Preparation is key
As I was doing more research on agents yesterday, I ran across a thread on the AbsoluteWrite.com message boards. If you haven’t been on these boards before, they can be very handy. I was searching for information about an agent who doesn’t give interviews and doesn’t have any kind of web presence, and on the message boards I found messages from writers who had queried the agent, response times and links to other information.
But one message stuck out to me. A writer said she had queried an agent and got a request for a partial, which is awesome. The sad part was that the writer went on to say that her partial wasn’t yet fully revised, so she had to send it out early.
I don’t know what happened with this writer and her partial. Maybe she got representation. I hope so. But if she knew her partial wasn’t ready for publication, i.e. still needed revision, I’m going to bet that agent knew it too. Consequently, the writer most likely blew it with that agent. She lost an opportunity. (P.S. I was just checking out my regular blogs and found a Q&A post from agent Kate Schafer-Testerman in which she says this. Click here then scroll down to the question from @jjochwat. Note that when she says if there’s a no, revise then resend elsewhere, meaning the writer blew the chance with that agent for that project.) (P.P.S. Guess this is a hot topic today. Here’s a post from agent Jessica Faust about making sure you edit your manuscript before you query. She also encourages writers to move on to their next book, saying, “Agents and especially publishers want career novelists, authors who will write book after book after book.” That’s what I’m moving onto now.)
Before you send out anything to agents, you have to be prepared. You’ve worked hard on your book, so give it the best possible chance during the submission process. Remember, if an agent says no, 90% of the time, that’s no to the project, not no to this version of the project. If they see the book again, they’ll remember and reject it automatically. So first impressions count, and you have to make sure they’re the best.
How do you prepare? First, don’t even think about querying an agent until you believe your manuscript is ready for publication. You’ve done all your revisions, got the plot and structure down, deleted passive language, fixed pacing problems, fully developed the characters, corrected grammatical errors, cut scenes or words or paragraphs that didn’t add to story or character — you want it to truly shine. When you read through it for the umpteenth time, you shouldn’t be bored; it should be that entertaining. That’s when you start thinking about querying an agent.
When you’re ready to query agents, research them. Build a master list of all the agents who handle the types of books you write — think long-term here; you want an agent you can work with for a career. (Granted, you can start doing this research between drafts of your manuscript, just don’t query them until your manuscript is absolutely polished.) Once you’ve got the master list, start researching the agents themselves through interviews, news items, sales, etc. Is this a person who has the same sensibilities as you, the same goals for their books, the same outlook? Again, think long-term. Is this a person you think you’d like to work with for a long time? List the agents in order of who you think you would like to work with most. I put all this information in an Excel spreadsheet, but do whatever works for you.
Once you’ve got you’re agent list, research their submission guidelines and add those to the list. Now you can see what you’ll need to prepare before you start querying. Some agents will want only a query letter, some the first few pages of your book, some a synopsis. Depending on what your ideal agents want, prepare it. When I was preparing, some of the agents wanted a synopsis, which is generally around four pages. But one agent wanted a two-page synopsis. For me, that’s a little tight, but I wrote my regular synopsis first, then prepared a two-page for that agent. I wrote a skeleton query letter with story blurb and information about me, then I personalized that with information about each agent letting them know why I was interested in working with them.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is a lot of work, and I’m so anxious to get my work out there. I fully understand. In the past, I’ve sent out my work before it was ready. But here’s the thing — I was roundly rejected. And I can’t blame the agents. They were right. My work at that time was not ready for publication. (This was a different project from the one I’m currently submitting.) Unfortunately, I wasted their time and mine, as well as tasted the bitterness of rejection, all because I wasn’t fully prepared.
This time, I prepared myself for whatever the agents wanted initially and whatever they would need if they requested more. I’ve polished my entire manuscript, so I can send out fulls with no worries. Whatever they ask for, I’m ready to provide it. It has already come in handy, but more on that another time.
So, give your book — and yourself — the best possible chance at success by being fully prepared before you send out your first query letter.