4 Things to Remember Before You Query an Agent

Saturday, October 07, 2023
4 Things to Remember Before You Query an Agent
By Linnea Gradin
In today’s publishing landscape, opportunities to get traditionally published without an agent are far and few between. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but in order to be taken seriously—or to even be considered at all—most publishers require manuscripts to pass through an agent before landing on an editor’s desk. And the competition is fierce.
So if you’re looking to increase your chances of landing an agent, here are 4 things to remember before you start querying.

1. Give agents something they can sell

This might be a slightly demoralizing note to start on, but the publishing industry is a business just like any other. Profit margins and sale predictions are central to decision making, so if you can help agents easily imagine your book’s target audience, and where it might fit into the market, you significantly increase your odds of being noticed.
To do so, you’ll need a roughly completed (well-edited) manuscript, with a clear mark potential. Simply saying “I put a lot of effort into this, so please publish it” is unlikely to get you very far. Take a step back and consider your book as a reader or bookseller would: what unique selling points does it have compared to other titles on the market?
If you’re unsure of whether you’re getting it right, it can be helpful to get some external feedback from friends, beta readers, or even a professional editorial assessment.

2. Focus on finding a good fit

To further increase your chances, research what agents might be the best fit for you. Knowing your book well is a precondition for this, as it will help you narrow down your alternatives. If you’re writing literary fiction, for instance, Stephen King’s agent is probably not right for you, even if it sounds impressive.
Rather, take a look at other books in the same genre and category as you, and look into what agents represent the authors you admire. If you reach out to this type of agent, you show that you’ve done your due diligence and know your audience well. If an agent is more niched, they are also more likely to understand your vision and know what editors to reach out to.
Also, bigger agents may already have a full client list and might not be able to spend as much time on your manuscript as a smaller agent would, while a junior agent may not hold as much sway in the industry. Consider this tradeoff and what matters most to you when it comes to getting representation.

3. Personalize and perfect your query letter

To convince your dream agent that you have a book worth signing, you’ll need to craft a perfect query letter.
Nothing in your creative writing classes probably prepared you for query letter writing, but the good news is that it’s a skill you can perfect. A query letter should contain a strong hook, an intriguing synopsis, and perhaps some notes on your credentials as an author, but besides that, it should also be personalized and specific to the agent/agency you’re submitting to. This personalization shows that you’ve done your research. It has to be sincere or an agent will immediately write your letter off as a copy-paste job.
You can also hire an editor to help you: they will have a strong sense of market trends and what agents are looking for when they assess manuscripts.

4. Stay persistent and organized when querying

Querying is a numbers game, and can be mentally and emotionally draining. After receiving inevitable rejections and intangible feedback—or, worse, no replies at all—it’s easy to give up. But by going into the querying process with a clear idea of what it entails as well as a solid structure with small, achievable goals to work towards, you’re giving yourself a good chance to beat the odds of publishing
Consider tracking how many query letters you’ve written, how many you’ve submitted, and who you’ve followed up with in a simple spreadsheet. With luck, hard work, and persistence you’ll hopefully end up with a couple of yeses and can start listing the pros and cons of working with each agent before you sign with one.
Querying is a daunting process, but also an exciting chapter to enter as an author, bringing you one step closer to your dream. Rather than sitting back and thinking that the hard work is over, this is the time to buckle down. By keeping these tips in mind and remembering to ask for help when you need it, representation is within your reach.
Linnea Gradin

Linnea Gradin writes about writing and publishing over at Reedsy: a website with resources on everything from NaNoWriMo to writing templates that connects authors with the industry’s top professionals—from editors to ghostwriters to book cover designers.


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