Stuff in the ‘Queries’ Category

5 August, 2013

Do Your Homework to Land a Literary Agent

It never ceases to amaze me by 99% of the unsolicited queries we receive at the agency are doomed.  Why?  Because in so many cases, theheadshot_joelledelbourgo writer clearly did not check our agency website and submission guidelines.  And I’m assuming that if they are querying multiple literary agents (which, by the way, is OK), this is true for the queries directed to them as well.

How do we know this?  Here are some of the telltale signs:

*The letter is addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Always, always, direct your query to a specific agent within an agency.  That also means, do not direct your letter to someone who is not an agent.  We, for example, have a publicist and several editors affiliated with the agency.

*In the case of a query letter that is mailed in, there is no self-addressed, stamped envelope (as stipulated on our website), or in the case of a query from abroad, there is a postal coupon that we specifically ask authors not to send us as the post offices often don’t know what to do with them.

*The works that are being offered do not reflect our interests, which again, are stated in the agent bios on our website.

*The letters are poorly written. We ask authors to make their best effort to write a letter that reflects their talents as a writer, that showcases the writing itself.  If your letter is not well-written, then why should we expect the proposal or sample text to be any better?

*Email queries are sometimes sent out in a mass mailing to agents who are all copied on the same email. This shows very little preparation and research and is poor form.

There is an art to approaching an agent. It is no longer a secret as there are many wonderful resources and books on how to get published, how to write a query letter and/or proposal.  There are communities of writers, many of them online, who graciously share their knowledge and experience.  Take the time to do your homework.  We are actually eager to hear from you and love nothing better than responding to a well-crafted query about a fascinating subject you can illuminate or dazzling story you have to tell.

–Joelle Delbourgo

 


17 May, 2013

Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts

headshot_joelledelbourgoIf you’re a writer and you have not been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the infamous query letter. This is the vehicle by which you will approach prospective agents and publishers.It is all-important because it will determine whether the recipient–someone you are trying to impress and engage–will respond to you and consider your work.

Here are 5 steps that will present you and your work in a professional manner:

Step 1:  Check the agency of publisher website for guidelines and follow them precisely.

–Your letter may either be sent by snail mail or email, depending on the preferences of the recipient. Always check the submission guidelines of a particular agent or publisher you are approaching them and follow them exactly.  If the requirement is to send a query letter by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope, do so.  If the company only accepts email, do not send snail mail. If you’re asked not to include attachments to an email, don’t.  Do not imagine that you are the exception to the rules.  Do not expect the recipient to return materials to you.

Step 2:  Craft a letter that showcases your strengths as a writer and potential client or author.

You’re a writer.  So write a great letter.  You would be amazed at how many terrible letters we receive. Take the time to develop a thoughtful and succinct letter.  Here is what you need to cover:  Who are you and what is your book?  Why are you writing it or what inspired you to write it?  What makes you uniquely qualified to write on this subject or this particular story?  Is your book particularly timely, and if so, why?  What is your hope and goal?  Who do you think is your potential reader?  Do you have a way of reaching the potential market for the book (newsletter, speaking engagements, social media presence, etc.).   Try to keep your letter to a page of page and a half in legible type.

Step 3:  Choose an appropriate salutation and closing.

If you do not know the person to whom you are addressing the letter, do not try to be overly familiar. Nor do you need to be ridiculously formal.  Avoid a generic salutation such as “Dear Literary Agent,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Always address the letter to a specific person.  (Never send out a mass email to a group of publishing professionals.)  Make sure you know the gender of the person you’re writing to, and use an appropriate greeting.  To close, thank the person for his or her time and consideration, and sign it “Sincerely” followed by your full name.

Step 4:  Formatting the letter.

Choose a pleasing font and type size.  If you are sending a printed letter, use a nice quality stock in a standard letter size.  Letters in odd sizes or inappropriate stationary do not look professional.  Even if you are sending an email, you can format it to simulate a letter.

Step 5: Sending the letter.

