Query Letter Suicide

Agent Jill Corcoran (of the Herman Agency) shared the following lists of things you should NOT write in your query letter. Take a look and make sure you aren’t committing query letter suicide!

Things NOT to write in you Query Letter:

1. I’m a new writer.

2. This is my first book or this is the first book I have written.

3. This is the second/third/forth/tenth book I have written.

4. This is the first book in my 9 book series.

5. I have recently completed the second book in a series of four.

6. The following example doesn’t tell the agent anything about the book: My book XXX, is a series of stories involving a cast of recurring characters. I have written approximately 20 stories in XXX series. Each story is more exciting than the last, and take the XXX to farther away places and more fantastic situations. The story, “XXX”, which I am sending you, introduces XXX, draws the characters and sets up the premise for the book. While each story may stand alone, they could be combined to form a chapter book following the progression of story lines and new characters.

7. This is not a good way to start a first paragraph: My book is called XXX. My target readership would be geared towards middle school children around ten years of age. I have completed the book, it is 88 pages in length and is the first book in the series XXX. (This intro is choppy and dull).

8. I hope you and everyone around you are doing well. (This is too familiar).

9. In my pursuit for agent representation, I am about as bedeviled as X, the protagonist, in XXX. (An odd way to start).

10. I am looking for an agent to help me publish my book, XXX, a 77,000 word long fictional young adult novel. (Get rid of the word “fictional”. Also, this is too non-specific, it seems like any agent will do. You need to say why you have picked this particular agent to query.) (It is best – and business like – to start a query like this: I am looking for representation for XXX.)

11. I am looking for an agent to help me publish my book, XXX.

12. Do not write in the subject line of an email query: One minute read. CB Query. (It’s rude).

13. I’ve worked on XXX for a decade, which includes feedback from writers groups, a freelance editor, and now an interested publisher. I believe XXX will benefit anyone, but targeted girls, ages 9-12. (Why have you been working on this book for a decade? That’s a big red flag.)

14. I hope you would like to represent my book, X, to publishers. (Too unprofessional, and not a strong sentence.)

15. This is not a full query, though I get this a lot: My children’s book is called: XXX. It is the story of an eight year old girl, X, who gets seperated (use spell check!) from her family on a fishing trip. She is rescued by and spends a couple of weeks in the company of a small family of x-fish. It is a simple fantasy story that includes a valuable lesson (Lessons are  no no!) for small children. The importance of heeding their parents advice even though it interferes with every childs wish to grow-up to fast. (This whole paragraph is blah, and lacks specifics.) If you would like me to e-mail you the full story, I would be more than happy to do so.

16. My completed novel, XXX, is an original and unique coming of age romance that will appeal to young adults, with a distinctive plotline. With so many stories in the YA genre out there now, I have managed to blend genres – contemporary YA and historical romance together into an interesting and one-of-a-kind premise. The writing is energetic, and the supernatural twists and turns make it a page turner. (I don’t think there is anything that is one-of-a-kind out there. There’s always something similar to it.)

17. XXX should fit in well with your other titles, though it is very unique in its own right, since there are no other YA novels out there like it. (Agents don’t have lists – like publishers. We don’t want things to fit in with our titles. We have clients not titles.)

18. Don’t write back and ask for a critique or a quick opinion. Most agents put this in their rejections if they feel like sharing. Often we don’t share so that we do not get more and more questions. If an agent is interested in your work they will offer critiques.

Jill Corcoran shared the above information at the 2010 Southern California SCBWI Writers Day. Corcoran is an agent with the Herman Agency. She has an English degree from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago, Jill has marketed everything from sneakers to cereal at Leo Burnett Advertising, LA Gear, Mattel, and at her own consulting company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. Jill is also a children’s book author and poet. You can learn more about her on her blog: www.jillcorcoran.blogspot.com

Queries and Synopis: How to Get an Agent Salivating to Read Your Manuscript

Writer turned agent extraordinaire Jill Corcoran, of the Herman Agency, spoke at the 2010 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day about how to get an agent to request your manuscript. The following are her tips, personal preferences, and insight to help ensure your inbox is full of requests instead of rejection letters.

What’s a Query Letter?

  • A query letter is a simple letter to get an agent to read your book. That’s it.
  • It’s a pitch.
  • It’s a business letter. So be professional.
  • The purpose of the letter is to entice an agent to request your full manuscript (that’s your objective).
  • Sometimes an amazing query letter will have a book that doesn’t live up to the query.

What To Do Before You Write Your Query Letter:

  • Finish your book!!! Never query before the book is finished. In fact, the book should not only be finished, but should be so good that it is ready to be published! Be critical of your work.
  • Research what agents are good for you (and your book).
  • Know what your book is about. You need to be able to summarize your book in your query letter.

Great Ways to Research Agents:

  • Follow agents on twitter. You’ll really get to know them by what they post.
  • Read an agent’s blog! This is a great way to find out an agent’s individual tastes, personality, and what they are looking for.

How To Query:

  • The First Paragraph: There are two schools of though on how to open your query letter. The first one is to start your query with your story, just jump in and start with the synopsis. The other school of thought (which Corcoran prefers) is to explain why you are contacting the agent. The first paragraph in this situation should include short, precise and true reason(s) you are querying this particular agent. Research helps you to write this part, because it will show how well of a fit you and the agent are.
  • The Second Paragraph: Next is the story synopsis. Write a 2 to 10 sentence synopsis of your story. Here’s how: In (Title of book), X-Main Character needs to (define problem) before (obstacles). Now not all stories will fit into this neat and tidy premise, but you get the idea. Just remember that this is a sales piece and not a play by play of the story. The important information to include would be: title, main character and his/her age, the dilemma, the genre (YA, Picture Book, etc.), and the setting (if applicable).
  • The Third Paragraph: Write about yourself. Agents vary on what they like to see here. Corcoran likes to know whatever you think is important. While other agents don’t care if you train lemurs as a hobby, Corcoran thinks that would be interesting. But in general you should include: previously published work (yes, magazine publications count), writing honors and awards, a writing MFA, a specialty that relates to the book, SCBWI memberships, etc. Don’t include how many cats you have, or that your kids loved this book.

How To Write A Fantastic Synopsis:

  • Read flap copy from published books. This is a sales pitch to you the reader. When writing your query you are doing the same exact thing. Be enticing and keep it simple

Things to Avoid When Writing a Query Letter:

  • Always default to Ms. or Mr. and then the last name of the agent. You don’t need to include the first name. And be careful of using the prefix of Mrs.
  • Don’t be to “sales-y” in your query. It’s a turn-off.
  • Stay business-y and avoid getting to cutesy.
  • Don’t use large blocks of text. White space is good. Break up your paragraphs and keep things short.

