Where do you find an agent? How do you query them? What if they reject your work?
Querying an agent can be downright daunting. You first wonder, Where do I find an agent? And once you find a handful, your inside screams, “She’ll probably laugh at my writing!”
We sat down with literary agent Adria Goetz who shared her tips on querying an agent, what to include in your query letter, and why you should be querying agents, even if you’re rejected the first time.
How to Query an Agent
There are a couple different ways to query agents.
Dig into the guide books available at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon, which provide information about various agents. Check out Guide to Literary Agents 2020—the most popular guide book out there.
Conferences are another great place to connect with agents. Throughout the conference, you have opportunities to meet face-to-face and pitch them your project.
But don’t expect a contract. While some authors successfully connect with agents, the reality is agents rarely pick up authors from conferences. Adria, in fact, has only signed one or two agents from a conference.
Traditional Querying: Still the Best Route
The best way to connect with literary agents, come to find out, is the traditional way.
Adria says she connects with most of her clients through the email slush pile of manuscript submissions she receives. Traditional querying is a great means to reach out to individual agents you have researched. You are solely querying those you’re interested in—and who (if you’ve done your research) might be interested in your writing.
The downside to this method is the overwhelming volume of manuscript submissions agents receive on the daily. You’re not the only person querying an agent. You have 20 seconds to make an impression, or it will likely be rejected.
Tweet, Tweet, Tweet: Connecting with Agents via Twitter
Another option for querying is through Twitter, where agents lurk. Once you follow a couple of agents, you will follow the breadcrumbs to more agents. Follow them. Comment on their posts. Become a familiar name to a handful of agents who cover writers of your genre.
But Adria says, do not (do not!) DM these agents with your pitches. Instead, participate in Twitter pitch event days.
Throughout the year, Twitter designates a few days for pitch events. During these events, agents are actively looking for fresh projects.
You can tweet a pitch of your project using a specific hashtag. For example, #PitMad is used to tweet a pitch for unpublished novels. This is the only hashtag for nonfiction projects. Another hashtag to check out is #PassOrPages. It’s used for agent feedback on queries.
Editors and agents scroll through these hashtags and request to see your project if your work piques their interest. If you’re nervous about querying, this is a great opportunity. Agents request to see your work rather than you submitting a manuscript and awaiting acceptance or rejection.
What to Include in a Query Letter
It’s important to set yourself up for success when you start the querying process. The best way to do that is to nail your query letter.
The most important part of the query letter is the first paragraph. Include a nice greeting, the title of your book, your word count, and the age category (children, middle grade, young adult, adult, etc.). You will also want to include a general “elevator pitch” (quick 2-sentence summary) for the project. This allows the agent to have a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in your project.
Agents are looking for concepts they love, and projects that resonate with audiences. So, emphasize the marketability of your project: how does it fit into the cultural zeitgeist of today? Projects that resonate with a cultural zeitgeist are appealing because they have a built-in platform to promote their work.
The next one to two paragraphs of the letter will describe your project as a whole. This is your opportunity to further hook the agent into your project. Don’t be too wordy. Agents will only spend about twenty seconds on a submission, so choose your words wisely.
In a separate paragraph, provide comp titles for your project. Choose two to three books that are similar to yours in some way. They should be books that were published within the last three years so that the agent knows it’s something that will appeal to the current market. These books should also be successful. But not too successful. You don’t want to compare your work to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, or Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.
And don’t forget your bio! If you’ve written articles or have published works, you will want to include that in your bio. General information is also important. Such as, if you work a day job, and where you live. The bio isn’t intended to impress agents. It’s simply a means to help agents get to know you better.
Finally, be sure to follow all agent submission guidelines. This will vary agent-to-agent. For example, some agents may request the first chapter of your book. Others will request multiple chapters.
Query until Your Fingers Are Numb
The querying process can be maddening and time-consuming at times. Rejection is a guarantee no matter the method you select to query. And far too many authors give up on their projects too early.
Querying is a numbers game, just like the lottery. You have to submit your manuscript in high volumes if you expect to hit the jackpot. Sometimes it will take twenty submissions, or 100 submissions before you land an agent.
Adria says, “I do often think writers give up too soon. I’ve heard of some people submitting 150 queries before they connect with the right agent.”
You may have to take a break from querying to revise your submission. But don’t give up! Try out different querying methods. Finetune your query letter. Keep chugging along until you find an agent! Even if it means submitting 150 times.