How To Start Querying Literary Agents

Hello to whoever is reading this! I am creating this post today for writers who have just finished their manuscripts and want to dive into the world of querying. If you’re anything like me then we can assume that you probably have zero clue what you’re doing and you’re researching everything about how to query a literary agent, how to start, and so on. Well, hopefully this post is able to steer you on to the right track!

Manuscript – How You Know You’re Ready

First of all, congratulations on finishing this manuscript in the first place! I hope you celebrated as best as you could given the worlds current circumstances! This is an amazing accomplishment!

Now, I’m going to ask you a few questions that I want you to really, honestly think about:

  • Have you let your manuscript sit and allowed yourself a break from it?
  • After your break did you either print it out/review it in word (or whatever document type you wrote it in) and edit your manuscript until your eyes gave way?
  • Did you read it out loud?
  • If you have beta readers/CP partners, do they feel it’s ready?
  • Do you feel it’s as perfect as it can be?
  • Are you ready?

If you answered yes to all of these questions then let’s begin!

Prepare Your Materials

So I already wrote an article titled How to Write a Query Letter where I go into detail about what a query letter is as well as the specific details and examples of how it should look Рbased solely on my experience! With the query letter examples and details that I have outlined, that is the formula I used to receive my seven full requests and two offers of representation.

Query letter aside, you need to make sure that you have various forms of your synopsis prepared. To go in a little deeper as to what a synopsis is, it is an elongated summary of your manuscript that USUALLY ( depending on the agent) is filled with spoilers. Synopses, again depending on the agent, are anywhere from one to three pages (sometimes 3-5), single spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font. Remember to make a few different versions of your synopsis and triple check it for consistency and interest.

Now, after your synopsis is polished, you need to insure that your first fifty pages are sharp, clean, and pack a hell of a punch. Realistically, most agents (again all are different) will request anywhere from the first 5 pages, first ten, first fifteen, upwards to the first three chapters. You need to be sure that your first few pages hook your reader from the beginning and leave a lasting impression for the agent to want to continue on.

So summary of materials needed before querying?

  • Polished Query Letter
  • Various Synopses (follow your dream agent’s guidelines)
  • Strong Opening Pages

How to Look for Literary Agents

Okay, first thing’s first and I need you to pay attention. There is no right or wrong way to do this but this is personally, my method on how I dove into finding the right agents to send my submission materials to.

Step 1: Go on to Query Tracker and join – the membership is completely free! Query tracker allows you to search through their database filled with literary agents and you can see the agency they work for, whether or not they’re open for submissions, their genres of interest, their reply rate, and finally, you can view comments from fellow writers who have also queried that particular agent and see what type of feedback they did or not receive…sometimes you can even find out information beyond responses/response time depending on the comment. The longer you’re on the site, you’ll see what I mean.

Step 2: Hop on to Manuscript Wishlist, another completely free website except this one you don’t need an account for, and either look up the agents you already have on your list OR add more to your list based on the agents interest and well, wish list! On this site you can even find out a bit more personalized details on an agents interests and personality.

Step 3: Gather yourself a list of agents that you feel sound great in terms of genre interest and now continue researching them through google. Sometimes you’ll find articles on them that are helpful and inspiring and other times you may find them on the Writer’s Beware website. MAKE SURE TO CONDUCT YOUR RESEARCH!

Step 4: JOIN TWITTER. Here is where a lot of agents currently reside and a lot of literary agents typically update the twittersphere with where they are in terms of MSWL’s (manuscript wishlists), the amount of queries they have in their inbox, whether or not they will be closing soon to queries, and so on. Also, join Twitter for the pure fact that they have pitching events for writers almost monthly as well as information about mentorship programs that you can enter into and possibly have an agented/published writer help you to work on your submission materials/manuscript. For example, I am signed on to be a mentor for this year’s Write Mentorship that is taking place in the Summer of 2021. Here is my wishlist/more information. Also, another tip I might say now for Twitter is to put your dream agents name into the Twitter search and see what comments may or may not come up – I say this to be on the safe side. Here are a couple of pages to follow who are really great at calling out the schmagencies: Beth Phelan, YA Whispers (they disabled their account for now but will be back and I will link them when they do). I will add more pages as I find them, please comment if you know of others and I will add them to this list!

Step 5: Now that you have done your research on your agent, do your research on your agent’s agency. A great website that I use and is very common in the writing community is Publisher’s Marketplace BUT the main downside to this site is the fact that it is expensive at $25 per month. The main benefit of this site for querying writers is you can research agents/agencies and view their most recent deals! This can ultimately help you in determining their legitimacy OR just whether or not you find yourself wanting to take a ride with an agency who hasn’t had as many sales as another. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of newer agents out their who will NOT have any sales under their name yet but that is completely okay! Usually newer agents (if not apart of a literary boutique that they started) are backed by larger agencies and they have the ability to fall onto their fellow co-workers for any help/guidance which is pretty great! Hell, my agents are brand new agents but have incredible experience and apart of a great agency – they are also pretty amazing if I do say so myself.

Step 6: Once you feel you have completed your thorough research on your dream agent and their agency, go to their agency website. You should have determined already through Query Tracker whether or not your agent was open or closed to queries already, but in case you weren’t looking for that (or in case query tracker didn’t get the update yet), their agency website will tell you – some may even tell you when the agent will be open again. After reading through the site, go to their submission guidelines and read through their submission instructions thoroughly! It is so important that you follow the submission guidelines or risk having your query deleted without even being read.

Step 7: Make sure you prepare your submission materials and that if you are copying and pasting your query letter that you either fill-in the blanks you left on purpose with Dear [AGENT FIRST AND LAST NAME]. Re-read your query letter, synopsis, and first few pages being submitted. Make sure AGAIN that you have everything they asked you for and hit send.

