Tuesday, November 5, 2013

7 Ways to get Agents to Bounce You Fast!


Some of these might sound silly, but in many cases you don't know until you know. Think of an agent as your ultimate employer and you're on the job interview of your career. Take it seriously. Doing the wrong thing can make you look unintentionally thoughtless or unprofessional. I think we've all made a mistake or two when we've sent out queries, but maybe one or two of these suggestions will help you avoid some common pitfalls. Please feel free to add on to this list in the comment section.

#7 Comparing your book to Harry Potter
It's never wise to compare your book to Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Hugo, or any other bestselling book when sending your initial query. If the agent specifically asks for a comparison to something that's already out there, make sure your comparison is relevant. If your book is truly about a school for wizards, then sure, go ahead and give it the old Harry Potter try, but also think about your writing style. Do you have a similar style to JK Rowlings or is your style more comparable to Rick Riordan, though the subject matter is different? Think about this. Don't give a hasty answer that's going to make an agent question your authority. 

#6 No Crazy Fonts
You'd think this one would be a no brainer, but you'd be surprised. Think of your query as your resume. Would you send an employer a resume in Comic Sans? Unless you're applying to clown school, I sure hope not! 

#5 Typos
Believe it or not, I've critiqued several "final" query letters with typos in them. Be sure, sure, sure, there aren't any typos in your query. If you have a typo or two in a 250 word letter, how is your manuscript going to look? Not to mention, it comes off as careless.

#4 Too Many World Words
Sending a query using too many of your world's terms can be downright confusing for anyone other than you. For example, if you've written a Science Fiction novel, don't describe humans as Torvacs and dogs as Bollas because that's what they're called in your book. A. The agent is not going to understand that during the first read through. B. They don't want to have to read your letter more than once to understand what you're trying to say. C. If you try and explain what a Torvac and a Bolla is in your query letter, you're going to eat up valuable query space. Space that could be the difference between a request for a read or a rejection. 

#3 Querying the Wrong Agency
This makes you look like you don't care or you think your book is so awesome the adult mystery agent you're querying is going to throw all caution to the wind and rep you, even though his website clearly states, "I only represent adult mysteries." Take this very seriously. An agent's time is just as important as your time. This is aggravating and insulting when writers continually send work that doesn't fit the agency or agent. Not to mention, agents rep what they rep for a reason. They like what they rep and that's the world they live in. The publishing world might be small, but believe it or not, agents generally only have contacts within the world they dwell. In other words, Adult Mystery Agent is not going to know what editors to send your middle-grade high fantasy to. 

#2 Too Much About You
Some writers are so eager to show their publishing credits, awards, etc, that the information about them is actually longer than the information about the book they're querying. It's great to have publishing credits, awards, and all that jazz, but keep the About You section down to a sentence or two. If the agent isn't sold on your book, they aren't going to give a lick about your publishing credits, awards, or education. Get them to love your book and then you can tell them all the cool stuff about yourself. 

#1 Not Following Directions
Listen, I know writing a synopsis is torturous, but if an agent is requiring one along with your query, you better darn well send it. If you don't, an agent is going to think you think the rules don't apply to you, or even worse, you're not a good enough writer to tackle a synopsis. If you don't want to write the thing, than do yourself a favor by not querying the agents who require them. Read agency websites carefully along with the profile of the agent you are sending your query to. The agency website might say one thing, but the agent's profile on the site might ask for something different or something in addition to the agency submittal instructions. If the agent says "Query Letter Only", don't send the first ten pages of your manuscript. If they say, "Please attach the first ten pages of your manuscript", don't attach the first twenty. Following directions is a big deal. Think about it, if a company's dress code is formal business attire and you show up for your interview in shorts and Birkenstocks, do you really think you're going to land the job? Think again.  

35 comments:

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    1. What?? That's my real query letter. ;)

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    2. You didn't say Please ;-)

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  2. An excellent list! I'd add one that agents list again and again: spell their name correctly! (And maybe add a line about why you're querying that particular agent. I'm sure agents can tell if you've sent a blanket query out, just filling in different names in the Dear Agent slot!)

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    1. Yes! And if it's a unisex name, make sure your checking the Mr. and Ms! :)

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  3. So this means I can't write my query letter in Wingdings? Bummer.

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  4. Great list, Hilary. And, queriers, if you want to figure out how best to write the meat of your query, head to The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment by our own Matthew MacNish!

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    1. Thanks for the shout out, Mike! And more specifically, you can see successful queries analyzed here:

      http://theqqqe.blogspot.com/p/successful-queries.html

      And WIP queries critiqued here:

      http://theqqqe.blogspot.com/search/label/Queries%20-%20Critiques

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    2. Yes, our Matt is the query bomb! :)

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  5. Excellent list! And c-c-hall stole my thunder! ;) I've heard so many horror stories of queries with the agent's name grossly misspelled, or with a Mrs. X being changed to a Mr. X. Know who you are querying. And to add to #1, some agents don't want attachments. They want the first ten or twenty pages pasted into the body of the email. An attachment will be an instant delete. Lastly, I would add....don't mail them a box of scorpions. Ok, maybe you should not mail ANYBODY a box of scorpions. Ask my brother.

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    1. Yes to the checking on attachments vs. pasting. NO on the box o' scorpions!!!! ;)

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  6. I remember once at an SCBWI-MI conference an editor talking about a query where the author included a body-building picture of herself! Weird and funny.