Other Tips Before You Query:

  • Most agents do e-queries these days. But check submission guidelines to be sure.
  • You’ve got to know what sells “you”! If you’ve written books and are published then start your query with that. Know what makes you unique and will make you stand out.
  • Be specific!
  • It’s not bragging to talk about yourself and “sell yourself.” You’ll have to do this over and over. Get used to it.
  • Your query should be different for each agent you submit to. Particularly the part where you specify why you are submitting to this particular agent. Your synopsis may be the same, but the intro should be different.
  • Remember your query is a business letter.
  • Find out what other books are in the market that are similar to your book. Make sure that your work isn’t done already by someone else.
  • Sometimes an assistant will read your query before the agent will. Don’t fret, the assistant is trained to have the same taste (and look for) what the agent is interested in.

The Order In Which Jill Corcoran Reads Your Submission/Query:

  • Corcoran doesn’t always read query letters in order. She starts with who you are. Have you been published? What makes you interesting.
  • Then she look to see what genre your book is. Is it YA or MG (which she represents).
  • Now she goes back and reads your first paragraph, followed by the rest of the query.
  • If the query is interesting, she’ll read the first 10 pages (which you should submit with your query).
  • Then she goes back and reads your synopsis to see if the rest of the book seems interesting.

A Few Formatting Tips for Your Submission:

  • Use the Font Times New Roman with a 12 or 14 point size.
  • Don’t send your manuscript in Courier, as it will skew the page count.

About Little About Jill Corcoran and What She Likes:

  • At the Herman Agency, Corcoran represents young adult books, middle grade books, and chapter books. Meanwhile the other agent at the Herman Agency covers picture books and illustrators.
  • Corcoran and her partner are very close so it will feel like you get two agents in one!
  • She don’t like books about bullies. That is an automatic rejection based solely on subject matter.
  • Corcoran likes tight writing and poetry.

Jill Corcoran is an agent with the Herman Agency. She has an English degree from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago, Jill has marketed everything from sneakers to cereal at Leo Burnett Advertising, LA Gear, Mattel, and at her own consulting company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. Jill is also a children’s book author and poet. You can learn more about her on her blog: www.jillcorcoran.blogspot.com

Agent Day: Insight from Brenda Bowen

The final speaker at the SCBWI OC Agent Day was the lovely Ms. Brenda Bowen. In addition to her great talk about agent/editor negotiation she also shared the following tid-bits about herself, her agenting style, and what she’s looking for:

About Bit About Greenburger Associates:

  • We are a full service agency with a large back-list that includes The Little Prince, Simone De Beauvoir, Kafka, and Dan Brown. We like to joke that we are the agency that represents Fancy Nancy and Kafka!
  • We have 8 full agents, and a sub-rights dept. Each agent seems to cover a specific area/genre so we have less overlap than other agencies. I am the children’s literature rep!

A Bit About Brenda Bowen:

  • I graduated from college with an English and Art History degree.
  • I started out as a secretary at Basic Books. I became a reader, and worked my way up. I have worked in everything from Middlegrade, to Young Adult (both commercial and literary), Picture Books, Trashy Teen Romance, the whole gamut!
  • Harper Collins created their own Bowen Imprint in 2007, but it was shut down in 2009.
  • When I got canned I decided to become an agent, and I really felt I could compliment the Greenburger agency.
  • I am also a published author and I write under the pen name of Margaret McNamara.
  • Some of my clients include: Rosemary Wells (her first agent retired), Hillary Knight (Eloise books illustrator), Vladimir Redemski, Karen Berger, and Bryan Karas.

What Brenda Bowen Likes and Wants to See in Her Submissions:

  • I am very Catholic in my tastes, but I can like anything from the trashy to the literary.
  • I am not a fan of paranormal books, and in general I am not hugely into young adult novels.
  • I really like to focus on Picture Books through Middle Grade (including chap books and the educational market).
  • What I like is hard to define.
  • I also fear the “conference polish” as Mary Kole mentioned earlier. So I always ask for the first three chapters in a submission.
  • I want to work with people I love to be around! I want to be happy to see their name in my in-box.
  • I would like to do more fiction, I already have a lot of picture books on my plate. I represent both picture book authors alone, as well as author/illustrators.
  • I like boy oriented books that are funny.
  • I want a story that I have never read before.

What Gets Brenda’s Attention in a Query Letter:

  • A catchy title can be reason alone for me to request a manuscript. For example: The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant. This shows me that the author is confident enough to name his/her book this. It shows me the book is not a trend, and the title has a lyrical sound to it.
  • Please query me as Ms. Bowen and not Mrs. Bowen.
  • I like non-classical queries that are whimsical and share a confident story.
  • Have a query that shows your voice.

Other Bits of Advice:

  • If you don’t have an agent, but you do have a relationship with an editor or and offer from an editor, ask the editor to give you an agent recommendation.
  • I don’t have a favorite house that I like to submit to. Different houses offer different things and it is an agents job to know these things. One house may be great for contracts, another may have fantastic production (which is important for picture books), another may have great marketing. There are a lot of reasons to pick a house, it is not always about the editor.
  • If you have a blog, don’t just talk about yourself. Make your blog interesting. Make content that will be interesting to multiple types of readers – teens, writers, librarians, etc.
  • School visits are great for you and your book!
  • Advances always come in three installments. One on signing, second on delivering an accepted book, and third upon publication. Publishers will do their best to push back payment as late as possible, and an agent is always pushing for payment to be sooner.

Brenda Bowen has held a variety of positions during her twenty five-plus years in children’s publishing. She has been editorial director of Henry Holt & Co., Disney/Hyperion, Schoolastic Press, and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Books Brenda has edited have been #1 New York Times bestsellers, and have won the National Book Award, The Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, The Caldecott Honor, The Printz Honor, and the Eisner Award. She is now a literary agent with Stanford J. Greenburger and  Associates, and continues to work closely with clients on the editorial direction of their projects.

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole shared the following hand-out with the participants of the OC SCBWI Agent Day:

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Whether you pitch an agent in person or with a written query, your goal is the same: to get us to request your manuscript. But first, relax and take a deep breath. Agents and editors are just normal people who love stories, so you have something in common with us right from the start. You are the world’s foremost expert on your own work. Tell us about it and have fun!

When you pitch in person or query, make sure to answer these question about your manuscript:

WHAT is the genre of your story and which audience is it written for?

  • Twilight is a paranormal romance for the YA market.

WHO is your character?

  • Edward Cullen is your typical teen vampire. Good looks, fast car, no pulse.

