Thursday, November 12, 2009

Find a Literary Agent: The Query Process

By now, you’ve already finished your manuscript and ran it through the ax-machine that is your critique group, partner, workshop, etc. You’ve revised it more than once, and during this time, you’ve researched the type of agents out there that represent your work by:,,, Agent blogs, Reading books repped by agents to get their sense of taste. You’ve also worked on your synopsis and query letter, because who wants to send a first draft query?

A great place to get an idea of what attracts agents in a query, go here, here, here, here and here. It was a very recent Query Letter Contest judged by agent Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

You’ve joined relevant associations or groups like the SCBWI or RWA to grow your network of writers, and to grow your brain on the industry. I’d also highly recommend going to in their Share Your Work forum to get your query shredded a part. It can be harsh, but oh so worth it if you have the thick skin. Your query should be revised almost as much as your manuscript. It’s what gets your foot in the door. So now are you ready to click the send button? Almost.

Some Dos and Don’ts when sending your query:

DO personalize your query. Think how many generalized queries an agent gets on a daily basis. Have yours stick out by actually knowing something about the agent, giving them a sense you’re not just sending out a mass amount of queries, but you’ve hand picked them because of their personality, taste and/or experience. Think about it. You’re essentially asking these agents to invest quit a lot of their time to read your manuscript. So why not invest a lot of your time in getting to know them? As mentioned before, follow an agent’s blog, read works they either rep, or have mentioned liking (but not repping).

By the way, personalizing also means: Dear Ms. Doe and NOT Dear Agency Name.

DO NOT write something generally personalized to make it sound like you’ve done some research on this agent. Be specific if you’re going to be personal, not general. Agents see through this.

DO send your query one agent at a time.

DO NOT send out mass e-mails unless you never want to see your book in print. Remember, in this business you have to have patience. More than likely, it’s going to take a loooong time for everything to come together with getting an agent, an editor, and then finally, seeing your book in print. If this is something you really want to do, you have to do it right and not sloppy. Not rushed. Take your time and e-mail or snail mail these agents individually. Think of it as applying for a job. Would you send out your resume to a dozen or more companies all in one e-mail? Of course not (I hope!).

DO remember your query should be one page. In that query should be a small paragraph about you.

DO be relevant in your bio paragraph and list relevant publishing credits, but

DO NOT list all the people who enjoyed reading this work. It doesn’t matter if your entire fifth grade class loved Mr. Doodles’ Adventures in Idaho, let your work speak for itself. Just remember: Relevance.

DO list associations and groups you are a part of that speak for your education in the business, like the SCBWI, RWA, MWA, you get the idea.

DO have a small number in mind to query first.

DO NOT query every agent on your list at once. Send a small amount (like, say, five) and wait until you get some responses (or it’s been a fair amount of time) before sending out another batch.

DO read every agent’s submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. There’s a reason they do this, and it isn’t just to make things easier for them, but also, to make sure you can follow instructions. Every agent is different. Every query should be, as well.

DO NOT send back nasty e-mails if you get rejected. Remember, professionalism….treat this like a job you’re applying for. And, though it may seem big, publishing is a small world. Word travels, you don’t want to burn any bridges.

I think I’ve covered the main points. Feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comment box if I missed some! And hope I’m helping in some small way!


  1. This post and your other in the series is really good. I am going to link to them whenever I get around to doing my "sending a query" blog (if you don't mind), which I hope to do at some point. Good stuff here.

  2. Oh querying...

    I must admit I am a little sad I don't get to query anymore. I miss that little rush of sending out a fresh batch and waiting for the rejection barrage. Sigh.

  3. Solid! Thanks for the anxiety busting tips. It's a hard process, but...just gotta. keep. going.

  4. I'm glad you're all finding this information helpful (even if you don't have to query anymore, yay Sara!) Jennifer, not at all, spread the knowledge, the more the merrier. :)