If you’re looking for sensible, professional advice on how to do this, there are hundreds of agents on Twitter, many of whom regularly tweet advice about how to impress them.
Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks), Lauren Spieller (@laurenspieller), Juliet Mushens (@mushenska), Jonny Geller (@JonnyGeller), Meg LaTorre (@MegLaTorre) and @QueryShark to name just a few off the top of my head.
And of course, my lovely agent, Sharon Belcastro! (@SharonBelcastro)
There are loads more – go forth and research!
Oh, and typing in either #askagent #subtip or #querytip on Twitter will give you loads of advice! Go check them out!
Also, Scribbler Lisa Bradley wrote a heart-warming and exciting blog post about her journey to finding an agent here.
(I’ve included my query letter that got me my agent at the bottom by the way, in case you’re short of time!)
Okay, so how NOT to get an agent – that’s what you’re all here for, right? RIGHT? Well, let me start by saying there’s no formula, secret method or silver bullet, there’s (usually) no connections that get you there and there are no shortcuts home or easy way outs!
(Sorry, had to get that pop song reference in there! Bonus points for anyone who identifies it and replies with the answer on Twitter!)
So what do I have to say for myself – well this…there might be no easy way to get an agent, but there are a million ways NOT to get an agent. And I’ve done a whole pile of them. So, here we go…
- The classic salutation – how do address an agent in a query letter. Well, what you DON’T do is Dear Sir/Madam or Dear agent, but you already know that, right? Well, I didn’t when I queried my first book…yes, that’s right, I was idiotic enough to actually use that salutation…and guess what, I GOT REJECTED! LOADS! You want to be a professional writer, yes? Okay, well address an agent in a professional way. Use their name with the appropriate Mr/Ms/Mrs like you would for a job application or whatever.
- All about me – that’s what an agent wants to know, isn’t it? They want to know all about me as a writer – what I do for a living, how many cats I have, and what time of day I write! 😂 (Seriously, I did that last one!) But surprise, they DON’T! Well, not initially. They are selling a book, not you and unless you are a big deal, you’re not that interesting. But your book is. Tell them loads about your book and keep stuff about you to a line or two, tops. Unless it’s really relevant to the book, then that’s probs okay. Okay? Oh, and because you’re all wondering, I did get REJECTED when I mentioned what time of day I write…it’s night time, in case you’re wondering…
- What to include – this is a tough one, I guess it will vary with tastes and I’ve heard a lot of different advice. Some day, a killer, one-sentence pitch, then a short blurb, maybe 2/3 paragraphs at the most. Others say less. But you do need to make them want to read beyond your letter, from the hundreds they receive every week, they can only physically read the pages of a few, so make yours one of them. DON’T include a picture of you, or a link to your self-published book or website, and DON’T worry about including info on sequels etc – the book needs to stand alone, to be sold in it’s own right and read as an individual, so sell it so. DON’T tell them it’s part of a seven book series, where you plan to write spin-offs etc, but then fail to tell them what this first book is about! (I never did that…nope, not me!) 😂😜
- Attachments – this one is easy – follow the bloody guidelines on the agents page – it takes 2 seconds to check and it will get you post the auto-delete first hurdle – agents don’t have time for those who don’t take the time to do as they ask. In fact, many will not even open queries where an attachment is included, if they have specifically asked for them not to be…so do yourself a favour and DON’T ignore/not read the guidelines on their website.
- Multiple submissions – I think most agents now agree that you should not send only one submission at a time. DON’T do this. Instead, send multiple but maybe mention it if they ask you to, or if you receive requests, let all the other agents who have the manuscript know. I did only send it out one or two at a time, with my first book, but it took me well over a year to get it out to all the agents on my list doing it that way. Save yourself some time and sanity, as long as you’re individualising each submission to that specific agent, it’s okay to send to a few at a time.
- Comps (or comparisons) – my book is the new Harry Potter, it’s Lord of the Rings meets the Hunger Games… Yes, this does happen – I see agents tweeting about it a lot! DON’T DO THIS! Find a relevant, recently published, but perhaps not phenomenally successful book (this shows you are well read and up-to-date with what’s relevant now in your genre- though there are a million exceptions to this!) and use one or two. I’d say going up to 3/4 comps is too many, based again on feedback I’ve seen from agents, but it’s like many things – this isn’t a rule, nor are comps even necessary – you just need to give the agent an idea of how they might market the book and comps help with that before they even read your words. I’ve only recently started using them, now I have a better knowledge of the genre in which I’m writing.
- Social media profile – while not a deal-breaker by any means, either a horrific profile or a strong following may influence an agent – if you have many thousands of followers who actively engage with you and you with them, perhaps with a specific topic, niche or genre or whatever, then it’s more likely you will be able to see books to those followers – they may help with author platform and marketing and this MAY influence a tight call…or not. But it certainly can’t work. Conversely, if you don’t act professional (within limits) while you are in the public domain online, it’s seems unlikely an agent would want to represent you or your book. Easy rule – DON’T be a douche on social media. As Bill and Ted say, ‘Be excellent to each other!
