In part II, Catherine worked her way through part of the definition of Query (A one page letter to entice a prospective agent or producer into requesting and reading your work – provides only brief and relevant information.) She made it as far as the part about enticing, when suddenly the urge to work on her novel overtook her sensibilities. She swore to come back to her four-part blog on the query process, but Joe–charming cad that he is–kept her enthralled with his story longer than she expected. Finally freed from his debonair ways and sharp bite, she is back with the second part of Query Me This.
We are now at the prospective agent part of the definition of query. This is where you need to give serious thought to who you want to query, and why. Some do take the ‘catch-all’ approach, meaning–they query to any agent they hear of/read about/find on the internet. O.k….that was not my approach. As I mentioned at the end of part one, I took the slow and steady way to sending out my query.
I follow several agent blogs, and that’s where I started my ‘who to query’ search. I’m not going to mention specific names of agents I queried, but I will provide a list of agent and editor blogs worth checking out (below). Even if you have no intention of querying any of the agents, I suggest you check out their posts. There is a ton of practical information and encouragement to be found by reading agent–and editor–blogs. You also get to know something of the personality of the agent, as well as his or her genre interests. When it comes to the query, you may also be fortunate enough to find specific guidelines posted by an agent. Things such as how many paragraphs should cover your novel (some want one, others two to three); should you include just the hook and a few lines about the plot or should you also include how the novel ends (usually, not…but I’ve come across a couple of agent guidelines that call for giving away the ending of your story); and what other material should accompany the query (synopsis, first five pages, etc.).
All of this information is given freely to you by the agent, so why not read it…and then, follow those guidelines. This helps ensure that you submit a query package in a way preferred by an agent. It’s like dressing the part for a job interview–you want to start off on the right foot my making a good impression. Showing you took the time/made the effort to read the agent’s guidelines and that you can follow directions is part of that good impression.
The other reason you should read agent blogs is to get a feel for their genre interests. Many agents are open to a wide variety of genres, while some focus on just a few. Do not waste anyone’s time by submitting a query to an agent who does not represent the genre of your novel. Often you will find an agent blogs about his or her interests–including, what he or she is looking for right now. To me, that is like gold. If her interests match your genre or more specifically, novel, then you know there is a potential match. When I come across something like that, not only do I say to myself ‘hey, maybe this is a good agent to query’, but it strengthens the belief that my story is one of interest to others.
I could pen an entire blog on the benefits of reading agent and editor blogs (hey, maybe I will), but for purposes of the query process just keep in mind that there is only so much time in a day. You can either query at random, or query at will. To do the latter, you need to research. And while there are viable guides to literary agents, nothing beats going straight to the source.
Note: If the agent you want to query does not blog, be sure to check out the agency website. Often, you will find a short write-up on each agent, including genre interests and what they are looking for right now. Plus, you need to find the submission guidelines specific to that agency and agent. Checking out the website is one step better than relying on possibly outdated information found in more general written or online guides. One exception is the Guide to Literary Agents blog, which usually offers current and correct information. Again, check the agent’s blog and agency website to be sure…before you send out a query.
Before I move on to the last part of the definition, here are some stellar agent and editor blogs worth reading.
http://arcaedia.livejournal.com/ When you pop over to Jennifer Jackson’s blog, you can view her tagline: Et in arcaedia, ego. (and then) Saving the world, one book sale at a time. I just love that. One of my favorite things to read on her blog…her weekly ‘letters from the query wars’ where she provides a numbers review of how many queries received to how many partials requested (w/ genre). Read some of those weekly posts. If nothing else puts things in perspective in terms of how many queries are sent out each week (and to just this one agent, so do the math), this will. From what I’ve read on other agent blogs, the numbers are comparable. Agents receive hundreds of queries–per week. I’ll write that again. Hundreds, per week. Don’t you want your query to stand out (in a good way)?
http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Rachelle Gardner’s blog is one of the most uplifting blogs around. Yes, she gives you practical advice on being a writer/finding an agent/being part of the industry, but what she really gives you–encouragement and advice in an unbelievably supportive environment. She’s just so darn kind.
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/ Nathan Bransford is hilarious. And witty. And also supportive and helpful. Did I mention hilarious? Sure, I get all manner of advice from how to format a query to the Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer–but it’s the laughs that get me every time. And again, with the hope. Geesh, what with all the positive advice some agents give you, you’d think they actually want you to succeed as a writer. Oh, wait…
I would be remiss if I didn’t include the unflappable Janet Reid. Actually, I have no idea if she’s unflappable as I’ve never met her, much less tried to…uh, flap her?? But in her blogs, she comes across as cool and collected. Though not always calm (and I mean that in the best way possible). Ms. Reid has two blogs–her own, which is great for following the weekly/sometimes daily thoughts of a kick-a– agent, and the one she might be better known for. Query Shark is the first place you should go to get some serious–and straightforward–insight into what makes a query letter work. Although, you more apt to find what makes a query not work. You can submit your own query for attack review, but from what I understand there’s a hell of a waitlist. Just keep that in mind if you’re eager to send out your query.
http://www.therejectionist.com/ The Rejectionist is…well, it’s…ok….the blog is like this…oh heck, just go check it out. It’s…unique. And certainly worth reading.
http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/ Editorial Anonymous is covered by a children’s book editor. I don’t know who…because, it’s, uh, anonymous. It’s also very helpful if you write children’s books. Or maybe read children’s books. Hey, why not?
Another one worth your browsing time is The Rejecter. In the description, the Rejecter states she or he is the first line of defense for the boss. Isn’t that a great image? I like it. Puts things in perspective. And perspective’s good.
And now, on to the last part of the definition: provides only brief and relevant information. Brief and relevant. Keep in mind you get one page. If two to three paragraphs are devoted to the hook and the book, and one paragraph is customized to the agent, then that leaves about a paragraph for the cook (about you).* What’s relevent is a hard call. If you have writing experience–professional writing experience, you should probably include it. Meaning, you’ve written articles that have been published in magazines or journals; you’ve written other novels or stories (again, published); or something you’ve written (including the novel in your query) has won awards. That you wrote your family’s holiday newsletter when you were ten…that’s cool and kinda cute, but not really relevant to your current project. I’m going to leave more on this part of the definition to the pros. Below are links to sites that cover what and what not to include:
Guide to Literary Agents
Nathan Bransford on whether or not to list your publishing credits and what to do if you don’t have any.
This concludes Part II of Catherine’s four-part Query Process blog. Methinks Joe has caught her attention again (bad vampire…naughty, naughty vampire). When she returns, she will post her before and after query.
*The Hook, the Book and the Cook is a term used by Barbara Poelle.