1. Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?
2. Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?
3. Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?
4. Is it the best work you are currently capable of?
If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!
But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!
Here’s some inside scoop from my intern, Tara Slagle…
In order to find your dream agent or editor, you need to know who likes what, and what they’re accepting. If you do this, it could save you a lot of time and disappointment.
Finding the appropriate agent or editor can be tough, but luckily there are many resources that can help you in your search for “the one.” Helpful and trusted websites like Publishers Marketplace and Poets & Writers offer search areas where you can discover agents and editors based on what they represent. The annual edition of Writer’s Market or Guide to Literary Agents also offers advice and lists of editors and agents for your perusal. With so many listings though how do you know what to look for?
- Determine your category: To begin, determine what category or genre your work fits into. Is it Romance, Fantasy? Children’s or YA? Whatever it is, you can filter out some agents and editors based upon what they represent or publish. If they don’t read what you write, there’s no use sending it to them; you’ll just end up with an inbox full of rejection letters and a lot of wasted time—who wants that?
- Check individual sites: Once you’ve weeded out the professionals who won’t be interested in your work, check out what the remaining contenders are currently looking for. A great way to find this out is by checking their individual websites and blogs. Many agents and editors post what types of work they’re currently accepting—if they’re open to submissions at the present time. If that information isn’t available on their website or blog, look at recent publications they’ve represented or edited. If you’ve written a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars and the editor recently published a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars, unfortunately they might not be looking for another one so soon.
- Think about market trends: Something else to consider when submitting is current market trends. This is usually visible in the bookstores or on the bestseller lists. Here’s an example. Recently—as many of you know—dystopian novels have been very popular and successful (looking at you, Hunger Games and Divergent). Publishers rode the wave and dystopian novels flooded the market, with everyone hoping to find the next big book. But now, after reading countless submissions, and maybe even working on a few, a lot of agents and editors are tired of reading dystopian submissions. They just don’t want them.
- Set it aside (if needed): What should a writer with, for example, a dystopian (or vampire/demon, etc) do with their manuscript that they feel is hot and ready to submit? If the market is saturated it’s likely you’ll get more than a few rejections. That’s the unfortunate truth, but there is hope: even if you’ve missed a trend, most things come back around. Just because you can’t send it out now doesn’t mean you never will. Sometimes you just have to set a manuscript aside and work on something else until the world is ready again for what you’ve written.
- Submit: But once you’ve got a list of potential agents and editors, check out their submission guidelines. Publishers Marketplace, Poets & Writers, and the annual Guide to Literary Agents usually have up-to-date instructions for how to submit to each individual. Follow the submission guidelines and hope for the best! If you’ve done your research correctly, you may just get the good news!
Here is a list of helpful links:
Poets and Writers: http://www.pw.org/
Publishers Marketplace: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
Writers Market: http://www.writersmarket.com/
Query Tracker: http://querytracker.net/index.php
Writers Digest forum pages: http://www.writersdigest.com/forum/
Agent Query: http://www.agentquery.com/
Tara Slagle is Linda Epstein‘s current intern. Tara is working toward her M.S. in Publishing at Pace University. After completing her degree she plans to work in the publishing world as either an acquisitions editor or literary agent, focusing on YA and (the emerging) New Adult titles.
Here’s advice from my intern, Cindy Francois. Cindy screens queries and does first reads on manuscripts for me. She makes my job infinitely more do-able!
As an intern, there are a few things I’ve learned that prior to my internship would not have occurred to me. While they may be obvious, they continue to be some of the more popular reasons why I find myself rejecting queries and potentially great book ideas.
To clarify, we interns are encouraged to be ruthless in our execution of instructions. For example, since Linda doesn’t read mysteries, if you pitch her something you call literary fiction but it’s mostly a mystery, I’ve been instructed to give it a pass. This is the best way for me to learn how to evaluate a manuscript, looking for what she wants. Any uncertainties are double-checked with her, but generally I’m supposed to be unforgiving. Linda is looking for accessible literary fiction but if I find myself reaching for a dictionary 3 times within the first paragraph of your sample (yes, I’m well read), I have no choice but to reject your manuscript. Sounds simple, but I was miserable the first few weeks of my internship. I am a writer rejecting fellow writers, and it can feel horrible!
In terms of your query, it should be as precise as possible. This is your first opportunity to showcase your voice, so…
- Do follow directions to the letter: You dedicated a large chunk of time to writing your novel. Give it the best chance to be heard. Since Linda requests the first 20 pages in the body of the email for fiction queries, do not send an attachment.
- Do be impeccable with your words: Nothing is more frustrating than a brilliant idea poorly executed. Really! I get giddy when I read an unusual premise and die a little when the first paragraph, and sometimes the first page, fails to measure up.
- Do not query multiple works in the same email, even if connected.
- Do not query multiple agents in the same email (or worse yet repurpose the email but fail to update the salutation, e.g. email addressed to Linda but begins with “Dear June”).
- Consider the books being published in your market. Read a few of them. How does your book compare, both in terms of structure and language? Find an avid reader with an eye for story arcs and ask them to take a look.
- Also, keep an eye on how you format your query. Be sure to include a bio and short summary before your sample pages. This will be visual confirmation that the information we require is included. I’ve reviewed too many queries where I had no information on the sender. That is not okay; you don’t really get another opportunity to pitch the same story.
If you’re anything like me, you view your manuscript as your baby (for lack of a better word). You’ve worried over it, been baffled by it and maybe even cried a time or two. Honor the courage it took to write it by doing what you can to give it a great introduction.