Tag Archives: query letters

Literary Agents: 10 important things to know

Noun

helping profession ‎(plural helping professions)

  1. A profession that nurtures the growth of or addresses the problems of a person’s physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional or spiritual well-being, including medicine, nursing, psychotherapy, psychological counseling, social work, education, life coaching and ministry.

vintage-nurse-phone-imageDid you notice that literary agent isn’t listed? Newsflash! That’s because those who work in publishing are not in the helping professions.

I recently got a query that said, “I have no idea what to do next! Help!” I wish I had a rational response to that. I wish I could brush it off, knowing the writer is just naive and ignorant as to how the publishing industry works. I wish I was a kinder, more patient reader of queries. I could, and did, delete the email.

I’m sure most of you who are reading this blog post commiserate with me, and are shaking your heads and tsking appropriately. Because obviously none of you would ever put something like that in your query letter. You are all educating yourselves about the industry, as evidenced by doing things like reading blogs about writing and publishing. Nevertheless, I’d like to give you some information about literary agents and the procuring of one:

  1. The job of a literary agent is to sell manuscripts to editors, as well as broker sub rights deals (e.g. rights for foreign, dramatic, audio, merchandise, etc.)
  2. Agents get paid when they sell something; some agents also have a salary from their place of employment; most don’t.
  3. Some agents give editorial input to their clients; some don’t. It’s not required.
  4. Agents are regular people, so they can fall anywhere on the “nice” spectrum, from kind and nurturing to nasty and awful.
  5. You might become friends with an agent, but that’s separate and different from the agent/author relationship
  6. If you are un-agented and looking, don’t take it for granted when you have an agent’s attention and interest.
  7. Most agents aren’t all full of themselves and hoity toity, we’re just super busy (and perhaps, like myself, lacking patience).
  8. Most agents are book people who may or may not have the best social skills (see numbers 4 & 7, above)
  9. The primary job of a literary agent is to take care of the clients they already have. As such, responding to queries often isn’t on the top of the priority list.
  10. When interacting with literary agents be professional and keep your fingers away from the bars of the cage.

I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments section below. Here on the blog I am available to help people who are just learning the do’s and don’ts of the industry. I would say that there are no stupid questions, but I’m just not so sure about that any more. (Just kidding. Ask anything.)

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Guest Post: When is the Best Time to Write a Query Letter?

by W. E. Larson

clock (Erik)Writing a query letter is hard. I did a lot of research when I made one for my first novel. I visited many a website that provided examples, and dug deep into Query Shark. Then I got to work writing and re-writing that query. In the end, I didn’t end up querying the manuscript because it wasn’t really what I wanted it to be yet. Writing the query and synopsis helped me to decide that.

During that research, I came across a query critique on Query Shark that haunted me. The query wasn’t criticized only for its content, but the underlying manuscript was criticized as well. Now that would be tough. It’s one thing to change the query, but another to need to change the manuscript significantly.

That got me thinking that maybe the best time to write a query letter isn’t after writing the manuscript, but before. I’m not talking about writing the whole query, just the most important part, i.e., the pitch that tells the agent about the manuscript.

So I got to work, taking the manuscript idea in my head and trying to write a pitch. It was still hard, but I had the luxury of not having the manuscript set in stone. I took the pitch to a few people to read over, and it didn’t go over great. The pitch didn’t pop. I went back to the drawing board, made some significant changes to the story idea, and made a new pitch that did much better.

Armed with my query pitch and the story idea, I went on to write the manuscript. In my case, that means synopsis, outline, and then the writing. When I finally finished the writing and revising, I already had most of the query letter done. A few tweaks and I was good to go. The resulting query did a great job for me, getting requests and an offer of representation.

Like almost anything in writing, there’s no right way to do things, but writing the query first sure worked great for my second novel.

Erik LarsonW.E. Larson is a life-time midwesterner living in the Kansas City area with his wife, daughter, son, and two dogs.  He earned a degree in physics from Trinity University along with minors in computer science and mathematics.  He went on to pursue a career in software engineering.  He always enjoyed telling stories and decided to finally put some to paper—especially stories that his kids might like.

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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Query Letter

photo 1Make sure you’ve sent your query to someone who wants to read it. Does the agent to whom you’re submitting represent the genre that you write? You’re wasting your time (and the agent’s) if you write YA fiction and they don’t represent kidlit. Just because you’ve “done your research” and you think Perfect Agent For You is really cool, they like the same things you like, they have a neato online presence that you love to follow, they say funny things on Twitter, does not mean they are going to throw their stated preferences of what they’re looking for out the window and offer you representation on your vegan, gluten free, Wiccan cookbook for healing cancer, when they only represent fiction. Really. You’re not the exception to the rule.

photo 2Start with a strong hook or log line. Nothing makes me want to continue reading a query and take my finger off the delete button more than a great first sentence or paragraph. Your query letter is a sales tool. Think of it as an infomercial to sell your manuscript. If you start out boring, you’re setting up whoever’s reading the query to be bored (and to move on to something more interesting). If you start out fascinating, riveting, unique, or even funny, you’re inviting whoever’s reading your query to read the rest of it in that mindset. And the name of the game is getting that someone to read the whole query letter and be interested enough to read the manuscript.

photo 3When giving a short synopsis or recap, don’t go into too much detail. Don’t give away the baby with the bathwater. You don’t need to name every character and every situation, and you don’t need to retell the whole storyline. Tell enough about your story to pique the interest of the reader. Is your story about identical twins named Romulus and Remus, left on the abandoned Mars colony to die, who are raised by a Mars native that the Terrans don’t know exist? Excellent! Please don’t tell me how it all pans out. It’s enough to say that some of your story follows the Roman foundation myth, but that it’s just the starting point for your 95,463 word YA space opera. You can mention the key plot lines and themes, but please don’t tell all. Part of enticing someone to read your manuscript is leaving some questions unanswered.

photo 4Only put relevant information in your bio. If you are an award winning microbiologist who has spent the last 10 years in Borneo doing research to find a cure for a rare disease, don’t include that information if you’re submitting a picture book about an aardvark who prefers bananas to raisins in her morning breakfast cereal. Even if you’ve found the cure to the rare disease. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to your task at hand. And that task is to convey information about who you are as a writer. Are you a stay at home mother of three children, who likes to knit, volunteers 20 hours a week for your church, and has an awesome organic garden? Cool! If you’re submitting a legal thriller set in New Orleans in the 1920’s your kids, knitting, church and garden just aren’t relevant. Leave it out. It’s enough to say that you’re a graduate of UCLA, a member of Mystery Writers of America, have attended writing conferences for many years, and that this is your first novel.

photo 5Make sure you’re findable and that what’s found doesn’t scare people away. That is to say, include your contact information at the bottom of your query letter (email, mailing address, phone number) with links to your online presence. Agents and editors will click the links you include and/or Google you if they’re interested in your work. Make no mistake, if you’re someone who’s bashing agents and whining and complaining online, we will see it. We really will pass on a manuscript if you seem like a nutjob on Twitter or elsewhere.

Bonus advice: Don’t use as many italics as I did in this blog post and keep the number of exclamation points to a minimum!!!!

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