5 Tips for Querying a Literary Agent
Querying an agent can be daunting. It’s hard to put yourself out there and to make yourself vulnerable, and once you’ve sent off your work to be judged, waiting to hear back can be almost unbearable.
But agents are often incredibly busy and it can take six weeks or more to get any sort of reply – in fact, you’ll be lucky to get any reply at all. If you do, it’s usually a one-size-fits-all email, basically saying ‘not for us, but thank you.’
It’s completely understandable why this is the case. Agents can sometimes receive hundreds of queries and manuscripts a week which only add to their already mounting pile, so practically speaking, it wouldn’t be feasible to reply to each and every one.
With all that being said, when you do get a response it’s all the more meaningful – even if that response is a no. It means you’ve done it! You’ve put yourself out there, and that’s a massive step.
And while querying may be a long game of nerves and patience, there are a few things you can do to make sure you stand out and help give you a better chance of getting a ‘yes’.
1 Do Your Homework
For starters, you really should research and check out a wide variety of agents to make sure that when you decide on an agency to query, they work with writers similar to you. If you’re writing a picture book, then you wouldn’t want to query or submit it to an agent who only reads YA or even worse, an agent who only reads non-fiction. The chances are they’ll take one look at your beautifully crafted hard work and delete it from their inbox (or send it back to you if you’ve sent a physical copy and included an SAE). To be safe, it’s advisable to always check out each agency’s submission guidelines because they can differ from place to place. Also, make sure you send what is asked for. For example, an agent will probably only want you to send the first several chapters of your book (usually the first three chapters but sometimes only ten pages) and will often only want full texts for picture books.
Each agency may also request that your query letter and any work you send be submitted in a specific style. Most will usually ask for submissions to be written in a standard easily readable font such as Times New Roman or Courier New and for the text size to be 12pt. It’s probably safe to assume that they’ll also ask for your work to be double line spaced, that the pages be numbered and that you’re name and the title of your work be placed in the header of each page.
Every agency also has its own rules about how to contact them. Some will now only accept email queries while others accept both email and postal. If you’re attaching work to an email, then it’s advisable to check which formats the agency requires. Different agencies require different formats, i.e. a PDF document vs a Word document.
2 Introduce Yourself
You should begin your query letter by addressing the individual agent you wish to work with. This gives them a sense that you’ve really taken the time to assess which agent will best be able to represent you and your work.
The next few lines should be about you. Introduce yourself, presenting who you are and any other relevant information you think might be pertinent. Make sure to include your name, (it seems obvious but you’d be surprised), where you’re from and any experience you might have in the writing and publishing industries. As for your work, you should include its title, word count and a brief (and if possible) full overview of the plot.
3 Previous Work?
It is also a good idea to briefly talk about any work you’ve had published before, and if you’ve self-published say where it’s available to buy so an agent can check it out if they so desire.
4 Why This Agent?
Say why you’ve decided to query your chosen agent, mentioning what drew you to them and maybe even why you think you might work well together.
5 Only Query One Agent Per Agency
Querying multiple agents within the same agency is just bad manners. Choose one agent, and then if that agent decides your work isn’t a good fit for them, then, of course, query another agent at the agency. There’s every chance, however, that if the agent you’ve queried sees potential in what you’ve sent them and it just isn’t for them, then they might well pass it on to someone within the same agency who’s more suitable.
Remember, if you believe in your work – and I’m guessing that you do – then keep trying. Keep putting yourself forward and keep taking and retaking that step of querying and submitting your work. Just because you may not be a good fit for one agent or agency, it doesn’t mean there isn’t someone just waiting for a project like yours to sink their teeth into!
As always, thanks very much for spending your time with me today!
Until next time,
© 2021 GLT