The Great Agent Search – Part 1

by Laura Drake
(Part 1 in a series – click here for Part 2 and Part 3)

You finish your book.  You type “The End.”  You edit, you revise, and you polish.

You’re done!  You dance, you gush.  You love the world.  In a few days, you come down from the high, clean the tulips from between your toes, and look ahead.

What the heck do I do now?

Who do I submit to?  How do I do that?

How do I keep track of it all?

First, don’t panic.  This isn’t brain surgery.  All you need is a couple of tools to succeed.

First: Business Panties. –

At work, when one of us doesn’t want to do something, we remind each other to put on our Big Girl Panties.  You must put on your business face.  I know, it feels like you’re putting your baby in a “most beautiful” contest, and Simon Cowell is the judge.

All the creativity and muse-courting won’t help you in this phase. In fact, I believe it’s why so many people hate, avoid, and fail the whole submittal process.  They don’t realize you use a whole different side of your brain for submitting than you did when you were creating the book.  So send your muse on a well-earned trip to Disneyland.  The skill set you can learn, but you’ll have to put aside the soft creative cocoon and switch to business mode.  Because this isn’t about what a heart-stopping novel you’ve written.  This is about business.  You have to look at this as you selling a product.

Sell?

If you’d wanted to do that, you’d have majored in marketing instead of taking all those English classes, right?  Wrong.  Who better to sell this?  You just spent a year or more of your life writing this book.  Who believes in it more than you?

“But I can’t sell!” you say.  “I couldn’t even make money on a lemonade stand when I was a kid.”  Do you have a husband?  Kids?  A job?  Have you ever convinced someone to do something your way?  Then you can sell.

Does the thought of pitching your book make your mouth dry and your hands shake?  Does even emailing a query make you queasy?  Me too.  Do it anyway.  As Oprah says, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  You don’t have to be brave.  It’s okay to be afraid.  On the inside. 

Can you do this?  You can’t not do it — because you want your book in print more than you’re afraid.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be still reading this! 

So put on your business panties and read on.

Submission Toolkit –

Writing the Query –

There is a ton of great info out on the internet, so I’m not going to try to write it better.  The best short explanation I’ve found comes from Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest in her query series, There Are No Rules.

THE 5 ELEMENTS OF A NOVEL QUERY
Every query should include these 5 elements (but not necessarily delivered in this order):

  • Personalization (where you customize the letter for the recipient)
  • What you’re selling (genre/category, word count, title/subtitle)
  • Hook (100-150 words is ideal)
  • Bio (sometimes optional for uncredited fiction writers)
  • Thank you & closing (plus any important notes)

What’s in the very first paragraph of the query?
This varies from writer to writer, from project to project. You put your best foot forward—or you lead with your strongest selling point. This might involve:

  • A referral from an existing client
  • Met at a conference or pitch event (your material may or may not have been requested, but if your material WAS requested, you’re not really writing a query anymore; you’re writing a cover letter)
  • Compelling hook that matches what an agent recently expressed interest in
  • Personalized intro that smartly and genuinely identifies why your work is a good match for this particular agent or editor
  • Excellent credentials or awards (e.g., MFA from a school that an agent is known to recruit clients from, first prize in a national competition with thousands of entrants, impressive publication credits with prestigious journal or New York publisher)

Many writers don’t have referrals or conference meetings to fall back on, so usually the hook becomes the lead for the query letter.

Other writers start simple and direct, which is fine: “My [title] is an 80,000 supernatural romance.”

Does personalization really make a difference?
Yes, if it’s done well. If you’re vague in your personalization (faking it), then you’ll appear insincere or lazy.

Remember, your query is a sales tool, and good salespeople develop a rapport with the people they want to sell, and show that they understand their needs. Show that you’ve done your homework, show that you care, and show that you’re not blasting indiscriminately.

So write that query.  Polish it all shiny.  Read it out loud for awkward sentences.  Then read it to everyone who will sit long enough to listen.  They’re probably going to say they love it.  Watch their faces.  Dig deeper to what they’re not saying because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  These are your potential readers, and if they’re not captivated by your query, an agent sure isn’t going to be.

Remind yourself that this is not a feel-good exercise.  You get one shot at this.  You may have written the next Pulitzer Prize winner, but that year of work counts for nothing if your query doesn’t hook an agent.  They’ll never read it!  I make the case that this is THE most important thing you’ve ever written, so make every word golden.

Next Up: Where to find an agent, and how to approach them (without scaring them!)

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10 Responses to The Great Agent Search – Part 1

  1. Stacy S. Jensen says:

    Loved the business panties part. I like the break down of the query. Thanks.

  2. Jenny Hansen says:

    For those of you that did not get to attend Laura’s amazing workshop in February, here is the backstory.

    We all loved the talk so much that we begged her to turn the information into a series of blogs for our site. I can’t BELIEVE she didn’t use the picture of the sparkly titanium thong she flashed on the screen for the part of the talk on Business Underwear.

    Really, Laura…how could you leave off the titanium thong???

  3. Kathy says:

    This is so helpful. Thank you!

  4. Kelly Polark says:

    Excellent breakdown. Thanks!

  5. Laura,
    Great breakdown of the beginning stages.
    Thanks, Tracey

  6. I love the underwear comparison! In your points on selling, you’re selling your query suggestions. Excellent, boiled-down version of the query letter.

  7. Louisa Bacio says:

    You’ve got a great sense of humor, mixed with some strong advice.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Louisa

  8. Pingback: How Do I Build A Writing Team? | Jenny Hansen's Blog

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