WHAT is the strange thing going on in his or her life that throws everything off-kilter and launches the story?

  • Then he meets Bella Swan

WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?

  • For the first time, Edwards wants a human being more than anything. And he wants her alive.

WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want (their obstacle)?

  • Edward’s bloodlust could drive him to either kill her or turn her into a monster like himself.

WHAT is at stake (no vampire pun intended) if the character doesn’t get what they want?

  • If Edward doesn’t get Bella or, worse, if he turns her, he’ll be forever alone. Literally.

Answer these question about your own manuscript. Read the backs of published books and the jacket flap copy. This is roughly the length and tone you’re going for with a verbal pitch or the meat of your written query letter. Remember, you’re giving the agent a taste of your story…and you want them to ask for more. The most well-crafted queries, in my opinion, are ones that make me care about the story and characters. They make me feel something. They make mem want to know what happens next.

An agent will often ask you a question about your project. Be listening (instead of obsessing about how the conversation is going) and be ready with an answer. Remember, you’re the expert and you’re talking with us, not at us.

Agents want to hear from writers. We want good projects. We simply can’t do our jobs without them. So present the juiciest, most compelling points of your story, mention the important details outlined above, and, finally, have fun and be yourself.

Best of luck with your writing and I look forward to hearing about your work!

Mary Kole is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You can learn more about her and her agency at: The Andrea Brown Website. Mary also keeps up an award-winning blog about children’s literature, writing, and publishing called: www.kidlit.com. Mary is also a big fan of the iPad, but you’ll have to ask her about that.

Eight Myths About Literary Agents

Is it true that big agencies doesn’t care about small writers? Or that everything you read about an agent online is true? Writers House agent, Rebecca Sherman spoke at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day and debunked all the myths you may have heard. So here is what she had to say to set the record straight!

Myth #1: An Individual Author Gets Lost in a Big Agency

Not True! Even though an agency may be big, like Writers House, every agent has autonomy over his or her list. Therefore the choice to choose a client is entirely up to the agent. And even though agents have obligations to their agency – meetings, priorities, etc. agents do work independently as well to oversee their own clients. The reputation of both the agent and the company relies on how he/she represents a client so it is very important to cultivate each career individually.

Myth #2: Everything You Read Online (and on Publisher’s Marketplace) is One Hundred Percent True.

Let’s clarify here. What you read on Publisher’s Marketplace – is - true. However, it may not be the whole picture. We often withhold information because it is  not the right time to make it public. For example we may not want to mention a new sale because a book won’t come out for two years, or we need to protect the material of our clients so it isn’t bumbling around out there in the internet. Don’t over analyze the info you read online, because you seldom have the whole picture.

Myth #3: Agents Will Sign an Author Based on a Book Proposal or Pitch.

You should always, always, always, finish your book before you query an agent! You want to also research an agent before submitting to make sure he/she is right for your work. However, you will never land an agent if you don’t stop researching and SUBMIT!

You can also read Rebecca Sherman’s Do’s and Don’t of Querying and agent here: Rebecca’s Do’s and Don’ts

Myth #4: If I Don’t Hear Back from an Agent Right Away it Means They Hate My Book.

I know that waiting is hard, but in this industry, patience is a virtue! Please don’t take it personally if you have to wait. Agents are busy people, they have more important things to do that just read through the slush (spread the word!). They need to work with their clients first!

A Client = Actual, where as,  A Query = A Hypothetical.

All material will be read and responded to (if you submit to me). I have three very capable assistants who do look through the work first. The Assistant Agent is your gate keeper, and it is their job to know my taste. I have a current list of 25 – 30 clients and they are my priority. I get thousands of submissions every year. And occasionally my work load will reflect if I am willing to take on a new client or not. We will get to you! Patience!

Myth #5: You Should Take the First Offer of Representation That You Get From an Agent

This relates to my previous comment about being patient. If you’ve submitted your work to multiple agents and you get an offer, please keep me abreast to this information. Email me and let me know that you have another offer. I would like a fair chance to review your work, and I will review it if you let me know there is interest elsewhere. Don’t make a decision about representation based on who reads your work first. Find the person who is right for you. Please contact me and let me know of the other offer and allow me a fair amount of time to review it. As an agent myself, I am very open to waiting for clients that I’ve offered representation to so that they can hear back from other agents. This is professional and important. Also, if you decide to accept representation from another agent please let me know that as well so I don’t waste my time on your submission.

Myth #6: Agents Just Want to Sell Your Book, they are Salesmen and Accountants.

Though selling your book is part of the job, it is not all that the job entails. I also want to help an author develop his/her craft. I am an editorial agent with nine years of experience. I am also my client’s advocate and I want to help them to see the big picture of their whole career. The key between the agent/writer relationship is synergy. I want to help the author strategize, and put the author into the spotlight. I also help clients to manage their schedules if they have multiple books and contracts with different publishers (particularly if they are an author/illustrator). I keep a very open relationship with my clients and make sure they are aware of the whole process, and I also want to be kept in the loop on how things are going between an author and editor. I like to see the new drafts and see how the project is developing.

Yes, it is also my job to sell books, but I am not an accountant. My job is to find the best deal for my client that reflects the worth of the book. It is my job to network, know the editors and what they want, understand the trends, the market, etc. Editors who know me trust my judgment. My reputation with them is important. My taste and how I help an author develop his/her project shows. Editors are excited when I contact them because they respect my opinion and I have the backing of a reputable company (writers house).

Myth #7: Now That You Have an Agent You Will Never Be Rejected Again!

Unfortunately this is not true. Having an agent opens doors you might not have had access to before. But it doesn’t mean that there wont be rejection. You still have to be patient and persist. I love your book. I won’t give up on it. No news does not mean you’ve been rejected. No news just means no news.

Myth #8: Agents Have No Life!

Agents are passionate about what they do, but yes, we are people too! We have lives outside of our work. Again, this is another reason to be patient. I personally also maintain two book clubs outside of my work. These clubs are often with other agents, editor, and librarians. One is a YA/MG book club and the other is an adult book club. I think it is important to read.

I also pitch books to editors. I take this very seriously. (Rebecca shared a pitch letter that she wrote for the book Scones and Sensibility. The pitch letter was clever and creative and reflected the tone of the book, and Rebecca’s dedication to selling your book in a strong and confident way.)

A Little About Writers House and Rebecca Sherman:

  • Writers House is a full service agency which includes a four person foreign rights department, a contracts manager and associate, a three to four person accounting team, and 14 senior agents that cover various aspects of literature from children’s books to adult literature and non-fiction and memoir.
  • Rebecca began at Writers House as an assistant. She worked as an assistant for five years, and learned the business. She began to develop her own small list, and later became a senior agent.
  • Rebecca has been a senior agent for four years.
  • Rebecca’s client list includes: Grace Lin, Bryan Audrey Pickney, and Matt Phalin.

