Some Thoughts on Querying Literary Agents
By Shaunta Grimes on January 18, 2012
I thought I’d post a little about the querying process for anyone who wants to know. I am aware that there are a zillion posts out there in Interwebs land about agent querying, but here’s my take on it:
1. Write a really good query letter. Write it, then have a few people read it. Then write it again. Get this one right guys, because it’s your one chance for a first impression.
2. Send it out to a few agents at the beginning. If you get instant rejections, even though the book is something the agents represent, think about reworking that query some more. When you start to get some positive result (requests for pages) from your query, then you know you’ve nailed it.
3. Read this to give you a start on how to write a query letter. Google “how to write a query letter.” I may write another post at some time about how I wrote mine, but there are plenty of resources out there to help you. Look for forums where you can post your query for strangers to critique.
4. Once you have that letter right, query wide. Be bold! Also, be prepared to wait. And wait some more. When you feel like you can’t wait another minute, you’re probably halfway there. Use that time to go through your manuscript again and make sure its perfect. Start writing another book. (I wrote an entire novel with my crazy-waiting energy.) There is a lot of waiting in publishing, and this is when you are baptized in it. You will feel like you’re going crazy, but you will survive.
5. Be prepared for things to happen fast, too. Once an agent reads your manuscript and wants to represent it, things will pick up to a fury of activity. You’ll send emails to every agent who has your manuscript or query letter to let them know you have an offer and give them a deadline for making their own decision (usually a week, maybe two.) Some will want to read and will ask you to send the manuscript right away. Others will write and congratulate you, but tell you that your book isn’t right for them for whatever reason (at this point, rejection is almost sweet relief. It’s also far less impersonal than a form rejection, which is kind of nice.)
6. At some point, you’re going to have to talk to a real, live literary agent on the phone. If you are anything like me, this makes you want to throw up. I’m not good on the phone. I get nervous, which makes me get this weird giggly thing going on, which I hate and so I try to stop it which only makes it worse. I’m a phone mess. Guess what, though: This may be your first prom date, but the agent you’re talking to has done this before. A lot. I talked to four on the phone, and in every case, they never let me sit there giggling and falling all over myself. They asked questions first and by time it was my turn, I was far more comfortable and had myself together.
7. You can do this. Trust me.
8. Be open to revision. An agent is a super reader. They read a LOT of books and they know what works. They know their stuff, right? That’s why you want one in your corner. Don’t get so caught up in the ‘this is my masterpiece and I won’t change a word’ trap that you get blinded to advice that may make your baby even more awesome.
9. On the flip side, don’t compromise if your gut tells you the changes are wrong. I had an agent tell me that if I ever rewrote my book so that it was much darker (she used The Road as a comparison,) she’d love to read it again. A revise and resubmit is pretty exciting. Only problem was that thinking about making my book that dark literally made me want to cry. I don’t even read books that dark, I really didn’t want to write one that way. You’re the writer. Take revision ideas and requests seriously, but also listen to your intuition.
10. If you get more than one offer, you’re going to have to write rejection letters. I knew this of course. But I had visions of being like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she goes into that shop on Rodeo Drive and holds up her fancy bags to the snobby ladies and says, “Big mistake. Big!” Yeah. It wasn’t like that. AT ALL. All of the agents who offered were amazing and talented. These aren’t the people I wanted to reject. (I wouldn’t have minded so much if there was a requirement to send a rejection to that one agent who has requested three manuscripts from me over the years and always sends me a letter that basically says “thanks, but no thanks. Close, but no cigar.” Big mistake, lady!)
11. Unless you really know contracts, have someone you know and trust, and who can be impartial, read your contract and help you come up with any questions or revisions you want to ask for. This part is hard. It will make you feel like you’re having a stroke or something, because every single cell in your body is going to scream at you to sign whatever this fabulous agent who sees your potential and is your key to your name on a book cover puts in front of you. (Experience speaking here, your dad might not be quite impartial enough. He might turn a simple agreement into a three page legal document. Out of love.) Boil down the advice to what’s really important to you, and then gather up your nerve and ask questions. Remember this: the contract isn’t for right now. Right now, there is no actual money involved and you and your new agent are a mutual adoration society. The contract is for when there is money and for the unlikely instance when that mutual adoration society falls apart. Make sure you understand what you’re signing.
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