By Louise Ure
This month I’m all about query letters here at Murderati. For the first installment, check out this post from two weeks ago about how to craft a query letter. The question for today is: Now what do I do with it?
First of all, take a deep breath. You’re about to embark on perhaps the most fraught-filled leg of the journey to publication. You’re opening yourself up to criticism far beyond any of the yammerings of your writer’s group and you need to steel yourself.
Start here: The simple answer to the question is, you send your query letter to agents who are most likely to be responsive to your work.
That means they’re agents who deal in your genre, who are looking for new clients to add to their roster, who are passionate about your work, and who you believe have the clout and the contacts to make you an advantageous sale.
But how do you find them?
If you’re like me, you had no education or grounding in the publishing business before you started to write. I’d never met a living author (was there even such a thing?) until I started writing my own books. I had certainly never met an agent.
The good news is that the information is out there and easily available – online, in libraries and bookstores, and in person.
– Or Query Tracker which includes a neat program to track all your queries then pool the results to provide aggregate information on an agent’s genre-specific acceptance/rejection history and response time.
– Most literary agents have their own websites now, including information about recent sales, client lists and policies.
– You can also check them out with the national organization, The Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.
– A couple of good print versions of the information are: Chuck Sambuchino’s, 2009 Guide to Literary Agents or Jeff Herman’s (brand new as of November 11, 2008) Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2009. I particularly love the Jeff Herman book.
– You could subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace, an industry newsletter which announces deals, sales, reviews, and which agents are selling work. Online subscription is $20.00 a month, but it’s a month-by-month contract so you shouldn’t have to fork out much to get enough information to get you started. And pay special attention to the page where they talk about which agent has moved to a new house or started their own agency. Those are the ones most interesting in building new client lists.
– Check out the acknowledgements page in published novels. Most authors include thanks to their agents and editors.
– Join Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, or International Thriller Writers. Even if you don’t live in a big city, you can participate in Internet Chapters of the organizations or build relationships with member-authors by email. Ask them who their agents are and how they like working with them.
– Go to conferences. Even the fan-based cons like Bouchercon have lots of agents in attendance and lots of authors you can talk to about their agents. And the smaller, writer-oriented conferences can be superb opportunities not just to hear about an agent but to spend time with one.
Some miscellaneous but equally important advice:
- Start with a list of 50 potential agents and send out ten at a time, starting with your “All Star” favorites.
- There’s no magic number of agents to query and no assumption of how long it should take. Plan on sending out 1-100 letters over the course of a month to a year.
- If you haven’t heard from an agent you’ve queried in a month, go on to the next on your list.
- Do include some agents on your list who say they are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Believe me, they’re still reading all query letters and yours might just meet something they’re looking for.
- Don’t bother with Fedex or overnight delivery of your query or sample pages. It makes no impression on the agent, other than to think you waste money.
- If an agent asks for exclusivity – personally, I’m against giving it, but it’s up to you – limit the time for the exclusive review. Four to six weeks at most.
- Avoid literary agents who charge a reading fee. The professional ones would never ask you for it and the unprofessional are not the ones you want representing your book.
- Don’t pay for a “customized list of agents” based on reading your work. I know there are lots of internet offers out there for services like this, but honest to God, aren’t you the best person to know what your work is like? It’s like asking someone with an online Baby Book to name your child.
- Save all your rejection letters. First of all, they’re nice to look back on when you’re happily published. In the meantime, they might teach you something. Is there an overriding theme in the rejections? If their criticism rings true to your ears, you may want to take another look at your novel. Are they all form letters? Maybe your query letter needs a tune up to more clearly demonstrate your style or the uniqueness of your story.
- Remind yourself that rejection is not personal; that if an agent didn’t love the sound of your book then she probably wouldn’t have been a passionate advocate for it.
- Reward yourself at every step along the way. For having the guts to send out a query in the first place. For sending out ten more. For getting a request for a partial. For getting a request for the full manuscript. Hell, reward yourself for reaching the milestone of 21 rejections. Or 50. Or 100.
- Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.
I know that several of our ‘Rati members got their agents through other, less traditional, means, so there are undoubtedly other sources, tricks and tips that I’m not thinking of here. What say you, ‘Rati? Any other good advice? Or do you want to share the worst rejection letter you ever got?