What Rebecca Sherman Likes and is Looking For:

  • Mostly author/illustrators, and less picture book authors.
  • For young adult and middle grade books she likes humor and books that will pull on the heart-strings.
  • She does represent picture book non-fiction.

If You’d Like to Submit to Rebecca Sherman You Should Send:

  • For Picture Book Author/Illustrators: If sending by snail mail include: One full-color picture book dummy image, the full sketched-out picture book dummy, and a typed copy of the manuscript. If sending material online, send the same information in the form of a link to dummy or website. Paste manuscript into text of email. No attachments!
  • For Picture Book Authors: Send a query letter and the manuscript.
  • For Novelists: Send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of your novel.
  • For Illustrators: Send a link to your website and a query letter.
  • Don’t pre-query!

And A Few Questions From the Audience:

What are you looking for in a synopsis?

The pitch and the synopsis are two different things. A pitch is meant to lure you in, but a synopsis needs to tell us what happens in the end. Your synopsis can be longer than a page, in my opinion. I only read a synopsis if I have reservations when I am reading the first few pages. I read it to see what the major plot points are that are coming.

How many writers actually earn a living in this business?

That’s a tricky question. I won’t go telling you to quit your day job. A lot my clients are hybrid authors – they do both picture books and middle grade books. This allows them to shine in multiple markets and sell more, particularly when they can get into the school markets. Young Adult books that is much harder to do. Most of my debut authors still have their nine to five jobs. In terms of advances, it’s hard to say. Novels don’t usually go for less that $10,000, but it has happened. A picture book can be around $15,000 and up for an advance. But you have to split that if you are not the author and the illustrator. And picture books in general can be wonky when we talk about prices. YA books can often take a higher advance.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Querying Do’s and Don’ts from Agent Rebecca Sherman

The following is Writers House Agent Rebecca Sherman’s list of Do’s and Don’ts for querying a literary agent. She shared this list at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day:

DO:

  • Begin with the kind of description that would appear on the back of your book or jacket flap.
  • Tell me some brief biographical information.
  • Tell me why YOU wrote this book.
  • Tell me abut interest from or submissions to other agents and/or publishers.
  • Tell me why you are submitting to me.
  • Give your query letter voice.
  • Strike a balance between professional and personal.
  • Always begin with a proper salutation and end with a proper closure.
  • Research agencies and agents.
  • Draw a connection with the agent that you are querying.
  • Base on the guidelines of the agent you are submitting to, include samples – full manuscripts for picture books, sample illustrations, up to ten pages for longer work.
  • Use Times New Roman 12 pt. font or a similarly standard and easy to read font/font size.
  • For snail mailers, include a self-addressed stamped envelope that will properly accommodate the material you sent.
  • Note that you are an SCBWI member and if you attended a conference that the agent spoke at.
  • Note if an editor, writer, or someone else that the agent knows referred you.
  • Know the market you are writing for.
  • Be patient.

DON’T:

  • Make the story or your characters unclear.
  • Devote too much space to biographical details.
  • Pad your query with irrelevant publications.
  • Simply take information about an agent from research and paste it into the query or lead with the fact that you found the agent’s name of agentquery.com, or publishersmarketplace.com, etc.
  • Compare yourself to an agent’s client without showing how you are also unique.
  • Compare yourself to a bestseller or award winner without showing originality.
  • Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story.
  • Tell me that your work is sure to be a success because you tested it on your child, kindergarten class, or other small sample group (especially those with whom you have a personal relationship).
  • Include endorsements from anyone other than prominent authors in your genre/for your age  group or nationally recognized in the media.
  • Put a limit on the time an agent can read the material or assume a sense of urgency.
  • Submit to multiple agents at the same agency.
  • Call and agent unless the agent herself has told you specifically to call.
  • Email if the agent does not accept email queries.
  • Email or writer to ask how to submit to that agent.
  • Be discouraged if your query is rejected. Don’t forget that it is one person’s subjective opinion.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Dan Lazar: Crafting a Winning Query Letter

Writing a query letter always feel like a chore. How can I distil the essence of my book into one short page? In fact sometimes it feels like writing a query is harder than writing the book. But Writers House agent, Dan Lazar, points out that if you can write a good book, then you can write a good query letter! The following notes from his talk at the 2009 SCBWI Summer Conference have been the most informative talk on the subject that I personally have attended. I actually left excited to write my queries!

Dan Lazar’s tips on how to write a winning query letter and keep yourself out of the rejection pile:

“One voice of dissent is often louder than the voice of approval.” This is the quote Lazar used to start his talk, in order to illustrate how difficult the acquisitions process can be. He followed by asking (by show of hands) how many people in the audience liked the book The DaVinci Code. Then he asked people who thought the book was awful to raise their hands. Slightly more people said they liked it than didn’t. Lazar pointed out that sometimes the people in power at a publishing house are like those who raised their hands to say they didn’t like The DaVinci Code – these people would have passed on a multi-million dollar book. A book that a majority of people really liked. It’s not always that easy to sell a book, even one that is an international best seller.

Okay first things first, before you even address your query letter…

You want to research the agents and editors you are interested in sending your manuscript to. Learn their full names, what they are looking for, and their submission policies. Great places to do research on editors and agents include:

  • The Children’s Writers Market Publication and the Jeff Harmon Guide – these are a good place to start, however often times the information is outdated by the time it is printed/published so be sure to look for additional information elsewhere.
  • Publishersmarketplace.com – Listings are free and are edited directly by editors and agents. This is probably one of the most up to date places to find information.
  • Agentquery.com – This is updated by the site and not the editors/agents.
  • Verlakay.com – Look for the forums page. Dan Lazar found his client Ingrid Law (who wrote Saavy) because of a posting he’d left on this site.

Okay lets write that query! What to do:

If you can write a good novel, then you can write a good query letter. It’s that simple.

Open with why you are contacting this agent/editor:

  • Open with praise and compliments. Explain why you are contacting this agent, they always like to be flattered. You don’t need to use logos, or fancy paper, glitter, graphics, etc.
  • Saying that you have read an agent’s clients work really does help you to stand out from the rest of the slush.
  • Don’t start with: To Whom It May Concern – This is almost an automatic rejection. Always research who you are sending your work to! Make sure you match!
  • Don’t be vague in your opening. “I hear you are a good agent.” Be specific. Mention you saw them at a conference. Mention the book they have represented. Read those books. Compliment and feed the agents vanity.

