Imagine you’ve queried your dream agent. And it’s amazing. You’ve written copy that will suck anybody in, for it creates curiosity and makes use of exquisite detail – practically making your project jump off the page.
And yet, when you send the query off, you still hear crickets.
You spent time on this query, for after researching this agent you came to realize that they are the EXACT PERFECT agent for your project. They have:
- represented similar projects, but not so similar so as to make them no longer interested.
- had success with established publishers, but not so much that they’re no longer hungry.
- an amazing bio, and when you read it they seem like the person you would want to have a beer with.
But even though you have practically killed yourself to get this query to this one particular agent just right, you don’t even get a form letter rejection. You get nothing.
What on earth could you have done wrong?
Now, what I’d like you to do is imagine not that you’re the frustrated author, but the agent.
You’ve just arrived back in the office from a terrible business lunch, in that it was with a publisher who kept checking their phone the entire time. You sit down at your desk to an email from an author who hasn’t received their royalty check, a memo from the office manager about cutting back on the use of Post-it notes, and, you guessed it, another email from a different author who didn’t receive their royalty check, either.
You now lament your whole career choice, as you got into the book business to work on books, not to be ignored by publishers or to babysit egomaniacal authors who harass you about money because they don’t understand how to make estimated tax payments.
And you certainly didn’t get into this business to hear about office supplies.
But below these tedious emails is a query letter. This is from a prospective author who not only wrote amazing copy that sucked you in, but read three other books you represented and has something that is exactly to your taste. It is clear that this person has queried you in particular, not just every person in Writers Market who accepts submissions.
Of course you request a sample. While all of those other emails made you question why you ever sought to be in the book business, by querying you for specific reasons, this author has helped you to feel validated in your chosen career. For this moment at least, you feel like you matter.
The mistake many people make when they query an agent is that they only explore their own project – they fail to connect their project to that agent specifically.
This is a problem because, quite simply, agents are people too. They have bad lunch dates, must suffer through tedious tasks, and have no interest in managing their use of Post-it notes. But, they also want to feel like they’re doing something of value with their life – just like you. By not just describing your project but explaining why you want them in particular to represent you, you’re making sure they know that you’re a deliberate and thoughtful author who is worthy of their time and attention.
What might this look like in the query itself? That will depend on the project, including whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, and how their previous projects have performed in the marketplace. But, it most certainly must not be empty flattery. It can’t be something like “I chose to query you because you’re amazing,” or even “I love everything you’ve represented.” It needs to actually show the agent that you are discerning in how you go about your work. Possible ways to shape this content would be to say something like, “Because of your successful representation of (insert title) and (insert title), you seem like you have an eye for books that (insert function or value of your project).” Or, it could be something like “In researching your list, I sensed that you have an affinity for projects that (insert impact of your project)…” Regardless of how this connection takes shape, it must be a genuine explanation of why you have chosen them.
An agent’s likelihood of noticing your project is based on how well it validates their role as a tastemaker. For this reason, be sure to query agents for specific reasons and cite those reasons in the query letter.
This tip is in response to one of several mistakes people make in their queries. Click here to download a cheat sheet with these mistakes and what you must do to make sure they never stand in the way of your hearing crickets again.