Agent Tips-From Querying to Accepting an Offer

Here I provide some tips on finding an Agent from querying to accepting an offer. These are my personal opinions based on my experience and other Agents may feel differently about certain things---which is why it's important to (as my first point below states)... do your research!

If you have a specific question about querying please use the comment section below. My submission guidelines can be found here: http://mcintoshandotis.com/submissions.html

Check out my "What I'm Looking For" page on this blog for more info.

  • Basics
o   Do your research-Agent Query, Literary Marketplace, Agency websites/blogs, and acknowledgements in your favorite books often include a thanks to the Agent, and can be a good place to look. SCBWI members can also access a databse of Agents/Agencies who are looking for children's. Send queries to Agents you really think could be a good fit. You don’t want to work with just anyone, you want to find someone who knows what they’re doing but also connects with you and your writing.

o   Be Honest- If you previously had an Agent or your book had gone on submission to Editors before let the Agents you are querying know that. If you did a revision with an Editor or it’s a multiple submission let the Agent know.  If you self-published the book or put it up on a blog or serialized it let us know.

o   Address the letter to the correct person at the Agency who is accepting the type of book you’re submitting- Writing ‘Dear Agent’ or 'Dear Children's Department' can be a turnoff. We like to see that you thought about your submission before you sent it.  Don’t send a historical fiction novel to an Agent who clearly states that they aren’t looking for that genre.

o   Follow directions- Most Agencies have clear submissions guidelines-whether they accept by mail or email, what to include with your query etc. Not following directions is a good way to get your submission discarded.  If the Agency has a website, that’s the best place to look and usually the most current. Sites like Agent Query can be out of date. If an Agency asks that you only send one project per envelope or at a time, please do this. Don’t send 7 envelopes with 7 different projects at the same time. Mention in your letter that you also have written xyz projects and if we’re interested in your work we’ll likely ask to see them, but sending multiple queries with different projects doesn’t really increase your chances of us requesting material.

o   Don’t send original artwork or your only copy of a manuscript- Send copies only.  Also, there is no need to send your query in a report cover, folder etc. Decorating your query with glitter, sequins and/or stickers is not necessary. While it’s great that you are creative, let the work speak for itself.

o   Always include a stamped envelope for response, unless guidelines state otherwise, for Snail Mail queries.

o   Don’t call/email the Agency to check in that they received your query- We receive many queries and most Agencies don’t have the time to track every one. Know we will read and carefully consider each submission.  If the response window has passed, this can be an ok time to check in (varies by Agency). Sometimes queries do get lost in the mail or stuck in spam filters and you might want to consider re-sending.  
 
  • Writing your Letter
o   Format: Business letter. Agent’s name, Agency, Address. Your name and address, contact info-phone number, email, address.  Think of it as a cover letter for a job: you’re trying to "sell" yourself as an Author and your work.

o   Intro: Name of project, # of words, genre, why you’re submitting to said Agent. (Example: I admire x author you represent, I see you are interested in x genre etc.)

o   Pitch: Be careful here. It can be great to compare your book to a well-known literary work (or a couple) to give the Agent a sense of what to expect, but don’t say your book is the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games, or you think you’ll be a huge NYT Bestseller. Being confident is good, but being cocky is another thing. 

o   Keep it to 1 page if possible. We receive many queries; those longer than a page may not be fully read.

o   Don’t be too conversational. This is a formal letter; it should be professional.

o   Don’t give away big plot points in the cover letter. Give some highlights but don’t give us the big reveal. It takes away any element of surprise if we read the full manuscript.

o   Tell us what makes your story different from others out there. This is another place to do your research. If your book is about the zombie apocalypse, but there are several others out there already that are similar you may have trouble getting an Agent’s attention. Tell us why your take is different. Is there a big twist on the genre? Are zombies in your world different in some way?

o   Write what you love. I would never suggest writing for trends. Write what you know and are passionate about. Also, often if you write for trends, it’s already too late to jump on board. Remember once your book is sold, it takes 1 -2 years to publish depending.

o   If you’ve written other books let us know. Tell us about yourself, but keep it relevant to your writing and the project. Perhaps you got an MFA or have an interesting story about how you came to write this project.  We’re interested in learning about you too!

o   Keep your letter to no more than four to five paragraphs. 1)Intro, 2)Tell us about your story, 3) Tell us about yourself, 4)Closing (3 and 4 can often be combined)

o   Feel free to mix it up a bit. Sometimes we get queries that don’t follow the general format and this makes them stand out (For instance, writing the query letter as the protagonist from your story). Just be very careful here.  Anything too all over the place may be hard to follow. Even if you change things around you still will need to get across all the information mentioned above.
 