Start talking about your book and your main character:

  • Present your main character first. Don’t give a general idea of the story.
  • Show the voice of your character in your summary. Lazar read an example of an over-the-top voice, where the author used specifics in describing the character instead of generalities. Lazar understood right away that this character was sassy, raunchy, and jaded. (This was for an adult book). The voice of the character is what caught his attention.
  • Never use the terms quirky or interesting. These are vague and don’t mean anything. Be specific. The example used was: “Everyone in the class had thought (character’s name) was weird. Now (character’s name) had turned dark.”  This is a more engaging and specific way of saying the character is quirky.
  • Instead of saying “best friend” try – “(character’s name) is her one true confident and co-conspirator.”
  • You can make anyone love your character by showing who they love and who loves them. This is how an audience will create a connection with your character.
  • Be efficient, yet full of detail.
  • Mention your character’s age.
  • Don’t start with the “What if…” entrance to your story. Lots and lots and lots of query letters start with “What if you were stranded on an island…” etc. This is a good tool for yourself to figure out what your story is, and what it is about. But it gets repetitive and annoying in query letters. It shows a lack of originality.
  • Beware of using the phrase “My novel is a story in the genre of….” If you do not specifically know exactly what genre it is. You will end up using slashes and saying your novel is a fantasy/mystery/YA/Horror. If you don’t know, that’s okay. The agent will help you to define what it is later. Just leave this out.
  • Do not use a vague synopsis. Be specific! Be evocative!
  • Your query is a pitch, and a pitch is not a synopsis – it is a taste meant to draw you in.

Beware of making claims you cannot live up to:

  • Be careful in saying this book is gonna make me laugh, or cry…etc. Make the agent laugh in the letter. Don’t tell them you can be funny. Be funny in your letter.
  • Don’t mention that the book will make a good movie, or be a blockbuster. This shows your naiveté. Don’t be presumptuous.
  • A logline is a tricky thing – it is a film term for “this meets that” (i.e. Twilight meets Jurassic Park.) If one is not excited about that comparison then it can really hurt the submission.  Sometimes it is best to focus on character and story and forget about comparisons till later. If you are a good writer you will probably be able to fit in the logline when you are talking about your character.

When it comes to your biography:

  • Don’t apologize for not having any credits in your bio. In the example he read the author just told him sassy things about herself – again communicating her voice.
  • Skip your bio all together if it is going to turn into an apology for not having credits or experience. Instead introduce yourself in relationship to the story, what connections do you have that make you the only person who can write this book.
  • Film and TV credits or writing experience are good things to mention in your bio. Lazar had a client who he helped turn a TV pilot idea into a book.
  • Beware of vague or stretching connections when you write your bio. If it really doesn’t relate to your book and writing, don’t mention it.
  • Don’t toot your own horn in your bio or mention who already likes your book – people like your kids or your friends. If an author likes your book – that’s different – get a recommendation from them.

Also include with your query:

  • Send the first five pages, and they should be good!! If your story only gets good a page 50, then it is not ready to send out.
  • Read submission guidelines. Most agents want you to send pages with your query.
  • Include a SASE if you are sending a snail mail submission.

Okay, lets talk about query etiquette…

What about exclusivity and multiple submissions?

  • In Lazar’s opinion the exclusivity issue is an old-fashioned way of submitting work. If an agent asks for it, then you should honor it. But someone asking for up to 6 months is a little out of touch. You have every right to send an exclusive submission and tell the agent that you have given them a 6 week exclusivity submission. This is more than reasonable in Lazar’s opinion. However, if they are a really high-profile person, then you should follow their rules. If they are your dream agent, then respect the rules. If you give exclusivity, then you must honor it! Follow up with an email. Usually its good to give an extra week and then email. Politely let the agent know that you will be sending your work out to other agents, but you are still happy to hear from them.
  • Lazar assumes his submissions are simultaneous submissions unless it says it’s exclusive on it.

So I have multiple projects. Should I mention them?

  • If you would like to mention another project you are working on, or that this is a series, you can. But only spend one sentence on this project.

Try and keep these tidbits in mind too:

  • You do not need to mention the word count in your query as a good agent will know how many words the book should be based on the genre.
  • You do not need to list all the different ways in which you can send a file: CD, Email, Etc. The agent will ask for the way they want the work delivered to them. Focus on your character, and use your sentences more wisely.
  • Do not email in HTML – it will get caught in the spam filter.
  • Do not send a pre-query email. “Do you accept submissions?” Look on the website! All the info you need is there.
  • Always put your contact info at the bottom of the email. Sometimes email addresses get lost or cannot be read, so be sure your info is in your letter.
  • When a full manuscript is requested be sure you email it as a single attachment.
  • If you don’t know who your market is don’t worry about it. The agent will help you figure this out.
  • If you plan to use your initials in your book – for example J.K. Rowling, or M.T. Anderson – don’t use the initials in your query. This is something that will get ironed out later. Right now sign your name. Otherwise if the agent calls you or emails you it seems impersonal and awkward for them to ask for J.K.
  • Be neat and professional!
  • Lazar can tell in the first three paragraphs if the writing is interesting. So make it good!

About Writers House: Writers House has represented such books as: Captain Underpants, Sweet Valley Series, Baby Sitters Club Series, Twilight, Eragon, etc. The Agency represents both children’s and adult literature.

Dan Lazar has been with Writers House for over six years, and is always on the lookout for distinct fiction and great, lively non-fiction. He represents adult and children’s books (middle grade and YA). Lazar is not a picture book agent. Though if you have a career with him and later you decide you want to do picture books then he will represent you, but that is not his strong suit.  Agents at writers house that do represent picture books are: Steve Malk, Lindsay Davis, Rebecca Sherman. Dan Lazar represents: Ingrid Law, Evan Kuhlman, Chris Lincoln, Rachel Renee Russell. In his publisher’s marketplace bio Lazar says “If you think your pages can make me hold my breath or miss my subway stop or even laugh out loud, please read my submission guidelines — I’d love to hear from you.” You may email him a query at: dlazar@writershouse.com (Note from Ingrid: It seemed to me that Lazar was particularly interested in middle grade books and books for boys).

A Talk With Three Literary Agents

Every year the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) sponsor an agent night. This year’s agent representatives were Sally Van Haitsman, Angela Rinaldi, and Natalie M. Fischer, who all represent a variety of work from picture books to YA, to adult and non-fiction, as well as memoir and romance novels. The following is their point of view on submissions, the business, and how to find the perfect agent.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your agency, and what you represent:

Sally: My new agency the Van Haitsman Agency, is only five-weeks-old (as of April 26th, 2010). But before that I worked at the Castiglia Literary Agency for six years. You can find our submission guidelines online, but I am looking for a variety of work including: commercial fiction, literary fiction, memoir, science, education, etc. I do not represent young adult work or genre fiction. Prior to working in an agency I worked at the San Diego Reader for five years, and I received my Masters degree in communications at UCSD.

