Friday, April 1, 2011

BBC's Query Tips: Knowledge Gleaned From Years of Stalking Agent Blogs

by Mindy McGinnis
I've got a round of agent blogs that I check up on and read almost daily. From this I've learned a few things that should be basic starting points for anyone who is getting ready to jump into the world of querying, and also a good refresher for those of us who have been at it for years... and years.

1) DON'T tell the agent how awesome you are. Every single agent I've read who comments upon this agrees: A modest writer is a better writer.

2) DON'T mass email your query. Most agents won't even read a query that has multiple recipients or is not addressed to them specifically.

DO double check your spelling of the agent's name. Also, be sure of their gender.

3) DON'T tell the agent that your grandma and your son's friends love your book. Why? Your grandma won't tell you if you suck.

4) DON'T even send that query if your word count is over a certain number. That number can be played with according to genre, but basic
guidelines will tell you that any unpublished, unrepped writer querying their novel that is over 100,000 words is sunk before they leave the harbor.

5) DON'T be overly friendly with your tone. A query is a business letter. You're approaching a professional about your hope for establishing a professional relationship with them. Opening with, "What's up?" isn't how to get your foot in the door.

DO personalize in a professional manner. Do you follow their blog? Did they mention they're looking for a certain type of project
that your ms fits perfectly? Tell them that. The agent wants to know why you're querying THEM—and hopefully it's not just because
they're an agent and you're a writer.

6) DON'T make assumptions. Dear agent: I know your submission guidelines say that you only want a query, but my novel is so awesome I know you'll want the full right off. So to save time, I attached it to this email. This goes back to DON'T #1 as well.

DO follow their guidelines. Every agent has a different way they like to approach their slush pile. Some will want the query, some will want a synopsis as well, some will ask for sample pages. Always check the agency site, or agent blog to learn their preferences. Also, some agent's preferences do differ from the blanket preferences listed on their agency site. If in doubt, go with what the agent profile or blog specifies.

DO when sending sample pages be sure to check specifications. The vast majority of agents will not accept attachments. Cut and paste into the body of the email.

7) DON'T hassle an agent. Ever. Did they read your query yet? Wait and see. Emailing them to ask if they read it will only irritate them and add your name to their mental list of people that annoy them. Not where you want to be when they do read your stuff.

DO feel free to check in after a period of time if an agent has your partial or full. VERY basic timelines would be anywhere from four to six months on a partial, even longer on a full. Yes, that long. Also—a lot of agents post where they're at with their partial and full piles in their blogs. Check there before obsessing too much.

8) DON'T think that you're the exception. A query is one page. Period. A great query weighs in around 300 words. Yup, that little.

9) DON'T open up by saying that you're an author seeking representation. I have a hard time picturing an agent reading that line and dropping their coffee cup to yell over to the next office—"GUESS WHAT!!!! I've got an author here seeking representation!!!!"

DO open with your hook. There is a debate about whether or not an agent wants to see the genre, title, word count first off so that they know what they're looking at. I personally always open with the hook, and it's served me well.

DO make sure you include genre, title, word count in your query somewhere. I prefer mine at the end.

10) DON'T tease the agent. "Will Cheryl live to fight another day? Can Bob save Lucy from Mr. Villain Man?" The agent might wonder if you're writing a serial radio program from the 1940's, and that market is kind of over.

11) DON'T wear a scrunchie like the one the girl pictured here is wearing. That also, is kind of over.


Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Maybe that's where I go wrong. I say I'm seeking representation. I will never, ever, ever say THAT again. :-)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Great list of do's and don'ts...

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks ladies! Anne - yeah, I think that's kind of an assumed :) Maybe you should try, "I'm not seeking representation, I'd just like your opinion on something."

Sharon - Thanks! It was fun making it as well - it's also in the library over on and posted on my own blog.

Rick said...

