Getting an agent to say "yes"
Study my sample query.
Take a moment to read my sample query letter. Although it's aimed at publishers, the same approach will work with a literary agent.
(Note: When I say "query," I mean just that. Never send a manuscript to an agent without getting permission first. Some agents are willing to look at sample chapters with a query, but check the agent listings in the Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents or the Guide to Literary Agents before submitting such material.)
Tip: Keep your query letter relatively short. One page is ideal (or one and a half to two pages if you type with generous margins). Be sure to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope, or your query may go directly into the agent's wastebasket.
Pitch more than one agent.
Unless your return address is Buckingham Palace or you have a bestseller under your belt, you'll be lucky if one agent out of 20 says, "I'd love to read your manuscript." This means you shouldn't hesitate to query a dozen or more agents at a time. Just make sure they're suitable agents--check the directory listings before wasting their time and yours!
Good agents are busy people, and queries tend to get shoved aside for perusal after phone calls have been returned and royalty checks have been mailed to clients. If you don't hear from an agent within a week or two, it could mean that the agent isn't interested, or it could mean that your query is still sitting in the agent's inbox.
If two agents say "Yes, send your manuscript," don't send a copy to each. Instead, mail a copy to one agent and let the other know that the manuscript is at another agency. Later, if Agent A rejects the manuscript, you can send it to Agent B. (There's no need to explain the manuscript's sudden availability--just say, "Here's the manuscript that you offered to read" without mentioning the other agency.)
Be patient again.
Most agents read manuscripts outside office hours: on the commuter train, in bed, or during weekends in the Hamptons. Allow at least a month for the agent to read and respond to your submission.
If the script comes back with a bland "Thanks, but this isn't something I'm able to represent," don't request a point-by-point critique. Agents have neither the time nor the stomach for lengthy correspondence with authors who aren't earning money for them.
If, on the other hand, the agent says "I'd love to handle this," go ahead and open a bottle of Champagne. (But go with the cheap stuff and save the Veuve Cliquot for the day when your book makes the New York Times bestseller list.)
Need more information?
Click on the links to agency articles and literary agents' Web sites in Part 4 of this series:
Copyright © 1996-2002 Durant Imboden. All rights reserved. Credits.