Angela: I started out as an editor and worked at Bantam and Pocket Books. I also started the publishing division of LA Times Books. I left in 1993, and started my agency the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency in 1995. My passion is fiction, but what pays my bills is non-fiction. Successful books of ours include: Who Moved the Cheese, Zen Golf, and Calling in the One. In terms of non-fiction I look for the “quirk within the obvious.”  This is a smaller subject non-fiction book, something specific, rather than a large general book. Some books like this include: Quirky, yes. Hopeless, No (a book about aspergers). For fiction: The Starlight Drive-in, Blood Orange, and The Good Sister. I am also looking for suspense, literary novels, historical thrillers, womens issues books,  and self-help books. I do not cover young adult, but Spencer Humphries at my agency does. If you email me do not send attachments. Please let me know if you are sending me work exclusively. If you mail something to me include a SASE and do not send anything that needs to be signed for as it drives me crazy. I am also a member of the AAR.

Natalie: I work for the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. I am a new agent, and began in sales and and also worked as an intern for one of Dijkstra’s agents who represented romance novels. We keep a very small list at our agency, which means we are very involved with our clients. Right now about eighty percent of my sales have been in children’s books, middle grade, and young adult fiction. I am looking to fall head over heels in love with your submission. I am looking for character driven literary middle grade or young adult novels. I really like fantastical and sexy projects, and I am really looking to build my commercial women’s, historical, and romantic adult fiction lists. I mostly take paper submissions, please include a query, a synopsis, and the first fifty pages of your book, or non-fiction proposal. I am very involved in online blogs, and I find a lot of work that way. I am often scouting in places like www.absolutewrite.com and twitter. If you submit to me, I will not respond unless I am interested. And it is always good form to be kind and not send nasty letters to agents who pass on your work. I have a lot of time right now and I am really looking for clients and work.

How do you find clients?

Sally: I meet a lot of my clients at conferences, and through referrals. I also get queries from people who have found my agency online. In regards to conferences, sometimes the client is someone I met many years ago, and they are only submitting now that their work is ready.

Angela: I find clients through referrals or online. Sometimes a client will find me based on an acknowledgments page in a book they liked. Occasionally an editor will refer a writer to me. Publishers like to have the middle man (agents) because it allows them to only have an editorial relationship with the writer and things don’t get bogged down in regards to money conversations. I also find people through journals I read.

Natalie: I find clients through referrals and conferences as well. But as I said before I am on the internet a lot. I suggest everyone start a blog! Then put a blurb about your project on that blog, a description of your book in one or two lines, maybe even an excerpt. “Teaser Tuesday” is a forum online where authors will put excerpts of their books up on the internet, and I often read those.

What type of role do you like to take in your client’s lives?

Sally: If your work is ready and you are up in the 90th percentile then I like working with a client. But if a writer is really not at that place with his/her work then it can become very overwhelming. I would then suggest a writer take a class at a community college, or find a writers group to help them develop. I like to help smooth out the bumps, and make connections with the work, but I’m not a writing teacher.

Angela: I will do some editing with my clients. I feel like I have a lot more input to give on a non-fiction project because that is more of my specialty. I don’t polish prose. If the writing was not almost there to begin with I would be very reluctant to take on the writer. I might suggest you find a co-author to help you. In regards to fiction you are either a storyteller or you are not. And I do take caution when a query says that a book has been professionally edited by someone else as I am then unclear how much of the writing is the author’s.

Natalie: I am not going to fix peoples sentences or grammar for them. But I do participate in general content editing, things like concepts, how you got from one point to another, structuring, etc. I am not a proof reader.

How has the economy changed submission for you?

Sally: I am taking on fewer projects now, and being more conservative. You really need to be judicious. So the more professional and polished your book is the better. Red flags can be small things like typos, grammar, verb tense issues, etc. These will cause me to lose confidence in a submission. After we have gone through two or three revisions, if the book isn’t where it should be it can become difficult, particularly with a fiction book. You can do more with a non-fiction book. You should always get a second opinion before submitting, and research and learn agent’s affinities.

Angela: Editors are buying less, and are looking for books with more weight. There is a lot more pressure on editors to find a winning book these days. Sometimes it is about platform. This is particularly important if you have a non-fiction book. You can look up anything you want on Google now, so you need to be an expert on what you are talking about.

Let’s talk about platform, is it important?

Sally: If you are writing a non-fiction book it is very important that you have credentials. If you are writing memoir then the book can be more fiction related and credentials are less important. However, if you’ve done something significant and are writing your memoir then the book can have a nonfiction slant and it is good to have credentials/platform. Overall show you can participate in the internet community.

Angela: You should establish your reputation with your blog or blogs. Network with peers. Get blurbs from people who will ready your book. But be respective, don’t be silly. No one is interested in the person who will stand on his or her head with a sign that says “will work for book contract.”

Natalie: Credibility will help even with fictional stories. An online presence is also important for fiction writers.

Let’s talk about proposals for memoirs…

Sally: If your memoir is more of a family story then you will want to approach your book as if it is a fiction novel. But if the memoir is subject based, then you can submit a book proposal.

Angela: Memoirs read like first novels, therefore the proposal has to work as if it is for a novel – need chapters and a detailed outline, and a fleshed out story.

What do advances look like these days?

Sally: The middle house has collapsed. Big houses still give out big advances, and the smaller houses have small advances. But it is the middle size houses where we have seen a significant drop. Large advances often go to people who are celebrities or have a significant blog or platform. Examples of high-profile blogs are: Shit My Dad Says, and Hungry Girl.

Angela: Those blogs do so well because they have created a niche market. The content doesn’t even have to be good if the platform works.

Sally: The break down is – High advances are six figures and up. Middle level is 50,000 to 100,000. Small is in the 25,000 and under, and sometimes with presses like universities an advance can be very low and only in the thousands.

Angela: There’s always an exception in regards to advances. Don’t think about the money.

What makes a winning query letter?

Sally: The query captures the voice of what you are writing. I am also a sucker for a good title. But always get into the matter at hand. Forget the whole “I have a book, blah, blah, blah.” Of course you do, that’s why you are querying me. Also, don’t start with hypothetical questions like “Hey, have you ever wondered why people wear pants?” Uh…No! Also, only query one project at a time.

Angela: Be professional, but don’t lose the essence of what you are writing about. Avoid the name Jake for your protagonist. Try and capture your voice, or if it is non-fiction explain why it is that you are the perfect person to write this book.

