Are you at the stage of trying to query an agent to get them to represent your book? There are a few things you should know before you do. And rather than hear them from me, why not get them directly from the agents and literary interns themselves?
Literary agent Rachelle Gardner wrote a post today called Queries: Really Not That Complicated. It’s well worth reading both her own remarks and the comments and questions made by others in the comments. Everything she says is important, but two things really stand out.
One is that you must read the agent’s Guidelines before you submit a query. If they have specific things they want to see — or things they don’t — you’ll find out what they are in the Guidelines. If you send something they explicitly said they didn’t want, or sent something in a different genre from what they represent, you’re wasting your time, and are sure to get a rejection.
You should also send a query letter that is concise and well-written. As Gardner says, don’t send the first draft, even of this letter. Work on it, have critics read it, and make it perfect. And for goodness’ sake, do not send a query if you haven’t even finished and polished your manuscript (in the case of fiction) or completed a proper book proposal (for non-fiction).
Meanwhile, Sammy Bina, a literary intern at the Let The Words Flow community, says many of the same things in her post, How NOT to Query: A Guide. Near the top of her list? Again, be finished and don’t query prematurely. And she’s got some good pointers for the physical mechanics too, about envelopes and types of paper and that sort of thing.
All of this, from both of these posts, is information you need if you want to be noticed. Nothing, of course, will substitute for having a completed book that is the best work it can possibly be. But if you present it to someone before it’s in good shape, or do a sloppy job of explaining it, it doesn’t matter how good it is. Nobody is going to read it.
Literary agent Janet Reid adds another odd twist in this post, Don’t query if you’re dead. The post is meant to be a bit humorous, but it also has a point to it. It’s actually difficult for people handling an aspiring writer’s estate to submit manuscripts on behalf of a deceased friend or relative, and expect them to be published posthumously. It’s simple a fact that most manuscripts are not ready to be published in that first draft, and need editing and reworking. This is something that the author obviously can’t do any more.
In cases like this, the best course is usually for the friends or relatives to try self-publication instead. And as an author, perhaps you need to decide in advance (and let people know) whether you want your writings to die with you, if anything happens to you. Don’t let them be stuck making complicated decisions and floundering in the publishing world because they’re trying to honor you, but don’t really know what to do.
All three of these posts give you information you really must know before you query an agent. Read and study them, and make the info your own, and your query will be a step closer to being acceptable and interesting.