In Barbara's own words:
Making the Right Agent Say, "Yes"
In a perfect world, you'd send off one query, and the perfect agent would land right in front of your doorstep. In the real world however, you could be sending out query after query but not land the right person to represent you. Although finding an agent may seem like be a daunting task, with the right approach you too can enter the world of those authors who have it "just right."
The image you make right from the very first word in your query takes you one step closer to signing the contract. If you project yourself as unprofessional, you could be the brightest, wittiest, most clever writer on the face of the planet, and yet not have an agent to represent your work. However, make a lasting impression with your query, and you'll soon be choosing among those who wish to be associated with you.
The query is the first impression the agent has of you. It's the only way he/she has of knowing who you are and why he/she should represent, or even read, your work. If you fail to make an impression here, off you go to query someone else. Here are some do's and don'ts on querying an agent:
- Don't send in a query letter with typos and grammatical mistakes. As a writer, you should know better. If your query is crying out with mistakes, no agent is going to even consider reading your manuscript.
- Don't give the agent the impression that your book is a future best seller and he/she is blessed to be working with you. Strange as it may sound, many agents are approached by newcomers to the industry with the air of best-selling pros.
- Lines like 'Please please please, take a look at my work' may sound cute to your grandma, but when approaching an agent, be strictly professional. No agent is going to be taken in by the begging routine, and you'll most likely never receive a reply. I once received a query that had hand-drawn daisies around the margins. The signature had a smiley face. It did not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. The point is, you want to appear professional—and adult.
- Don't ramble on for pages and pages. If the agent can't even get through your query, your manuscript won't even be asked for. Be concise and to the point, mentioning relevant details of your work experience, your manuscript, and your writing credits.
- The Mail Merge feature on your computer is a great resource, but don't write in the agent's name in pen after you've printed out the original form. That only goes to show that your query went out to a dozen other agents, and it's not going to make you any more likable.
- Do mention your credentials and your experience. Without relevant knowledge as to your background, the agent is hardly going to be able to make a rational decision. Don't exaggerate. Sooner or later, the truth will be clear, and you'll be the one at loss. Also, the key word here is “relevant.” Even though it is nice that your poem won 1st place in Mrs. Holloway’s 3rd-grade class, it doesn’t really matter at this stage of your career.
- Mention relevant details about your manuscript and why you're qualified to write it. If you have contacts in the field or have been published in magazines or journals relevant to the subject of your manuscript, state them. I might add here, if you are not qualified in a particular area, but just want to write about it anyway, save yourself some time—don’t do it. Save the nonfiction narrative on brain surgery for the brain surgeon.
- Be original. Most agents get hundreds of queries each day. For them to take a second look at yours, you need more than plain facts. Don't just copy the sample query your writing group buddy sent you. Make your personality show through your writing.
Agents are always on the lookout for good writers and good manuscripts. But unprofessionalism and carelessness send your query straight to the trash. So, while you have to be careful in choosing an agent, you also have to be very careful in portraying the right image.
I look forward to seeing you at Book ‘Em North Carolina in February. Be sure to stop by my table to say hello.
Barbara Casey is President of the Barbara Casey Literary Agency and author of numerous articles, poems, and short stories, and eight award-winning novels.