The most important thing to remember when querying literary agents about your book is the old adage that “knowledge is power.” When it comes to publishing, ignorance is not bliss. The more you know and understand about an agent you’re targeting, the better. When you’ve created a good profile on the agent you can “tweak” your query letters to appeal to them. Remember, read up on their guidelines. Then, only send them what they ask to see.
“Query Only,” that’s all you send. “Query Plus Synopsis,” that’s what you do. If you don’t see “Query Only,” “Query Plus Synopsis,” or any other specific instructions, then include the first five pages of your manuscript. Agents are curious and might peek at your first five pages and be impressed, even if the query letters didn’t spark them. If you do send those first five pages, make sure they are terrific. No errors, no typos, an excellent “hook” within the first couple of pages, etc.
If you are sending via e-mail, paste your accompanying materials (synopsis, first five pages, etc.) into the body of the e-mail. Never send attached files unless asked to do so.
Send out your queries in batches. Don’t ever send query letters to every agent in an agency at the same time. JUST DON’T. If you send five or ten per week, then you can take a couple of weeks off to work on your next book.
So you’ve sent out 20 queries to the top 20 agents on that list I had you develop in Getting Started Finding a Literary Agent. And then, within the next few months you receive 8 rejection letters (form letters) and 12 non-replies.
What have you learned about querying literary agents?
First off, it tells you that some agents won’t even bother to send a rejection letter (even a form letter) if they’re not interested. Agents these days seem to have a “no response means no” policy.
It might also suggests that your query letters didn’t cut the muster (yes, I said muster not mustard. Look it up). They were unable to get agents to request to see chapters or a full manuscript. So then it’s back to the old drawing board. Rewrite your query until it does what it’s supposed to do.
When you DO get rejection letters (you will most likely get many of them), they will most likely to be form letters. Sometimes you’ll be able to tell that the agent is responding to you personally (this is actually an encouraging sign, even if they’re rejecting). Lines like “Your work sounds interesting, but it’s not right for our agency at this time” or “This isn’t a work I can represent effectively, but I’m sure it will find a home somewhere else” are form responses, and every rejected writer gets them. They are very familiar to me.
Don’t spend your time cudgeling your brain over what they mean. And never write the agent back and to ask for an explanation or to inform them how wrong they are. That’s extremely bad etiquette. Agents have long memories.
I know from many, many first hand experiences – “No” means NO. And that’s ALL it means. Don’t take it personally.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…