  • When your manuscript is requested
o   Send the number of pages requested. It is ok if you send a few extra so as not to end in the middle of a page or chapter.

      Every Agent will be different here. Some Agents require exclusives when they request a full, although I don't think this is very common. Generally, when you have an Agent with requested material you are still able to be sending out to new Agents, and during this time can fulfill other requests for fulls or partials as they come in. It's mostly a waiting game and each Agent will have a different response time. Mine is genenerally 4-8 weeks and if you don't hear back in that timeframe you can follow-up. You don't need to notify other Agents for each partial or full request you get. You loop everyone in if/when you get an offer.
 
      If you do a revision while the Agent is reading, let them know, but ask before sending it. If they're already a ways into it, they may not be inclined to start over, so point out what you've worked on and see if they're interested in reading the new version. Just be careful here. I wouldn't recommend revising in the middle of a submission, but if you had already started one or got feedback from another Agent while others are reading do let them know. Same goes for a manuscript that was rejected. If the Agent passes don't assume they want to see a revision. We will ask, if that's the case.
 
      Also, we generally will ask to see new work of yours if we connected with your writing (even if we pass on a particular project) and want to see more from you. If we don't, it may mean we aren't interested in seeing more, but not always. Tread with caution. If you're not sure, a good time to ask is when you write us thanking us for reviewing your work.
 
  • You receive an offer

o   Now is the time to let all the other Agents who have a partial or full know. It's also nice to let all the Agents you queried, but who may not have requested matieral yet, know as well. This way you are giving them the chance to request and consider the manuscript if they like. This is proper protocol, don’t instantly accept the offer.  This is a big decision and something you should take time to think about. 
o   Give the other Agents a fair timeline to consider and get back to you, a couple weeks is generally good. Be reasonable. It is exciting to receive an offer, but only giving a few days is a bit hasty. Don’t let the offering Agent bully you into giving them an answer in a time frame that you aren’t comfortable with. If they won’t give you the proper amount of time, maybe you shouldn’t be working with them.  

  There is a grey area here with Agents who have a "no response unless they're interested policy." I personally have no problem with authors checking in if they have an offer regardless of when the initial query was sent. In fact, I'd recommend you do this. Let every Agent know regardless of their response policy/timeframe. Don't assume you've been rejected if you hadn't heard back on the initial query. Although I try really hard to adhere to my 4-8 week response time, sometimes I get behind, so it's always good to inform an Agent of an offer either way (check the main page for where I am with email queries). I personally respond when someone gives me the courtesy of informing me of an offer of publication or representation. Think of it this way too: by letting every Agent know of your offer and  giving them the appropriate time to respond can be the difference between an Agent who is a good fit and a great fit.

For someone, who hadn't yet requested your manuscript you can say something like this: I wanted to let you know I've received an offer of representation. I'd like to get back to the offering agent by x date (1-2 weeks is generally good). I look forward to hearing from you/hope you'll want to read on etc. Then, if you don't hear by this date move on and consider it a rejection.
 
o   When you give the other Agents a timeline stick to it. There is nothing more frustrating than someone who says you have until a certain date and then decides to accept an offer  before that time without giving you a fair shake, especially if that Agent had been taking the time to read your manuscript. 
  • You receive multiple offers
o   Multiple agents want to work with you, congratulations! This is an important time; you want to make the decision that’s right for you.

o   Likely, you will speak on the phone with all the offering Agents who will tell you why you should pick them, but make sure part of the reason why is that they really connected with your work. Sometimes you will get Agents who may not love the work but think it will be a big book and want to be the one to nab it. Be careful here. Maybe this Agent will do a great job for you and get you a good deal at a reputable Publisher, but what happens after that? You want to find someone who will be there for the long term.