Step 8: BREATHE. This is where the anxiety starts to kick in. Take note of you agents response times on their agency website as well as through Query Tracker so you can set realistic expectations for yourself. Note that if an agent takes longer to respond, sometimes that means your query is sitting in their maybe pile and they’re still mulling it over. Note that even though refreshing your email every few seconds is natural, that it won’t make the email come any sooner! Trust me, you didn’t miss anything yet!

A few tips:

  • Prologues count as your opening pages so if you have one, include it. I’ve heard such hit or miss stories in terms of the prologue, some agents love it, some agents hate it so that part is ENTIRELY up to you on whether or not to keep it!
  • When it comes to your email panicking, you may want to do what I did. I have a few emails on my phone for various reasons – one for stores/junk, one for work (the adulting job), one for my editing services, and one for writing (when I sending out queries/my current communication with my agents). My phone would ALWAYS be buzzing about and I would get my hopes up every single time just to be bummed out and misled by the Christmas Tree Shop. Instead, I decided that for my writing email, through gmail, I would set it so that regardless of if my phone was asleep or awake the email would pop up on the top of my phone and show me the sender/subject – all other emails for my other accounts would just sort of sit there!
  • DO NOT SEND ANY ATTACHMENTS UNLESS SPECIFICALLY ASKED! This is usually said within the submission guidelines of your dream agent but sometimes it’s not because it’s assumed but, for querying authors who are brand new to this, I feel this needs to be stated!
  • Only send work that is BRAND NEW. What I mean by this, if you have a novel that you have previously written and published it to Amazon then nine times out of ten an agent will not be interested in your novel unless it is severely revamped and basically nothing like your last book. The reason is from what I’ve read and heard, it’s already been out there and in the market. The market has spoken. They don’t want to sit there and try to get re-published something that was already done. It also shows the agents that you have nothing else of interest to them and that this is all you can do. Create a new manuscript and catch that agent first, then maybe down the line you can mention your previous series.
  • This also goes to the above bullet, when you join Twitter and/or when you’re querying, don’t post the link to your book on a post of an agents and ask them to read it. Don’t ask them if they’re interested. I hate to sound mean but, they’re not. I have seen this happen a lot more recently to agents who are putting their MSWL out their for writers and I keep seeing that one comment that says, “this sounds like what you are looking for and I am looking for an agent, please read it and DM me so we can discuss” OR they leave their business email and they link their book. Please do not do this, that is not why the agents are putting up their MSWL. It’s okay to ask questions but…you know what I mean! Think of it in the business sense, if a company was hiring would you ask them to check out your profile and DM you? No, you would submit your Cover Letter, Resume, and go from there.
  • The limit does not exist. I am super organized but I was not one of those people who made a spreadsheet documenting each agent I queried, when, and whether or not I was rejected. I didn’t like to keep track of the numbers (until I got my agents) because I didn’t care how many I sent out. I didn’t have a schedule either of I’ll send five this month. No. If I saw you and I liked you and I thought we would be dope together I sent out my materials. There is no right or wrong way to query agents in THIS sense.
  • Rejections are inevitable. You will probably start to feel a little down once those rejections start to come in and that’s only natural. Again, rejection sinks for everybody differently. I think when I hit 25 on my first manuscript I finally had my, okay WTF moment, and that is okay! Just think of it this way, it’s like going to a bookstore and seeing a cool cover then reading the back of the book – sometimes it pulls you in, sometimes you leave it on the shelf. It doesn’t mean other people don’t love it because DUH it wouldn’t have been published otherwise! So try to think of it that way, those agents may not enjoy it but your perfect match will!
  • Sometimes, it’s your second manuscript that pulls in your agent. That’s exactly what happened in my case. I wrote what is tentatively titled Sever My Soul in about a month and a half then edited for another month before I started querying (we’re talking in a pandemic with no kids so I had nothing but time on my hands people) and I received MANY rejections. It wasn’t until my second manuscript – tentatively titled Vampires Are the Worst that I wrote in one week (long story that you can read about here) that I landed both of my agents, Analieze Cervantes and Jennifer Herrington (though Analieze loved Sever My Soul – they requested two different manuscripts from me together – long story again in the article above). When it comes to this craft, we are always learning and improving so sometimes that first manuscript is your stepping stone that proves you can finish writing a book, and that second manuscript proves you can write.
  • The Writing Community isn’t always right. What I mean by this is, sometimes the advice and feedback that you are given from other writers isn’t always number one, kind, and number two, correct. Every situation is different and where it’s great to get the opinion of others in certain instances, sometimes you really need to listen to your advice and follow your gut.
  • Enjoy every milestone. If you received solid feedback on your rejection letter – CELEBRATE! If you received an R&R (revise and resubmit) – CELEBRATE! If you received a partial request – CELEBRATE! If you received a full request – CELEBRATE! If you received an offer of rep – SCREAM! Then, CELEBRATE!

Summary

To make a long story short, the querying trenches as we like to call them, sucks! However, the eventual outcome outweighs all of the grief and doubt in yourself that you feel. You learn a lot about yourself and your abilities during this time that future stress won’t even affect you like querying has! Enjoy the process, trust the process and remember that you are incredibly talented!

Also remember

  • Query Letter
  • Synopses (Multiple Versions – some for strictly one page, others for 1-3 or 3-5)
  • Strong Opening Pages
  • Do your research
  • Start Querying
  • Try to Relax
  • Enjoy the little achievements

I am currently offering editing services for those interested in having a second look at their submission materials. Feel free to either click here or just go to my services page for more information.

If you have any questions in regards to the querying process or if you need further clarification on something within this article please feel free to comment down below, I answer all comments!

Follow me social media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Amandabadillo25

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Amanda Badillo

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