It was serendipity when Seekerville asked me to write a post, then suggested writing nine tips for querying an agent to go with October’s theme of nine for Seekerville’s 9th birthday! It just so happens that in our office, I’m the one most often found digging through the slush pile, and I have often wished I could give the writers there a few tips.
We get on average a thousand queries a month. I had to learn very quickly what to delete right away, and what was worth reading. So here is a list of tips to help make sure your query gets a fair read, and a shot at catching an agent’s attention.
Number 1 – Do Your Research
This is probably the most important thing you can do before querying. You wouldn’t hand over cash for a car without knowing if you were getting a Yugo or a Lexus, so don’t blindly query agents before making sure they represent what you write and can sell it.
The Internet is a great tool for discovering what an agent likes, the types of books she represents, and the agency’s SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Submission guidelines are different for each agency, and it’s important that you follow them if you don’t want your query deleted.
At Spencerhill Associates, we ask for the query in the body of the email, and a detailed synopsis and first three chapters attached separately as word documents. If I open an email that is blank with attachments, it’s automatically sent to the trash. Do I worry that I may be deleting the next GONE WITH THE WIND? Yes. But more likely, a writer who didn’t take the time to read our guidelines, didn’t take the time to research our agency or make sure his manuscript was ready for professional review. Following the guidelines tells an agent you are serious about her and your work.
Other authors are also a great resource when researching agents. Who do you know that has representation? Are they happy with their agent? Does that agent represent the types of books that you write? Are they accepting new clients? Knowing those answers will help you narrow the list of who you want to query and who may not be a good fit for you and your work.
2 - Spell Check
This seems like a no-brainer, but please make sure the spelling and grammar in your query and writing sample are correct. I have a terrible habit of leaving off letters and changing verb tense when I type. And don’t get me started on autocorrect. This has led me to re-read every email I send at least three or four times. Make sure you check, double check, and have a friend check, before you hit send. When there are errors, it’s like showing up to a wedding in sweatpants. It says you don’t care.
3 - Never Mass Mail Agents
It is understandable that you want to get your work in front of as many agents as possible. But, you want to make sure your work is going to the right agents. Don’t send us all the same email at the same time. When I see more email addresses in the address bar than I see stars in the sky, I can tell that writer didn’t do her research, and it looks unprofessional.
4 - Get the Name Right
Make sure you are addressing your query to a specific agent, and make sure you have the name right. If I had a dime for every time I opened a query addressed to someone at a different agency, I would probably have $78. Still, that’s around 780 queries a year that don’t get read because the senders never bothered to check who they were emailing.
5 - Never Hire Someone Else to Query for You
This is a waste of money, and never works. Think about it, if an author can’t write her own query, why would an agent think she could write her own book? Services like this prey on enthusiastic new authors, but they get you no closer to a call back or request for a full.
6 - Sell Yourself, But Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Never start a query with, “Although I have no writing credits to my name…” or “This is the first time I’ve attempted to write a book.” Even if this is true, it’s in your best interest not to start your letter that way. Let an agent know about what professional writing organization you belong to, such as RWA, ACFW, or SCBWI instead. And if you’ve won or placed in any contests, please let us know that too.
7 - Sell Yourself, But Don’t Over Sell
I can pretty much guarantee that an author hasn’t read an awful lot when he sends me, “This completely original manuscript is like no other book, and like nothing you’ve read before.” How would someone know that? There are millions of books in circulation in bookstores and libraries and online. It has to be similar to something – and that is something that’s helpful for me to know. And please don’t use gimmicky fonts or colors. Bright colors and comic sans get my eyes to cross, not my undivided attention.
8 - Format
This is what I like to see, and should work for most queries.
First sentence should hook me into your story. Word count and genre is something I’d like to know.
One to three paragraphs summarizing the story (like jacket copy).
Then give a short bio including your writing credits.
Contact and website info
9 - Don’t Give Up
No doesn’t mean never, it just means not right now. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep querying. Remember agents need authors just as much, if not more, than authors need them.
I’d love to hear what has worked for you. Was there something you did that got multiple agents interested? Do you have questions about protocol? Did I forget something important? Let me know!
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Amanda Leuck is an agent with Spencerhill Associates. She lives in sunny Florida with her family. When she’s not reading and working hard for her authors, she likes to knit toys, because it’s too hot for sweaters. Learn more about Spencerhill Associates at www.spencerhillassociates.com and find Amanda on Twitter @mandileone.