Agent Query Questions

Not so long ago, I had tons of my own questions about how the query process works and I wondered if I’d ever find representation.  I speculated whether my query would stand out or get lost in the slush pile without being read.  It was a time of careful research and cautious hope.  Since then, I’ve corresponded with dozens of agents, and I have found they are genuinely nice people with a passion for books.  Needless to say, they didn’t all want to represent Birthmarked, but they were all nice, and I ended up with the right agent match for me.

Lately, I’ve had several writers ask me for advice about publishing, and I’ve expanded my FAQ to cover their most common questions.  A fellow Connecticut writer, Candyce Pruitt, recently corresponded with me about her agent search, and when her questions touched on some of the same things that used to mystify me, I asked if we could cross-post our exchange on our blogs, and she agreed.

I’d like to stress that I’m not an expert on agents.  I’m simply a writer who has gone through a search, and it was a positive experience for me.

Candyce: I do have a few questions regarding the agent search, but if you have any other advice to offer, I would also love to hear it!

When an author has no publishing experience, what are some good ways to beef up the author bio portion of the query letter? How important is that part of the query letter?

Caragh: Be honest.  If you have no previous publishing experience, you’re an unknown with a clean slate.  Briefly state your education and your two jobs because they demonstrate your passion for ya lit, and that counts.  Your book info is what will intrigue the agent or not.

Candyce: After you’ve queried an agent, will they provide feedback if they request all/part of your manuscript?

Caragh: If they’re interested, they keep asking for more.  Once they’re not, they politely pass and wish you well with your writing and with finding representation elsewhere.  In rare cases, if they’re on the fence but super interested, they might ask you about what you might revise, with no promises to represent you.

Candyce: Can you query an agent a second time?

Caragh: Why would you want to?

Candyce: I’ve read on a lot of sites that I should expect a lot of rejection. How often do agents actually request partial/full manuscripts?

Caragh: They request them whenever they encounter an irresistible idea.  New agents seeking clients are particularly receptive.

Candyce: How many agents did you query before you found your current agent?

Caragh: I queried 40+, in waves.  Details of my search are on my blog.

Candyce: Do you have any tips for making the query letter stand out?

Caragh: Your letter will probably be in the strongest twenty percent simply by being clear and coherent.  After that, your ideas are what matter.

Candyce: I’ve been trying to draft my query letter while making final revisions to my manuscript. If you have the time (and I understand completely if you don’t), could you skim over the description I have and let me know if you think I’m on the right track? I’ll include the description below the salutation just in case.

Caragh: It would be a mistake for me to advise you specifically on your description, because it conveys your idea, how you think, your voice, and other subtleties that are strongest when they are purely your own.

I can see you’ve looked into this process a lot already, which is great!  Being informed is so helpful.  I can’t recommend highly enough for tips and searching info.  I’m sure you’ll look into which agents are most likely to be interested in your work, and you’ll follow their submission guidelines on their sites to make it easy for them to consider your query.  If you send out half a dozen queries and no one asks for more, that could be a sign to revise your query before you try the next batch.  Keep trying.  If your novel reaches the right agent at the right time, you’ll be on your way.  If you don’t find representation for this book and the writing makes you happy, keep on writing.

And to anyone else searching, too, good luck!

4 Responses to Agent Query Questions

  • Thanks Caragh!! I for one am still looking!!! Never Give up! Never Surrender!! That works for this too, right??

  • Elizabeth ~
    True! We learn so much along the way. Good luck with your search.
    Take care,

  • I’ve been writing in a vaucum for years. I’ve got two complete novels that no other human being has ever set eyes on. I’ve just never been able to find any knowledgeable beta readers in my area.On on-line crit group, though – that sounds like a wonderful idea.Out of the ten or so lay readers who read my latest novel, only one of them had anything bad to say about it. In fact — she yelled at me. Apparently I thought it was a good idea to leave about a half dozen mysteries unsolved, you know, to create some anticipation for a second book. My friend felt extremely disappointed, outraged, and even betrayed.Here’s the funny thing: everything this girl pointed out was echoed by my agent when he called to discuss the book. So. I guess this means I officially have one trustworthy beta reader.

  • Auth ~
    You’re lucky to have one trustworthy beta reader, though the yelling would scare me. The outrage might have been a compliment of sorts. Your reader was certainly invested, so you’d drawn her completely in.
    My writer friends and I were just talking about how our agents and editors are good at seeing large-scale plot problems, while friend readers tend to focus more on small things. I think it has to do with being used to seeing books in flexible stages vs. experiencing them as fixed, final products.
    Good luck with your writing and your agent search.
    All best,

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