Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is it time to pop the question?

If you have an edited full manuscript, a tag line with a hook, a polished short synopsis, and a succinct author biography then go for it. Get ready and send your query to a literary agent and ask for representation.

Yes, we will consider your proposal. We really read them. The query letter is your first chance to present all your hard work to an agent. Seize this opportunity to impress by sending a well written representation of you and your work. Don’t allow your manuscript to be skipped over due to a poorly written query letter.

Don’t send mass emails that show all the other agents you’ve carbon copied. I mean if you’re going to ask, why not make us feel special? Take the time to write an individual query to each agent you are courting. Do follow query guidelines for each agency. Some agencies request a few sample pages or a few chapters as an attachment. Other agencies don’t want a writing sample until they request one. Take the time to read submission guidelines. When you finally commit and submit, make the subject line of your e-mail the title of your book. Agents receive so many proposals. Don’t let your query get lost in a game of hide-n-seek.

The first thing an agent will see in a query letter is the salutation. Research the literary agency you are about to query. Use a name as often as you can. I mean, would you pop the question “to whom it may concern”?  Insults will never get you the answer you desire. As an example, the Belcastro Agency consists of women. When we receive a query letter addressed to “dear sirs” it sends us scrambling away from your query to see if our profile pictures need changed.

Give us the facts right off the bat. Title. Genre. Word Count. Then open your letter. Don’t try to be too clever, over the top, or boastful. “This book will sell millions.” “This is the best book you will ever read.” “If you pass up my book you’re making a big mistake.” Instead, start your query with a sentence that will capture attention.

Begin with a sentence that is all encompassing and will make the agent read more. It’s a tall task, but there are a few key elements that can make an introduction sentence great. Incorporate setting, era, and location, but focus on character description with details of events that occur and how the character handles them. Throw in your title and you’ve got us hooked.

The next step in a good query letter is a small paragraph that consists of a great synopsis. Explain your novel in a way that will make an agent want to read the sample chapters. Without a good query letter, we will never get to that step. You know your story now get the main points across in a few lines. This is tricky business, but here’s a great tool to help in crafting a stellar synopsis. Grab your favorite books. Read the back cover. They usually have a paragraph synopsis that has been polished by many eyes and can give you great inspiration.

Now, we can’t really accept your proposal without getting to know you. Include your biography. Detail your writing credentials. Don’t hesitate to add that you contribute to your local newspaper or magazine. It shows us that you are an active writer. Give examples of contests you’ve entered and any awards you’ve won. It shows dedication. Include your education or job title if it pertains to writing or your book topic. Include it if your novel’s character is facing a biological attack and you hold a degree in biology. If you are a police officer and your lead character is an investigator, it stands to reason that you have some insight. Add your social media credibility. Today it’s more important than ever to show you’re an active participant in social media. It demonstrates that people have an interest in what you have to say.

It’s always nice to close with a thank you and offer your full manuscript upon request. Here are a few industry standards that will be helpful along the way. Standard word count for an adult work of fiction is 80,000-100,000 words. A Young Adult work of fiction is 40,000-60,000 words. That isn’t set in stone and you may give or take a few words. A FEW. It’s enough to make any agent tired if we open a query letter and see a YA word count of 180,000 words. Take the word count down or see if you have two books on your hands.

Remember, an agent doesn’t want to pass on your book. We are in the business of finding a great book and setting it on its journey to publication. We want to answer your proposal with a yes. 

Ella Marie Shupe
Belcastro Agency


Unknown said...

Great advice-- going to print this post off and store in my "when it's time" file.

Karen Duvall said...

I have a friend who's about ready to query agents so I'll send her the link to this article. Very helpful information. Thanks, Ella!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Very helpful post, Ella. Thanks!