Monday, March 11, 2013

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.

21 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah-
    This was an awesome series of posts for those who are planning on going the traditional publishing route.

    There’s one thing in your post I would add, and that’s when you talk about formatting the inquiry email. It’s in two steps:

    1. Write up your email on Word, using the formatting you suggest. People who are reading this: THE AUTHOR WORKS FOR AN AGENCY!!! LISTEN THE HELL UP!!! If you don’t have Word, get Open Office and spend a day learning how to use it. But hey, if you’re a writer, and you don’t have a WP program in today’s day and age, all I can do is shake my head in amused pity.

    2. This suggestion is a little anal retentive, but I think is important. When you’re ready to send your email (and I use Gmail for a ton of similar reasons as you) make sure that you set it up that you can use ‘Rich Text Formatting’. Check the help file on the Gmail site if you don’t know what that is. Using RTF will preserve the Underlining or Bold settings you put in on your word processing program.
    3. And YES! Send yourself a test copy! And proof read THAT copy. If it works out, all you will have to do then is copy and paste from that copy into your actual inquiry letter.

    Now, I don’t send inquiry letters to agents, but the process that you’ve written about is pretty much what I have done approaching book review bloggers to look at and review my stuff.

    I treat the bloggers with as much respect and consideration as I would a New York City agency or publisher. Maybe a little bit more consideration because I’m asking them to pimp my stuff for free!

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    1. Good point. Almost all of these tips can be applied to asking for bloggers to participate in a tour or provide a review.

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    2. I totally agree with applying these tips to review requests for bloggers! I've been accepting review requests from indie writers, and while most are pretty good, I've been sent an email with just a link to Amazon in it. Seriously? If you want a blogger to spends hours reading and reviewing your story, it's a good idea to spend a *little* time composing a request.

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  2. All good tips. Pat close attention to submission guidelines at all times.

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    1. Yes, it never ceases to amaze me that so many people blatantly ignore the guidelines.

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  3. Yeah, you have to cater your queries to each agent. You just do. Otherwise you aren't taken seriously.

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    1. And that's what it's about. You want an agent to take you and your writing seriously.

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  4. I like keeping the folder for sample pages. Such a great idea.

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    1. This has kept me sane on a number of occasions.

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  5. Good tips. Desmond, I always thought the agent works for the author, LOL.

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  6. Another great post. I'm bookmarking them so I have a reminder.

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  7. "If you aren't going to follow the submission guidelines you might as well not even send the query?" So, so true. Agents and editors have to go through hundreds of thousand of submissions, the least a writer can do is do their research and submit the right stuff. I know we spend ages on our books, but those books aren't going to get out into the world the traditional way unless we do our research.

    These are all great tips. I do most of them, but I have to admit I don't have multiple versions of synopsis (a short one). Great post :)

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  8. PrincessPinkyToes!! lol Too funny!

    Querying is exhausting. I usually research agents as I'm finishing the final revision, so I can start querying when I'm done. But I always double check when I finally do send because agencies change query guidelines and agents move agencies. I have to say synopses lengths annoy me the most. I tend to write complex novels with more than one POV character (which means more than one plot-line and character arc) and it's hard to fit everything into less than 500 words and have it make sense.

    Thanks for post! :-)

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    1. It is a universally accepted truth that a synopsis is a torture device designed by the devil himself. :)

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  9. Amen on the devil being the designer of the synopsis. It's as bad as a Saturday morning at Wal-Mart. Well, okay... nothing is as bad as a Saturday morning at Wal-Mart, especially when they're out of sanitary wipes, but still! All the more reason to dig deep and write the best freaking synopsis known to mankind. That's what it's all about, conquering the devil by beating him at his own game.
    Okay, so I love your series on this, Sarah. Genius. However, part 2 is inactive and I'm dying to read it as I am about to begin the query process and am now in the trenches of organizing and compiling in Excel. I would be thrilled to see how you group your agents.

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    1. Very strange. I swear I've fixed that link before. It should be working now, but if not, you can find the post here: http://sarahnego.blogspot.com/2013/03/agency-lessons-query-games-part-2.html

      Glad that you're finding valuable information. :)

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    2. So the problem is, when I click on part 2, it directs me to part 3, rendering part 2 inaccessible. Perhaps there was a mixup with the link? Maybe that helps. Either or, thank you for posting the link to part 2. You're awesome and very helpful.

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