    Gotta go pet my Bolla now.

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    1. My agent guidelines would read: please send query and accompanying box of chocolate. ;)

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    2. Ha. I remember once telling my students they should provide a treat for their teacher during a long field trip drive. Several brought me candy bars. :)

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    3. Ha! I don't even have a funny response to the body building picture. Who would do that?? CRAZY!

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  7. I think Hilary's point is so important whether submitting to publishers or conferences, or when putting together visiting author packages. Know your audience and send something good and thoughtful. Thanks, Hilary!

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    1. Thanks, Eden! You are so right. If we don't know our audience, what is the point to what we are doing? :)

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  8. Good advice. Another no brainer is, if a sample of your work is included, make sure it really shines. I recently served on the faculty of a SCBWI conference, and interestingly enough, the visiting agent admitted that she reads the writing sample before ever looking at the query. So while the query is important, your story is even more so.

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    1. That said, Dianna, we do get to a point where the line between pragmatic and passionate is not as clear as we'd like it to be.

      This is also why I mostly queried agents than the FEW (In the U.S.) publishers allowing submissions of ANY kind to un-agented writers because they'll likely read the sample along with the query, and while I know my query letters are better than what they used to be, they still drive me nuts. It's hard to be professional without coming off sterile, especially for those of us who just didn't work in advertising OUTSIDE the context of publishing, as I often say, so the learning curve for many writers (Myself included) is STEEP!

      I know I sold my debut in large part because the sample won my now editor over, but I still sent the best query letter I could produce, and from the first edit notes I got from her this summer, I knew I'd made the right decision in going with her as my first experience as an author working with an editor.

      But I know long term I NEED an agent to expand my reach in places I can't access alone and while many authors I've spoken to both publically and privately say, that really depends on what you write and who your target markets are.

      In the U.S. it's becoming more necessary to have an agent if you want to work with various publishers (Not necessarily JUST "Big 5") but have more reach than the average small press, agents are vital just to be considered, and that pressure can really do some harm to even the most pragmatic authors I know.

      I chose a small press with my debut, and I don't regret that decision, but I still want an agent long-term, and so I keep slaving away at query letters and synopses because they just MATTER, even if the actual book is the most important thing, as many agents and authors keep reminding us, writing ABOUT our books is as necessary as writing the ACTUAL books, and if you are just not adept at selling yourself, there is a learning curve, not unlike with writing itself.


      But there are times (and I'd NEVER do this in a submission, FYI) I just want to say "I don't know what the demographic is for this book" or "I don't know the genre, YOU figure it out!"

      But as much as some writers and readers say "Genres are irrelevant and overly exclusionary" they still MATTER from a business standpoint, and we all know no one book is for all readers, so you need some way to target your books to the readers most likely to be receptive to it.

      Some books are harder to place in that respect.

      Okay, rant over, but great post, Hilary. It also reminds me why I never like to compare my books to others. HP or otherwise. It looks catty and pretentious, and we know how far that gets us...

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    2. But I know long term I NEED an agent to expand my reach in places I can't access alone and while many authors I've spoken to both publically and privately say agents aren't required, that really depends on what you write and who your target markets are, and how career-oriented your goals are. I'm speaking from a non-hobbyist perspective here.

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    3. Yes, any agent will tell you those first five pages better grip them! I feel the same way as a reader. If I'm five pages in and not "getting it" then why am I still reading?

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    4. Taurean, super enormous huge congrats on your sale! We are all so happy for you!!!!!! :)

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    5. Thanks Hilary, it was hard earned after 10 years, and it sure started my year right! I was made an offer in December before Christmas, almost a year from the day I first sent a query and sample chapters, but it wasn't signed and finalized until January.

      We started revisions over the summer, and it's been great, my editor really "Gets" the book, any minor doubts I had going in were gone when I got my editor's notes.

      As you well know, animal fantasy outside picture book/early reader land is hard to place and taken seriously (Market wise) and so having an editor who gets this story comes from my heart, not as a cheap gimmick, was so important to me, and whatever happens I'll always be grateful this editor gave me that from a professional perspective.

      If anyone ever sees my book (When it's out, eventually...) next to Hilary's on a shelf (Our names ending in "Wa") let me know, and snap a pic if you can.

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    6. EDIT to abvove: Last name BEGINNING with "Wa." Burning midnight oil on a project and just noticed this...

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  9. What a terrific (and funny) list of reminders, Hilary! Thanks.

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    1. Joanne, I got the Comic Sans thing from your query! Ha, ha! ;) I think as writers, we've all got to have a little humor. It's what gets us through the waiting! :)

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    2. Bwahahaha! Good one, Hilary.

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  10. Great list! I remember an agent at a conference saying that writers forget to leave contact info in their queries sometimes. This isn't so much a problem in an email, but it would be if you were querying by mail.

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    1. Wow! That would kind of defeat the whole purpose! Great reminder, Myrna! :)

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  11. That is an excellent list. Good advice and reminders. Thank you, Hilary.

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  12. No querying LOLcat? ;) Great points!

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  13. Thanks for share excellent business bounce tips.I like your and very useful to our business.

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  14. I get so frustrated that sometimes just saying," Read this, you will like it. Publish this and you have never met a more loyal friend." I wish there was an easier way.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!