In my last post under writer’s work, I talked about the daunting business of finding literary agent representation…an undertaking not for the faint of heart. While this search can be overwhelming and at times discouraging, one of the things that has changed in the last 20 years is that a majority of agents now accept ‘electronic queries’.
There are several reasons for this, most of which are a combination of agencies taking a ‘green’ stance on the environment combined with efficiency. While the electronic query is beneficial for agents and can be for the writer, this process does come with some baggage; one misstep and your query is destined to the query abyss. From my own experience, I have found the following check list helpful when submitting an electronic query:
1. Similar to when we write emails, we can get carried away with an electronic query. Looks are deceiving…what appears to be one page, may in fact be way too long. A good way to check yourself is to cut/paste your query into a word doc…see if it fits into one page that has 1″ margins at 12 point Times New Roman. If not, it’s too long…go back to the drawing board. Also, some agents are specific as to whether they want the query letter to be single or double spaced.
2. Check and double check the ‘submission guidelines’ on the agent’s website for query email address. As a rule, agencies will list a generic address for queries that’s different from the individual agent email addresses.
3. In the subject line, most agencies ask that you put the word ‘Query’ with the title of your work after it. This instruction can vary slightly from agency to agency…again check their submission guidelines for specifics.
4. Whether you get a response or not(even if its a rejection) again, varies from agency to agency. Amazingly, despite the massive volume that these agents are currently receiving, I have found the majority of agents to respond one way or another. Where it becomes tricky is those agents who say in their submission guidelines that you will hear from them and then you don’t. This leaves you to wonder if your query ended up in their spam filter or they just no longer reply in the case of rejections. In this case I have waited about 8 weeks and then have sent a polite email inquiry…sometimes this works, sometimes I hear nothing…time to move on.
5. Rule of thumb written in stone: Do not send any more than the guidelines ask for when submitting a query. If the agent wants to see more, you’ll hear from him or her with specific instructions.
6. Today the competition for representation, much less a publisher, is more than fierce. I applaud the agents who take time to explain the reasons why they reject a project even though the writing is exceptional. It may be that they are looking for a specific project to fill their list, they may have knowledge of a ‘soon to be released project’ that is similar to your own or it may be a matter of the market pulse…what is going to sell, what is the next ‘hot’ thing. And finally, agents will tell you that they personally have to be passionate about your work; ‘passionate’ being the operative word. If they aren’t it isn’t necessarily that there is something wrong with it, it just isn’t for them. This is a subjective business and where one agent may take a pass, another one is waiting to snap it up.
7. Bottom line: “Keep on keeping on.”