Okay, you’re probably bored of my list by now…no? Okay, so just a little personal experience of how querying has gone for me, and a little story about how I got my agent…
Book 1 – Sam Chance (MG Fantasy) – 110k – made all of the mistakes above, pretty much. Well over 50 rejections in the end. Surprised? NO! Even without the rookie mistakes in my query letter, etc, the word count was far too long for an MG and the writing was atrocious! 😂
Book 2 – Rise of the Kalax (YA Sci-Fi Thriller) – 90k – made less mistakes but still one or two daft ones. Got a couple of requests, but no further interest. Over 50 rejections again.
Book 3 – The Nameless (YA Dystopian) – 80k – by this point, I’d completed a Masters in Creative Writing and had been round the block, writing for five years and had just completed the Curtis Brown Writing for Children Course (with the amazing Catherine Johnson!) and I was ready – all of my mistakes of the past were gone. I personalised each and every query, I was professional, kept a spreadsheet of submissions and I thought that it was going to happen with this book. It didn’t. DON’T do what I did to myself and put too much hope into full manuscript requests – I have well over 20 on this book – and I was certain an agent would take me on. I really was. But they didn’t. I got loads of lovely emails back from agents, complimenting the writing etc, but always with one thing that was an issue (never the same thing). The one common side issue was that Dystopian wasn’t selling at the time. The market was saturated. My rejections box was also saturated and it was tough to keep going. But I did because that’s what profession writers do if they want to ever become…well, professional writers! DON’T give up!
Book 4 – Storm Rising (YA Fantasy) – 85k – Okay, so after all that I’d learned in the last book and round of submitting to agents, guess what I did next? Another rookie error – I wrote Storm Rising in a haze, I did a few quick redrafts and edits. Then I submitted it to agents! And what happened? Can you guess? Is it a surprise? I got REJECTED a bunch of times! DON’T DO THIS! Luckily, I didn’t send it to too many – when the first round of rejections came back I realised it wasn’t ready. I spent the next year rewriting, changing, get people to read – fellow writers, freelance editors, entered some competitions (got some LL and SL accolades for the query letter – these can be great to include) and made sure it was in the best possible shape to query.
Then something weird happened. A fellow writer sent me a link to Savvy Authors pitch event online. I pitched SR and Ella Marie Shupe from Belcastro Agency asked me to send the first 3 chapters. I did. She then replied asking for the full. I sent it promptly – DO THIS. DON’T delay and mess around. Agents get impatient too, when staring at an inbox, waiting for your full!
About a week later, I got an email from Sharon Belcastro – WE’D LIKE TO OFFER YOU REPRESENTATION!
The words all writers long to read! It was the weirdest thing – I didn’t really let it sink in – instead I asked Sharon a million questions – DO ASK QUESTIONS btw if you get to that stage – not as many as I did, but some – and she totally floored me with her enthusiasm and love for the book, her ambitions for it and my career and after giving the other agents who had the manuscript time to consider – DO THIS if you get an offer btw – we signed!
Anyway, this post is getting way too long, but below is my query letter I used – not perfect at all but it was good enough to get an agent to read the pages and that’s it’s only real purpose. I definitely talk too much about myself but as I said at the start – there is no secret formula and this might/might not seem like a strong query to you. Yours is probably better, and after reading my post, I hope every one of your queries are better than mine and that you avoid the mistakes I made.
Dear Ms Belcastro/Ms Shupe,
Intersex Ice-Witch Corena Storm hid in the shadows most of her life, but when her brother is executed, no amount of ice can quench the fire of revenge.
STORM RISING is a YA Fantasy complete at 84,000 words. It is a mash up of RED QUEEN, FROSTBLOOD and TWELFTH NIGHT.
Corena Storm lives in a binary, deeply devout world, controlled by a body called the Kurikon, that alienates her and fellow wiccan. When her wiccan abilities are discovered by her community, she is sent away by her parents to be reconditioned. But when her brother is executed after freeing her, she seeks revenge.
Disguised as a boy, she infiltrates the Queen’s personal wiccan hunting squad. Corena unexpectedly falls in love with one of the killers and must ultimately choose between avenging her brother’s death and a future with the girl she loves.
As a biology teacher, teaching chromosomal and genital variations to youngsters struggling with identity, gender uncertainty or dysmorphia is an issue I feel strongly about. Young intersex people need to see heroes/heroines in fiction they can relate to.
My writing has finished runner-up in the Ink and Insights Master Novel prize, been short listed for the New Voices prize and long listed for the Yeovil Literary prize, the Spotlight First Novel prize and the Flash500 novel competition. I was recently a finalist in #PitProm.
I am a member of SCBWI and active in the writing community, hosting online pitch and writing events like #PeerPitch and #1st50 as part of the Scribblers, which have enabled me to build an active following and author platform within the YA community. This will enable me to get Corena’s story, and it’s important message, out to a wider audience.
I have completed Curtis Brown’s Writing for Children Course with Catherine Johnson, and finished my MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, where I graduated with Merit.
Thank you for your consideration.