View Full Version : Lesson 3: The Great Agent Search

March 8th, 2007, 10:21 PM
Good morning!

Before we start this lesson, I'd like to say that this is MY version of a good query. There are many others. In this business, it often comes down to finding what works for YOU.

Lesson 3: How do I attract the attention of a good agent?

Why is a query so important?
You may not realize it (or want to accept it), but sometimes your query can be more important than your book... at least initially! It's the gateway, the first thing an agent or editor reads. And while a 400 page manuscript may start shakily, some industry professionals will look past that and decide to work with you regardless. However, with a query letter, you give them one page to make a first impression. Based on that first impression, they will either ask for more materials, or turn you down flat. So having a
strong query can be the difference between a request for a full manuscript and a form rejection.

What goes into a query?
There are three parts that you should have in every query.
1. Basic intro -- This is the part where you give an eye-catching intro (usually one line), the title of your story, the genre/subgenre, the word count and any info about your previous experience with this agent or editor (such as, they requested the manuscript, that you met them, that you're the one who retrieved their lost credit card at the bar during the last National conference, whatever will make you stand out if you have it... do NOT make stuff up if you have no connection to the editor).

2. Story Blurb -- One to two short paragraphs that describe your story. I usually put a brief story summary in one paragraph and a one sentence line about hero motivation, one sentence heroine motivation in another. Try to make this paragraph lively and give it a little of your voice.

3. Author info -- Here is where you're going to tell a little about yourself. If you have been published in the past, make sure you put that info in. If you have finaled or won contests, that goes in. If you are a member of RWA or another writing organization, put that in (including how long you've been a member). If you have volunteered for anything writing-related, put that in. If you have a website, mention it. Finally, here you can put any info about your life that PERTAINS to your book. If you are a trauma nurse and you are writing medical mystery, put it in. But if you're writing character driven erotic romance, it doesn't pertain to the book and you should probably leave that out.

Now that you know the ingredients, you may wonder what order to put them in. Well, that depends on where the info will have the most impact. Before I was published with Red Sage, I put the info in the order I've placed it in above. Afterward, I often put the information about myself first and then 1 and 2.

Here are a couple general tips about queries:

1. Always address a query to a person if you can. Dear Agent or Dear Editor is like saying Dear Rejection Slip. There are a couple of exceptions. Online forms are one. You might not be able to direct your query to a specific person if you submit via an online form. And Avon's email submission process goes to a general query address and then any editor can pick them up. You might still try picking a specific editor to query there, but if you don't your query will likely still be read.

2. Never go over one page. If you go one line over one page, edit some more. You can fix that. Play with the margins a little, cut out a line. Whatever you have to do to make it one page.

3. Always include an SASE.

So now you know about queries in theory, but you probably want to see a few, right? I'll post several examples below from my own collection that were effective for me. Read over them and take what you will from their organization.

The next lesson: What Do I Do Now that I Have An Agent Interested in Me?

Please feel free to ask any question you have about the lessons so far!

March 8th, 2007, 10:29 PM
The following is the query letter I sent to my current agent (actually
Miriam Kriss of this agency, though I addressed the query to Irene) in 2004.
It resulted in her asking for my full and ultimately taking me on, though
this book is not the book that sold to Avon.


March 2, 2004

Irene Goodman
Irene Goodman Literary Agency
80 Fifth Street, Suite 1101
New York, NY 10011

Dear Ms. Goodman:

(The Basic Intro)Both Ginny Blanchard and Simon Webber have reasons to
hide from love, but once they meet they begin to find even more reasons to
embrace it, despite the terrible secret that threatens to destroy them. Now
they must fight the past and each other to keep their love alive in A
Widow's Kiss, my 95,000-word Regency-set historical.

(The Story Blurb)Ginny has dark secrets. Ones she's willing to hide away
from the world in order to keep. But when Simon arrives at her home as
trustee of her young son's inheritance, his presence reminds her of
everything she's given up. As he pushes ever closer to her, thwarting her
every attempt to send him away and taking over her senses with his touch,
his kiss and his unexpected honor, she realizes that she has even more to
lose. Because if he finds out how far she's gone to protect her life and her
child, all she's fought for could be forfeit. Including Simon's love.

(The Author Info)Writing as Jess Michaels, I will be published in Secrets,
Volume 11 from Red Sage Publishing in December 2004 with my novella "Ancient
Pleasures". Arabella Magazine will also be publishing my short story
"Dueling the Debutante" in their April/May 2004 issue. I have been writing
full-time since 1999. In addition, I own and maintain The Passionate Pen, a
popular website for aspiring authors.

Enclosed you will find a short synopsis and the first chapter for your
review. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.



Look for two more examples below.

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March 8th, 2007, 10:31 PM
October 25, 2001

Dear Ms. Agent:

(Basic Intro)Eye for an eye justice is just too easy. After a cad ruins
and impregnates his younger sister, what Sebastian Wolfe wants is a sister
for a sister justice. So he hires Rose Covington with the plan of seducing
and ruining her in The Heart of a Wolf, my 100,000 word Regency Historical.

(Story Blurb 1)Rose Covington has just lost her job but hasnít saved quite
enough money for her dream of going to America when Sebastian hires her.
Intrigued by the dark man who is her employer, and the secrets of his
half-burned house, Rose sets out to win his trust and eventually his love.
But there is more danger in Sebastianís life than either our hero or heroine
realizes, and they will have to fight to remain safe.

(Story Blurb 2, Character Motivation)<WBR>Rose is a resourceful young woman who
believes that there is good in Sebastian.. She just has to convince him of
that. Sebastian may try to hide behind a faÁade of bitterness and anger,
but beneath it all heís just a man trying to make things right, and never
seeming to be able to succeed..

