A query letter is a more basic document than many writers make it out to be, and the process, while it can be time-consuming, is also a relatively simple one. We’re going to walk through a few different steps on this topic. Today, let’s talk about researching and pre-query work
Why You Research First?
Every editor and agent I’ve every talked to has TONS of stories about authors who submitted queries that CLEARLY didn’t follow the instructions on that agent or editor’s website. And I’m not talking smaller stuff like “oops I forgot to include the word count” or I addressed it “Dear Madame” instead of “Dear Debbie”. I’m talking that editor or agent doesn’t even represent the genre your book is in.
Sounds idiotic, but people get lazy. DON’T be a lazy author. Do NOT send out a form letter with a ton of editors BCCd on it. Take the time to research each agent/editor you are submitting to. You don’t want to mess up your chances by demonstrating off the bat that you don’t know how to read a website and follow instructions.
Ask the Right Questions
Remember, this is a job interview that goes both ways. You want the RIGHT editor or agent for you, so taking the time to research isn’t just about knowing what to include in the letter. It’s about finding the right fit.
Questions you should be trying to find out answers to while you research the editor/agent include the following:
- Does he/she have a website that is easily accessible with information on querying readily and obviously available? (Big one. If they don’t they may not be taking new authors, which is a bummer. OR, they are not clear communicators which is much worse.)
- Does he/she represent the genre I write?
- What length novels does he/she prefer or typically represent (word count)?
- Is he/she currently taking on new authors? What about in your genre?
- Would you be working directly with that editor/agent or with someone else in their office? Why? Ask all the same questions about those individuals.
- Does he/she have a wish list of what they’d be particularly excited to see right now?
- How long has he/she been in this business?
- Are they a member of Association of Author Representatives or another organization which sets standards and guidelines for the people in their industry?
- Does he/she blog? (Go read it.)
- Is he/she on various social media? (Go follow and pay attention.)
- Which authors does this agent/editor already represent? What’s their track record with those authors? (harder to find info)
- If you feel comfortable contacting authors, try to politely find out how he/she like working with that agent/editor and why (because different personalities mesh well with some and not others). You can also try websites like Writer’s Beware (just be wary of sour grapes and or stale information). Here’s a website with a ton of resources on researching track records–Victoria Strauss.
- What do they want to see in the query? (Just the letter, a synopsis, the full MS, other?)
- See above questions about genre, length, and representation.
- How do they want you to submit the query (Online form? Email? Attachments? No attachments?)
- What is their general response time to queries?
There are TONS of other questions you’ll want to ask the editor/agent directly if you get past the initial query phase and are seriously considering signing a contract. We’ll get to those on another day.
In the meantime, as you start this process, we promise taking the time to properly research will be well worth the effort. There is a big difference working with someone who you get along with, share interests with, and can have a creative dynamic with, and someone who is just a body. That is true in any job.