3 Tips for Querying Literary Agents

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Reaching out to literary agents is an intimidating prospect to most authors. You’ve got the manuscript and the query letter all teed up, but you feel frozen. If all goes well, this one little interaction can change your career, and while being rejected simply means you’ll have to reach out to a different agent, it can feel like a crushing blow. Literary agents receive tons of queries, so how do you avoid blending into the background?

We’ve put together our top three tips for sending query letters. Don’t have one yet? Then get us to write a query letter for you! We have years of direct experience with the publishing world, so we know what agents are looking for.

1. Only send queries to a few agents at a time

You may be eager to send out your query letter to as many literary agents as possible, all at once. However, not only is this overwhelming, but it can also make it hard for you to track whom you contacted, whether they replied, and who needs a follow-up email. Besides, if you receive a string of rejections, you can rethink your query letter and make changes that render it more appealing, which you can’t do if you’ve already sent the old version to all the agents on your list.

Your best bet is to send your query letters out in batches of 10 or so. This is a manageable amount to track. Once a contact becomes a dead end (i.e., fails to respond to the initial email and follow-up), you can send your query letter to another agent, perhaps with modifications that improve your application.

2. Personalize your query email

Driven by a desire to be as efficient as possible, some authors get too generic with their emails to literary agents. However, agents can spot such emails a mile away, and it doesn’t instill confidence that the author truly wants to work with them. In fact, agents are likely to ignore generic emails—it’s not like they have any shortage of authors vying for representation. Even if your manuscript is fantastic, they don’t have time to represent every great author who graces their inbox.

When reaching out to an agent, take care to personalize the email. Be specific about why you’re contacting that particular agent. Perhaps they’ve worked with books that you think are comparable to yours. Maybe you love the other authors they’ve represented, or maybe you met them at a convention. Whatever the reason, specify why you think your book would be a good fit for them.

3. Meet literary agents first

This is the trickiest one to pull off, but it can pay off big time. You’ll still need to send your query letter, but meeting an agent first can help single you out from the crowd, potentially giving you a massive advantage when you consider that agents get tons of query letters every day. You can truly personalize your pitch, reminding them that you met at an event and have a book that would be a good fit for them. Assuming your in-person interaction went well, the agent is now positively biased toward you and will place you above authors they haven’t previously met.

You may see agents at a variety of literary events, but not every event is a great time to meet, and you never want to ambush an agent. Have a mutual friend or acquaintance introduce you, or if the agent is a guest speaker, talk to them after their presentation. Reading the room is a crucial skill here.

The best type of event to meet a literary agent is a writers’ conference because the reason the agents are there is to meet writers! So, attend such conferences near you and start making those connections.

Final words of wisdom

Finding a literary agent takes time. You’ll need to work hard to build connections within the book community in your area and will likely need to send a lot of query letters. Rejection is completely normal, so don’t let a few nos discourage you.

Indeed, when you’re trying to get published, you have to learn to deal with rejection, and approaching literary agents is no different. When querying agents, you’ll get ghosted a lot as well, but remember that it’s not you! Since they receive so many queries, agents simply don’t have the time to respond to everyone. Capturing their attention in the sea of daily submissions is challenging, but our tips can help you stand out.

If you think your query letter needs work or you don’t have one at all, check out our query letter package. Not only will we craft a query letter for you, but you’ll also get a targeted list of agents or publishers you can contact.

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