Guest Post: How to Query Literary Agents by Natasha Ngan
It might not be the route for everyone, but from my experience I wholeheartedly recommend getting a literary agent. Not only is it great to have someone ‘on your team’, fighting for your writing, it’s also just a wonderful thing to have someone to share the whole process with. I didn’t think I’d make a friend by getting an agent, but that’s exactly what my agent Nicola Barr of Greene and Heaton is to me. She’s a friend who loves my writing, pushes me to be better, and then works her magic to get my books into the best publishers out there.
The first thing you’ll want to do with querying is choose the agents you want to contact. A super useful resource is The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook(I used the children’s writers version). Not only does it have some great articles inside by wonderful authors, it also has listings of agents, publishers and writing competitions and courses. Go through the agents listing and see who represents the type of novel you’ve written, and who else they represent. Another great way to find agents is to search for your favourite authors or books you feel are similar to yours and see who their agents are (sometimes they’ll mention them in the acknowledgements, but you should just be able to do a Google search and find out).
Submit to as many as you want. I did around fifteen to twenty. I wouldn’t recommend just submitting to one, because like readers, agents will all have their preferences when it comes to books, and you don’t want to make it more difficult for yourself to find an agent that really loves it by only submitting to one. I’ve even heard of some authors submitting to hundreds, though I would recommend just starting with up to twenty to start with. You can always do your queries in batches. If the first batch don’t offer, then move on to the next. This’ll also allow you to do any edits suggested to you by agents to give you a better shot during round 2.
Follow the Guidelines
I can’t stress this enough. If an agent only wants one chapter, only send them one chapter. If another wants the whole book, that’s what you’ve got to do. If they ask you to specify something in the query, do it. Not only do you want to make the process as easy for them as possible, and give them no reasons to reject you on the spot, remember you’re also representing yourself as a business person. You want to show to agents that you’ll be professional and easy to work with.
The Three Paragraph Format
This is only a guide, but I do think this format is a good one for queries. It gets right to the point, gives agents all the information they need about you and your writing, and allows you to add a touch of personality too. So the three paragraphs are – one for the pitch of your novel (an overview of the plot and the heart of the story), one to position your novel in the marketplace (showing you know what your audience is also demonstrates you’ve aware of the market and take this seriously), and one to talk about you and your writing (here’s the bit to show the agent who you are outside of writing and where you want your writing headed).
With a few bits blanked out as they refers to a couple of future writing projects I shouldn’t really be discussing publicly now I have a publishing contract, here’s my query …
Dear X X,
I have recently completed my first novel and am writing to seek your representation.
THE ELITES, 95,000 words, is a young adult novel set in an isolated city hundreds of years into the future. No one enters the city, no one leaves; but after fifteen-year-old Silver – one of the Council’s privileged Elites – discovers her parents have been kidnapped, she must leave Neo-Babel’s walls with her best friend and fellow Elite Butterfly to find them, and in doing so they discover the truth about their city and its leaders, and the secrets that it keeps hidden both within and outside its walls.
I believe that THE ELITES will appeal to male and female readers aged 12-19, as well as some adults, who enjoy novels such as Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
I am currently working as a social media professional, fashion blogger and private tutor since graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2011 with a degree in Geography. Since finishing THE ELITES, I have started work on another YA novel; xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I am also developing a magical realism/fantasy novel for younger readers xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.
Attached are the first three chapters of THE ELITES and a synopsis. If you are interested, I would love to send you the completed manuscript.
Like I said, I’m not claiming to know everything about queries, but I hope you can see from mine that all you need is something simple to show what your book is about and what you are about as a writer. I know some authors who haven’t done this last paragraph like me where I talk about myself and my future books, but I think it allows you to give agents an extra insight into yourself and your writing. I know for a fact Nicola offered me representation based entirely on my fashion blog 😉
Finally, a last piece of advice – don’t over-think it! Of course it’s important to have a good query, and do spend time on it until you feel it’s ready to go out to agents, but don’t fuss over the small details. By this I mean font, font size or font colour (but be sensible – no one wants to read a query in pink size 20 Comic Sans!), whether to capitalise the title of your book, or if you should liken your book to others or not. If you’ve clearly described your book and represented yourself in an appropriate way, the query won’t be the make or break decision in whether an agent wants to take you on. That’ll be down to your submission.
All I can say now is good luck! If you’re worrying about whether to query or not, I would definitely encourage you to do so. I didn’t expect to hear from any agents – and I ended up getting multiple offers! If you have faith in your novel, then go for it. You never know what might happen!