I woke up a couple of days ago with a calendar note on my cell phone saying that I should send a query to a certain literary agency. I don’t remember when I’d saved the message on my phone, but it got me thinking. Did you know that even when I already have an agent the urge to send out queries hasn’t left my system? It’s like a phantom limb, you know that it’s not there anymore, but you still feel it attached to you sometimes. I actually thought about the query I would send for a second, then I remembered what I really needed to do: edit.
Anyway, querying is probably one of the scariest, if not the scariest, part of the writing process. Let’s say you already wrote your novel. It’s been proofread. You’ve edited it so many times your eyes are crossing. You’ve shown it to critique partners and beta readers. Then, you edited it some more. Now, you’re ready to query. Feel the nausea? I sure did. Every time I sent out a query, I thought I was going to hurl. It’s an out of body experience, really it is.
When I began taking my writing seriously, I started putting together my agent list. For every YA novel I bought, I would make sure to read the Acknowledgement section. Usually, the writers mention their agents on this page. Write down the names of the agents and make a list. Doing this gives you credible agents to send queries to because how credible can someone get when that someone is being acknowledged by the writer for his or her participation in getting the novel published, right? Also you can casually mention in your query letter that you’ve read the book of the author that particular agent represents. This counts as doing your research. And don’t be afraid to set your sights high. If you want Mr. or Ms. Number One Agent, then why not? You never know.
So, now, you have your list and your novel. Next, you need your pitch. It helps if you have a one sentence summary of your novel, a one paragraph summary, and a two to three paragraph summary. Each increasing in detail. Why do I say this? Because there are agents that only ask for one sentence. Some ask for a paragraph. While others give you more space, hence the two to three paragraphs. It’s best to stick to three paragraphs as a maximum. Why? Because it shows the agent that you know your story enough to fit the whole thing in three concise and well written paragraphs. Now, I’m not saying that this is set in stone. I have read about instances where the query of the author was the synopsis of the book itself. This does happen, but it does not mean that what worked for that author will also work for you. Safest thing to remember, read the requirements of the agency website. Follow their query format or instructions to the tee. It’s the content of your query that really matters, but it also shows the agent that you followed specifically their site’s instructions, meaning you’re not just recycling your query letters.
In the end, I believe that your query and your first chapter is the initial impression you’re making to a prospective agent. Make sure you spell check, grammar check, and re-check. Have someone else read it first, just in case. I once wrote a query to an uber agent and I accidentally used Mr. instead of Ms. I was devastated when I reread the query after hitting the send button. Miraculously, she asked for a partial. Weird. Anyway, next Monday, I plan to write about rejection and what it really is all about.