Friday, December 12, 2014

How NOT to Query an Agent

Working for a literary agent, definitely has its moments of hilarity. My most recent reason to LOL? I was pitched to.

Yes. Me. The administrative assistant. And here is the crazy part: I was pitched a manuscript to an email address that really isn’t really common knowledge. And on top of that: I don’t get the query emails. That goes to a completely different person.

So why did it come to me, you ask?

I have no idea. Which prompted this post: how NOT to query a literary agent. Sharpen your pencils; get out your note pads, this is going to be riveting (and maybe save you the embarrassment of making easy, amateur mistakes)

·         You hear it everywhere. You’re about to hear it here too: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ON OUR WEBSITE. Yes, I just used about every function on the Word program to emphasize that statement. Seriously, all your problems will be solved if you take a few minutes to get these few facts straight. When you do, you’re a sight for sore eyes for those of us who get the queries (or shouldn’t get the queries as the case may be…)

·         Don’t put your entire chapter outline/back cover copy/reasons why you wrote this story in the query letter. Take an hour (or two) and Google query letters. Figure out how to write a good one. Have a critique partner give it a once-over (at the least). This is your first impression. It needs to be a good—GREAT—one.

·         Don’t tell the agent that you are going to be “the next NYT bestseller” or “Nicolas Sparks” or “Janet Oke”. Yes, these things just came through in a query letter that landed in my inbox. And if you are going to claim to be the next hot name, please be sure to at least spell it right.

·         Don’t tell the agent that you need them to publish their book. Um, excuse me, but duh. Be humble when you approach an agent. They have a ton on their plate. Usually many, many authors that they are managing their books and careers. To take the time to read your next best synopsis is a chunk of time out of their day. Realize that it’s not all about your needs and frame the tone of your query accordingly.

·         Don’t give your life story. The reason why you wrote the book. The story behind the story. Nothing. Don’t go there. Stay away. The agent doesn’t care. Now, if he/she picks up the book, reads it, signs you to their agency and you become friends, well, then yes, you probably will tell them the why behind the book. But right now you’re not BFFs, you’re strangers. You wouldn’t walk up to a handsome stranger-dude at a cocktail party, stick out your hand and tell him all about your dog dying when you were four, right away would you? Of course not. Don’t do that to the agent you are querying either.

Yes, that’s a lot of don’ts. Believe it or not, these all came out of a query letter I should have never gotten this week. So: read the guidelines. Write a pithy, word-catchy query. Have a great product to share with the agent. Be humble. Be patient. Email the right person and you won’t become an illustration on some agent’s blog anytime in the near future. ;-) 

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a country girl now living in a metropolis of Denver, Colorado.


kaybee said...

Ew. Yeah, I probably did all of these at one point. (Though I was NOT the one who just submitted to you.) One thing I never did was send it in on colored paper. I suppose today's equivalent would be an outrageous font. Ew, ew, ew. Thanks for reminding us.
Katy Bailey

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Fun post, Casey! And hilarious that you received a query! It sounds like someone was trying to sneak in the back door, so to speak. :)

You give some great tips here, thanks!! :)

Krista Phillips said...

My first query was so embarrassing I just want to curl in a ball and change my name at the thought. Actually, my first TWO queries. I pray that God erases those queries from those minds every time I think about it.

Random thought though... for your last point, I thoroughly agree, but am wondering if a non-fiction or memoir would perhaps be an exception to that rule? I can see in those cases that a brief history as to why you are writing about the topic may be prudent, or required especially in a memoir.

That said, I've written neither, but was just curious about the etiquette!

Anonymous said...

:) This was fun, Casey. And a relief for me to read since I've sent five queries thus far. LOL Perhaps you can help me with this that has me pulling my hair out...if I'm emailing a query to an agency, not a specific agent, who/do I address it?!

Casey said...

LOL, Kaybee! You won't be the first and you won't be the last. And now you know! Knowledge is king. :)

Casey said...

I know, right, Jeanne?! I could not believe it when I saw it hit my inbox. It's not like it's even that common of a knowledge that I work with Wordserve yet! Now I *am* in charge of doing queries and oh the things I see! :)

Casey said...

LOL, Krista, I doubt it was as bad as all that!

And yes, we would need a bit of your life story and WHY you are qualified to write the book, plus your platform on which to tell people why they should buy your book. But it should be done with taste and grace. ;)

Casey said...

Meghan, I would suggest doing your research on the agency's website and see which agent would be the best fit for you. THat being said, you're most likely first pitching to an admin assistant or a trained intern, so saying "to whom it may concern" I don't believe would be an affront. It would not be to me at least if I got that query. If your research is well done and you write a good query, it matters less who it's addressed to and more about how it's written. Hope that helps!