Last week I participated in Writer’s Digest's One-on-One Agent Bootcamp. The course included a presentation on the materials you need to submit to a publisher (i.e. query letters, book proposals and synopses), six hours of agent access via a discussion board, and a critique of a query letter and ten pages of a manuscript.
I have heard a lot of tips about the finding-an-agent process over the years. However, as I sifted through the questions and answers in the Writer's Digest discussion board, I was happy to stumble upon some new advice.
Below are eight tips from professional literary agents that I hadn’t quite heard before:
Literary Agent's Advice on Query Letters
- If you hired a professional editor to review your manuscript (especially if you are a debut novelist), mention it in your query letter.
- Don’t bother with gimmicks in your query. Gimmicks show up frequently. The best queries are the ones that are simply professional.
- Mention books similar to yours (i.e. comparable titles). If no one book quite explains what a literary agent should expect, try using two (e.g., one that has a similar voice and another that is written in a similar format). But try not to use more than two.
- Your query should be perfect. According to one agent, forty percent of queries are rejected for being poorly written or unprofessional. These are things in your control. Spend the time (and perhaps the money on editing services if you can) to make your submissions the best they can be.
Tips for Other Submission Materials
- Don’t kill yourself over the synopsis. Everything you submit is important, but the purpose of the synopsis is to provide an overview of the novel—it has a practical function. The literary agents in the Bootcamp, for example, use synopses only after they have read an author’s initial pages and want to see how the story ends. That said, the synopsis still must be well written and accurately convey the plot.
- When an agency asks for “ten pages” give them the first ten pages—and in order. Oh, and make sure they have page numbers.
Manuscript Advice from Literary Agents
- Be careful with prologues. While not necessarily a deal-breaker, apparently some literary agents direct their interns to be wary of prologues to help them weed through the slush pile.
- Watch your word count. Most novels shouldn’t be more than 90,000 words (although Fantasy novels are typically longer). Too many words suggests padding, too much back story, overwriting, or too much exposition. If you’ve revised for these things and your word count is still, say, 145,000 words—consider pitching a series.
And a Tip About You
- Have an online presence. As a blogger, this seemed obvious to me. However, many participants seemed surprised by how important it was for even aspiring authors to have an online presence. It doesn’t have to be crazy—a Facebook page, a simple website with your bio, etc.—but agents should be able to find you online.
Have you heard any good tips for navigating the query/submission process? Let us know in the comments section.
Take fifteen minutes to take a stab at a query letter that pitches your manuscript to a potential literary agent. Share in the comments section!