(Author Info)I have been a member of RWA since 1999. I am the local
chapterís President and former webmistress, as well as contributing monthly
to its newsletter. I also have a personal website for romance writers. The
Heart of a Wolf is my sixth manuscript. In the past I have been a Molly

Enclosed you will find a synopsis and first three chapters. I look forward
to hearing from you in the future. Thank you for your time!


Look for one more example below.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /><o:p></o:p>

March 8th, 2007, 10:34 PM
A final example:

Author address

September 7, 2000

Dear Ms. Agent:

(Basic Intro)Everyone has secrets. Sophie Hamilton knows when hers come out it could destroy any hope she has of a secure future for her and her family. That's why she's determined to keep her secrets, no matter what the cost in GLORIOUS, my 100,000 word historical romance.

(Story Intro)When Sophie goes to a weekend party in the country, it's with the express purpose of finding a suitable husband and marrying him even if it's by force. Her life, and the lives of her family depend on this
marriage. Who she finds is Ian Tyler, a man with his own secrets and his
own guilt, who arouses feelings in her she never imagined. Through wicked
mistresses, troubled sisters, and a man bent on destroying them, these two must find a way to get past all the lies and into each other's heart.

(Story Intro)Sophie is a kind and decent woman who is thrown into her
current situation by circumstance, not choice. She has a passion within her that wants to be awoken, no matter how much she fears it. Ian is a man with a past he longs to forget no matter how many times it's thrust upon him. Sophie is the only woman who can help him move into the future.

(Author Info)I have been a member of RWA since 1999. I contribute monthly to my local chapter's newsletter, as well as designing and maintaining the chapter website. I also have a personal website for romance writers. GLORIOUS is my fourth manuscript. In the past I have been a Molly finalist.

I look forward to hearing from you in the future. Thank you for your time!


Feel free to ask any questions you may have about the previous workshop
lessons. :)

March 9th, 2007, 12:20 AM
Hi Jenna,
Another great lesson. In fact, I really can't think of any questions you haven't covered in Lesson 3.
Well,maybe I've got a couple. I noticed that each query was different regarding how much of your manuscript you sent. You either sent one chapter, three chapters or none. Is there a preference regarding how many chapters (if any) you should send?
I am also wondering whether manuscripts are ever sent via email?

March 9th, 2007, 10:29 AM
The amount of work sent depends on the submission guidelines established by the agency, just like with a publisher. Some agents want to see work with the query, others don't. Make sure you read those closely.

As for electronic submission, again it varies from agency to agency. Check the guidelines for every agent before you submit. If in doubt, just send a query letter.

Rae Lori
March 13th, 2007, 01:38 AM
Hi Jenna!

I had a question. If you've written one book and want to be represented for your second book which is a sequel to the first, do you mention this within the query? Or just keep it specific to the description of the sequel's synopsis?

Also, is there less of a chance of getting an agent if you're in between waiting for your first book to be released and are looking for representation for the second book?

Thanks in advance for your help! :-)


March 13th, 2007, 10:08 AM

I guess I don't understand why you aren't querying for the first book in series? Unless it's already gone out to everyone or something. Or maybe that's the book you're talking about that has already sold?

Each scenario is different. If you have a series, I'd say at least try pitching the first one first unless all the options are truly played out on it (which was the case for me on A WIDOW'S KISS, the first query letter above. Although I don't mention it, AWK is the third in a trilogy. But it could stand alone well enough that it didn't really matter ultimately).

If it's a book that has already sold, you're going to run into some problems. There aren't many houses that are going to want to take the second book of a series where the first book has already released elsewhere. And, depending on your contract, it may be tricky for you to take it elsewhere anyway.

Unless you're Lisa Kleypas or something, it just isn't going to be a very easy thing. And the agent will likely recognize that (at least if she's good). Now, she might be able to get around it if the story is very strong and the first publisher is very small and the story can truly stand alone, but be prepared for an uphill battle on that one.

As for less of a chance getting an agent between selling book 1 and trying to get representation on the unsold book 2, it probably depends on where you're published, to be honest. If you're published with Berkley or Avon or Pocket, it will probably be EASIER. Although your initial contract will already be negotiated, it is likely you'll be contracted a second time with your house in the future (and the agent will almost certainly be able to get you a better deal), of if you're not, you'll have open doors to other major houses. Most agents won't turn that down (though I still recommend getting an agent BEFORE you take a deal from a publisher. If you're offered a deal, tell them thanks, you'll have your agent contact them and start making calls).

If you're not with a major house, I'm sorry to say that most of the time your publication won't make much difference. It seems like agents and editors are starting to take some of the more successful small presses (I'm thinking Ellora's Cave mostly) more seriously, but because most of them don't have significant distribution, they don't really see them as contemporaries (think distribution of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands versus distribution of hundreds and sometimes that's only on the internet). So if you say, "I'm published with Mom and Pop press", your potential agent will likely look at the publisher site if they like you, but they won't consider it a major selling point unless you can show them how you're building a significant audience or presence.

That isn't to say they won't consider you or that you shouldn't mention it. But be prepared to be treated like an unpublished client, rather than a multi-published client. The business is what it is.

Rae Lori
March 14th, 2007, 02:24 AM
Thanks so much for your reply Jenna! It really answered a lot of questions running around in my head. The first book is indeed contracted to be released this summer with a small press publishing house, but the rest of the trilogy is currently unsigned.

March 14th, 2007, 09:22 AM
Sure, happy to help. Just be sure you check your contract about your current publisher's right of first refusal for the related books. The last thing you want to do is land that great agent only to have her find out the situation is way more complicated.

Rae Lori
March 14th, 2007, 03:10 PM
Will do! :)