Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finding a Literary Agent: Prepping to Query

This is the second step in my Finding a Literary Agent blogs. The first was Preparation, making sure your manuscript was at its best, you are at your best professionally by joining a great group of writers whether it be in your town or online, working on revisions to perfect your manuscript and beginning your research of agents (in a nut shell).

So say you feel you've revised your manuscript until you can revise no more. "Yay!" you might say. "I can send it to an agent!" Well, if only things were that simple, life would be oh-so-melodious for oh-so-many people. But, alas, there is a protocol one must follow, especially if you are one who wants to be taken seriously as a writer.

First and foremost, there is the (drum roll please) ... Query Letter! The dreaded, loathed, detested query letter that puts many writers through hair-pulling hell (myself included). But, thanks to your dear friend ChristaCarol (who loves dark chocolate, if you feel so obliged to thank me), I have compiled a *small list of query letter information to help you on your journey. This step, by the way, is a repeated step. Meaning, you write your query letter, get it critiqued, write it again, rip it apart, write it again, rinse, repeat, you get the idea. Do Not Send Your First Drafted Query Letter. Just like you wouldn't send your manuscript's first draft to an agent (right? RIGHT? Right.) please, please, I beg of you, no matter how antsy that trigger finger of yours is, no matter how great you think your book is, no matter how excited you are about telling your wanted rock star agent how great you think your book is, WAIT. Patience, my friend, is a virtue. Especially in this business.

Why am I warning you in bold? Because, unfortunately, most agents when rejecting you will not accept another query, even if it's better and shinier, for the same manuscript you already queried them about that they already rejected. And, by the way, this works for that manuscript they rejected, too. Sure, there are tricks and ways around it, but nothing that isn't without headache. Once your work is rejected from that agent, it's rejected forever. Again, there are exceptions. I'm not sure about you though, I'm rarely the exception. So, unless you like living on the edge and risking a possibly awesome opportunity if you would have waited to make your manuscript and query the shiniest ever, than be patient. Waiting is good. Consider it practice.

These steps can be done in any order you feel like doing them, just so long as it all gets done.
  • The Query Letter: What is it and how do I write it? You might ask. Go here, Agent Query, which is also a place you will be visiting later. But seriously, why is this important? Why Why WHY must I write one of these? I shall insist, then, that you read this as well, by Query Tracker. And yes, you will be visiting there again, too. Okay, I've read this, I've written one, but how do I know it's good? Go here, here and here, and honestly, feel free to plug yourself into this man's blog. A rock star literary agent and pretty cool guy all around, Nathan Bransford knows his stuff. So read. And eat some popcorn while you're at it. Lastly, I shall push you to Miss Snark's retired blogspot for it's multitude of awesome, snarky, agently information.
Now, while you're working on revising that query letter over and over, and getting it critiqued (Absolute Write has a great Share Your Work Forum with fearless writers who will shed it up!) you should also be thinking about your synopsis, assuming you haven't already started. Not every agent requires a synopsis, which is why it is imperative you do your homework on these people. Essentially, all of these steps can be worked on at the same time, depending on your nature.
  • The Synopsis: Oh, that should be easy, I just list in narrative form everything that happens in the book, right? No. If only it were that easy. Most agents prefer short synopses, like, 2-5 pages short. Writing details for each chapter in your book would make it several pages longer. Not to say writing a chapter outline isn't a great first start. You can then condense it from there. I'm not here to tell you how to write it, because there are many ways to get it done, and, well, it would take the rest of the week for ME to explain it because I'm not an expert (though I am proud of my 4 page synopsis!) But rather, point you to the directions that will help you with this next step. You may never need to write one, and I was hoping that, but I eventually got to an agent that required one with a query. Charlotte Dillon has lots of info and a sample. More info is here and here.
The last step is just as important as the other two, if not more, well, necessary.
  • Researching Agents: This is a must, people. Trust me, agents respond better when they feel you've actually done your homework and you make it a point to personalize the query to them and not to them plus twenty other agents you all CCed in the e-mail. Assuming, of course, you e-query. Because you have a choice. There are agents who only accept e-queries, agents who only accept snail-queries, and agents who accept both. How do you know who does which? Agent Query and Query Tracker. QT is one of my favorites with its ability to, well, uh, track. Plus, you can add personal notes to remind yourself of things (I copy and paste submission guidelines from the agency's website in an agent's note section to help me keep track of each agent's preference in submitting a query). As well, you can read other comments from other aspiring authors who have queried that agent. I use QT first, building my list of preferred agents, then I use Agent Query to do some further researching, on top of reading their entire website and researching the books they currently have published. Remember in the last post I mentioned going to the book store and picking up books similar to yours? A lot of authors put their agents on their acknowledgment page (or should), this list can then be plugged into QT. On top of QT and AQ, do a search on the agent before you query them, read any interviews they've done, subscribe to their blog if they have one, follow them on twitter, whatever you can to get to know the kind of person and agent they are to see if, indeed, you really want them as your agent.
Because it comes down to this: No matter how desperate you want your book published, nothing is worse than having the wrong agent. Whether it be an agent who doesn't do their job to the best of their abilities (the majority I know about are fabulous, but there are some not-so-fabs out there, and I suggest you go to Writer Beware, they keep us writerly folks informed of not so agently-type-scam-artist-peoples). Or, it could be the agent doesn't click with your personality. Sure, you want an agent, and you want one bad, because without them, the chances of your book getting published are slimmer. BUT, wouldn't you want a fantastic agent that knows her stuff and that meshes really well with you? If you're desperate, and throwing your line out to anyone who will bite, you may end up in worse condition than NOT having an agent.

So, do your homework, know the business, know the agents, work on that query letter, and start pulling your hair out over that synopsis. But Don't. Query. Yet. Go here for the last step.

*There is a butt-load of stuff out there to help you write your query letter. Don't take what I've given and leave it at that, go and do some research of your own to make that query letter of yours as snazzy as can be!


  1. WOW. This would be a great first stop for the would be published author. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for stopping by! Glad it was useful info :)

  3. What a great article. Your summation at the end is the best!

    "So, do your homework, know the business, know the agents, work on that query letter, and start pulling your hair out over that synopsis. But Don't. Query. Yet."

    I loved reading this. Thanks.

  4. Excellent advice! It's so hard to know when we are ready to query! I queried too early the first time (my query was okay, my manuscript still needed work). Luckily my agent saw past my still unpolished book and asked to see it again once I rewrote. Bless her for that!

  5. Mary, Natalie, thank you! And yes, Natalie, same with me, except I got the shorter end of the stick there ;) Me = none exception.

  6. Very nice, you! Although I doN't need this info any more, you did a great, comprehensive job!

    You def receive cookies for this. ;-)