Agency Lessons: The Query Games part 3

This is the third and final installment of the series on how I prep for querying agents. In Part 1 I talked about where to find agents and how to organize their information. In Part 2 I shared my tips for grouping agents into tiers and how I decide who to query when. This week, it's all about what to send and how to keep it organized.

I hear lots of writers complain that every agent wants something different when it comes to querying. They're right. I equate this to HS seniors doing campus visits. Some are interested in a college's course listing. Others absolutely must see the dorms. Some could care less about anything other than the food selection. None of them are wrong. It's just what they need to make a decision. Agents are the same way.

Here's the deal. No matter what an agent wants, give it to them. If you aren't going to follow the submission guidelines you might as well not even send the query. Most agents will simply delete a query that doesn't follow the rules.

I get that this can make you want to pull your hair out, but there are ways to make this easier on yourself.

While everyone will want something slightly different, there are some standards. For example, everyone is going to want a query letter that hooks them on your story, sells the plot and gives a short bio. This is standard. You should only need one query letter that can be easily tailored with personal information about each agent.

When it comes to sample pages, most agents who want them are looking for 5 pages, 10 pages or 3 chapters. I'm sure there are other that want something else, like 17 pages, but they'll need to be dealt with individually. To save yourself time, create a folder for all your sample pages. In this folder, have documents with different quantities of pages so you can easily add this info to your query without the need to go back to your main document each time.

The same theory works with the synopsis. I mostly see requests for 1 page or 2 pages, though there have been a few that give you up to 5 or 10 pages. Go ahead and have several versions saved in a folder for easy access.

Most agents are anti-attachment, and for good reason. Viruses are everywhere and a broken computer is an agent's worst nightmare. This means you'll need to paste any requested material into the body of the email for most of your queries. We all know what a nightmare that can be. In my experience, Gmail is the best server for keeping the format from getting wonky.

If you don't have a Gmail account, it's not a bad idea to open one just for queries. Be sure to use a professional name for your account. PrincessPinkyToes@gmail is unlikely to showcase you as a serious writer.

When you copy all of the info into your email, be sure to send yourself a test email. This way you can make sure the formatting doesn't implode. I would suggest asking friends who use different servers if you can send them a test run. They can let you know if anything goes wrong.

Formatting is the one place you don't want to stand out in a query. Agents won't be impressed with your Helvetica 15 point font and your ability to highlight random words. Keep yourself limited to Times New Roman 12pt in black. One exception to this is labeling the parts of your query. Be sure to use a Bold or underline to label your synopsis and sample pages. It makes it easier for an agent scrolling through the email to make sure you have all the right components.

Last, but not least, don't include anything in your query that an agent has not asked for. This includes, but is not limited to: pictures, reader feedback, your marketing plan (unless your are querying non-fiction), a PDF of your full manuscript, or fan art. You laugh, but I have seen all of these items, and more, in the query box. Seriously, don't do this.

So there you have all my best tips and tricks for a smoother querying process. Did I miss anything? I'd love to hear your best tips for keeping sane while sending your baby out into the world.