Be sure to use the right postage, and if an SASE is requested, include it with current postage affixed.  (Use a “Forever” stamp that will not go out of date.)

Follow Up:  Do not call the person to find out whether he or she received your letter or email.  If you have not heard anything after a month, you can send one follow up note.  If you still do not receive a response, move on.  A publishing professional who wants to know more about you and your work will usually reach out to you.  When we don’t, it is because we are very busy and receive volumes of queries.

If you are rejected, try to “listen” to what the agent or publisher is telling you. Does it have merit?  Perhaps you can use the feedback to improve your presentation of your work.  Don’t take it personally.

Good luck!

–Joelle Delbourgo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


17 May, 2013

Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts

headshot_joelledelbourgoIf you’re a writer and you have not been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the infamous query letter. This is the vehicle by which you will approach prospective agents and publishers.It is all-important because it will determine whether the recipient–someone you are trying to impress and engage–will respond to you and consider your work.

Here are 5 steps that will present you and your work in a professional manner:

Step 1:  Check the agency of publisher website for guidelines and follow them precisely.

–Your letter may either be sent by snail mail or email, depending on the preferences of the recipient. Always check the submission guidelines of a particular agent or publisher you are approaching them and follow them exactly.  If the requirement is to send a query letter by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope, do so.  If the company only accepts email, do not send snail mail. If you’re asked not to include attachments to an email, don’t.  Do not imagine that you are the exception to the rules.  Do not expect the recipient to return materials to you.

Step 2:  Craft a letter that showcases your strengths as a writer and potential client or author.

You’re a writer.  So write a great letter.  You would be amazed at how many terrible letters we receive. Take the time to develop a thoughtful and succinct letter.  Here is what you need to cover:  Who are you and what is your book?  Why are you writing it or what inspired you to write it?  What makes you uniquely qualified to write on this subject or this particular story?  Is your book particularly timely, and if so, why?  What is your hope and goal?  Who do you think is your potential reader?  Do you have a way of reaching the potential market for the book (newsletter, speaking engagements, social media presence, etc.).   Try to keep your letter to a page of page and a half in legible type.

Step 3:  Choose an appropriate salutation and closing.

If you do not know the person to whom you are addressing the letter, do not try to be overly familiar. Nor do you need to be ridiculously formal.  Avoid a generic salutation such as “Dear Literary Agent,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Always address the letter to a specific person.  (Never send out a mass email to a group of publishing professionals.)  Make sure you know the gender of the person you’re writing to, and use an appropriate greeting.  To close, thank the person for his or her time and consideration, and sign it “Sincerely” followed by your full name.

Step 4:  Formatting the letter.

Choose a pleasing font and type size.  If you are sending a printed letter, use a nice quality stock in a standard letter size.  Letters in odd sizes or inappropriate stationary do not look professional.  Even if you are sending an email, you can format it to simulate a letter.

Step 5: Sending the letter.

Be sure to use the right postage, and if an SASE is requested, include it with current postage affixed.  (Use a “Forever” stamp that will not go out of date.)

Follow Up:  Do not call the person to find out whether he or she received your letter or email.  If you have not heard anything after a month, you can send one follow up note.  If you still do not receive a response, move on.  A publishing professional who wants to know more about you and your work will usually reach out to you.  When we don’t, it is because we are very busy and receive volumes of queries.

If you are rejected, try to “listen” to what the agent or publisher is telling you. Does it have merit?  Perhaps you can use the feedback to improve your presentation of your work.  Don’t take it personally.

Good luck!

–Joelle Delbourgo


22 July, 2011

Query Killers

Jacquie - headshot-011Writers are always asking for advice about how to write the query that will help them land an agent.  I used a recent mega-session of reviewing submissions to draw up a list of reasons why I say no. So here it is, in no particular order, my list of Query Killers to avoid if you want to hook yourself an agent!

