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Agents and Authors (Part 1)

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As a literary agent constantly bombarded with questions that any writer should research before making initial contact, I decided it was time to lay out the cold hard facts of the business of obtaining and agent. In 2004, I began writing a short guide that speaks the truth and lays out the cold hard facts of the business.


New and seasoned writers in search of a literary agent will find that An Agent’s Point of View provides insightful and sometimes humorous information to guide through the process. Originally published in 2005, An Agent’s Point of View explains the process of obtaining and keeping an agent, while illustrating the important aspects of contact, etiquette, and more.


An Agent’s Point of View, an out-of-print paperback, is now available as an e-book. I am currently writing a new version that promises to give writers a plethora of information that will help land them a place in the publishing industry.


Contents of the first edition include chapters on queries, manuscript formatting and submission, proposals, guidelines, etiquette, what agent’s expect, what to expect from an agent, making the author/agent relationship work, and more.


What is the big deal about queries? Why should you send a proposal? What the heck is a proposal? Why haven’t you heard from the agents you queried? Why do I need an agent? If you have ever asked these questions, this book is for you!


Every day, our office receives dozens of queries. Ten out of twelve queries do not meet our needs. Eight out of twelve have nothing to do with the genres we represent. At least half are rife with errors, badly written, and offer insufficient details. Of the other half, a third hits the mark.


Every facet of this book is written with you, the writer, in mind. This book will show the novice writer the basics of querying, etiquette and what it takes to become a professional writer. In addition, this book will aid the seasoned writer in maintaining healthy and prosperous author/agent relationships by learning what agents expect from clients and what writers can expect from an agent.


The first chapter, “Queries,” is published here. Enjoy … there are more to come!


Queries


The worst query is the one sent before you really understand what a query is, what queries contain, and the proper method for submitting queries.


Agents are busy. Their days are full of reviewing manuscripts, contacting editors and publishers, answering calls, writing letters, and endless duties. Reading a sloppy, inappropriate query is a waste of time for the writer and agent.


First, a query is a brief letter of introduction requesting permission to submit further material. The query consists of a few paragraphs that get to the points: what, how, why, and who.


Ask yourself:


  • What is going on in the story?


  • How does the story end: its beginning, conflict, and resolution?


  • Why is this story worthy of publishing?


  • Who will buy this story?



Conclude the query with sufficient information for the agent to make contact, if interested, and always include an SASE.


Now, you may be thinking, “That’s what I put in my query, but it was rejected.” It is not simply the format, but the formatting. For example, there are methods for print/postal mail and e-mail queries. Professionalism is the key in both. Many writers assume that e-queries can be less formal. Wrong. I expect the same level of professional content and formatting in an e-query.


To illustrate my point, I have included actual queries received (names removed to protect the ignorant).


Bad query #1:


Dear Mr. Williams, (I am a woman)


I have written a book for children. I want to send it, but do not know the way to send this information. I would appreciate your help. (They found my email; therefore, I assume that submissions guidelines were nearby.)


Sincerely,


John Q. Writer


Tips: Research ways to send letters to agents before making contact. Research and study to learn answers to your questions before submitting a query. Agents are busy and do not have time to teach writers what to say, do, and write.


Bad query #2:


Dear Literary Agent: (Always address queries to a specific person)


Here is my biography, synopsis, and the first chapter of my story. If you’re interested in helping me to get it published, email me back, and I’ll send you the rest. Thank you.


The query itself should include a brief summary of the story and information about the author. The author did not give his/her name. This writer did not take time to write a professional query; therefore, I will not reply. Attachments and additional information are not accepted as clearly detailed on the agency website as well as in various online and print market guides.


In addition to the bad points above, there are a number of death signs in queries. A few include:


  • To Whom It May Concern:


  • Dear Sir:


  • No name at all


  • I will make you tons of money …


  • The next best-seller


  • My mom really likes this story.


  • All my friends have read it and say that I should get it published.


  • I know I’m not a good writer, but …


  • Award-Winning …



Beginning a query with a generic title is a turn off, as is putting no name. I take this as a sign of laziness. If a writer cannot take time to write a professional query, why should I spend my time trying to decipher his or her intentions?


Agents love making money from their client’s work. That’s what we do. Confidence is a good trait. However, over-confidence is often a sign of arrogance, inexperience, or the chance this writer is going to be stubborn.


Stubborn writers are not open to change. Change means edits, revisions, meeting requests for additional information or material, and patience.


“The next best-seller …” Well, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it? However, when you look at the number of manuscripts send out across the nation every year and the number of manuscripts accepted compared to the number of titles that make bell-selling status, the chances of you holding that “next best-seller” is quite slim.


“My mom really likes this story …” Of course she does. She’s your mom. So does Aunt Martha and Uncle Billy. Cousin Lucy will buy twenty copies and your brother will tell all his co-workers, who will buy multiple copies, too. That is, if you sell it.


“All my friends have read it and say that I should get it published.” Think: mom + friends = biased opinion.


“I know I’m not a good writer, but …” Then, don’t quit your day job. If you are set on being a writer, take some classes, read writing books, learn, practice, and stop querying until you are a good writer.


These comments sound harsh, but are written with genuine concern. I see a large number of “good stories” that are poorly written. Many rejections could turn into requests for more by taking the time to learn the proper way to write, edit, revise, and submit.

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