How NOT to Query An Agent

icon-364244_640Working for a literary agent definitely has its moments of hilarity. My most recent reason to LOL? I was pitched to.

Yes. Me. The administrative assistant. And here is the crazy part: I was pitched a manuscript to an email address that really isn’t common knowledge. And on top of that: I don’t get the query emails. Those go to a completely different person.

So why did it come to me, you ask?

I have no idea. Which prompted this post: how NOT to query a literary agent. Sharpen your pencils; get out your note pads, this is going to be riveting (and maybe save you the embarrassment of making common, amateur mistakes).

  • You hear it everywhere. You’re about to hear it here, too: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ON OUR WEBSITE. Yes, I just used almost every function on the Word program to emphasize that statement. Seriously, all your problems will be solved if you take a few minutes to get these facts straight. When you do, you’re a sight for sore eyes for those of us who receive the queries (or shouldn’t receive the queries as the case may be…).
  • Don’t put your entire chapter outline/back cover copy/reasons why you wrote this story in the query letter. Take an hour (or two) and Google query letters. Figure out how to write a good one. Have a critique partner give it a once-over (at the least). This is the first impression you’ll make. It needs to be a good—GREAT—one.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you are going to be “the next NYT bestseller” or “Nicolas Sparks” or “Janet Oke”. Yes, these points just came through in a query letter that landed in my inbox. If you are going to claim to be the next hot name, please be sure to at least spell it correctly.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you need them to publish their book. Um, excuse me, but duh. Be humble when you approach an agent. They have a ton on their plate. Usually many, many authors whose books and careers they manage. Reading your synopsis takes a chunk of time out of their day. Realize that it’s not all about your needs and frame the tone of your query accordingly.
  • Don’t give your life story. The reason why you wrote the book. The story behind the story. Don’t go there. Stay away. The agent doesn’t care. Now, if he/she picks up the book, reads it, signs you to their agency and you become friends, well, then yes, you probably will tell them the why behind the book. But right now you’re not BFFs; you’re strangers. You wouldn’t walk up to a handsome stranger-dude at a cocktail party, stick out your hand, and tell him all about your dog dying when you were four, would you? Of course not. Don’t do that to the agent you are querying, either.

Yes, that’s a lot of don’ts. Believe it or not, these all came out of a query letter I should have never gotten this week. So: read the guidelines. Write a pithy, word-catchy query. Have a great product to share with the agent. Be humble. Be patient. Email the right person and you won’t become an illustration on some agent’s blog anytime in the near future. 😉

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This entry was posted in Agent's Desk and tagged , , by Casey Herringshaw. Bookmark the permalink.

About Casey Herringshaw

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She is a rural Eastern Oregon transplant into Colorado Springs, Colorado. Taking the words and stories God has placed on her heart and putting them on paper is one of her greatest passions in life. Casey is a member of ACFW and their Carol Awards Coordinator. You can connect with her through her personal blog, Writing for Christ or her group writing related blog, The Writer's Alley.

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