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Saturday, March 12, 2011

TOPIC: Search for the Holy Grail...umm, Agent! (part 2)

Last post I asked the questions – Should you get an agent? Where do you start? How do you know if they’re reputable? Who do you aim for? What should you include in a query letter? Do you go snail mail or email?

Steps 1 & 2 were all about researching agents and making a prioritised list of your preferred agents. Let's move on.

Step 3 – Write a query letter and/or collate appropriate sample pages/partials as per the guidelines for each agent. Some will want only the query letter, some a QL and 5/10 pages of your work, some a QL & synopsis.

When you start this process only work on 5 submissions at a time. Too many and you run the risk of confusing specifics and there’s nothing more unprofessional than sending the wrong thing to your “dream” agent and it’s a sure way to be culled.

Check the guidelines. Double check. Then check again. How easy is it for an agent to disregard your query when you haven’t adhered to them?

*Some advice for query letters, no fluffy stuff. Agents don’t have time to read waffle, not with 50 to 100 queries a day (and that’s a conservative estimate, I’m sure). They want to know what your book is about, the conflict, the idea - think back cover blurb, and any relevant info about you. Keep it brief, no more than an A4 page. The details about characters and your more complete bio can come later once you’ve hooked them with your story.

Agent blogs sometimes address what makes a good query letter. Two blogs with good examples include BookEnds Literary Agency and Pub Rants by agent Kristen Nelson.

Step 4 – Keep track of your submissions. Whether you create a database on the computer or on paper you stick to your office wall, know who you sent a query to, when you sent it, what manuscript you pitched, the timeframe they suggest contacting them if you’ve haven’t heard from them, what response you got etc., any information that tracks your progress in your search for an agent.

Send out 5 queries at a time. As one comes back, send out another to the next agent on your list. And so on.

I highlighted any agent who sent back something more than a standard rejection eg. personal comments about the manuscript. It meant they were interested enough to take the time to do that, and they’re the ones to target with a new pitch and new manuscript next time. Just refresh their memory about your prior contact with them in any subsequent QL.

Step 5 – Celebrate your successes. When you get a request for a partial or full, pat yourself on the back, even if they’re eventually rejected. Share the good times with your friends. It keeps the batteries recharged and makes the slog worthwhile.

Also note down on your database the agents who requested partials or fulls – again they liked your voice enough to possibly request and read other work by you.

Just remember:
  1. Aim high – agents can only say no, but they might also say “I'd like to officially offer you representation.”
  2. Research your agents carefully – if they offer you representation you want to know you’re signing with someone you can work with.
  3. Maintain a professional & polite attitude – rudeness will come back to bite you. If you end up with several agents requesting fulls have the courtesy to tell the others there are “X” number of agents also reading your work (no need to name them specifically). It lets them know others are interested.
  4. Persevere – anyone with an agent will tell you they didn’t give up looking for one after getting a rejection or two.
Good luck in your hunt for an agent!


  1. Oh dear, I hadn't thought of telling agents when I have other fulls out there. I have five requested fulls and one partial I am waiting to hear back from on two different manuscripts. Two late now - I will just keep waiting, as usual. You know all about that.


  2. Suzanne, don't stress. You can still inform them with a brief email - who's to know when those requests came in besides yourself and those involved?

    It's just a small courtesy and perhaps a bit of a shuffle along to the agent/editor to let them know others are interested and your time is precious too.

  3. Kylie, I might do that but am always worried about looking pushy.
    I like my spelling of "too".

  4. Thanks Kylie, your advice is so helpful. I'm going through the agent process now... :)

  5. Juliet, I'm glad this is useful to you. Feel free to contact me off line if you want some clarification of something, OK?

    Suzanne, I'm not sure it would be seen as pushy if you just mentioned in your brief email that "as a courtesy you were informing them that X number of agents have requested the full of your since submitting to you" sort of approach. You're being professional and courteous.

  6. Hi Kylie,
    Great blog, very informative and some wise advice. I'll have to follow it.



  7. I thank goodness for you, Kylie. I'm wading my way through this process now (so far two requests for partials are out with Agents) and it's a little mind boggling to work out what's the correct professional approach, and what's going to get me culled.

  8. Deciding what approach to take can be stressful, and if sharing this info has made it easier for you then my purpose has been achieved! Woohoo!

    I hope agent hunting works out for you, Tyree. :-)