In querying, one can control the quality of the letter and the sample pages. However, the person you’re looking to please, the one who holds your fate in their hands, dissecting your baby, and looking for any reason to say, “No,” is one you have no control over. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do to make sure you are not automatically rejected out of hand.
- Does the agent you’re submitting to represent your genre? This should be an obvious step, but many aspiring writers seem to expect that agents read and like every genre. Just like you, me, and everyone in the entire world, everyone has subjective tastes. Personally, I am not a fan of contemporary fiction. Hey, I want to escape the real world for a bit. You must find the agent that wants your work and reads your work. A common agent phrase in rejection letters, “I can only properly represent materials that greatly excite or interest me. Since this is such a subjective business, I am sure another agent will feel quite differently.” Don’t give them an easy out to say this! Send them exactly what they want and what they represent. In addition, they can better represent you, if they have experience with your genre.
- Is the agent accepting unsolicited submissions? An unsolicited submission is one which is not requested by the agent, pretty straight forward. Some agents only request from writer’s conferences and lit festivals, again if you want to read about attending them click here. Some agents only request by referral meaning, their client, another agent, or competition referred you to the agent. Some agents are closed to submissions, meaning they DO NOT want your query. They DO NOT want your phones calls. Bluntly, they have a full client list.
- Are they a new agent or an established agent? If they are a new agent, they are most likely actively looking to build their client list. This means you have a better chance at getting past the query stage to requested pages. A more established agent will be more fastidious, sometimes not even signing a new client in a calendar year.
- Did you submit to more than one agent within a singular agency? Do not do this. Even if both agents end up liking a work more often than not they will both reject it to avoid inter-agency battle. In addition, many agencies request (or rather demand) that you do not send to more than one agent at a time.
- Did you spell their name correctly? If you do not, be prepared for an automatic no. Also, always gender correctly—no all agents are not men. In fact, the publishing industry is predominantly made up of women.
- Did you follow submission guidelines for sending your letter? Some agents, even within the same industry, have different guidelines. Though many agents are moving toward e-queries, e-forms, etc., some agents still use SASE. In the subject line of your query (if an email), always write Query [title] so you’re not filtered into the spam folder.
- Did you send the correct number of sample pages? Some agents want 5 pages, some want 10, some want the first three chapters, and some only want the query. Never send an unsolicited manuscript, again that is an automatic pass.
- Did you cc agents when emailing them? Do not do this, it’s rude. They can see it. They do not like it. The publishing industry is very small. They will talk about your faux pas. The least you can do is address each agent individually by their name. Personally, I like adding personalization for each agent, because it shows I’ve done my research. However, it is not required.
- Did you continuously bother them the second after you sent your query? Once you send your query that’s it. Unless they email you, do not contact them. Do not ask them if they received your letter. However, if they are an agency that always responds to letters as some do, feel free to send a follow-up email if the response time has passed. You do not even have to thank an agent for their rejection unless you know for sure it was personalized.
- Sometimes it does just come down to subjective taste. You might do everything right. Follow their submission guidelines, know what they represent like the back of your hand, and even write the perfect query letter. Your work might even be the exact thing they said they were looking for. Yet, sometimes, they still say, “No,” even a form rejection, “No.” These hurt the worst, because they are out of your control. Nonetheless, keep on trekking, because remember taste is just taste, nothing more.
Some helpful websites for finding out what an agent wants:
As always check the agent’s page on their agency’s website. Also, do not be afraid to check out their social media pages, many agents have Twitter accounts, blogs, etc.
Hashtags to check out:
This is the final addition to this short series, please comment below or send me a tweet @BeatrixConti if you’d like, have questions, or would just like to chat!
In the coming weeks, I will continue to speak on querying, publishing, and writing. I post on twitter every Wednesday/Friday about these topics.