So, you’ve written your masterpiece and created a shortlist of potential agents. Now, it is time to start querying.
What not to do
In this article I am going to encourage you to create a template cover letter with common content themes, however, do not send this template to agents. Sending a blanket email will not impress.
What you must do
Take time to make it personal
First, make sure you have time for each agent. Do not rush your query. Read their requirements and personalize the template to show them that you choose them for a reason. This will make them feel more special than if you ignore their guidelines and send them flowers and chocolates.
I’ve been querying one of two agents a week. This enables me to think about what I am sending them. I am focused on that agent as an individual rather than as another query.
However, although requirements differ between agencies there are common themes in the content requests. I have created a ‘cover letter ideas’ document with headings for the different content requests. This helps me find the paragraphs I need for the agency and then amend to personalize it for them, saving me a lot of time.
Here are the themes:
Okay, no agent has requested this as content in the letter but it is a basic requirement for letter writing. I just state the reason I am contacting them ‘please represent me’.
In the age of social media, more agents are requesting you to pitch your novel in one sentence! You can use your tagline to promote your book on sites like Twitter or Instagram.
Finding an agent is a bit like dating. They want to know a bit about you to see if you are someone they want to work with. They are interested in what makes you-you.
This is a paragraph or two about my writing experience. They want to know if you have ever been published, won a literary contest, completed a writing course.
About your novel
To start with they need to know the basic credentials of your book like the word count and genre.
They also want to know things such as why you wrote this novel and what is it about.
Brief pitch (Blurb)
Check what they mean but this as one agent said ‘brief pitch’ and when I read what they wanted it some described a short synopsis (see below). More agents who requested a brief pitch wanted me to sell them my story so I shared my blurb as I type of teaser to encourage them to want to read the manuscript.
One paragraph synopsis
They want you to sell the story to them and the plot in one paragraph – if you thought writing a synopsis was hard then you are going to enjoy this… Actually, I found this easier than condensing the whole plot to one page because I knew they had the full synopsis to read if they wanted so I just had to make it enticing enough for them to want to know more.
They may request who you think the target market is and what books it would be placed alongside in a bookshop. They need to know if the book is part of a series or have the potential to be.
Some agents wished to know why I had chosen them. You can’t default this content as will be a unique element of the query for that individual or agency. Instead, I created some prompts:
- why did they make my shortlist
- what authors or titles have they been involved with that is similar to mine
This is a simple ‘look forward to hearing from you’ together with my valediction and contact details.
Check before you send
Before you send your query to make sure it is as perfect as you can make it before you send it:
- Spell check: There are no excuses with modern processors that will check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- Proofread: Sometimes the spell checker will miss words that are spelt correctly and make sense but are wrong. For example, ‘people go to church to worship their dog’.
- Grammarly: There are apps to help check that your writing is as at it’s best. A quick scan online using Grammarly can find mistakes you otherwise could have missed.
Many agencies today will request you send them an email or use an online form on their site. Make sure you follow the instructions for the format of documents correctly. For example:
- If they request, all attachments must be .doc files, make sure you ‘save as’ and chose the correct file format.
- If they ask you to send it within the body of the email then copy and paste the content into an email.
- If you must paste into the online form or attach the document to their online form, please follow the instructions.
If you don’t follow the instructions, they may not be able to open your documents, it may get blocked by virus protection or their server. If you cannot view what you have sent, then you’ve wasted your time as well as theirs.
Preparing these common attachments before you start will save you time.
Query manuscript versions
I have a few versions of my manuscript prepared for querying to meet the most common requests. These are:
- Full manuscript
- First three chapters
- First 10,000 words (to a suitable breaking point)
Query synopsis versions
I have a few versions of my synopsis prepared for querying to meet the most common requests. These are:
- Full synopsis
- One page synopsis
- 300-word synopsis
Keep a spreadsheet
You can get free online spreadsheet software from Google or Window Live and many smartphones even had free spreadsheet apps.
I keep a spreadsheet with the name of the agency and agent I contacted, the date I contacted them and when I expected to hear back – check their sites for details on response times. When they responded I recorded the date they replied.
I hope you have found these tips useful. I would love to hear how you got on and if you have any tips to help me too.
9 thoughts on “Seven tips for querying agents”