March 11th, 2021

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The Writing Process: Literary Agent Queries

Recently I spent two days sending queries to literary agents. Several hours of researching the agents and their agencies, composing query letters, enclosing requested materials, and sending out twenty-two e-mails. Most agents accept simultaneous submissions, but they also appreciate a personal touch, so researching whether we'd be right together was pretty time consuming.

By the end of the first day I'd already received two rejections.

Many authors do just fine without agents, these days. You don't need one if you self-publish, or if you submit to publishers that permit direct submissions, like most small and medium sized publishers. Harlequin, the Big Shot in the romance novel business, doesn't require agented submissions. In fact, one of the Harlequin lines is currently looking at my romantic comedy novel, Fire On Mist Creek.

They've had it for two years. I'm not confident.

Many authors get published without agents, after all. I should know.


Many publishers, especially the big ones, won't look at a submission unless it's received through an agent. Also, good agents act as full partners with the author, assisting in many areas besides the submission process, and also provide a shoulder to cry on. As slow as the publishing industry can be, that shoulder can be important.

But is an agent worth the process of finding one?

I tweak my submissions to make them more personal. In addition, each agent has different requirements: Some want a synopsis, some a separate author bio; some want the first five pages, or the first three chapters, or the first twenty-five or thirty or fifty pages.

So  I took the time to target each. Some gave me a quick rejection; some I might never hear back from; some might send an encouraging note that they liked my writing, but didn't get excited enough about it. (And an agent must like your work, because they're going to dive into it with both feet.)

Maybe they'll like the query and ask for a partial; maybe they'll like the partial and ask for the whole manuscript; maybe they'll like the whole manuscript but, as with one agent, have a meeting with their staff in which it's ultimately rejected. (They loved my young adult novel but thought it wasn't dark enough, and felt "dark" was the way the YA industry was headed. No wonder young people today are depressed.)

Even if you ultimately land one, it might not be a good fit. I did have an agent, years ago, but eventually he decided to get out of the publishing industry, and I started again from square one. It wasn't my fault. I think.

There's ultimately no guarantee that the agent can make the sale, but you can be sure they'll try ... because a legitimate agency won't make any money from your efforts unless they do.

So there's the process: similar to the process of submitting directly to a publisher, and with a similar rate of success. Many authors are successful and perfectly happy with independent publishing, and others do very well submitting directly to publishers. Is the extra step worth it? Well, so far it's only cost me time ... on the other hand, time is a precious commodity.

We'll see what happens.

Any way you go, you still have to put the after-sale work in.


 

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