Some of the advice I’ve collected:
- Lead in with a hook
- But NEVER lead in with a question
- Make accurate comparisons
- DON’T EVER MAKE COMPARISONS
- Make sure you have a bio paragraph
- Who you are doesn’t matter, it’s about the writing
- Make sure to mention books you liked that the agent has repped
- Don’t just insert random titles to flatter, they don’t like that
So… that info is a little conflicting. It’s all from different sources: Agents themselves, authors who have queried, and querying writers. It’s from direct resources and live speakers at conferences.
No talk I’ve been to has completely universal advice. That’s because all people are different, it depends on the individual agent, even within the same agency, what they do and do not want to see.
The best advice is the simplest:
- Make sure you have no typos. Typos make English majors cry.
- Have friends read the letter that know what a good pitch sounds like AND friends that are versed in business letters. You want to sell yourself and your product in the best way.
- Many agents are on social media or have blogs these days. Cyber stalk them (in a non-creepy non-invasive lurking type way) and find out what their pet peeves are. Most of them are totally open about what bugs them about submissions.
- FOLLOW GUIDELINES. This is the most universal advice I have seen. Every agency does it differently. Some want three chapters inserted in the bottom of the email, some only take an attached PDF of ten pages, some don’t want pages at all until they’ve read the query, and there is the rare agency that still only takes paper submissions.
- Find out what the agents like to see and what they’re selling. Many have a page of what they’re interested in. Look at those and see if you loosely fit in or have a unique twist to yours, then query away.
ALSO: Unsolicited phone calls are usually unwelcome, and those who call usually don’t know who to talk to. I know because I’ve gotten two calls from author-hopefuls in the past two weeks, and I am about the last person in the company that could help them.
If this is important to you, then DO YOUR RESEARCH. You will be rewarded for it by having a query that is actually read and considered rather than deleted because you didn’t follow the directions. That’s what those worksheets were for in school, to teach you how to follow directions.
If you still fail, don’t despair. Every agent is a special little snowflake.
THE SECRET: Agents are human people with reading preferences. Maybe they’re sick of paranormal romance or dystopia right now. Move on and find the next.