QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 9, 2015



You wrote a killer query letter. You polished up your first three chapters to make sure they packed a punch and left the reader wanting more. Then the rejections rolled in. Out of your list of dream agents, not a single one even asked for a partial. Why? Here are some questions to ponder.

You queried widely, but did you query “smart”? Many agents represent the thriller genre, for example. But what kind of thriller? And who does the agent represent? QueryTracker has a handy “Who represents Whom” database. More important, what has the agent sold lately? Publisher’s Weekly has a paid subscription where agents can self report sales, but there are free resources that are only a Google search away that also provide sales information.

QueryTracker provides links on the agent’s profile page to on-line resources where you will find additional information and interviews. This gives you an idea of the agent’s tastes, pet peeves, and favorite authors, which in turn, will help you tailor your query to their specific preferences. Take it a step farther. Thumb through your comparable titles in the store or library and go the acknowledgment pages, where the authors almost always list their agents.

Next: Is the agent’s current list similar to the overall tenor of your manuscript? If not, keep looking. Or, does the agent already have a client who has a book almost identical to yours? If so, why would she want yours? When you look for a good agent fit, book covers reveal a whole lot.  If all of the thrillers listed on the agent’s client page have shirtless hunks on them, it’s a safe bet he or she leans towards thrillers with a heavy romantic arc. Cottages with picket fences suggest a cozy mystery, not a slasher novel.

Don’t overlook the importance of social media, including your own. If your would-be agent is snarky or mean or only tweets about her other day job, do you really want this person as your advocate? Look at your own social media. Do you come across as bitter/whiny/demanding? You can be certain that an agent on the fence about requesting material or making an offer is checking you out on-line.

Did you overlook new agents? Every agent was brand new at some point. If an agent seems to be a good match for your manuscript, is enthusiastic about signing new authors, and is working with a reputable agency, give it a shot.

Did you lead with your genre in your query letter, and if so, are you sure it’s the right one? Your middle grade adventure may actually be a young adult fantasy (I learned that the hard way). If you’re unsure, check out the many on line articles on genre and word count (Chuck Sambuchino has a very helpful one) or run it by the fine folks on the QueryTracker Forums. We are always eager to help each other navigate the querying trenches.

Did you engage in a fearless assessment of your manuscript before you started querying? Yes, your manuscript is your precious baby. But has it been thoughtfully critiqued by someone who is not a blood relative or close friend? Did you have it edited and proofread? Going it alone is a mistake. Find a critique partner or a beta reader. The QueryTracker forum is also a great place to obtain constructive critiques.

Remember, your lack of requests may have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your writing. True, agents take on what they love, but they also take on only what they think they can sell. A market driven industry doesn’t always result in a meritocracy. Maybe this time querying didn’t result in an offer of representation. It stings, but sometime all you can do is move on to the next project. Here’s to  many QT success stories in 2015, hopefully yours.

1 comment:

Linda H. said...

"does the agent already have a client who has a book almost identical to yours? If so, why would she want yours?"

that is great advice. And to take that a little further...

Checking the market as a whole BEFORE writing the book is also a good idea. I had a great idea for a picture book last month but as I researched I found two or three with a similar character and plot. So much for what I thought was an original idea.