There is a lot of info and advice out there on submitting your work and catching an agent’s eye. As someone who is on the receiving end of that email when authors hit “send,” I can tell you that it’s very clear when an author has done their research re: submitting. Believe it or not, you have to put just as much effort into packaging your book into a query as you probably did writing it. (Is that a controversial opinion? Maybe.) Anyway, love this process or hate it, we need it on the agent side to get the gist of a project in a short amount of time – otherwise we’d do nothing else!
I encourage writers in any genre looking to submit to read up on the process online first. Below are some query/sub tips you might find helpful if you’re in the midst of that! Please note I originally wrote a version of this post for the M&O company blog.
- Follow the Submission Guidelines: This is really the most important piece of query advice I can give. It’s showing us that you did your research, that you’re serious about being considered by an agent, and are putting your best foot forward. This goes for any agency. M&O’s submission guidelines can be found here.
- Submit to the Right Person: Most agencies only allow submission to one agent at a time. Take a look at the agency website and read up on the agents who work there. Some may overlap in what they represent. Imagine that you’re setting up your book on a date with one of them and you can ONLY choose one. Which agent is most likely to fall in love with your project? Sometimes it’s very clear – other times it’s a gut feeling. But make sure you choose carefully! And don’t submit your work to someone who doesn’t represent the kind of project you’re pitching, whether that means age group or genre. For example, just because an agent reps YA doesn’t mean they necessarily rep YA Sci-Fi.
- Use That Subject Line: I personally really look out for a solid subject line. It’s definitely one of the things most likely to get me to read your query faster. Probably every third query or so we receive has the word “query” in the subject line. By including that, you are wasting valuable real estate! Use that line instead to describe your project with the genre, age group (if kids/YA), and title of your project. (Christa Heschke of M&O has written a very helpful post on her blog just about subject lines which you can check out here). In the case where you’re submitting requested material or are submitting from a conference, be sure to note that in the subject line as well.
- Don’t Waste Space in Your Email: The same idea goes for the body of your query email: use all the real estate to your advantage. One of the most common mistakes I see is taking too long to get started with the actual query, and instead beginning with a paragraph or two about why the author decided to write this book or other things that don’t have to do with the story or idea of the project. In my opinion, it’s best to get started with your pitch right away and put the other stuff (why you think this agent is a good fit, your bio, etc) after. An exception is a quick reminder to the agent if you met them at a conference, were referred by someone, etc.
- Master the Art of the Comp Title: This can be tricky. It’s not required, but can be helpful to think of a couple of books (no more than 3) to reference in your query that your book may remind the agent of so we can kind of mentally place it in the market. However, using overly ambitious comparisons, for example saying that your book is the next GONE GIRL or HARRY POTTER can be a turnoff. Those books, while amazing, become kind of meaningless comparisons after a while. Comp titles are also a great way to spark interest, especially when in interesting combinations. Also keep it current – a good rule of thumb (though some people will argue this) is that at least one of your comp titles should be no older than 5 years or so. Yep, that means you have to be reading current work in your genre (which has so many more benefits than justcomp titles). Also, don’t be afraid to branch outside the book world if you already have a couple of books you’ve compared to. TV/Movies can be interesting comps as well!
- Let Your Work Speak for Itself: I often see authors use space in their email to talk about how much people they know loved the book or how they envision their book as a NY Times Bestseller or blockbuster movie/TV show. While confidence is great, you want to let your work speak for itself while querying.
- The Details Matter: Looking up the name of the person who you are sending your query to (and spelling it right) is just a matter of respect, in my opinion. Reading “Dear Agent” or “Dear Sir/Madam” in a query letter is an indication to me that the author didn’t do their research. Similarly, if there are a lot of typos or weird formatting issues, I can’t help but wonder if the author looked this submission over before they pressed send. Of course, we understand that little mistakes do occur and we certainly don’t set out to nitpick every detail of your letter! But those sorts of details do often catch our eyes. Remember that your query is the equivalent of making a first impression, so you don’t want little mistakes to drag you down if they can be avoided. As YA author Maureen Johnson once advised, make your query letter the best thing you’ve ever written. I would advise having several people read your query over for mistakes. To make sure the formatting and everything looks good, send to yourself or a friend first!
After all these do’s and don’ts, I just want to end with the reminder that agents (and their assistants who help them read) aren’t looking for reasons to reject your submission, and we definitely don’t relish it. Querying can be intimidating, and the agents I work with and I definitely respect the guts it takes to put your work out there! When the whole process seems tough, just remember that the agent on the other end probably wants to love your project just as much as you want them to. 🙂
Hopefully you found these tips helpful! Looking forward to seeing some wonderful queries in my inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org.