o   Remember you are interviewing the Agent too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Now is the time!

o   Ask to see an Agency agreement if they have one. How does their commission structure work? Are they a full service agency? Do they handle domestic only or do they also do subrights (foreign, audio, TV/Film)? Do they have a contracts department or does the Agent handle agreements themselves?

o   Ask if they are looking to revise before submitting. If so, get a sense of what kind of revisions they are looking for. Make sure what they’re asking for is a direction you’re ok going in. Be wary if they tell you they would send the book out tomorrow. While the manuscript may be in good shape, more and more Agents will work on revisions with you to polish before showing to editors. It’s a tough market and this can be a very important step.  Editors expect more polished work these days. 
o   Ask if they have an idea where they’d like to send the project if you work with them.  While they may not have thought of specific editors, knowing which imprints came to mind can give you a good sense.  Often, when an Agent really connects with a piece, places to send pop into their heads while reading, not always, but this can help tell whether  that Agent has a plan. Also, it’s good to know if they will take your suggestions to mind as well. Perhaps you connected with an editor at a conference you’d like to submit to, if appropriate. Agents are matchmakers. It’s important to work with one who is regularly meeting new editors and building those relationships. It can help get your project to the top of an editor’s pile.

o   What is their submission style like? Do they prefer multiple or single submissions? This often depends on the project, but it’s important that you’re comfortable with how they work.

o   Ask if they belong to AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives). They have a canon of ethics that all members must follow, and this will likely be important to you in an Agent.  http://aaronline.org/canon
 
  • Decision time
o   You’ve spoken with everyone, you’ve asked all your questions. Now what? Now you have to make your decision. Take your time to really think things through and about what every Agent told you. Often, your decision will be based on a gut feeling and there’s nothing wrong with following your instincts. What is important to you to have in an Agent? Maybe you’d rather have a newer Agent representing you because someone who can give you more time and attention is something you’d like to have. Perhaps someone with more experience is what you’re looking for.  Or someone with a keen editorial eye. In the end, only you know what you need in an Agent. Make sure you’re getting it!

49 comments:

  1. Great article! I'm at the requested full manuscript stage with fingers crossed I move forward. This definitely helps me to know what to do should I be so lucky. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Glad to hear it! May I ask what type of project you're out with? If it's within children's I'd be happy to take a look :)

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    2. My MS is a YA historical fantasy. You're actually one of the next agents I had planned on submitting to but the agent with my full right now asks for exclusives on requested material. I'd love for you to take a look once she's done, though! In the meantime, my blog has some tidbits :)

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  2. Thank you for these straightforward tips. I've written a mystery, so I don't want to give anything away too much in my query, but I don't want to be too vague, either. Specifics are importatnt to differentiate the story. I'm finding it's a delicate balance!

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  3. Thanks for touching upon what happens after an agent asks for a partial or full. It seems that process is much less talked about.

    What happens if one agent has a partial when you receive a request from another agent for a full? Should you notify the partial agent you got a request for a full, even if the partial's time line for repsonding hasn't past?

    Thanks for the tips! Holly

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    1. You don't need to let other Agents know when you get requests for a full or partial (unless when they request the material initially they request you keep them informed of further requests). The point you need to notifty them is if you get an offer.

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  4. Great advice. Thanks so much for sharing. I love the questions already asked as well. I have one of my own if you don't mind :)

    If an agent requests a partial in a contest and it's over 30 pages, should it be sent in the body of the email or attached as a .doc file? Most agencies specify that emails with attachments will be deleted, but I'd heard that anything over 30 pages is too long to be pasted in the body of the email.

    Thanks for your help!

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    Replies
    1. Good question! Generally when an agent requests a partial they will inform you how to send it along. If you're unsure, you can certainly ask to be safe. When I request a partial I ask for it as an attachment. I feel like when agencies refer to "attachments being deleted" for the most part, they mean for an initial query.

      I would ask the person running the contest. Generally they ask the agent for their submission guidelines when they agree to participate.

