It’s that time of year again, where agents are buried in query letters. It’s funny because this is also convention season, so a lot of agents are out of town schmoozing with editors and taking in all the new book releases. What does that mean for you? It may take some time to get a response to your query letter. It also means you better have a pretty dang good query letter because most agents can’t get a hundred or more emails a day. A Day.
I dread query letters sometimes. Not just because I have to write them (how they heck are you supposed to fit 80k words into two paragraphs?), but because reading them can be a headache. That’s right. I said it. The slush pile can be a headache. Some of you lose an agent before you even start and here are some of the reasons why:
1. You didn’t follow the rules– Agents are very specific in what they want and how they want it. Do your research before hand. Know who you’re sending your query letter to. If the agent your querying to says 1 page, do not send attachment, send first chapter, whatever, do it the way they ask for it. You’d be surprised how many query letters are rejected because they couldn’t follow the rules. It’s like that worksheet you got in school where the directions tell you to read the entire worksheet before starting and has a list of silly things you do out loud. Most people don’t realize all you have to do is read the list then sign your name. I can’t tell you how many students around me clucked like a chicken and bunny hopped around a classroom. Don’t be that person.
2. You used the wrong identifying article or used the wrong name– Oops. You called Ms. Agent, Mr. Agent. Take your time and make sure you read through everything you send, more than once. Have someone else read it. When we’re too close to something, we don’t always catch everything that’s wrong.
And then there’s the always disappointing wrong agent name. I’ve been there. You’re querying a handful of agents because they’re interested in what you write, you’ve finished a manuscript, your query is perfect and you’re ready. You mass send everyone on the list. And then you realize what you’ve done. Agents know what you’ve done too. You didn’t take the time to personalize it. To ensure you’ve got the correct agent. It also tells the agent that you may know nothing about them. It takes a few seconds to copy and paste, make sure the name is right and possibly add in a little something personal. Take that time. Publishing is a long process anyway. A few extra seconds in an email isn’t going to make a difference.
3. Queries are a resume, sort of– Any job you apply for you send out resumes or fill out an application. Query letters are basically the same thing. It gives the agent an idea of what type of experience you have and how you write without reading your story. If your query falls flat, your writing might be flat as well.
Here’s the problem. Most people treat it exactly like a resume. Agents don’t want to know about anything that isn’t writing/book related. And believe me, they don’t care who so and so is who read your manuscript and recommended it. Most of the time they don’t know who so and so is anyway. Or they aren’t worried about so and so’s opinion. Write down what contests you’ve won, writing accomplishments and anything that’s going to tell an agent you’re ready, you’ve worked hard and you’re willing to continue to work hard.
Query letters are difficult on their own. Don’t make it harder for yourself. Take time to research the agent and their preferences. Like anything else, you want to put your best foot forward because you’re basically entering into a partnership with this person. Once you’ve made a bad first impression, it’s difficult to take that back.
Got any other tips? Let me know.