Sunday, February 13, 2005

Acquiring a Literary agent – The Query Letter

I already have one. Agent, that is. But it darn sure didn’t happen overnight, and I won’t bore you with the entire saga in this one posting. In fact, it would take quite a few to tell the entire tale.

If you’re trying to find one (agent) and haven’t checked out Gerard Jones’ irreverent web site, do so now. It is:
Just plan to spend quite a bit of time browsing and reading and laughing.

After I had my novel manuscript ready (Uh huh. Right. Guess again.), I read up on the art of writing a query letter. A query letter is supposed to tell a literary agent in about 5 paragraphs: who you are, why you’ve selected him/her to query, what you’ve written, why it’ll sell like crazy, what else you’ve written, include an offer to send a sample of your work or the entire manuscript, and ALWAYS enclose a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) or you won’t get a rejection letter.

I wrote a hell of a good query letter and sent it to 10 agents a week for 8 weeks. I got back 80 variations of, “No, thanks.” Some actually hand-wrote on my own query letter astute things like, “No interest” or “Not right for me,” stuck it back into my SASE, and mailed it back to me. Not ONE wanted to sell my potential best-selling book!

Hmmm. Let me think about this. I need to send out MORE letters.

There are hundreds and hundreds of agents. Shoot, some agencies have dozens of them, and each one can be queried. So, I sent out about 60 more copies of the same letter, and guess what? I got back 60 more versions of “NO.” (Sounds like the old song, “What Part of No Don’t You Understand.”)

Hmmm. Let me think about this some more. They haven’t seen anything I’ve written except my query letter. I wonder...should I re-draft the query letter?


I wrote a much better letter and mailed out copies to 10 agents a week for 8 weeks. This time nearly one in six asked for more. A synopsis. The first ten pages. The first 50 pages. Two wanted the entire manuscript. I HAD LEARNED HOW TO WRITE A QUERY!!

With stars now dancing in my eyes I sent the requested material waited for the offers. And waited.

Hmmm. Maybe I need to try editing my book.

Three re-writes later I was still getting no agents beating down my door wanting me to sign.

I expanded my horizons and contacted more agents. One of those was Lantz Powell, of Chattanooga, TN. (What? A literary agent in Chattanooga, TN?) He calls his agency “Literary Agency for Southern Authors,” and limits his clientele to writers located south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Texas qualifies, so I queried him.

Lantz responded with some interest, but first wanted me to answer a long list of questions. It was worse than a job application! I was dubious, but decided he had the right to know who I was, why I wanted to write, what I planned to write, what I had already written, and a bunch more. I sent him all of that plus my entire manuscript, a synopsis, a chapter outline; a total of 8 attachments to the email.

His response was, “You talk too much.”

If you’re reading these postings, you already know that I can be, shall we say, a bit wordy. His point was that I needed to do some serious editing of my book.

More to come...


Tisha from Texas said...

Well well, wondered what happened to you. Of course I remember you, goofball.
I sent thirty e-queries from work (talk about playing the system) and had around 15 interested
responses. Lantz was one of two agents that had the most interest. He's quite a guy. So, I will link to you AND you can email me for any blog questions. Just write about what is on your mind, that's what I do. Im so happy for you!

James said...

Hopefully an agent for "Southern Authors", but not solely for Southern Readership. I'm from the North, hopefully an interested Yank from NJ wouldn't be excluded from picking up a copy.