Querying an Agent

Querying an Agent

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You’ve written your book. Now it’s time to try to find an agent. I tried a year or two with no success, but a new writer really should give it a good try before giving up and self-publishing. My first stop is always www.agentquery.com. From there, you can go into the advanced search options, select your book genre and all sorts of other limiting characteristics to narrow the field of agents you wish to contact.

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The important thing to know here is that this site is really just a starting point. From your search results you should really pop out to the agent’s personal blog or agency website. There you will learn more about what the agent is looking for, who they have represented in the past, whether they are seeking new authors, if they are a good fit for your style, and if they are still working within your genre. You’ll also get the process they want authors to follow for submitting manuscripts: Do they accept email submissions? Do they ignore attachments and want you to copy/paste everything into the body of the email? Is it okay to query more than one agent at a time? How long until you can expect a response? Will you even get a response if they’re not interested? Every agency has different submission guidelines and processes, and sometimes they even vary by agent within the agency.

Most often the first thing they will want is something called a query letter (sometimes they want the first few pages or the first few chapters as well). Basically a query letter is a short synopsis of the work you are submitting as well as a bit of information about you, your influences, your previous writings, etc. This query letter has to be bold and attention grabbing. Think of it as something like a movie trailer meets a sales pitch; it has to draw the agent in and make them want more. There are tons of websites out there that claim to have the secret formula for query letters that work, usually run by ex-agents or former publishing house employees. In reality, the simple gist of it is that you just have to pique their interest. In attempting to do so, you need to realize that these agents get hundreds of queries a month. You need to make your query stand out. If they like your query, they will ask for more (if they don’t already have sample chapters that you submitted along with it). I’ve only ever gotten one positive response or request for more from a query letter. It was for The Lazarus Impact, and I have shared the query letter below for your reference.

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Yes. I forgot an apostrophe after the word “parents” there, just before the Author Bio section. Not good! But possibly forgivable in the event that an agent is truly interested.

So now you’re ready to start contacting agents and hoping for responses. Most agents realize that you will be contacting more than one at a time, but some have said it is a good idea to let them know if you are submitting to multiple agents at once. I would personally only query about five agents at a time. Then comes the hard part. WAITING. There’s a good chance you’ll never hear back from them again, but you should wait to send out more queries to other agents just in case someone writes back with some constructive advice on how to change up your query for the better. I’d allow a month or two to pass before I send out the next batch. This game can and will prove to be a long process, especially if you have a long list of agents you plan to query like I did (50-100 for each book). That could be 10 to 20 months at the low end. And just to give a clue as to agent response time: I was still getting rejections from agents several months after sending my last query and pulling the trigger on self publishing.

A final tip: keep track of who you queried and when, that way if you don’t hear from them for a while you can try another agent at their agency. Usually it is considered bad form to query multiple agents at the same agency at the same time. Below is a chart I made to help keep track of my query letters. If I received a rejection from an agency, I did not query another agent there. If I never heard back, however, I tried someone else if they fit my criteria. Believe it or not it helped immensely to keep them organized like this.

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