9 Best Advice from agents to get them to read your first pages when you’re querying
You’ve spent hours and hours writing and perfecting your book. You went through numerous edits and now finally ready to take on the next step, the big step, the one that will put your name and work out there. It’s a frightening moment, but, one only persistent writers get to see. If you thought writing the book wasn’t easy, I fear this next step isn’t going to be either. Undeniably, the competition out there is fierce.
I attended a panel of agents a few months back where writers asked what we should do to make sure our submission doesn’t get dismissed and stands a fair chance. This panel was very informative and helpful, and it also gave us an understanding of what agents have to deal with on a daily basis. Understanding where they’re coming from will help you better prepare for the querying part of the process. I want to say agents must also need tons of coffee in the morning and probably wine at night.
There are a few things that you need to make sure you’re doing. Otherwise, they won’t even be reading your opening scene. Keep in mind that the competition is fierce and they receive between 200 to 300 emails a day. So, you need to make sure you don’t set yourself for failure. When submitting your manuscript, please make sure the following are respected:
#1 — Only send your edited manuscript when it’s the absolute best you can do
Do not pitch an idea or a book idea to an agent, especially if you’re new. Agents only want to look at a finished product. They want to be able to go to the publisher to sell it right away or after a few small edits.
You might be able to pitch a book idea after you’ve acquired some notoriety in the industry, but you should always have a finished product, which means that your book has been edited. The interesting part here was that they all suggested never to mention it in your query. If you send your manuscript to them, they’ll assume that you have completed the editing part because again, you’re sending a book that should be ready for publication — even if agents and publishers may require some additional changes.
#2 — Know your genre and send your manuscript to agents you researched and know are representing your genre.
The first step is to know what your genre is so that you can research the appropriate agents. Spare yourself with unnecessary rejections. Why would you want to add to the rejections you’ll receive? If the agent does not represent your genre, there is no point in sending your manuscript. Research them, see if they have a list of clients, and do your due diligence. This step is crucial.
#3 — Do not butcher their name.
Please triple check the spelling of their names. No need to go personal, but you need to get this one thing right for a starter. It’s often the moment you hit send that you notice the errors. When you’re done writing the letter, walk away. Take some air, come back, and read it again. You’ll have more chances to catch any errors this way. Avoid the “Dear agent” because it shows that you haven’t tried to get to know them and it’s worse if you use the copy or blind copy feature. They will look at who you sent it to. Send one query at the time.
#4 — Personalize as much as possible
If you met an agent at a conference, mention it. No need to go into details and said what you talked about. A mention should be enough. If you’ve been referred, you should provide the name of who referred you.
#5 — Triple check for grammar errors and typos
You’re a writer, so don’t set yourself for failure. Do not give them a reason to reject you. If you start off by sending a query full of grammar errors and typos, it won’t fly well. Again, take the time to do this right.
#6 — Submission Guidelines are respected
This step is by far the most important. Take the time to read the submission guidelines and submit your query exactly how it’s stipulated on the website. Don’t feel the need to improve or be creative, just stick to the guidelines. Reading through the emails are easier this way for them, but it also shows you’re capable of following instructions.
#7 — Query letter and pitch are excellent
Work on your query as much as you can, but some agents disagreed on that one. Some thought that if you don’t have a good query and pitch, then they won’t be interested in reading while others thought otherwise. Some said that they understand we’re writers and not copywriters or salespersons, so they’ll still be reading the pages. So in the end, you don’t know who you’re going to have, so always make sure your query is flawless.
#8 — Don’t be pompous. Be flexible.
Do not tell an agent (especially if you’re new) that you are the next J.K. Rowling because it won’t fly well. Be humble and don’t come out as someone unwilling to listen. Do not make any negative, discriminatory, or desperate comments. Do not load the query with too much information. Stay to the point because tthey’ll ask if they have more questions.
If you write a series and you’re a new writer, your book should be a stand-alone if need be, but you need to mention you’d want it to be a trilogy or more depending on what you feel like writing.
#9 — Do not write your query in your character’s voice.
Remain professional. This type of creativity is hardly appreciated. Again, stick to the guidelines and prepare a killer query. A query should be between 800–1000 words per this panel, but that was more because of the presence of publishers authors.The industry standard is about 400 words, which is more a sweet spot and what you should aim, especially if you’re new.
Follow these points, and you should be guaranteed to have the agent reading your first pages. Hopefully, they will request more. Always keep in mind that your manuscript should be polished, but so should your query be. Never give them an excuse to reject you. Signing an agent is a long-term relationship based on trust that should benefit both of you. Your agent will have your best interest at heart. Researching them will help you make sure you connect with agents with similar interests as you.
Not all agents will be right for you though, so choose wisely and make sure your contract offers a way out if need be.
Originally published at lmdurand.com on June 20, 2017.