  • Doesn’t follow the submission guidelines. Agents post guidelines to let prospective clients know what they need to consider a new project. Not following the guidelines sends a clear message about how much time and respect you have put into your query. SOLUTION: Follow each agent’s guidelines to the letter.
  • The writing isn’t strong enough. The 1st pages you include in your query have to be exquisite.  A great premise followed by a weak sample still gets a NO. SOLUTION: Don’t send an agent your work-in-progress to find out how you are doing. This is the job of an editor. Hire one to review your manuscript or proposal.
  • No hook. The best way to peak an agent’s interest, a hook is one sentence that captures the essence of your book, introduces the main characters and the key point of drama, and establishes that your book is fresh and marketable.  Writing the hook line is incredibly difficult, but nailing a good one is worth the effort. SOLUTION: Pull books in your genre off the shelf and start reading the first line or two of the jacket copy to get an idea of what you need to do. Work on it until every person who you say it to, without fail, says, “Oooh I want to read that book.”  One of my favorite posts on premise lines from Alexandra Sokoloff is here: http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/2008/05/whats-your-premise.html.
  • The premise seems derivative: Many submissions come in that try to jump on a hot trend. The problem is that by the time a “new” trend is seen in the market, editors and agents have been sick of it for a year or two (Yes I’m looking at you vampires!). SOLUTION: It may seem like there is nothing new under the sun, but talented writers prove us wrong every year. Keep working until you have something fresh!
  • Narrative nonfiction with no arc. This is particularly a problem with memoir submissions. Authors realize correctly that they’ve had an interesting life but then submit a book that reads like “this happened-this happened-and this happened.” It falls flat and asks the readers to do the work that the author should be doing. SOLUTION: All narrative non-fiction (i.e. non-fiction not of the step-by-step how-to variety) needs an arc including a compelling story and characters, a key point of drama and good pacing to draw the reader through the story. You also have to balance your writing with a combination of facts or remembrances and meaning making.  After you have done your research and know you have a good subject, you need to figure out what the story is.  Here is a great post from Alan Rinzler about constructing a traditional narrative arc. http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2008/07/07/ask-the-editor-constructing-the-narrative-arc/ WARNING: Yes, there are also many creative and successful alternative approaches to constructing an arc. Take the road less traveled if you must, but it’s more work for you and harder to find people willing to go with you on the trip.
  •  Lack of author platform. Platform is the author’s ability to directly reach out to potential readers (i.e. purchasers) of the book through speaking engagements, media appearances and an online presence. The platform isn’t about what you are going to do; it’s about what you already have in place. SOLUTION: Your platform must be fully developed prior to querying an agent or shopping the project to publishers.
  • Does not fit the requirements of the proposed genre. Every genre has its conventions and you need to follow them. That means you need to have the right length, the right amount of world building, the right reading level, the right voice and so forth. SOLUTION: Mine blog posts, writers’ groups, and publisher websites to find out what the conventions of your genre are and follow them.
  • Too long. A high word count sends up an instant red-flag that the manuscript needs serious editing. Readers of a few select genres such as high-fantasy and historical fiction go for extra length, but make sure you are in line with the conventions of the genre (per previous bullet). Pages translate to cost. So a long book has to sell more copies in order to be profitable. When your manuscript is shorter, you lower the financial risk of publishing your book which is a smart strategy for a first time author without an established audience.  SOLUTION: Cut, cut and cut again. When you are famous you can intimidate your editor and write that book that’s twice as long as it should be (even if you shouldn’t).
  • Criticisms of other agents or complaints that no one gets you. Every week I get at least one query in which an author complains about another agent or about the short-sightedness of the publishing industry. When you start your query by complaining, you come across as cranky, and that’s not appealing. SOLUTION: Mom was right, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • I don’t love it. If your query makes it through all the other query killers, you’ve passed the viability test. But then comes a tough question – Do if I love it enough to make it part of my life? Selling books is a tough business. To be a good agent you have to be willing to climb mountains and fight dragons for the books and authors you represent. But you can only do that if you love them. SOLUTION: The best advice for addressing this query killer is to do your research, create a great query and let the magic happen!

Good Luck with landing an agent and keep writing!

–Jacquie Flynn