I'm about to start querying my first novel and I'm terrified about making some egregious error and ending up on some publishing blacklist forever. I've done a lot of reading, but I thought you might have a few extra tips that might keep me out of the industry's bad books?
The best advice I can give you is to read carefully and follow directions. Every agent has slightly different preferences and it's important that you adhere to these and send the agent what they want. This means doing through research and double checking that you are following each agent's specific requirements.
But here are some other general tips you might find useful. They may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do these things.
1. Personalise the query. No one likes to be called "To Whom it May Concern" or "Agent". If you've researched the agents who are the best fit for your particular book, the least you can do is address them by name. And if you can also include the reason why you've chosen to query them, that's good too. And don't send the query to multiple people at once - ccing other people (even bccing) is not cool.
2. Send them exactly what they are asking for. Every agent is different, but most of them ask to be sent the query and a certain number of pages of the book. Some also ask for a synopsis and some even specify the length of this. Don't send 50 pages of your book and a 10-page synopsis if the agent is asking for the first five pages and a two page synopsis.
3. Don't send attachments. Always include your query, pages and synopsis in the body of the email unless specifically directed to include them as attachments. Most agents won't open attachments and including them will send your query directly into the trash.
4. Is your query really a query? A query tells an agent about the book - what genre it is, length, audience and most importantly, what it's about - all in under 300 words or so. Some writers try to get cute and send pages from their book in lieu of a query, or write more about themselves than the book they're trying to get representation for, or even try something entirely new. This is not the place for being creative. There are hundreds of query writing resources out there, so use them to write the best possible query you can. You will probably need to tweak it for each agent as some like the housekeeping stuff (length, genre, audience etc) up front, while others prefer you to lead with the story.
5. Is your book finished? Don't query until it is. It may be tempting to start early because publishing does tend to be slow, but if your book isn't ready to send when you send off that first query, don't send the query. I've had requests for full and partial manuscripts come in hours after sending a query. Not often, but it does happen, and you need to respond promptly.
6. Don't query agents who aren't looking for your book. Agents tend to be specific about what kinds of book they are looking to represent. Some have broad interests, while others may only be looking for one type. There is no point in sending a query for YA fantasy to an agent who specifies that they are primarily looking for adult romance or celebrity non-fiction. Agents specialise because they have relationships with editors who work with specific kinds of books, and they will not necessarily have connections with editors who represent books outside that niche.
And those are just a few tips. And don't forget to include your name. Especially if your email address doesn't make it obvious. And talking of email addresses, if you've been using the same email@example.com address since high school, it might be time to set up a new account under your real name to make your queries look more professional.
Hope that helps, and best of luck with the querying!
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