I'm so pleased to welcome Vanessa E. to the blog today. Vanessa writes YA and NA and is sharing some of her querying experiences today.
Querying Do’s and Don'ts
I have spent the last two to three years trying to get an agent even with the changes in the publishing world.
I’m still trying. I keep telling myself that some of the greats were rejected hundreds of times. Kathryn Stockett got over one hundred rejections before The Help was published. Stephen King was rejected many times, and now look he’s the most respected man in the literary world.
Today is about querying. Your query letter is what will help you land your dream agent. Even in today’s publishing world you want to make your query as clean and professional sounding as possible. So here are some tips to help you.
Spelling their name right
This is a big one. For the love of all, make sure you spell the agent’s name right. I see lots of author friends of mine getting a rejection within the hour of sending their query letter in email because they didn’t spell the agent’s name right. Even if they have a hard last name to spell you can copy and paste it into your word document.
Personalizing the query
Every agent has a particular way that they prefer for query letters being addressed to them. Some like theirs personalized like:
“Dear Mr. Barbra, I saw that you represented Lauren Oliver’s dystopian series Delirium and I thought you might be interested in...”
Others like for you to jump right into the pitch like this:
“Dear Mr. Barbra, Echo is a sixteen year old girl who can see a person’s death before it happens”
Research is the key
Research the agents you want to query. Some will have a presence on social media stating what they are looking for. If you have researched your agent the beginning of the query can look like this
“Dear Mr. Barbra, I saw on your profile in the Publisher’s Marketplace that you were looking for quirky middle grade boy fiction, and I thought you might be interested in my book etc”
“Dear Ms. Glick, I recently read an interview you did with Writer’s Digest saying that you were looking for more literary fiction, and I thought you would be interested in my book etc”
If you query an agent who prefers for the query to jump into the pitch you can put a little bit of personalization on why you submitted to them when you get toward your credentials. Most agents have a Twitter, blog, or Publisher’s Marketplace page to see what they are looking for. Address in the query letter that you saw what they are looking for. (HINT: A lot of agents give interviews with Writer’s Digest on the types of stories they want to find).
Links for author platform
I have said this and some writer friends have said this repeatedly--agents are very busy people. They spend a lot of time negotiating contracts, reading their clients' manuscripts, making editorial suggestions for their clients, and reading queries.
Put the links to where the agent can find you. So the end of your letter looks like this
Try to keep your query to a minimum of 300 words or less but no longer than a page is usually your best bet. Former agent Kat Salazar mentioned on her blog that for her short queries have her read the entire letter, and pay close attention to detail in the sample pages.
Just keep the query letter simple.
Querying every agent at the agency at the same time
Don’t query every agent at the same agency. Some of the agencies use only one email for queries. It looks bad when you queried three different agents at the same time.
Querying those who don’t represent your genre
Some agents don’t really state what subgenre they are looking for in a category, but their page on the agency website will state their favorite author, or their favorite books. Their page will say something like this.
“I want more magical realism. I’m a big fan of Francesca Lia Block.”
“For adults I would like to see more magical realism such as Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.”
“For young adults I would like to see something like Graceling meets Games of Thrones.”
“In terms of young adult I want something more realisitic.”
I submitted to an agent who only stated she wanted young adult, but wasn’t specific to the genre. Mine was urban fantasy so I took a chance, and queries that agent anyway. She responded that it wasn’t in her genre, but she was passing it along to someone else at the agency. Not many agents do that, but I thought it was really nice of the agent.
Sending out a mass email
I think this one has to be the biggest annoyance or agents. I have friends from creative writing who have done this, and got rejected in the next five minutes. I cannot emphasize enough not to do this.
Don’t send out one mass email to every agent at once. Tina Wexler at ICM Partners stated how if the author couldn’t take the time to personalize the query to her, why should she take the time to read your query.
Putting inappropriate statements in the query
So this is a lesson, and not so funny story. One guy in my writing class decided to try and sell his science fiction book to Stephenie Meyer’s agent. One week later he got a rejection. When I asked to see his query he sent I couldn’t believe he wrote that. He put “If you can represent Stephenie Meyer’s horrible writing you should take my story.”
This is a DON’T. When querying an agent your query is your business proposition. You want it to read professionally, not riddled with an insult. Insulting an agent in your letter is the end of that potential business proposition.
Not following directions
When agents ask for sample pages many writers make the mistake of attaching the first ten pages, or attaching the whole document.
Follow all the directions the agents have on their website. Unless it’s stated somewhere on the website to put the sample pages as a PDF attachment, always play it safe and paste the pages into the body of the email.