Following her highly popular #querytip series on Twitter, literary agent Julia Weber will be sharing more valuable query advice, and real examples, here with Writers and Artists. Follow Julia on Twitter @jawlitagent
Disclaimer: All examples are 100% real… no, honestly they are!
Some queries leave you speechless. Some for all the right reasons. Others for all the wrong reasons. #queries
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I dedicate a large number of my tweets to query tips that have been inspired by some – ahem – exceptional queries. Some of them may seem silly, mad and/or downright bizarre but trust me – I’ve seen it all. Over the course of this series I’ll be covering all the essential aspects of the querying process: what (not) to do before querying an agent, what (not) to put into a query, how (not) to behave during the waiting game and how (not) to respond to a rejection. I think you can see where I am going with this.
Firstly, I love queries, I really do! Whenever a new query pops up in my inbox, I’m exhilarated by the prospect of finding a manuscript that makes me tingle all over, of fishing the next potential bestseller out of that notorious slush pile.
The terrifying fact is literary agencies receive, depending on size and profile, dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of new queries each week. Since I first started out in this industry, I’ve read well over 1,500 queries. Of those 1,500 I have only requested – let’s be generous here – about 50 full manuscripts. That doesn’t sound like a hell of a lot, does it? But, this is why it is so important to have a strong and well-prepared query. To persuade me that I want – no, need – to read the rest of your manuscript.
1.) Don't approach agents with the first rough draft of your manuscript - or it has ‘rejection’ written all over it. Write, read, correct, edit! #querytip
I know you are excited about your work and you want to share it as soon as humanly possible. The problem: a work in progress is a huge turnoff. Imagine I read your partial and am so head over heels in love with it that I want to see the rest of your manuscript – but there isn’t actually a rest. I can promise you that someone would be a very unhappy bunny.
You’ve just finished writing? Fabulous. Do NOT query. It’s now time for proofreading, editing, tweaking, possible plot changes etc. If you query before your manuscript is really ready, you're wasting my time and yours!
2.) Turning up unannounced even though I'd told you not to is one thing. But stealing my pen? That's a whole new ball game. Not cool! #querytip
Yes, that happened. And the author definitely made an impression, albeit not the one he’d probably intended. Some writers feel compelled to pay me surprise visits. Some call beforehand, others simply don’t bother to call me and just show up. Don’t do that, authors. Firstly, my office is not some kind of walk-in-centre. Secondly, if I met every single author before receiving their query, I wouldn’t get my actual job done. I will – if geographically possible – arrange a meeting if I am interested in working with an author. Oh, and about this thing of not trusting me with your synopsis/reading sample before meeting me first? My interest has just hit rock bottom. Thanks, but no thanks.
3.) Submission guidelines aren't "only-if-you-feel-like-it-&-if-it-doesn't-bother-you-suggestions". They have a purpose. Follow them! #querytip
Don’t rush your submission. Instead, make it the best query you can. Do your homework before querying. Research. Some agencies want nothing but a query letter, others want a query letter and a reading sample, and yet others ask for a synopsis to cap it all. Some only represent YA, others specialize in non-fiction… confusing, right? That’s exactly the reason why every agency has very specific guidelines to help writers with their submissions. Those submission guidelines are publicly accessible, usually on their websites or in the Writers’ & Artists Yearbook. Research which agency may be right for you, check their guidelines and FOLLOW them. They ask for the first three chapters? Great, send them the first three chapters. Do not send your entire 1,400-page manuscript.
4.) That awkward moment when an author claims he read your entire homepage but keeps calling you sir. Despite name & picture on said homepage. #queries
We’ve talked about this. Research before querying is important, crucial even. Show the agent that you’ve done your homework. Ensure you know who you’re communicating with. To just call an agent “Miss”, “Sir”, “Editor” or “Agent” makes you look lazy. I’m a person, I have a name. Use it.
5.) I don't care whether you send me an email, letter, carrier pigeon or smoke signal. But do not - NOT - query me on Twitter please! #querytip
Okay… maybe not a smoke signal. My point is, social media is great – and most agents (me included) are more than happy to interact with writers on Twitter. But it’s not the place to swamp agents with queries. We have work email addresses for a reason.
6.) Never forget that you only get 1 chance to make a first impression. If you're rude to an agent you'll most probably get rejected. #querytip
Self-explanatory, I hope.
Next week: What (not) to put into your query
Julia Alexandra Weber founded the J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH in January 2012, and is specializing in representing international authors of unique and captivating commercial fiction, namely thrillers, teenage, young adult and women’s fiction of all sub-genres. Prior to having her own agency, Julia obtained Masters of Arts in ‘Media and Communication Studies’, ‘Creative Writing’ and ‘Publishing’ and gained practical experience at Toby Eady Associates and David Higham Associates in London. Follow Julia on Twitter @jawlitagent.