How To Query Agents Like a Jackass
Don’t knock it til you try it, ladies and gentlemen.
I am not an expert, but given that I have done balls to the wall research and been in the querying process now for quite some time, I AM an expert on my own experience. I am hereby sharing what I have learned in the hopes that it might help you in your similar pursuits.
Let’s do this.
I am Caitlin Carrigan (or Caitlin Michaela Carrigan; I haven’t actually decided yet, but that’s something for my non-existent therapist and I to hash out) and I write books. What kind of books, you say, like every other person who hears such news? Well, here you go.
1 – THE OFFERING: A Historical Fiction/Alternate History, science fiction, fantasy clusterf*ck about a village that quarantines itself after an outbreak of the plague, and the young woman whose curiosity results in her discovering that though the villagers are sick, it isn’t the plague that ails them.
2 – CATCH MY FALL: A Contemporary Fiction that border’s on New Adult Chick Lit (because I’m so hilarious) about a once aspiring cartoonist whose chosen ‘responsible’ career in marketing blows up in her face, resulting in her having to move back to her hometown with her eccentric, nude-yoga practicing mother.
3 – A SONG FOR THE SEA: A Literary Fiction about a Registered Nurse and an alcoholic Lobsterfisherman whose unlikely friendship may be the only thing to spare them both from the worst tragedies of their lives.
4 – THE WHITE DOE: the sequel to THE OFFERING, and just as worthy of the genre identifier, Clusterf*ck Fiction, about an albino girl who is taken in by the Lakota when American Soldiers attempt to frame the Lakota people for the destruction and slaughter of her entire homestead.
Magical. Now, if only I was so capable of summing them up when an agent or author asks me. I should send them here, like a pompous ass.
After writing the first two bad boys, I started researching the act of nailing down an agent; a champion to throw into the trial by combat that all writers who wish to be traditionally published must go through. Seriously, I’m definitely a Tyrion Lannister sized creature, and I need a Bronn. For all you fellow dwarves of Westeros, here is how to get it done.
This goes without saying, you say? You’d be surprised. There are an enormous number of writers out there who think they fart diamonds and start querying their masterpiece as soon as THE END is typed. Even knowing this advice, I queried my first two novels before they were ready. I didn’t know they weren’t ready until I gave them time, worked on my future projects, learned by doing. Now, both are getting a final revision before I let anyone lay eyes again, and they will be BETTER FOR IT.
Get some Beta readers, set that bad boy in a drawer and start working on your next book for a couple months, at the very least a few weeks, and buy this book – Revision and Self Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells. I snagged it on a whim and started perusing it, and as a result, the novel I am currently querying (my third) is the most fine tuned work it could possibly be in my hands. Self-Editing is NO easy task. Having some guidelines and advice is extremely helpful. When you’re ready, come back for a balls to the wall revision before you saddle some poor schlep agent with your Opus.
2) Work on Your Query
Got an elevator pitch for those well-meaning goobs who respond to the news that you’re a writer with, “Oh, what do you write about?” Rather than slap them upside the head with your laptop, actually try to come up with a three sentence elevator pitch. What is your opus about? Sell it to me before we hit the third floor. Go!
Once you can do that, start reading other query letters – the ones that work and the ones that don’t. Get over to Query Shark, Query Quagmire, and perhaps buy THIS book – Get a Literary Agent: The Complete Guide to Securing Representation for Your Work. Yet another tome I procured when the work NEEDED doing. Read it all. Soak it up. Laugh at the miserable queries and judge yourself harshly when you realize they’re ripping apart a query you might have written. This will help you in your own query writing. Once you’ve polished that bad boy, have a few well meaning, but hate filled friends read it and give honest feedback. Done? Whoa, now! It’s not yet time to unleash the flying monkeys.
3) Do Your Research!
Look at who represents your favorite authors. What agents helped sell your favorite books? Make a list, look them up. Get a list of your top DREAM agents; the ones you shouldn’t be able to convince of your worthiness. Now, DON’T QUERY THEM. That’s right. Pull back those reins, friends.
Yet again, I pitch a book purchase. Trust me, they’re all worth their weight in gold. 2015 Guide to Literary Agents: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published is a god send. Settle in with this bad boy, choose ten agents in this book, pull up their websites, read about their interests, find the agents that might be interested in your work, FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES, and let em have it. Shoot that query into the ether of at least five to ten agents who are NOT your dream agents. If you get no response, you might want to rework your query. If you get requests for more or for full ms, then your query is working, NOW send it to your top twenty.
4) Be Professional
Don’t send your unsolicited manuscript to a publisher, regaling them with how desperately they need your book. The unsolicited manuscript is the equivalent of a Snapchat dick pick. No one wants that. Well, unless I’m in love with you, then by all means, send me your dick picks. I still don’t want your unsolicited manuscript though.
If you DO receive a “No,” accept it with a grain of salt. Don’t write a rage filled diatribe, don’t respond with an adamant plea, just shrug and send your query to another agent. Not everyone is going to ‘get’ your work when they receive your query twenty minutes after spilling their coffee on their khakis and having a fight with their soon to be ex-wife. You never know how another human being’s day is going, and that is what agents are – they’re human beings sitting at their desks AT WORK. You may very well have written the next GAME OF THRONES, and Agent X might read every single one of your books when the show based on them is nominated for nine Emmy’s, but if Agent X gets your query on the wrong day, he’d sooner wipe his ass with it than represent it. Trust that a “no” is fate.
Agents are people with whom you hope to have a long and wonderful relationship. They are your champions in the publishing world, and you want them to like your work, and you. And vice versa. It’s a business marriage, for lack of a better term. I personally think Marriage should only happen when you find your soul mate, so how is finding an agent any different. You want “The One,” not Joe Schmoe Magoo who couldn’t give two shits about your book, leaves his dirty drawers on your side of the bed, and refuses to ever do the dishes.
Be patient, grow a thick skin, and persevere. It’s not the most talented that make it in this business, but the ones who don’t give up.
So don’t give up.
Now go read some quotes from Literary Rejections. It might help to see that even the greats crossed Agent X on the wrong day, once or twice.