Natalie: I like it if I’ve met you or we have some connection. Start with how you know me.

Sally: Find a secret reader with a critical eye and have them read your query. Also think about this like it is a job interview.

Natalie: You can post your query on the website absolutewrite.com and get feedback on it. Also, on our agencies Facebook page we have a template for good query letters.

Angela: Be sure you address the query to me! Say my name! Don’t mass query agents. It feels like spam and I delete it immediately.

Do you think there is a market for personal essays?

Angela: No. Personal essays don’t work unless there is a celebrity aspect.

How long should a work of fiction be?

Sally: There is a sweet spot between 60,000 and 100,000 words. If the book starts to get over 400 pages it can get really daunting. Think about this as the difference between watching a normal one and a half to two-hour movie, or watching a three hour movie. Plus the longer your book is will affect other things like printing cost. This doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. However, a first novel that is over 100,000 words sends a message that the writer may not have done the proper amount of editing before submitting it. Granted you can get away with longer word counts if your book is fantasy or science fiction. A good rule of thumb is to go to the book store and compare your word/page count with other books in your genre.

Angela: Publishers don’t like long first novels because they cost more and there is a bigger gamble with and unknown author. This really raises the steaks for the publisher.

Natalie: In general, don’t go over 100,000 words. The break down for children’s literature is as follows – Picture books are less than 1000 words, chapter books are between 5000 to 10,000 words, middle grade is 40,000 to 60,000, and young adult is 60,000 to 90,000 words.

Would you ever represent a self published book?

Sally: This can work if your book is selling. But you need to consider what happens when you change from self published to main stream publishing. You will get less money if you go with a main stream publisher, so if your book is selling really well as a self published book you need to decide if you want to change.

Angela: Self published books with low sales is a ding (not a good thing). I would not mention that you’ve self published the book if this is the case.

Natalie: I won’t take self published fiction books. But a self published non-fiction book has some options. If you are going to self publish you should do it because your book is regional or serves a small niche market, or if you are doing it to give it to your family.

What do you look for in a book proposal?

Sally: Proposals are getting shorter and they need to be punchy. Be succinct. They shouldn’t be longer than 50 pages, and they do need sample chapters.

Angela: The overview is very important. Be engaging, grab my attention. Tell me how this book will change my life, will it show me how to cook a meal in ten minutes or discipline my kids, etc.

Is there a difference between having an agent on the West Coast versus the East Coast?

Sally: No.

Angela: If a novel is great it will sell. Agents don’t need to be in New York. The agent’s reputation is what holds water, not where they are located.

What kind of weight does a verbal contract hold?

Sally: I don’t take things very far with a potential client before having them sign. I want them to think about the long-term. In regards to termination, this should be a mutual agreement. But all our policies are all laid out very clearly in our agreement.

Moderator: “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it is written on.” Email can be used as a paper trail and record agreements, but you really want things to be in writing.

What are you looking for in a synopsis for fiction projects?

Sally: They should be one page long. Get to the gist of the story! Some other agents like to have a longer synopsis.

Angela: One page or even a few paragraphs (only 2 or 3). You should query and send your pages. I read the pages first. I don’t usually read the synopsis because I don’t want to spoil where the book is going.

Natalie: Not more than two pages. I will read pages first, also, but if they seem to have issues, yet I am still interested, then I will read the synopsis to have a sense of where things are going.

What is your turn around for submissions?

Sally: Four to six weeks for manuscripts.

Angela: I’ll respond to an email query within a few days. If you mail me, then four to six weeks.

Natalie: I will respond within a month if I want to see more of your work, then it will depend on my time.

Is there still a chic-lit genre?

Sally: This genre has changed, it is a bit older and come of age. It’s not all about shoes anymore.

Angela: Editors are not really looking for it anymore. It has matured and turned into women married to defunct hedge fund managers.

What is your opinion on trends?

Sally: Write what you have a passion for, you will never time a trend correctly.

Angela: Ditto. However, trends can open the door for new genres. For example multi-cultural fiction is very big now, this opened up room for books like Little Bee. Write what you love.

Natalie: What trends do follow are themes that are universal. Trend books were also bought a year ago. You should also consider the fact that this might not be the right time for your book. Maybe it will be part of a trend to come, in five years it could be a huge hit, but there’s no market for it right now.

What is an agents relationship with a publisher?

Sally: We set up meetings with publishers and have lunches with editors we’ve worked with, or new editors we want to work with. We meet editors at conferences too. Editors want to find us too, this is something that goes both ways.

Angela: Publishers see agents as first readers. We are a filter for them. Our job is about knowing what editors want and who to send a project to. We are also the author’s advocate, and we do negotiations. We don’t have to be lawyers because a publisher isn’t going to budge on a lot of things, so we are really dealing with smaller issues.

Sally

Sally Van Haitsma is the owner of Van Haitsma Literary Agencey a boutique agency on the West Coast. Sally previously agented six years at the Castiglia Literary Agency and prior to that, apprenticed at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, both located in Del Mar, California. Learn more about her agency and how to submit at: Van Haitsma Literary Agency Website

Angela

Angela Renaldi owns Rinaldi Literary Agency in Beverly Hills, California. Angela is passionate for fiction and look for engaging characters, a strong plot, good storytelling and lovely writing with a distinct voice. She is also looking for Non-fiction work. Learn more about her at: Publishers Marketplace

Natalie

Natalie M. Fischer is an agent at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She specializes in quality commercial books, and currently represents authors in the young adult, middle grade, memoir, women’s, romance (both historical and contemporary), multi-cultural and supernatural mystery genres, biography, popular science/culture and literary creative fiction, cross cultural and select paranormal. Learn more about her agency at: Dijkstra Literary Agency Website

This presentation was sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). Learn more about this organization, events, and membership at: IWOSC Website

The Do’s and Don’ts of Submitting to a Literary Agent

Literary Agent, Kelly Sonnack, of the Andrea Brown Agency shared the following list of Do’s and Don’ts for submitting to a literary agent at the 2009 SCBWI LA Conference.

Before Submitting:

  • Become part of a critique group. Get feedback on your work. Agents do not want to be your first read.
  • Get your book to be as perfect as possible before submitting it.
  • Read other authors who have published in your genre. It is good to have an idea of where your book will be shelved in the book store. Know who your peers are, and what other work is already out there.  Find out what authors/books you are similar to.
  • Research publishing houses. Agents like to see that you are doing your homework and that there is some level of education and research done on your part.
  • Pick a good and original title. This helps as a marketing tool to sell your book.
  • Set realistic goals for your book.
  • Separate your dreams from your goals.

