Saturday, March 12, 2011

BBC's Query Tips: Knowledge Gleaned From Years of Stalking Agent Blogs

I've got a round of agent blogs that I check up on and read almost daily. From this I've learned a few things that should be basic starting points for anyone who is getting ready to jump into the world of querying, and also a good refresher for those of us who have been at it for years... and years.

1) DON'T tell the agent how awesome you are. Every single agent I've read who comments upon this agrees: A modest writer is a better writer.

2) DON'T mass email your query. Most agents won't even read a query that has multiple recipients or is not addressed to them specifically.

DO - double check your spelling of the agent's name. Also, be sure of their gender.

3) DON'T tell the agent that your grandma and your son's friends love your book. Why? Your grandma won't tell you if you suck.

4) DON'T even send that query if your word count is over a certain number. That number can be played with according to genre, but basic
guidelines will tell you that any unpublished, unrepped writer querying their novel that is over 100,000 words is sunk before they leave the harbor.

5) DON'T be overly friendly with your tone. A query is a business letter. You're approaching a professional about your hope for establishing a professional relationship with them. Opening with, "What's up?" isn't how to get your foot in the door.

DO - personalize in a professional manner. Do you follow their blog? Did they mention they're looking for a certain type of project
that your ms fits perfectly? Tell them that. The agent wants to know why you're querying THEM - and hopefully it's not just because
they're an agent and you're a writer.

6) DON'T make assumptions. Dear agent: I know your submission guidelines say that you only want a query, but my novel is so awesome I
know you'll want the full right off. So to save time, I attached it to this email. This goes back to DON'T #1 as well.

DO - follow their guidelines. Every agent has a different way they like to approach their slush pile. Some will want the query, some will want a synopsis as well, some will ask for sample pages. Always check the agency site, or agent blog to learn their preferences. Also, some agent's preferences do differ from the blanket preferences listed on their agency site. If in doubt, go with what the agent profile or blog specifies.

DO - when sending sample pages be sure to check specifications. The vast majority of agents will not accept attachments. Cut and paste into the body of the email.

7) DON'T hassle an agent. Ever. Did they read your query yet? Wait and see. Emailing them to ask if they read it will only irritate them and add your name to their mental list of people that annoy them. Not where you want to be when they do read your stuff.

DO - feel free to check in after a period of time if an agent has your partial or full. VERY basic timelines would be anywhere from four to six months on a partial, even longer on a full. Yes, that long. Also - a lot of agents post where they're at with their partial and full piles in their blogs. Check there before obsessing too much.

8) DON'T think that you're the exception. A query is one page. Period. A great query weighs in around 300 words. Yup, that little.

9) DON'T open up by saying that you're an author seeking representation. I have a hard time picturing an agent reading that line and dropping their coffee cup to yell over to the next office - "GUESS WHAT!!!! I've got an author here seeking representation!!!!"

DO - open with your hook. There is a debate about whether or not an agent wants to see the genre, title, word count first off so that they know what they're looking at. I personally always open with the hook, and it's served me well.

DO - make sure you include genre, title, word count in your query somewhere. I prefer mine at the end.

10) DON'T tease the agent. "Will Cheryl live to fight another day? Can Bob save Lucy from Mr. Villain Man?" The agent might wonder if you're writing a serial radio program from the 1940's, and that market is kind of over.

10 comments:

Gennifer Albin said...

Thanks BBC. I've been slowly jumping into the query critique world and there's so much conflicting info. I'm so glad you encourage putting title/word count/genre at the end. I'm not a fan of it as the opening. I like the validation :)

Darke Conteur said...

Hey! I wear scrunchies! Better for the hair as they don't cause breakage. :P

Good tips! I hope people take them to heart. They seem like common sense, but as I look over submission pages, I see reference to many of you're points.

Clippership said...

No scrunchies? Dang it.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Gen- yeah I've always been and end with the WC kind of gal, not sure why. I guess I just want that hook going BOOM!
Darke - well, I'm confident you make scrunchies look good :)

Anita said...

Great post, Mindy! So much stuff to learn in those first querying phases; it's great to have the info right at hand like this. Writers should save this to their faves.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks Anita, unfortunately I learned a LOT about what not to do from first hand experience!

antrisdale said...

I wondered how to personalize my queries, and never thought about including that I read the agent's blog. Thanks for the advice!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Antris - no problem! It's a great "foot in the door" comment that shows the agent you're not just querying them for the number - you're interested in them, as an individual, and think they'll fit your ms.

Jenny Phresh said...

This is most helpful! But I have to differ on one point--the word count. I don't think it's always a death knell...not if the writing is stellar. Our pal Raven here got representation on a 108K novel, so rules are sometimes made to be broken. At least I hope they are--my book is over 100K too! Yikes.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Jenny P - true! There's always those successful rule breakers.