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  5. I have to add my thanks to Ms. Murillo's. I'm also waiting for a response on requested material and there isn't as much guidance available for this stage of the process.Thanks again, this article is a great resource!

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    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I'll add something in. Every Agent wil be different here. Some Agents require exclusives when they request a full, although I don't think this is very common. Generally, when you have an Agent with requested material you are still able to be sending out to new Agents, and during this time can fulfill other requests for fulls or partials as they come in. It's mostly a waiting game and each Agent will have a different response time. Mine is genenerally 4-8 weeks and if you don't hear back in that timeframe you can follow-up. You don't need to notify other Agents for each partial or full request you get. You loop everyone in if/when you get an offer. Does this help?

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    2. It does help, yes. The agent didn't ask for an exclusive so I have sent it to just two others since. Would I only notify agents who have requested material, or all agents with my query? I ask since so many have adopted the no response means no policy and it can be hard to tell where you're still in consideration.

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    3. I think it's nice to notify all agents involved whether they requested or not. There are definitely novels I went on to request and represent after being notified of an offer that I hadn't seen yet in my queries. So you never know!

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  6. This is an excellent summation of the agent submission and selection process! I had already done my research and actually selected YOU, Ms. Heschke, as one of my top agent choices. I sent you a PB manuscript submission last month so maybe it will tickle your fancy? Here"s to having so many fingers crossed I can barely type! ;~)

    Great post!

    Donna L Martin

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I look forward to taking a look!

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  7. Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive post. It's terrific to see so many aspects of the agent submission process in one place. I will definitely share this with my writing students. In the meantime, I've sent you a picture book ms that I'm hoping you will find of interest.

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  8. Thank you for this excellent article. I'm just reaching the point of approaching agents with my work, and this is so helpful. Thank you for sharing all this great information!

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  9. Thank you for your great post. I am facing some of these issues since I write NF PB and that is a growing area. I am glad that someone supports the fact that I should trust my gut and not jump on the first offer. I figured that when it is right, I will know.

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  10. Great post! Thanks for taking the time to give us an insider's advice from query to offer. I will definitely be bookmarking this for future use (fingers crossed). :-)

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  11. This is great! I currently have 2 partials and 4 fulls out and hopefully will be able to use your advice soon on receiving an offer.

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  12. Thank you for this article! I'm just beginning the query process for the first time, and I found this post to be very helpful. You mentioned not giving away the big reveal in the cover letter, but what about the synopsis? Should that cover all the major plot points, or should key spoilers be held back?

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    Replies
    1. I agree with Reagan below. A synopsis is to cover the entire novel from start to finish including "big reveals."

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  13. Hi, Sara. From what I've learned the synopsis should cover all important points, including your ending. Here's the link I used: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/08/how-to-write-synopsis.html.

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    Replies
    1. Another great article! Thanks for the link.

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  14. This is the most comprehensive post about querying and dealing with agents which I've read to date! And it's written with a gentle hand to educate us writers. Thank you.

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  15. This is very well done. I'm going to pass this on. I also have both partials and fulls out, and look forward to moving into the "agented" portion of my career. :.)

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  16. Christa, Thanks so much for sharing your excellent views for querying! I especially loved your thoughts of "Mixing it up a bit." I strive to strike a quirky tone in my writing, and I try to include my character's voice when querying.

    I have several adventure picture books finished, and I am finishing edits on an historical middle grade. I sent you a picture book query a few days ago. I hope my main character appeals to you. It's not often that a character can do a happy dance in both a query and a picture book:)

    I will definitely repost this!

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  18. Hi Christa - thanks for taking the time to share all this great info. I've been doing a lot of research on the query/submission process lately in preparation for sending my own upper-MG mystery out and this is the most comprehensive summary I have come across in one place! :-)

    I have a specific question which I'd be very grateful if you could answer - you mentioned in the "Be Honest" section - "If you self-published the book or put it up on a blog or serialized it let us know" - do you think, therefore, that it would be OK to self-publish your manuscript as an ebook while simultaneously submitting the same ms to agents for a traditional publishing route? Would self-publishing your story as an ebook affect its chances of an agent or traditional publisher accepting it as a project?

