You wrote the next big novel, but it's lonely sitting on your hard drive. It needs the attention and love of an agent or a publisher, but is it really ready for that type of relationship?
The Write Way is place where folks have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I thought my manuscript was ready and surely would gain the interest of any agent who read it. I'd have so many offers of representation that I'd have my pick.
At that point, merely finding an agent's e-mail address was a mystery to me. I went about it all wrong, but those wrong steps turned into happy accidents. I researched my favorite authors and found out who their agents were. I mean, who wouldn't want Nicholas Spark's agent, Theresa Park. Or any of the agents at the Park Literary Group. Their client list is impressive.
The downside of querying an agency of such repute is that they receive a ridiculous amount of queries. I'll never be the person to tell you not to aim for the moon, but just be aware that statistically, you have less of a chance of getting a response from an agency who receives so many query letters. You may even find that these agencies will not accept submissions from time to time because they are so backed up.
My advice? Don't be a query snob. Query agents because they accept your genre, not because they have famous clients. Every super-agent was a grunt at one time. A talented writer took a chance and queried them, and as the agent's reputation grew, so did their client list.
So, anyway, how do you know which agents accept your genre and which are accepting queries? There's a ton of ways, but the easiest are sniffing around Writer's Digest and QueryTracker. Make sure that you study each agent or agency. Their personal website or their pages on sites like QueryTracker contain all the information you need, such as if they accept e-mail submissions or only snail mail. If the agent/agency doesn't list your genre in their "looking for" list, don't waste your time or theirs querying them. My last helpful hint before we get into whether you're ready to query in the first place, is to follow literary agent's blogs. There's loads of useful information on them. Agents often tell you what mistakes they see most in query letters, or they'll state what they're dying to find in their slush piles. Make nice and ask questions if you have them.
Now you know where to find literary agents to query... but whether you're going to query an agent or go directly to a publisher, make sure your manuscript is ready.
Here's a check list. If you've done all of these things, you just may be ready to begin the query process.
I was very fortunate that from the beginning I received many responses to my query letter. Unfortunately, this never led directly to representation. I had agents read my partial and full manuscript, and either got a polite rejection or was referred to another agent. In one case, I got an e-mail from a spanking new agent who had read the query letter I sent a more senior agent they worked with. There was something about my query letter and first ten pages that was catching the eye of literary agents, but I figured I must not be delivering all I promised or I'd have been scooped up by one of them. So I revised, AGAIN.
Beta-readers are your friends.
But not your real-life friends. Unless your friends are fellow writers in your genre, don't ask them to read your manuscript. It's pointless. Refer to my post on Sharing Your Writing.
Enter contests and organizations.
Join a writing organization. Briefly list any writing-related organizations you belong to in your query. This shows you take advantage of your resources and are serious about writing. Contests are a great way to receive feedback. It's a chance to have your work critiqued by literary agents, publishers, and other writers. If you're a finalist in any contests, absolutely mention this in your letter. You'll also want to mention any publishing experience you have, such as having an essay, short story, or poem printed. Also, if you feel your education or occupation is relevant to your writing, say so, but remember the purpose of your query letter is to sell the idea of your book, not to sell yourself. Keep bios brief.
A lot of agents and publishers post on Twitter (and probably Facebook). Follow them and maybe you'll see a Tweet about what they're searching their slush piles for, or you'll discover other literary agents and publishers you've never heard of. While you're on this path, follow your favorite authors as well. Connect with them. This will be valuable before and after you're published.
Supercharge your query letter.
I'm no longer querying as I've had an agent suggest that I revise my manuscript and send it back to her, but when I was querying, I liked to let the agent know I knew who they were and what they liked. If I found out about an agent by way of blog, or writer's digest interview, I mentioned that. If there was something in their interview or blog post that was relevant to my story, I'd let them know. And if an agent read my manuscript and passed, but suggested so-and-so and yadda-yadda literary agency might enjoy it, I'd write that agent and let them know who referred me.
Another boost I gave my query letters was including 5-10 pages of my manuscript in the body of the e-mail. Before you do this, refer to the agent's website and make sure this is allowed. Unless they say not to, include the first few pages. Some agents/agencies will be specific about the amount of pages you may include, so do your research. I imagine literary agents tend to get annoyed when it's obvious you just copied and pasted their e-mail address and shot off a query without bothering to glance at their website.
Some agents will ask for R&Rs but others simply don't have the time or the energy. Make sure your manuscript is the very best it can be. If, like me, you're getting a lot of requests for material but no offers of representation, you've probably got some things that need ironing out in your manuscript. Step away from querying, find some critique partners, do a revision, and begin again. Most agents are incredibly busy and won't waste their time asking to see a revised submission if they didn't absolutely love your story. Don't jump the gun and waste your query on them because your manuscript needs further polishing.