HOW TO QUERY AN AGENT

ImageI arrived home tonight after watching World War Z in a comfy love-seat at the Old St. Francis School (aka McMenamins) in downtown Bend. If you haven’t been there, it’s an eclectic venue decorated with love-seats, historic memorabilia, posters and a big screen playing films that would have otherwise played in the theater a few months prior. It also serves beer, giant burgers and an assortment of other items that will indubitably leave you full. It was quite the movie, flush with zombies and action shots and of course the talented Brad Pitt who at nearly fifty years old is still a strikingly handsome actor.

Anyway, this tangent isn’t relevant to this evening’s post. This particular post has to do with an email I came home to after the movie, one that was forwarded by one of my all-time favorite friends. It has to do with writing. It has to do with publishing. And therefore it has to do with Married to the Trail.

Here’s the details and the ideas I’ve come up with since. Bold print is the text I’ve been forwarded. Italics are the thoughts and rambles of my mind at work. This text is taken from The Nature of Words website. For more info visit: http://www.thenatureofwords.org/index.php/blog/top-five-list-for-querying-agents/

Working on a book? If the answer is yes, then at some point you’ll face the decision of whether to self-publish, join up with a small press, or go the more traditional route of seeking out an agent and selling to a big publisher. For those wondering how to go the agent route, here’s a Top Five List of Do’s and Don’ts for Querying An Agent:

1) Do make sure your manuscript (for fiction) or proposal (for non-fiction) is complete and as polished as possible before contacting agents.

I’ve spent 18 months putting Married to the Trail through three, four and possibly five drafts. As a novice writer, I took as much advice from our greatest writers and as a result I’ve read dozens of books, studied the thesaurus, dwelled in the dictionary and endured countless manic nights. Writing is more than just a hobby. It’s a job. It’s a love-affair. It’s a way of life.

My dear friend Renee, whom forwarded the aforementioned email, is currently the only person to have read the entire 294-page travel narrative detailing my journey backpacking across the Continental Divide Trail. It’s an honest and humorous tale, and one in which I hope inspires and entertains many readers. When we met to discuss the book, I was nervous I’d be faced with an unbearable critique. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, she was ecstatic, proud, impressed, joyous and empowered. As an editor herself, she told me to go straight to a publisher. Apparently I’m ready. I just need to put on my wings and fly into their window.

Don’t send in a query when you only have the first chapter written and not sure how the story will end.

294 pages. I think I’m ready to send a query.

Do put together a professional, well-crafted, error-free pitch in the form of a query letter that will give the agent an idea of your book.

This, as of today, is my new hobby and/or project. I was just telling a co-worker that I needed a new hobby. I think in addition to learning Spanish—the hobby that has been on my list of to-do’s for a few years now—, I’m ready to write such a query letter. If you have any advice, please don’t hesitant to contact me. This week’s assignment: Spanish 101 and the Basics of Writing a Query Letter. Perhaps I should attempt to write one in Spanish? Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves now…

Don’t send an email with a list of plot points that your book will include. Agents don’t like lists.

I don’t like lists either. Every time I try to write them they end up on random sticky notes and end up buried under papers or balled up in a wad of paper after cycling through the washing machine. They never do any good. That said, my book is written as best as I think it can be written. It can morph into whatever they think will put it onto the bestselling bookshelf.

Do your homework and find out which agents are open to submissions and are accepting work in your genre.

Another task at hand. I welcome the project and the many hours I’ll spend inside the library researching my options.

Don’t send out blind query letters to every agent on AgentQuery.com.

Good to know. Also good to know there is something called AgentQuery.com

Do personalize your query letter and, when possible, include any referrals.

I will no doubt send with such query letter a stellar photo of me adrift in some pristine wilderness. As for referrals, I’m on the hunt. Please contact me if you have any leads.

Don’t address a query letter to an agent with “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madame”, however, stay professional, don’t address them by their first name either.

Then what do you suggest? What kind of help is this anyway? Okay, okay. I’m only kidding. I will of course be professional, include a proper introduction and I will omit ending my query letter signed with my trailname.

Do accept rejection with grace. The publishing industry is a small community and burning bridges won’t help you on the road to success.

I’ve developed a saying recently. It goes something like this: Don’t burn the bridge until you’ve walked across. Pretty smart, hey? I’m fairly certain I’m not the first to say it, but I’ll say it anyway.

Don’t ever use gimmicks. Good writing should speak for itself.

Stephen King and William Zinsser have been my mentors. They have helped me eliminate many of the gimmicks I may have once had in my writing.

Okay, one final bit of advice… Don’t give up! Keep writing and believe in yourself!

Will do! If I can hike thousands of miles, than I should be able to push this baby of mine into the next phase.

For more info on how to craft a query letter, visit www.writersdigest.com

One thought on “HOW TO QUERY AN AGENT

  1. Have you checked out Query Shark’s blog? I’ve been pouring over her archives for tips on writing my own query letter, and it’s been invaluable. Loads of advice and examples to work off from. Good luck on your project! 🙂

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