The Manuscript:

  • Proof read your work! And proof read your query letters!
  • Don’t submit a working version of your novel. You must have a finished book. Don’t send chapters with a synopsis, or ideas. Finish your book!
  • Format correctly. Correct format includes: double spaced pages, 12 point font, normal margins, and page numbers.

The Query Letter:

  • Present yourself professionally! Think about this like you are applying for a job. Show that you are reliable, punctual, and 100% professional. The agent wants to make sure you will not embarrass them or hurt their reputation.
  • Keep your query to one page only.
  • Your query only needs to be three paragraphs long. First paragraph should explain why you are choosing this agent. The second paragraph should be a summary of your project. The third paragraph should be your credentials.  Your project summary is a teaser, it does not have to tell everything that happens in the book.
  • Personalize your query. The agent wants to know why you’ve picked them. Mention your research, or that you met them at a conference. Etc.
  • Get to the point, be upbeat and interesting. Be positive and professional. Be concise.
  • Include your contact info! Name, email, phone, and address. Even if you send an email be sure to include email address in the body of the query.
  • Do not include your vacation schedule or when you are available.
  • Give a sense of where your book fits into the market. Kelly likes to have you compare your book to other books.
  • Don’t give exaggerated notions of your book, don’t build up expectations you can’t live up to (i.e. This book will be a best seller).
  • List your writing credentials and accolades in your query. These do add up and are important. These are things like writing awards, education, experience that relates to topic of the book, etc.
  • Do not fabricate or over exaggerate your unrelated experience. Writing text-book manuals does not translate into writing for kids. Self published books are NOT experience, unless you have sold upwards of 10,000 copies. (See note below on why self publishing is seen as a ding on your publishing record).
  • Let the agent know if this is an exclusive submission or not. That can simply be phrased as: “I have chosen to query you and several other agents.”
  • Briefly mention other projects you have or are working on. The key here is BRIEFLY! The agent likes to have a sense of what else you might have and your career plans.
  • Picture book clients need to have at least three good book ideas to be represented by Kelly.  She wants to see that there is a future and a career, and that this writer is not a one hit wonder.

Submissions:

  • Always present your work professionally!
  • Be sure you have carefully selected what agents you want to send your work to.
  • Always, always, always read the submission guidelines of the agency. Be sure you have read them carefully! Follow the guidelines.
  • Don’t call and ask unnecessary questions that you could have learned by looking on their website. Do your research!
  • Don’t send submission to more than one agent at the SAME agency at the same time. At Andrea Brown agents share work with other agents if they think someone else is better suited for this particular client. Because of this if you receive a “no” from any agent at Andrea Brown, then you can assume it is a no from the whole agency.
  • Do not submit more than one project to an agent at a time, unless requested by the agent.
  • Do not mass email agents by sending the same general query to many at the same time (and you’ve put all the email addresses into the same email). This is super bad etiquette!
  • Do anticipate what an agent might ask for. Such as: Pitch – One or two line pitch of the story. A three-sentence synopsis of story, and one to two-page synopsis of story (this will tell what happens in the end of the story). Have all three of these on hand to send back ASAP if requested.
  • Tap any sources you may have for an endorsement (published authors, etc.)
  • Honor the agency’s response time and polices. For Andrea Brown if you have not received a response in 6 to 8 weeks you can assume that it is a “No.”
  • If you mention that you heard Kelly speak at SCBWI conference she will try very hard to give you a written response.
  • Do not send nasty messages. This is a small world!
  • Do take suggestions and notes from an agent or editor to heart. Come back and re-submit when you’ve changed your manuscript based on those suggestions.
  • Don’t send attachments. Links to a website are ok. Attached .jpegs are okay.
  • Thank agents for their responses. Thank-yous are rare and much appreciated.

When You Get A Bite:

  • Get excited!
  • Be Professional!
  • Re-familiarize yourself with that agent’s agency and list. You may have submitted to multiple people and forgotten what they have done.
  • Prepare questions. Some questions that will show you’ve done your homework will include: What is your working style? Do you prefer to communicate via email or telephone? What is your transparency with submissions to editors? How often should I expect to hear from you? Etc.
  • Discuss your expectation and your goals. Ask what the agent’s expectations are for your book. Don’t ask how much the agent will make you on your book.
  • Be honest and forthcoming. Finding an agent is like a marriage. What didn’t work out with your first agent? Have you self published before? Etc.
  • Don’t attempt to negotiate non-negotiable items. For example an agent will usually take 15%. This is standard. If an agent asks for more than that – walk away!
  • Make sure you and the agent are a good fit for one another. This is a very serious decision.
  • Enjoy the journey!

Other Notes and Comments:

Why Self Publishing is Bad – Self publishing means there is a book out there with an ISBN number associated with your name. If a publisher is trying to make a deal with Barnes and Noble or Borders for your book and they go to order your new book, your old book will show up with its ISBN. If your self published book sold only 24 copies there is NO WAY Barnes and Noble or Borders will pick up your new book because the last book did so poorly. This is a huge deal. There are ways of getting around this if you’ve already got a self published book. For example you can use a pen name. This above scenario is not as big a deal if you are an illustrator as illustrators names are not as often associated with ISBN numbers. Be forthcoming with your agent if you have self-published, it is something you can work through together.

Finding the Right Agent – It is important to figure out your communication style and to make sure you and your agent will be able to talk to one another effectively. It is also good to find someone who loves your work and is passionate about it.

Sending Work Directly to Editors – Agents don’t like that you’ve sent your work out to an editor in the past. Agents don’t like this is for two reasons. The first is that you cannot usually send that book to anyone at that publisher if it’s already been rejected, and the agent is disappointed that you sent the book out before it was ready or as good as it could be. And second, sometimes the Agent has a great idea of who to send the book to, but you’ve made a connection with someone else that the agent doesn’t think is quite as good for your project and they work at the same house.

Special Formats – Beware of having a book that is dependent upon a special format – die cut, glow in the dark, etc. These are expensive and hard to sell, and usually are not done for first time authors.

Kelly Sonnack is a literary agent at Andrea Brown Agency. She represents picture books up through young adult fiction, as well as graphic novels and non fiction. Her clients include: Steve Watkins, Merrily Kutner, Jin Pyn Lee, Candace Ryan, and Heather Leigh.

About Kelly and Her Style: Kelly is very picky about rhyming picture books as they are hard to sell. If you are a picture book writer Kelly likes you to have a minimum of three good projects before she will take you on as a client. In regards to revisions, Kelly likes to go through at least two cycles of revisions with an author. Sometimes there are more. You can count on a couple of months of revisions.