As someone who sold her first book after twenty years of submitting, I have collected a fair amount of Do’s and Don’ts on the subject and wanted to share some of mine with you all. After reading them, I hope you’ll chime in on whether you agree or disagree with any of them—and feel free to add some of your own!
DON’T sweat the small stuff. So you misspelled your own name on your query. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but it happens. And I can guarantee you, while the blunder may not be lost on the agent it reading it, if your query is strong and your work is appealing, a typo won’t break your chances.
DO keep a spreadsheet (or some equivalent means of record) to track your correspondence with agents. Make sure to record the ones who are kind enough to offer to look at your next work, as well as the ones who request partials and fulls. It shows you are conscientious and courteous when you can take the time to personalize your query. And that way you can begin your next query with something like: “Dear XXX, you were most kind to consider a partial of my previous work, THE LAND OF NOD. I have just completed a new novel, BAKING BREAD, and I would be thrilled if you would consider reading it.”
(And along those same lines…) DON’T resubmit a reworked manuscript an agent has already seen and rejected unless they explicitly ask you to do so. Not only will the agent see through this, but you will risk ruining your chances to make a strong impression on this agent with your next project.
DON’T discuss your submission status online. Think of it like the crush who asked if you had plans for Friday but didn’t actually ask you out yet. Wait until you’ve made the date before you sound the internet alarm, or risk blowing your chances.
DO keep your query to a page. Even in the age of email queries, a page is a page is a page. Keep it concise and to the point. Let the query speak to your novel and not to you (unless your background is relevant to the project.) State your genre and word count up front and why you think this agent would be a good match for your novel.
DON’T send out queries in HUGE batches. It’s so tempting, I know! With the click of the send button, you could put out 100 queries into the agent world in less than an hour. Why wait, right? Wrong. Wait. No, really, wait. Take a cue from agents. When agents are sending out a manuscript on submission, they will often send out small batches in a round at one time to five or six editors, instead of a mass mailing, and it’s a wise strategy. That way, if they collect notes with similar criticisms of the work, they can go back to the author and possibly make changes to the project before submitting it to another batch of editors. The same is true for querying. You may think you have a wonderful query—and you may be right!—but on the off chance it isn’t everything you imagine it to be, why not test the waters with a few small batches of queries at a time, allowing you to modify your query if you aren’t getting favorable responses.
DO know when it’s time to put a project away and begin something new. How do you know when it’s time? I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer, but when you feel you have taken the manuscript as far as it will go, and pursued as many agents as you can, without an offer for representation, then maybe it’s time to move on to a new project.
DON’T write checks you can’t cash. Don’t put in your query that you have a finished manuscript when you are only 150 pages in. You might get a request for a full from an email query 10 minutes later—and then what do you do? Wait until you have an actual finished manuscript, and then offer it for review.
DO behave professionally and courteously. If an agent asks for an exclusive read and you’ve already got 5 partials out in the world, be up front about it. There is a good chance the agent may still want to see a partial. Honesty is always the best policy. The same goes for offers. If you have an agent offering representation and there are other agents still considering your work, get in touch with those agents immediately. Don’t let them consider a work that you have essentially taken off the table.
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Okay, friends–your turn! When it comes to submissions, what do you do or don’t?
And speaking of don’ts…DON’T forget that The Debs are giving away query critiques to 5 of our beloved readers! To be eligible, just leave a comment any day during this week ( Including Saturday, April 14ths post—contributed by our FABULOUS guest agent Michelle Wolfson) and specify if you’d like to be entered in the contest and we will randomly select 5 winners. You’ll have up to two weeks to send us a digital copy of your query letter (for books in any genre) and we’ll give you feedback on the query. We’re so excited to see what everyone is working on!