Should You Query an Agent?

This could be titled Is your Manuscript Queryable? Because the question of querying comes down to the state of your manuscript: is it something that could interest an agent (does it deliver a good story), has it had a round of editing (at least a developmental edit), is the word count good (under 100 000)? Your choice is guided first by the state of your work. If it’s not ready to show an agent, then the choice is wether to get your manuscript queryable or choose the indie publishing route.

I won’t go into the choice of traditional publishing versus indie, although indie publishing allows for much more leeway. But that’s a whole other post. There are a lot of things to consider when making this choice. Or you can try both, which is what I did.

Much to my surprise, my editor suggested I query. Surprised because I had assumed I’d take the indie route and also because if an agent picked up my book, our collaboration would end. But this is to her credit as a professional with integrity.

Why Would You?

Yes, why would I? That was my answer. Why subject myself to almost 100% guaranteed rejection. For my fellow authors of course! Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but I did want to test the waters of the querying process. As experience, to share here, and on the offhand chance my manuscript did get picked up. The fact that I didn’t expect it to isn’t negativity, it’s simply that I write a very common genre (romantic suspense), there are many many factors agents consider when looking at a manuscript (future post on rejection coming soon), and I didn’t intend on querying far and wide (I kept it to 50 agents, preferably based in NYC).

The Letter

The query letter is key. It’s the first impression and what will hook agent. Before they read your sample chapters, if they do ask for them, or look at the synopsis, they read the query.

I took an online class on how to write a query letter, polished it up and had my editor review it. I also read about query letters, especially Jane Friedman, whose site is a goldmine for authors. Having said that, even the world’s best query letter and the greatest manuscript in the history of the world is not enough to prevent the dreaded rejection letter. There are, as I said, many factors the lead to a rejection and several have nothing to do with your the quality of your work.

So, I wrote and rewrote the query. And a synopsis. Both require work but once you have them you’re ready to query as many agents as you want. So take the time to make sure they are strong, polished and correspond to industry standards. For example, the synopsis is a resume of your work. No hook, no cliffhanger. It shows how the story begins, evolves and ends. It’s also a great way to see if you have chapters/scenes that don’t go anywhere, i.e aren’t moving the story forward. Which is also what an agent is looking for. There’s shouldn’t be any because your bookmap should help you catch that during the editing process. A developmental edit will make sure.

Then I did my research and created a list of approximately 50 agents. I queried them about five at a time over 6 months. It’s a good idea to give yourself a little bit of time between each round of queries in case an agent provides comments or feedback that might be useful for your query letter or your manuscript. However that did not happen for me. But is an agent does take the time, listen to them.

Then I waited to hear back. This can vary from a few days to several weeks. Some agents have a no response means no policy. Or a no from one agent at that agency means a no for all of them. By May, either having been rejected or not hearing back, I considered the process over and was ready to begin my Indie publishing journey.

How Many and How Long?

How many agents you query and how long you want to do this for is entirely up to you. Authors can easily query over 100 agents. You can take a year or more to do this. Some authors absolutely want to be traditionally published and will make every effort to find an agent to represent them. Again, this is stuff for another post on indie/traditional publishing.

I decided to go the query route because, as I said, my editor thought my manuscript was in good enough shape. You have to have a polished manuscript, meaning it has to be edited. Is there a story arc and does your story conclude adequately? Are there sub plots? Are they taking over the story? Do they conclude? Editing provide feedback on a lot of elements that writers don’t even see.  Because we’ve been working on our manuscript for so long.

As I said I query about 50 agents. That’s not a lot in the query game. But I had decided on a time limit and also limited the number of agents by having specifics. I was looking for–in the words of Diana Gabaldon– an agent who had lunch with editors. And while I’m not throwing shade on agents who aren’t based in Manhattan or who are a smaller operation (I did query several boutique agencies and loved the feel) I did want someone who had a few best selling authors under their belt. Someone with reputation and who knew what they were doing.

Now you may be saying ‘Well that didn’t exactly work for you did it now?’ No, and that’s fine. If it wasn’t, I’d still be at it. But not at any cost. Not to belabor the point but I would not be comfortable with an agent who did not have much more experience than me in approaching editors and guiding a new author. Look for an agent that feels like a good fit. And do be wary of agents who don’t have any authors or their books on their site. Most agents are very transparent with who they represent and what they are looking for.

That’s my take, but the decision is your own. What are your thoughts? Have you ever been represented by an agent? Are you a die-hard indie? Leave a comment and tell us what you published, if you have. Stay well.

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