Thursday, February 28, 2008

Querying Agents

When your book is written, and re-written, and then re-written multiple times more, and you feel it's ready to submit to an agent, should you call, write or email?

First of all, do your homework. Research agents. Go online, refer to the Literary Market Place, consult books on publishing, talk to your friends and local writers' organization. Make notes.

If you've done that, then, at the least, you have names and addresses. You should also know whether they prefer snail or email queries.

As to the address of the agency and the name of a particular agent there who looks at your kind of book? Just because you got the info from the Internet or a book, don't count on it being correct or up-to-date. Agents switch companies. Even whole agencies up and move to different streets or suites. First off, check the agency’s website. That’s better than culling the information from a book (already out of date by the time it’s published) or other secondary sites. If you’re still not sure, call and double-check the address, as well as the spelling of an agent's name and the correct procedure and person to send your query. Of course, you can always take a chance and send it off.

If you do call, then while you've got that agency receptionist on the phone, ask if the agent you're interested in accepts email queries. Some agents now prefer email. It's fast, easy, and saves on paper cuts. Either way, though, whether you snail or email, odds are your query won't actually get to the agent. It'll be read by someone lower on the totem pole. Someone whose job it is to screens queries for the agent.

But what about really cutting through the red tape and just calling and pitching to the agent directly? Don't count on it. Don't even count on getting to him unless you have a good reference or recommendation. He (or she) is busy on the phone or at lunch with an editor, trying to sell someone who is already a client, or they’re actually reading queries or they’re reading the queries that the first-line readers have passed on to them. And, after all, that's what you would want him to do if you were his client, right?

This is not to say it can't happen. So be prepared. You may call to get contact information and find yourself talking with the agent. Be ready to pitch. You want to sound intelligent and enthusiastic about your book, not like a blithering idiot. (Been there, done that.) Have notes by the phone, if that will help you remember your plot and characters, as well as your two-sentence logline.

What day of the week should you call? Hey, you can phone any day of the week you want, but if you want to increase your odds of getting through to a live person, possibly even an agent, here are some general guidelines:

Avoid Fridays. They're most likely not there. And you can probably forget Mondays; they're trying to catch up on what they missed on Friday. Pay attention to the time zone -- don't call too early. You'd have a better chance of catching an agent in the early evening.

Those guidelines usually hold true for New York agents, but are good ones to keep in mind no matter where the agent you're after is located.

At least, that's been my experience.

So, should you call, email or snail mail? Make use of all three methods. Use the one that best fits each particular agent, though. You want to get her attention, not her ire.

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