Querying an agent – Dos and Don’ts from the Pros
We live and breathe our book for months and sometimes even years. We pour our heart out on paper and sweat to ensure each word earn its place in the story. After countless revisions, the story takes its final form and the book is ready. Celebrate this accomplishment for a moment, because quite frankly you deserve it. If you decide to have your book traditionally published, then the time has come to query the fruit of your labor and seek out Literary Agents.
The game has started, but do you know the rules? Are you prepared? I recently attended a few panels of Agents discussing the Dos and Don’ts when querying and read pieces from other Agents on the same topic. Before querying an Agent, there are a few ground rules you should know.
Present a finished product
First and foremost, your book must be a final product – meaning it has been edited/revised and complies with Industry standards. Are you sure it’s ready? If you have the slightest doubt, then it most likely needs revisions.
Still unsure? These next points will help you determine if it is ready.
Have your book edited
After spending so much time writing your book, it’s difficult to see the flaws, grammar errors, and typos. The best option is to have someone review it for you. If you are serious about publication, go with a professional editor who can point out the weaknesses of your book and correct the grammar or typos if need be, but this solution does come at a price. Writing is a business and investments are sometimes necessary especially if this is the first time. If you’re strapped on cash, consider an online fund…
Whether or not you have the budget for it, you may also want to find Beta Readers who can help you (Ideally not friends or family unless they have a background that can help). Having a fresh pair of eyes will ensure your writing is strong and the plot and characters are well written.
Know your genre
If you go to a Bookstore, you expect to find a Romance novel under the bookshelves titled Romance and not Thriller. This same principle applies when searching for an Agent. Now you can have romance in a Thriller, but know what the main genre is and be consistent. If you fail to identify your genre, you are pretty much shooting yourself in the foot.
Know the word count expected
Based upon your genre and audience, the Agent will also expect your word count to be within a certain range. Fantasy novels usually have a higher word count because they need room for world building, but you should always research the word count your novel is in and make sure to stay within the range. If you’re off track, you may need to go back to your book and revise accordingly.
Have a killing opening
Very often in the Agent’s submission guidelines, you’ll be asked to send the first 10 pages. You need to make sure they are incredibly well written, but more importantly, you need to make sure you invite them on an adventure within the first 250 words.
Imagine yourself going to a bookstore. You pick up a book, look at the back for the pitch, and decide to look at the first page or two. If you don’t like it, you’ll put it down and move on to the next book. An Agent receives so many queries in a day that you need to hook them from the start.
You need to give them a promise for a great book, an intrigue, something that will raise questions and make them want to know what happens next. An opening is by far the most important piece when seeking representation.
OK, so when you nailed the last points, you need to get to work.
Spend some time preparing a good pitch/query and synopsis.
To refer to the image in my previous point, you need to have a damn good pitch. You need to work on this and write multiple pitches until you find the right one. An Agent said during one session that if you’re struggling with your pitch or synopsis, maybe your book needs more work. By the time you are pitching your book, the story should be absolutely clear to you. I believe this is a good point and something to keep in mind while formulating your pitch.
Writing a pitch, a query or even a synopsis is difficult, but you should be able to explain what your story is about in a simplified manner. Spend time perfecting your pitch, query, and also synopsis (1 or 2 pages synopsis will be asked at times and it needs to reveal the end of the book).
Research agents and what they are looking for
Once your query is ready, research the agents that represent your genre. Do not query agents that do not represent your genre. It doesn’t make any sense and it’s a waste of time for both of you.
So carefully research the agent and the agency before submitting. This is going to save you some rejection letters.
Personalize your emails
Just like when you apply for a job, know who you’re addressing the query to and make sure the spelling of the Agent’s name is correct (seems simple enough, but it’s a common mistake). If you met this person before, you may mention it, but the query is about your book so don’t go on and on about this. This person’s time is precious so respect that. At the end of the day, you are pitching your book.
One thing you DO NOT want to do is send out an email that says “Dear Agents” and then send your query to everyone at once. This won’t look good AT ALL. Don’t give them a reason to say no to you.
Follow the guidelines to the dot
When you submit your book, be sure to follow the Agent’s guidelines. Again, don’t give them a reason to say no.
I see this as the way to show them that you are capable of following directions. You want to make sure they know you can listen, which is something Agents appreciate. They are in direct contact with publishers so they will know best what to do to sell your book. They want to know they can trust you and you will trust them.
Finally, only submit one project at the time. This query should only be about one book and nothing else.
Only send a handful of queries at a time
One great piece of advice I received was to send a few at a time. In case you receive feedback saying you need to strengthen your pitch then you should be glad that you did not blow your chances with all the Agents at once.
Take the feedback and work on it again, then send a new round of queries. Never settle for sending just a handful of queries, you should not limit yourself, but do so in increments.
Don’t make demands
Do not ask for a multiple book deal if you’ve never been published before. You can say you are able to write a series if the sales are good, but it should be a standalone the first time you seek representation. After publishing successful books, you can ask, but not before.
Don’t have an attitude or be conceded. Be confident but humble. Don’t tell the Agents you’re the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. You just come across as pretentious. If someone comes to you on the streets and says to you that they are the next best thing in your life, then you’ll be like “What? Who the F#.!@ are you?” Let the Agent be the judge of it.
Remember that the book is the first step, and you are the next.
Be professional and be careful what you post on social media
Keep in mind that when you seek representation you are in fact selling two “products” (Yes, two!): The book AND yourself. Guess what the next thing an Agent will do when interested? Google you.
Yes, you also need to be a well-wrapped present to them. Be pleasant, be professional, and be a good listener. Drop the attitude and be humble.
At the end of the day, the book is yours so you are free to do what you want with your book. Just see this relationship like a Marriage. It’s up to you to make this work or not.
Have a platform
This part is more for nonfiction books, but it’s always good to show an Agent that you are serious about your writing. It’s even better if you already have an audience because yes, it’s all about how much you can sell. Have a website and be active on social media.
Make sure you are part of associations or groups that will strengthen your credibility as a writer. They are going to spend time and energy on your book so make sure they know you are serious about your work and will write more than one book.
Querying a book is a stage that all writers dread because let’s be honest, having the faith of your book in someone else’s hands is frightening. It feels like being back in school waiting for your exam results to come in. So it’s important to not give them a reason to reject you. No one likes rejections. More importantly, don’t let them define you. Take the constructive feedback, work on it, and move on. Bestselling authors received tons of rejections before getting where they are now. Keep this in mind and go for it!