Wednesday, September 17, 2014
When I reached the querying stage of my work, I had no idea what I was doing. One mistake I made early on was failing to do my research. I composed my list of agencies, making sure they represented my genre, and chose the agent I thought would be a good fit for me. That's research. I addressed my query letter to the particular agent I chose and copied/pasted my query into the body of the email. I sent out thirteen using that format.
Then I happened upon an interview given by a literary agent that was on my list. She described what she believed to be a great/successful query letter, with examples. I was missing one element in mine. Further research. Some agents don't mind a "form" type of query letter: your query immediately following a respectful salutation. Most agents see hundreds of generic query letters a week.
After I read the interview, I imagined the literary agent sitting at her desk, chin resting on a hand while she opened email after email. All beginning: Dear Ms. Smith, -Query- In my opinion, that could get really boring. But then she opens an email from an aspiring author who has done their research: Dear Ms. Smith, I'm writing you because you represent (name of book) by (author) and I believe my manuscript, (TITLE) is similar. Or, I'm writing you because we met at the (name of event) conference in (state) and (reason you chose to query her).
My imagination brought me back to the literary agent, her chin raises and a spark of interest ignites. I returned to my list of agents and began the real research. It's simple, but time consuming. I typed the agent's name into a search engine and most gave me multiple results: their agency of course, which gives you a bio. Interviews, the agent's twitter and Facebook, agent spotlight, new literary agent alert, query tracker results, among so many more. (www.querytracker.net is a wonderful place to find agents by the way, and it's a free site)
It's impossible not to find some personal tidbit about a literary agent. Who they represent, books they love to read, upcoming events, their wish list and what they would really like to see in their inbox. I teased that I'd become a literary agent internet stalker. It felt like that at times. But if I was an agent, I would much rather see a short personalization over a generic query letter any day.
I believe personalizing the query letter gives me a better chance to catch an agent's attention. It shows I've done my research and I'm serious about finding an agent that would be a good fit for me, to represent my manuscript.
Some agents have a policy of no response means no, but most will reply with a form rejection letter. I'll be honest, it was discouraging at first when I spent hours researching an agent, personalizing a query letter and then received a form rejection or no response at all. But some agencies receive five hundred query letters a week, others less, and others even more.
Literary agents are always on the look-out for the next best seller, but their responsibilities far exceed reading query letters. I'm not going to profess to know what an agent does on any given day but I can imagine how busy they are, and how completely impossible it would be to send a personalized rejection to every aspiring author in their inbox.
I have found that sending a personalized query letter normally results in a reply, even from agents whose agency's website clearly states that they regrettable cannot reply to every email, so no response means no.