In the years that I have queried literary agents, I have had every encounter, misunderstanding, and disappointment known to man. Obviously, I have had no success in my endeavors but have had many lessons learned. The first six years I pestered them were needless; I had no business contacting them at all. My manuscript was poorly written, the characters were ridiculous, and I used every cliché in the book. Still I persevered, convinced that my novel would “change the world” and that God had told me to write it. Today I am thankful that none of my earlier works have ever seen the light of day. (And never will if I have my way.)
So, what lessons have I learned while stalking the literary agents? Here is an incomplete list below. I hope you may benefit from my many screw-ups.
Always, always, always be certain that the agent you are querying is legitimate. There are hundreds of cons out there just waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting, desperate, newbie author. The best place to do a background check on agents/agency is at absolutewrite.com’s forum. They have a whole message board dedicated to it.
If you put the date above the letter, be sure to put the accurate date. I think this was perhaps the first mistake I made ever, way back in 2004. I listed the date as December 24th, and it was the 23rd. I didn’t really learn from my lesson though, because since then I have continued to put down the wrong date. Year changes are always difficult for me.
Be sure to address the correct agent/spell name correctly/be certain of gender. Yes, I am repeat offender of this one. I have put down the wrong name, incorrectly spelled a last name, and mistakenly called a gentleman a “Ms.” Misspellings and such are very unprofessional and a sign of disrespect. Not only that, you feel incredibly foolish afterwards. Although, it is not a guaranteed rejection. The gentleman I thought was a woman actually requested to read my full manuscript. I never did hear back from him though.
Carefully craft your query. Make sure it is free of inaccuracies, misspellings and other common flaws. Your query is a reflection of you as an author and of your style. Don’t try to convince the agent that you have the next bestseller (even if you turn out to be right, its off-putting). Don’t claim to be the next Kathryn Stockett, Jane Austen, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, etc.
Do not flip out on the agent when/if you are rejected. I have never done this, but I’m sure there are a few loons out there that have. Even if the agent is jerky and may really deserve it, be the bigger person. When they reject you, it is not meant to be personal. They receive thousands of letters ever year. They are not the devil.
Critiquing and criticism is a matter of taste. One agent says one thing, another says something completely different. What one agent thinks does not automatically guarantee that every other agent would agree. Take what they say with a grain of salt. Maybe keep a record of responses; if the responses match up, then maybe they are on to something.
Keep good records. Keep an organized list of agents, ones that you have queried, when, and what the end result was. It is embarrassing to query the same agent twice in a short time span. According to one writing friend of mine, you’re not supposed to query the agent again once you have been rejected by him/her. Many agencies also prefer you not to query the other agents within the same agency. Apparently, they share the queries that they receive with one another. I usually wait six months or more before writing to another agent within that same agency.
Follow their guidelines. Every agent/agency has their own list of guidelines that a writer has to meet when they query. If you’re smart, you’ll follow these to a T. Writers that don’t play by the rules, generally are automatically ignored/rejected. Your story may be dynamic, but you are not anymore more special than any other writer out there. Which is another lesson I had to learn the hard way.
God did not tell you to write that. I do believe there are books out there have been divinely inspired by God. God did give us our talents and the ambition to create something. But just because you throw a bunch of words onto a page and it ends up somewhat reminiscent of a story, does not mean that God is holding your hand and writing those words down for you. Just because you’re a Christian and a writer doesn’t mean everything you touch is golden (I don’t mean to sound harsh about this; trust me, early on I truly believed otherwise.) God may have given you a gift; He may have even placed a certain subject on your heart. Great. But you have to fail and fail miserably so that you can improve and grow and develop your craft. God has a plan for you, yes, but He expects us to evolve as writers.
Requesting a Manuscript. If an agent requests part or your whole manuscript, it is a positive thing. You will soon begin entertaining fantasies of signing with them and publishing the next best seller. And that is generally how you will find that special someone to represent you and your work. But a manuscript request is not a guarantee into the publishing world. Neither is having your manuscript with an agent on an exclusive basis (to read about my own personal debacle, click here). Having an agent request your manuscript is merely a step in the right direction. That is all.
Until next time…