    The reason I ask is because my MG mystery is inspired by my dog's blog which currently has a very large readership & fanbase (30,000+ visitors per month, 2,000+ subscribers on Facebook) - and I am keen not to squander this platform. However, I understand that traditional publishing takes 1 - 2yrs for the book to become available and unfortunately, my dog is very elderly and unlikely to live beyond next year - which means that by the time the book is published, her blog & fanbase will no longer be as active. I have a very strong platform now but for a limited period only. Therefore, I have been considering self-pubbing the book as an ebook first, while simultaneously pursuing traditional publication (as I understand that the main market for MG books is still in print). But I don't want to do anything to jeopardize a traditional book deal - so I would love to know if putting it out as an ebook would harm my chances of getting an agent and/or publisher?

    Thank you very much,
    Hsin-Yi
    www.bighoneydog.com

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    1. Sorry for the late response. No, I would not suggest self-publishing first in e-book form. If you get an Agent and they sell it to a publisher they're going want those e-book rights. They most likely won't make an offer without them. I'd say it only help you if you sold over 100,000 copies, even then it's still taking a chance.

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  19. I found this post really helpful - and now I'm a little worried and upset with myself that I didn't find this before! (Face meet palm! Lol!) The format of the query letter I sent you was a bit different than the above.

    Is that a death-knell-situation, or an it's-ok-just-not-ideal sort of thing?

    Thank so much!
    Sarie

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  20. I love this article. I wish I had found it before I started sending out queries back in March. Luckily despite my not quite awesome query two agents have requested fulls (on a boys super hero chapter book). I'm still in the waiting game and I'm grateful for insight on the process.

    Thanks,

    Alena

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  21. Wow. This is definitely a keeper. Excellent info, Ms. Heschke. Thank you. Your insight is invaluable.

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  22. I love this information. It will definitely help me as I begin the query/submission process. I have written 5 children's picture books and am drafting a middle grade book. I am looking for someone who is as interested in my story as they are my stories. I have another 45 stories inside my heart and head and know that this will be a long-term relationship. So, I especially liked hearing that "We're interested in learning about you too!" I'll make sure that any submissions are sent to agents who have similar values.

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  23. Thank you for this wonderful information! While I was researching your wish list I immediately thought of my picture book. It is character driven, fun to read aloud and has a wonderful subtle message. I sent it to you this morning. I have many other picture books and I hope to have the opportunity to share them with you.

    Thanks,
    Sharon Chriscoe

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  24. Thank you for the excellent information. Yours is one of the most helpful blogs I've encountered. I recently sent you a query for a YA fantasy novel. Now that I've read more of your comments, I'm even more keen to find out what you think of my work. Cheers!

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  25. Thank you for the thorough and helpful information you've provided to help new writers navigate the ins and outs of querying. I have to add I am a huge Ellen Conford fan and was excited to see her work will be back in stores again. I think I had "Seven Days to a Brand-New Me" checked out and renewed for most of a school year. I've queried you with a YA contemporary on bullying and sexting, and I look forward to hearing what you think. In the meantime, I see there's a lot of great information here!

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  26. Amazing! Its in fact awesome post, I have got much clear idea concerning from this article.
    Thanks Christa Heschke,
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  27. This post was so helpful to read. I'm at the stage where I have a full and a partial out and it's nice to know what the etiquette is and what does and doesn't need to be said yet. I never knew.

    ReplyDelete
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  29. GREAT advice, thanks for sharing! Always nice to have inside info in this querying journey. :)

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  30. This is a really great post with a ton of good info, thanks!

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  31. This is very helpful, thanks. I'm in the "waiting while someone reads my full with fingers crossed" part. Question: I was sending my queries out one at a time, and this particular agent asked for the full MS. Is it rude to keep querying? I ask because I'd like to query your agency, and some others, however I don't want to be ungrateful that an agent is now reading it. Do I just sit on my hands? :) Thanks for the help!

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  32. Thanks for the wonderful and straightforward information! I'm in the fingers crossed stage as an agent reads over the requested full manuscript of my YA novel. Cheers!

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