Advising Against Advice

    A slew of information exists, out there in web-land, regarding publishing. I wish this post was about the usefulness of some of this information but… no. This is the Bloggery, after all.
    As some of you may know, I am in the process of querying agents for representation of my debut novel. Like everyone else who has gone through this process since the dawn of Twitter, I have pored over an endless series of blogs and websites dedicated to helping writers create a solid, effective query. I figured there was a proper querying format, and actually, if you read most of these ‘advice’ posts, you would think there is. So, what have I learned?
    Every agent, believe it or not, is different. Here I was hoping I could just cut and paste the same spiel to every agent in America and then get back to writing my second novel–but no. It turns out I have to work. I don’t want to work; that’s why I wrote a novel!
    There is no magic formula, folks. Some agents consider the ‘query’ and the ‘summary’ to be the same thing; some don’t. Some agents want one paragraph to summarize the basic plot-line; some want the first three chapters. Some agents want you to cut and paste the first 25 pages directly into the body of the e-mail; some will hit ‘delete’ if they notice they have to scroll down to read your letter. Some agents love it when you cite authors the agent has worked with; some agents think it’s creepy. Some agents like the summaries to be focused on the emotion of the book; some like it focused on the story. Some agents like narrative voice in the query; some prefer to keep things strictly business.
    Here’s the thing. You need to research the individual agent, and write a completely new query for that individual. Tailor your query to fit the agent’s personality and preferences. This takes time–lots of it–but ultimately, it will be worth it. Even if an agent rejects you, he or she is more likely to give you some feedback, if your query was clearly written with care and research.
    There are dozens of agent lists out there in web-land, so I won’t bother with pointing you toward any links. Just find a list, go through it, and write the fifty to one-hundred queries you need to write to get your book published. Make sure you know exactly what each agent wants, and give it to them. And don’t stop after the first landslide of rejections fills your inbox, because it’s going to, no matter how good you are.
    The only other piece of advice I think I can give involves organization. Make a chart with each agent’s information, so you don’t have to track it down every time you want to send out more queries. Include:

    1) Name of Agency
    2) Address
    3) Phone number
    4) Agent, with e-mail address
    5) Submissions Policy, with exactly what they want
    6) Expected time it takes for Agency to respond
    7) Any relevant information you could use to sweeten your query (i.e. the agent really likes dogs, and your novel features a lot of doggy narrative; or the agent spent time in Brazil, and your novel takes place there)

    Make a chart with fifty to one-hundred of these, in order of desirability. As you send out your queries, mark the date you sent it and, if the estimated response time has passed, politely poke them again, then move on.
    Also, keep in mind most agencies don’t allow you to send queries to multiple agents–within their agency, or otherwise. Again, this is different with every agency–make sure you know exactly what they want!
    Look, I don’t like tedious desk work either, but if you love your novel, you’ll do it. The fact of the matter is, you’re researching all these ‘advice’ blogs because you’re looking for a quick-fix, but there truly isn’t one out there.
    Remember all that boring research and fact-checking you had to do, to make sure the nonsense you jotted down actually holds up? Well, think of the agent hunt like that.

Published in: on July 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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