This appeared last week:
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.