Following Query Guidelines

I’m at that stage where I’m sending out queries to literary agents for my first novel. I’ve actually had what I term to be decent luck – several of the agents I’ve queried have asked for my full manuscript, I just haven’t had an offer for representation yet. This tells me that my query methods are at least passably good.

This week a friend from my writing group asked me for some comments on her query. Though I’ve heard her story read in pieces over the past few months during our bi-weekly meetings, I hadn’t had a sense of her full story until I read the query. It was really compelling.

Aside from a few grammatical issues, the main crux of my feedback to her concerning her query regarded the agent’s guidelines. She had told me the name of the agent and agency she was querying, so I looked up that agency’s guidelines as part of my review. This particular agent was looking for a query letter, synopsis, author bio and the first three chapters for a fiction submission.

My friend had a query letter only, with some synopsis and bio elements included inside but not separated out. Now, to be fair, her purpose was special. There’s an event coming up the agent is going to be attending, and she was trying to create awareness for her novel (mind share, if you will) before catching the agent at the event.

However, it made me think that a post on following agent guidelines was warranted. I’ll provide more details on queries later, maybe even showing my query samples, but for now, the main message is this:

Be sure to check the agent’s web site for their query guidelines and follow them closely whenever submitting.

If the agent doesn’t have a web site, how did you find them? Writers Market? (this is what I use) Publishers Marketplace? A printed book? Does this source include the guidelines there? If so, same message: follow them closely.

What if an agent’s web site contradicts their listing on one of these sites like Publishers Marketplace or Writers Market?

I’ve run across this a few times, and my somewhat uninformed answer is to let the guidelines on the agency web site override the others. Why? Because I would think there is more chance they are remembering to keep their own site up to date than the external sites they are listed on, though I imagine you could find agencies where the reverse is true. It all depends on how they operate.

Either way, you have to think that they must ask for what they do for a reason, and it’s best to give them what they want. Aside from the obvious – that not following their particular guidelines gives them a good reason for rejecting you, if merely on principal, it’s very likely that the person that they have initially reviewing the submissions, whether they be an intern, assistant, or the actual agent, needs the information they ask for to conduct the level of review the agency requires.

For example, maybe the initial reviewer is supposed to check on your credentials before passing your work on to the agent. If you don’t include your bio (if they ask for one) then they have to do more searching to find out about you, and perhaps they decide it isn’t worth the time.

Put yourself in the agent’s shoes. Do you really think they are sitting at their desk, rubbing their hands together maniacally, saying, “Let’s make them provide this crazy detail…” just because they like to see you jump through hoops?

Or is it more likely they got together in a meeting and decided on a business process for acquiring clients which led to a determination of what they should ask for when being solicited for representation? A determination now represented by those dreaded “submission guidelines”?

Take it from a Business Process Consultant (my day job): it’s the latter.

So follow those agency guidelines, and good luck with your queries!

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