Tips to Improve Your Chances with Writing Agents and Publishers
Any Tip Would Be Helpful…am I Right?
The shark-infested waters are deep, and the shoreline miles away, leaving you dog-paddling like crazy with slim hopes of survival.
A bit drastic? Not at all if we are talking about the traditional publishing world.
How many clichés apply? Dog eat dog…..it’s a jungle out there….they all apply for writers hoping to somehow catch on with a publishing firm. You know who you are. Yes, there are ebooks, but you’ve always dreamed of seeing your book on the bookshelves in major stores, and the only way to make that happen is to somehow sneak past the castle guards who rarely let anyone within sniffing distance of the moat.
No, there are no guarantees, but if you pay attention to the tips that follow, you will at least be giving yourself a fighting chance.
I have mentioned in other articles about the ungraded road before you. Agents and publishers receive hundreds, if not thousands, of query letters each month. EACH MONTH! Out of those, they might ask for more material twenty or twenty-five times, and from those finalists one writer might be chosen.
How’s that for a right cross to the face?
So the goal, then, is to at least become one of the twenty or twenty-five writers who are asked to send more material to the agent of publisher. Let’s take a look at some things you can do that will help you to stay in the game long enough for serious consideration.
Tips on Writing a Query Letter
- How To Write A Successful Query Letter
How do you get the attention of an agent/publisher? Probably the single most important step is to craft a professional query letter. Follow these suggestions and you just might hook an agent.
GET YOURSELF A COPY OF THE FOLLOWING
This is your first step. Either get a copy of The Writer’s Market or a copy of the Guide To Literary Agents. Both are very helpful. The Writer’s Market deals better with publishers, and obviously the other targets agents.
In these books you will find detailed information about agents and publishers currently doing business in North America and in some cases overseas. You will find what they are looking for, how to submit, and other pertinent information that is crucial as you move on to the next step.
THE QUERY LETTER
I have written several articles about this in the past, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. You can see those articles if you follow the link to the right. All I want to say for this article is that your query letter is every bit as important as the book you have written. If your query letter is not done perfectly, you will never convince an agent or publisher to read your book.
SENDING OUT QUERY LETTERS
Here is a tip I hope you take seriously.
The first week, send out five to ten query letters, and then resist the temptation to do more.
Now wait until you receive responses. You should be hearing back from agents and publishers within a couple weeks. If you have not heard back, or you do hear back but are rejected, you need to change your query letter because obviously it is not working for you.
Have someone else read your query letter and get their input. What can you change about it to make your book sound more enticing?
Once you have re-written your letter, send it out to five or ten more agents and then stop and wait again.
Do you see the logic in this? Why send a query to one-hundred agents if the query is poorly written? You don’t get do-overs in this business, so sending a different query to the same agent is a no-no. So pace yourself, send out a few, revise, and repeat the process.
ADAPT QUERY LETTER TO THE INDIVIDUAL AGENT OR PUBLISHER
I’m going to use an excerpt from a real agent’s website to demonstrate this next tip.
Elise is interested in fiction that has unforgettable writing, a terrific narrative voice/tone, and memorable characters. She loves novels with an unusual or eccentric edge and is drawn to stories she has never heard before. She aims to work with writers who are getting their work published regularly in magazines and who have a realistic sense of the market and their audience. Some of Elise's recent and soon-to-be-published fiction titles include Tiphanie Yanique's Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead) and How to Escape from a Leper Colony(Graywolf); Courtney Brkic's The First Rule of Swimming (Little, Brown); Rachel Toor's On The Road to Find Out (FSG); Jonathon Keats'The Book of the Unknown (Random House); Rikki Ducornet's Netsuke(Coffee House Press); Maureen McHugh's After the Apocalypse (Small Beer Press), which was picked as a "Top 10 Best of the Year" byPublishers Weekly; Ali Liebegott's The IHOP Papers (Carroll & Graf); Peter Plate's Soon the Rest Will Fall (Seven Stories Press); and more.
