Querying Agents: Part Two – Refining Your Pitch, and Getting Some Movement
For the first part of this post, visit: How to Research a Literary Agent
My guess is every author has a somewhat different process on what point of the writing and revising process they start researching agents, but before you start Querying them, be SUPER sure your work is the absolute best you can make it. This may mean beta readers, critique groups, hiring a developmental or copy editor.
But EQUALLY important, is making sure your query letter is ready. You have approximately 300 words to grip the person who may change your writing career (and life) forever, and that person may get anywhere from 20-350 (or more) queries in their inbox a day. So yours has to be good, really good, and tailored to them.
Expect to write a somewhat individualized query for EVERY agent you query. Have a base letter (or two or three based on different ‘standard’ query formats), but expect to tweak each one. So to get that base?
WORKSHOP YOUR QUERY
Most writers organizations or associations have workshops or seminars to help authors in the process of writing a query letter, polishing their manuscripts, writing synopses, etc.
I signed up for a paid writer’s group that focuses on authors honing their pitch, query letter, first five pages, and synopsis. It was a wonderful experience, though quite expensive (I only joined for one month if I remember correctly and it was around $70US a month), I won’t list it here, because there are other, cheaper ways to get help, be it through writers groups or organizations, or your local art council or university may have an author-in-residence who is able to give you some guidance (though their focus may be more on the manuscript and/or first five pages).
I also took a query letter webinar from a free but invite only writer’s group I’m in on Facebook and had my query assessed live. (There are a ton of writers’ groups on Facebook). I’d already MASSIVELY worked my query by that point in the afforementioned paid group, so the host only suggested a few additional and minor changes but hearing his and the other participant’s feedback and reaction to my query definitely helped assure me that my query was likely to grab agents’ interest and the suggested changes did make it better.
The other participants also encouraged me to get my book fully edited and out there since they said my concept was timely, which was really motivating as at that point I thought I was probably 4-6 months away from having it ready to submit. Their encouragement helped enable me to buckle down and get it done in less than two months instead, in time for some pitch events I’ll mention below.
After you feel confident your manuscript, synopsis, and query is READY, and I mean READY, you’ll want to get started.
THE SHIT NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT WRITING
THIS PODCAST IS GOLD! Listen to it while you’re writing your manuscript, when you’re writing your query, when you’re rewriting. You’ll learn so much, and avoid a lot of pitfalls.
PITMAD (and other agent pitch events)
These can be great for garnering extra agent interest. I participated in #PitMad in March 2020, which happens several times a year. I didn’t submit to everyone who requested, because some of them I felt wouldn’t be a good fit, but it was a great confidence boost to see that agents were interested in my premise and has really gotten the ball rolling (or secured an agent) for some authors. In my experience, all the requesting agents seemed to be just developing their list, so that is something that may be more common in these events.I also participated in a writers’ association pitch event that ended up getting me seven requests for partials and led to my first offer (from an agent whose assistant had rejected my manuscript a few weeks earlier, so if I hadn’t participated, I may not be in the position of being represented today!). I’m not sure how many writers organizations have this type of event, but I assume a number do. #RevPit is another event to look into, which gives authors a chance to have their manuscript developmentally edited for free so they can submit or resubmit to agents. Another one is Pitch Wars. I don’t know a ton about either of these events, but from talking to other authors they’re a fabulous way to get professional eyes on your work, receive feedback, and sometimes find an agent (I THINK these may be more focused on genre or more commercial fiction, however, if you’re an upmarket or literary author, still definitely worth checking them out.)
Here’s a Pitch event list from 2021. I’m guessing most of them will run in 2022 too: Pitch EventsSome final tips…
Be ready – confident in your query, confident in your manuscript, confident in your synopsis. If you’re not sure if you are, test it out on authors, on readers, on anyone you can to make sure it’s solid, clear, and gripping. Outside of the resources I mentioned above, the internet has a wealth of knowledge on how to craft a query letter, the best probably coming from agent’s own blogs.
And when you are ready: Don’t sell yourself short. Go for your dream agents.
Okay, MAYBE don’t make your absolute dream agent the VERY first agents you query (or maybe do, your choice!), but once you get some requests for partials or fulls, be sure you start querying the agents you’d be MOST excited to work with. Courtesy in the industry states that once you get an offer of representation you have about two weeks to let any agents you’ve already submitted to know there’s an offer, so they have a chance to offer too. This means if you HAVEN’T already queried them, you just lost your chance.
(A note: If you aren’t getting ANY positive responses to your query letter (no requests for partials or fulls), it may not be as ready as you think. Perhaps you didn’t highlight the right aspects of your book to really sell it? Have you focused on theme rather than plot? OR, do your opening pages need another look? Are your comp titles off, and so confusing agents? (If you don’t know what I’m referencing here, you will by the time you you’re at this point, because you will have done LOTS of research on what goes into a great query letter. 😊)
Don’t limit yourself to the country you live in. The world is a big place, and readers (and agents!) are everywhere. Go for the agents who most line up with what you’re writing and what you want to write. I’m a Canadian, and my only offers of representation came from UK and American agents. If I’d limited myself to Canada, I may still be looking. I even know a US author whose agent lives in Israel. Why? Because she’s writing in a very specific niche which just happens to be that agent’s speciality!
Know what you want – are you looking for an agent who’ll raise your chances of writing paying the bills? Is that not so important, but being in the running for literary awards is your dream? A mix of both? Do you want a big publishing house, or something smaller and independent, perhaps whose specialty is in a niche area that fits your writing perfectly? Go for an agent who has a history placing books with the type of publisher you want as a home for your book(s).
And do you want an agent who is editorial? (I think the answer should be yes, but that’s just my opinion!) Because not all of them are. Do you want an agent who has no more than 20-40 active clients, so you’re a clear focus, or are you fine with one who has 100 or more? (They may be FABULOUS and amazing at what they do, but will you be frustrated if it takes them weeks or months to return your emails or send you editorial notes because they’re just that busy… or are you in no rush, and as long as you know THEY WILL get back to you, that’s good enough for you?)
Figure these things out, and make sure they influence your choices.
Don’t give up! If this is what you want, keep going, and remember there are A LOT of agents out there. One agent I really respect advices authors to not put a manuscript in the drawer until you’ve queried AT LEAST 100 agents. And once you’ve done that, get working on the next book.
The author whose site I sent you to in the last post queried actually did query her first manuscript over 100 times, and she never sold it. She sold the next one though, and was one of 2021’s most successful debut novelists, and is going into 2022 super strong!
……Something I didn’t cover that you’re curious about?
Feel free to ask any follow up questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to get you an answer!Write on,