In the next week or two, I’m starting the process of querying agents. In my research to start my next writing adventure, I’ve learned several things to keep in mind while querying. Because, honestly, you’d be surprised the kind of things agents have to deal with on a daily basis. I don’t guarantee an agent if you follow these suggestions, but they will go a LONG way in making sure you don’t get rejected because of a mistake.
1. ALWAYS research the agents you’re sending letters to. Make sure they are looking for the type of book you wrote. There’s no point in querying an agent who doesn’t represent your genre. They aren’t going to suddenly change their minds because of your book. Don’t waste their or your time.
2. ALWAYS follow the agent’s or agency’s submission guidelines. Even if you’re the next Hemingway, if you don’t submit properly, the agents may not waste their time going through your submission. They took the time to write up their guidelines for you. Don’t you want to make sure to get that manuscript in front of them?
3. TRY to get two or more writer friends to read your query letter. It’s easy for us to miss mistakes when we’ve been staring at something for so long. Other readers will help with ironing out details, grammar errors, and other mistakes.
4. ALWAYS query a finished manuscript. This is more for the newbies (like me). Agents don’t care if you believe your story idea is great even though you haven’t written it. They want to READ how great it is. They need to know you can write that great story not just that you can come up with a great storyline idea.
5. ALWAYS query a polished manuscript. Manuscripts riddled with errors are hard to read. I know we don’t catch every little mistake, but do the best you can. Let other people read your manuscript before you send out queries. They can make sure you don’t have plot holes, grammar errors, misspellings, story flow mistakes, and too many adverbs. 😉 Don’t you want your best work in front of the people who can help with your publishing success? Again, don’t waste their or your time.
6. DON’T be arrogant. You may truly believe that you’re the next Faulkner, Dickens, Tolstoy, King, Austen, or Lewis, but let the agents and readers decide that you are. Telling an agent you’ll sell millions of books, that your stories are life-altering and will go down in history, and you’re only submitting as a formality because these suckers will sell themselves, isn’t going to win you any brownie points. Agents want to know they can work with you, that you’ll take suggestions and criticisms well. They’re there to help you sell millions.
7. DON’T try to sell a series. Sell one book, but let them know your story has series potential. Agents know the market and publishers better than most of us. They know what can sell as a series and what can’t. If they’re interested, you can explain your series ideas later.
8. KNOW your genre and age category. That includes average accepted word counts, correct genre labeling, audience (age, sex, etc.), expected heat levels, and anything else associated with the genre or category. If you mislabel your manuscript, you may be immediately rejected. In other words, don’t label it YA fantasy if the protagonist is twenty-five and lives in the contemporary world with no fantasy or paranormal elements.
9. BE professional. This really should go unsaid. You’re trying to make a career of this, so you need to be professional at all times. Not only should your query be professional, but your social media persona. If you’re bad mouthing agents, publishers, other authors, and/or readers, you can guarantee you’ll have a hard time selling your book. The internet is forever. Keep it professional.
10. KEEP trying. It would be great if the first query you sent out got immediate response and representation, but it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Keep sending those queries out. The internet is riddled with successful authors getting rejected 100 times before they made it big. Sometimes a little tweaking here or there will make the difference.
This list could go on and on, but as long as you keep these points in mind, you’re off to a better start than many. Make sure to do your homework, and hopefully one day, you’ll see your book on the shelves of bookstores.
Happy writing and querying! ~Jennifer Ray