The Agent Game

A viewpoint on publishing

Queries: The hard part

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In my last post about queries, I talked about some easy guidelines that any writer can follow to help improve the chances of their query getting a positive response.

Now it’s time to talk about the hard part. I’m going to start by assuming that you’ve already written a good book, because without one any request you garner for a partial or entire manuscript isn’t going to end up doing you much good. Once you’ve done that though, you still need to write a good query that will let the agents you’re querying know just how good your book is, and whether or not you’re someone with whom they want to have a working relationship. While it might be tempting to just toss off a quick letter the day after you finally finish your manuscript, taking the time to do it right will increase your chances of getting the agent you want.

The main thing you’re trying to do here is sell the book. While most every book is unique in ways that can’t be conveyed in just a paragraph or two, you’re going to have to try and at least capture the essence of your novel. The agent is going to be basically looking to see whether you’ve got an original idea (or at least an original take on a tried and true idea), and if you seem to have been able to build a good book around that idea. Ideally, you’ll also manage to convey something of your authorial voice while you’re summing up your novel. Sound like a tall order? Good, because it is. That’s why this is the hard part.

At the same time, you need to sell yourself along with the book. If the agent takes you on as a client it means that they are entering into a relationship that will likely span many years. No matter how brilliant a writer you might be, if you manage to give the agent the impression that you’re going to be demanding, needy, or outright obnoxious, they’re not going to want to work with you. On the other hand, you don’t really need to impress the agent with how cool you are. Mind you, it doesn’t hurt to be an interesting person, but it’s your work that’s the important thing.

As far as any writing credits go, all you want to include here are any previously published novels (and no, Publish America doesn’t count), short stories (if they were published in respected paying markets), and any writing awards you may have won. Everything else, whether it’s poetry, newspaper articles, marketing reports, or academic papers, is of little consequence unless it somehow demonstrates your expertise in a field that’s somehow involved in your book.

By this point you should have pretty much filled your target one page, so you won’t even have room for the sorts of things you should avoid having in your query letter. Things which include trying to explain the market for your book to your prospective agent, telling them how big the movie that might someday be made from your novel will be, and taking shots at the rest of your genre. All of those are just distractions that are more likely to annoy an agent than to sell them on you as a writer.

In short, take the time to lavish the same sort of energy and focus on your query letter that you used to write your novel. It may not be easy, but both you and your book deserve it.

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Written by incognito

26 July 2008 at 8:44 am

Posted in Getting an agent

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