Good post. One question I wonder about -- You say, and I'd agree, that it's always best to follow the agent's own guidelines, however, I read on an agent's blog, forget if it was Bransford (when he was one) or Reid, but they said no matter what the agent says, include the first 5 pages of your ms. anyway. Seems like that might p.o. some, but the reasoning was it's a small addition and gives them a taste of your actual writing. My own take is that the query itself should do that, and including what they don't ask for is presumptous. But it was advice from a top agent. Your take?

Christian Yorke said...

Thanks for this interesting post. However, I am curious about the rule that a debut novel cannot exceed 100,000 words. I understand the need to edit/revise/polish etc so is the rule based on the assumption that a manuscript that exceeds 100,000 words is a sprawling unedited nightmare; many first novels might be such a nightmare, but then again many rather excellent books exceed this figure. Any clarification would be much appreciated.

Anne R. Allen said...

This is a good, solid list. In answer to Rick above, I'd say you can get away with that 5 pages unless the agent specifically says "Query only." or "no pages." Some do.

Christian, what I've heard agents say is basically: J.K. Rowling can get away with stuff you can't. When you're a newbie, you have to follow the rules. When you're a superstar, you get to rewrite them.

Leslie Rose said...

I love a good checklist, and this one is wonderful. Thank you. Time to dust off my query and use this list.

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Hi! It's my first time here. I'm stopping by from She Writes. Looking forward to reading more of your posts :)


p.s. Love the scrunchie tip. LOL!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Rick - What Anne said is pretty much what I would say too, but generally, if the agent wants the first 5, they'll tell you that. I've read interviews with agents where this question specifically is asked, and generally they say that if the query interests them, sure they'll check out the first 5... but if the query interests them, they were going to ask for them anyway :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Christian - again, what Anne said is a good answer. Genres like historical fiction, SF or F might get a little wiggle room on the word count for world building, but generally if an agent sees the 100K they're going to pass - but there are always magnificent rule breakers.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Leslie - dust off that query! Some time away is the best medicine.

Sam - thanks for stopping by, and yes, always look out for scrunchies. They hide in the bottom of your makeup drawer and will call to you with their '90's sirens voices.

I've got a post up on my personal blog right now - with a collection of YA agents and my own query that worked, if you're interested.

Lisa Gail Green said...

These are great tips!! I'm so excited about your new blog.

Helen Ginger said...

Come on! Where was I when scrunchies went out of style? Great pointers! Thanks.

RosieC said...

Thanks, Mindy. I'll have to check out the info on your blog, too, for what worked and what didn't. This is a great resource list.

PS--I'm missing the scrunchy link, but it's true. No one should be wearing them! :)

East for Green Eyes

Charmaine Clancy said...

Lots of great points, thanks - will toss that scrunchie :-)

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Mindy McGinnis said...

Lisa, Helen, Rosie, Charmaine - Thanks for the support here on our collaborative blog, and on my personal blog as well. We're on twitter too @WriteAngleBlog and my personal @bigblackcat97. I imagine the scrunchie manufacturers will be blacklisting me shortly.

We've got more great content coming down the pipe here @WriteAngle all month - stay tuned!

Sarah Ketley said...

lol, think i had more scrunchies than outfits when i was ten or so, used to make them myself out of old clothes and scraps. *grin*

Great list, we don't get to break these kind of rules till we are J.K Potter special. Till then we must play it super safe.

good luck


Mindy McGinnis said...

Sarah - oh yes, old clothes became scrunchie material as opposed to quilt fodder for awhile there. Luckily, I think the Midwest has returned to the more classic latter option. Also as a fashion no no (and this from someone who owns more pajama pants than real clothes) I don't believe we'll be seeing the return of the western scarf / hankie with beads anytime soon. I think they trended right around the same time... coordinate your scarf and scrunchie!

cherie said...

What, no scrunchie??

Excellent post BBC!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Ix nay on the scrunchie ay :)