On the non-fiction front, Elise is looking for fascinating true stories told in a compelling way. Currently, Elise is especially interested in working with up-and-coming scholars (particularly historians) who are looking to transition from the academic market to a trade readership.
That passage from the agent’s website is so helpful. It tells you that she is looking for a terrific narrative voice and memorable characters.
Armed with that information, you should include in your query letter a reason why your characters are memorable and an example of your terrific narrative voice.
Do you see the advantage of this approach? You need to do this with every agent/publisher that you query.
COMPARE YOUR BOOK TO OTHERS THAT ARE SIMILAR
Take another look at the passage above from Elise’s website. In it she mentions some of the book titles she currently represents. Now things really get interesting.
If you really want to improve your chances of being represented, choose one of those book titles and tell how your book is similar and thus a good match for Elise. Oh, I can hear the moaning from here.
Okay, what if you’ve never heard of any of those books? What do you do now?
Choose books that you have read that have similarities to your book, and use them as an example.
Why are we doing this? We want to give the agent/publisher some concrete impression of your book and what it is about….that’s why!
PAY ATTENTION TO SUBMITTING GUIDELINES
From the same agent’s website, here are the submissions guidelines:
Fiction: Please send a query letter, a 1-page synopsis, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), and the first 10-15 pages of your manuscript.Please send all items in the body of the email, not as an attachment.
Non-fiction: Please send a query letter, an overview of your project including a chapter outline, a brief bio (including a description of your publishing history), a description of competing books, and the first 10-15 pages of your first chapter. If we are interested, we will ask you to send your complete proposal. Please send all items in the body of the email, not as an attachment.
- Please review our agents' profiles (on our Meet the Agents page) to select the agent for whom your project is most appropriate, and send it to her attention. Make your submission to only one agent at our agency.
- Let us know in your query letter if we are reading your work exclusively by including the word “EXCLUSIVE” in the subject line of your email.
- Be sure to include all of your contact details (email address and phone number), so that we are able to reach you if we are interested in your project or if we have a question.
- If you have relevant writing experience (articles, books), and/or have received writing awards, please include details in your cover letter. If you have been referred to us, please be sure to include that information in your cover letter.
Every single one of those instructions needs to be followed exactly when you submit. She asks for a one-page synopsis…do not send a two page synopsis. She asks for a brief bio…do not send a two-page bio. She specifically says do not add attachments (this is a kiss of death when submitting) so copy and paste everything in your email.
Your query letter will be rejected without being read if you do not follow these instructions.
SELECT THE RIGHT AGENT FOR YOU
Every agency and publishing website will give you a brief bio of each agent working there. Read them all over and choose one to query. Do not choose more than one. If you send queries to several people in the same agency they will reject you without reading your query.
When you choose the agent you want to query, inform them in your query letter why you think they would be a good fit for you. This personalizes the query and shows the agent you went to the bother of doing some research.
IF YOUR PLATFORM IS WEAK
A standard query letter usually calls for a paragraph explaining your experience in writing. They do not want to hear that you a mother of two. They do not want to hear that you were valedictorian in school. What they do want to know is if you have game. They want to know if you have had articles published in magazines. They want to know if you have attended workshops, or if you’ve been published before and no, they could care less if you have self-published in the past.
If you have done none of these things then keep it simple and generic. Saying little is better than saying the wrong thing in this instance, and for the love of all that is holy, never tell them that you have zero experience.
Join me on my writing blog
- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips, discussions, contests and recommendations, all related to writing for serious writers.
That Should Get You Started
When I follow instructions to the letter, and when I incorporate the things I have mentioned in this article, it will take me about forty-five minutes to an hour to send one query letter. Does that seem like a long time to you? Well consider this: if you hurry through this process you are completely wasting your time. You might as well send nothing.
I want you to succeed, and I believe these tips will help you. I’ve only left one thing out, but it is the most important tip I can give you. Ready?
Work on your writing. Become the best writer you can be, and make it your goal to improve with each article and book you write. In the long run, I firmly believe that quality will win out. It’s up to you to make that quality happen.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”