QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Safer Way To Get Noticed

Once again, if you're not following a few dozen agents on Twitter, you're missing the chance to hear how the ones reading your queries are looking at you.

This appeared last week:
Think about that for a moment.

An agent may receive a hundred queries a week. If these statistics hold true (and granted, it was a random sample from one agent's inbox on one specific day, hardly a randomized control trial) then only twenty out of those hundred queriers actually gave the agent the things the agent feels will make her job easier.

Some people say breaking the rules will help you stand out, but it seems to me that with the rule-followers in the minority, there's a safer way to get noticed.

If you were looking to fill a position in your company, would you look favorably on the job candidates you had to chase down to give you their references? Or the ones whose cover letters said "I don't have time to send a separate resume to every potential employer, so just visit my website at http://IDoNotFollowDirections.com"? How about the one who calls your office instead of sending a resume, "Because I'm sure you'd rather talk to me on the phone"?

Does an already-busy agent really want to chase you down in order to get your synopsis? Or will she look more favorably on the writer who gave her everything she wanted in order to make a good assessment of the work?

I checked this specific agent's query directions, and they're not difficult to understand. Query with genre and wordcount, and include the synopsis and the first chapter. Put QUERY in the subject line. But according to her tweets, eight submissions didn't include a sample chapter; five didn't include the synopsis; six went to the wrong email address; one was just an attachment.

To be blunt: if the above holds true, you'll be above 80% of queries if you just follow the directions and send what you're supposed to.

"But Jane! But Jane!" you exclaim, "there are so many agents, and they all have different requirements!"

You don't need to tell me that. I've looked at half the entries on QueryTracker.net (that's something like a billion because Patrick keeps updating them) but most agencies require a variation on the same things:

  • A letter detailing what the book is about. 
  • A paragraph in that letter about who you are, including your publication history. 
  • A completed manuscript (you have that, right?) from which you can include the first three to five pages, the first ten pages, the first fifty pages, or perhaps the first zero pages. (It happens. When an agent says "Please don't send pages," that's the correct number of pages to send.)
  • Some way of contacting you that doesn't involve pleading with online writing groups to pass back a message
  • A synopsis

You should already have all these things before you send your first query. Personalizing your query doesn't have to mean "Dear Ms. Fabulous Agent: My finger is trembling on the SEND button at the thought that Jane Doe's very own agent is going to read these words. I may faint." Personalizing may in some cases mean including the synopsis and the first ten pages.

Your working relationship with an agent should last (ideally) for years. It's worth the three minutes to double-check the agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace page. And as it turns out, I'm not alone in this opinion:
The agent's genres may change. Their requirements may change. They may open to queries or close to them. Find out.

Find out because if you can follow the directions, you're already above 80% of queriers.


Jane Lebak is the author of The Guardian (Thomas Nelson, 1994), Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Writing is a slow business, and publishing is even slower. I can't understand those who mass send out without personalizing each submission. In this business you can't afford to be lazy!

Stina said...

I always laugh when someone comments on the QT database that x agent asked for a partial--the first chapter. But if the writer had looked at the guidelines, he would have noticed that EVERYONE was required the send in the first chapter with the queries. Some agents are nice enough to ask for the chapter. Other will send a form rejection.

Jane Lebak said...

I've looked a bit goggle-eyed myself at comments like that. Yeah, the agent could have rejected right off the query letter (and I would bet that some first-ten-pages don't get looked at) but if the agent wants a partial right off the bat, **why not give the agent what she wants**?

Most writers are dying to have someone read their work, right? I've had those days where I'd scramble after any scrap of encouragement I could find. "Oh, you read my name? You like how I spelled it?" But when someone doesn't send requested pages or a requested synopsis, she's lost that chance to give her material to someone who actually wanted to see it.

Eileen, I'm with you. Very few things happen quickly in publishing, so that minute or two of double-checking what the agent wants isn't that big a deal. They're not burying this information at the bottom of a well.

If a writer queries 100 agents, two minutes to check every agent's guidelines means a little over an hour and a half, spread out a few minutes every day (or in a chunk every week). It's less time than watching a movie. It's as much time as you'd spend sitting through commercials if you watch one prime-time TV show every night while you're in the query process.

Eric W. Trant said...

If you can't take the time to look into the agent/agency, how the heck can you expect them to take the time to look into you.

Carpet-bombing agents is a sure way to get weeded out fast. Be personal, pick a few agents you truly think you'll connect with, and then GO CONNECT WITH THEM!

- Eric

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Wow. This might just be me, but I really wouldn't think calling someone at their office instead of emailing them would be a good idea. It sounds very intrusive. In just about every industry in the world, there's a way you're meant to submit a resume/pitch/grant request/application. I don't see how a query could be expected to be different.

Lynette Eklund said...

Absolutely. Remember... you only have one chance to make a first impression.... Make sure that impression is one of being personable, cooperative and thorough!

Usually, if an agent doesn't request a sample and you really feel strongly that you want to send it anyway; if you acknowledge the fact that you are deviating from their expectations by telling them you saw on their web site... but you are..., they are not as often offended. Just only give them the first page or two and post it below the query. NEVER send uninvited attachments!

Anonymous said...

I feel most of these agent blogs and tweets are "preaching to the choir." Those of us who read them will be the same ones who follow the instructions.

They may as well post: "Please spell my name correctly."

Actually, if I were an agent, I would tweet that, because it would be kind of funny. :-)