Here are some things you can do to give your query its best chance at doing it’s job!
1. Start by writing an impeccably good query letter. Um, really? That’s not such helpful advice. Yes, really. Here’s how to do it: Address it to the correct person (without anything smarmy, like “Dear respected agent”); include a snazzy intro paragraph that includes genre and word count; write a clean, quick synopsis with no spoilers and which leaves some unanswered questions; make sure your bio is short, sweet, and inclusive; sign off professionally and make sure all your contact information follows your name. Yeah, well what constitues “snazzy”?
2. In your intro paragraph, have that first sentence start with a fantastic hook. What’s a hook? It’s a one to two sentence teaser or elevator pitch. Like a Tweet, you know? Minus hash tags, of course. Something that will catch an agent’s eye (but not in a weird or scary way). How do I know if I’m being weird or scary? I’m not answering that.
3. Write a great manuscript. Aw, come on! You always say that! Yes, yes I do. Because honestly, even if you write the most kick ass query letter in the world, if your manuscript isn’t great (not just good… great) it’s always going to be a pass. No matter who you query. What matters is the manuscript. So don’t send your work out until it’s complete. That means it’s been through a number of drafts. Complete doesn’t mean you finished writing the story yesterday so you’re ready to send it out into the world today. Fine. Be that way.
You know that about 99% of the queries that come in to my inbox get rejected. I’m not unique in this statistic. Most agents that I’ve spoken to have the same track record. 1 out of 100 hit the mark. I know that must be really daunting to hear, as a writer. On the agent end of it, it’s also dismaying. This past week, as I’ve been going through queries and reading a few full manuscripts that I’ve requested, what’s come up a number of times is, “I love the premise of this! I wish the writing were better…”
As an agent, I unfortunately don’t have the time (or inclination, really) to teach a client how to write. You need to come into the relationship with your skills intact. I can nurture you along, but I just can’t teach you to write. In order to garner more success on your quest to get your manuscript published, the best thing you can do is to really work on your craft. If you’ve pounded out a novel but have never read a book about the craft of writing, never taken a writing class, never been to a writing conference, workshop, retreat or seminar, there’s a really good chance you’re not going to succeed. Not because you don’t have talent, but because you need certain skills. So do yourself a favor, give your stories the best chance they can get: educate yourself.
1. Who is going to be the lucky editor who makes me my next offer? Who will win that particular prize? Because I’ve got some really kick ass manuscripts out on submission right now, and someone’s going to be snatching them up. Who is it going to be? Who are you?!
2. What is the deal with “New Adult” literature? I mean, is it just YA with more graphic sex? What do we really need another category of books for? Are bookstores going to make another section for it? What for? WTF?
3. Where are the writers who are writing the manuscripts that I wish were coming into my inbox? Where should I look? Writer’s conferences? Contests? Twitter? Yoo hoo! Where are you?
4. When will I ever have time to just sit and read a book for pleasure? Like, not because I’m staying current with the market or because it’s new and I need to keep my finger on the pulse? When will I ever have time to read something that was published a long time ago, just because I never read it, or want to re-read it? When will that happen?
5. Why do some editors never answer their phone? I mean, whenever I call I get voicemail. First thing in the morning. Lunch time. Mid afternoon. Right before 5. Even after 5. I know editors are busy. I mean, I really do know that. But there are some editors who never, ever answer their fricken’ phone. Why is that?
6. How am I really supposed to reject queries so people don’t lose hope and/or think I’m just another idiot agent sending a form rejection? I mean, honestly, I can’t give feedback on every rejection. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to do my job. How could I possibly do that? How can folks expect it?