on this website, and email Michael at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He handles adult and YA fiction in most areas except science fiction. He is currently taking on clients.