Karen Brichoux

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The Agent Hunt: Part IV

March 2, 2003

Sticks, Stones, and Broken Bones (Or The Agent Hunt): Part IV, The Query Process.

Welcome to Part IV. I believe I forgot to mention that this is a five-part series. I could descend into a broad and wide-ranging mea culpa, but it would be less painful to simply say I must have been dropped on my head at some point during my babyhood, and leave it at that.

You have in front of you a list of agents. At the top of your list are those agents who are the most interested in the type of books you write and who fit your list of wants and needs the best. Now comes the query process.

I'm not going to repeat the usual advice for writing query letters. The best book I've read is _Your Novel Proposal from Creation to Contract_ by Blythe Camenson and Marshall Cook. Anything I might have to say on query letter content would be repeating what these authors have said so well, so I'll leave that to them.

The information I have to offer is personal method. As you send out queries and receive rejections (and send out more queries and receive more rejections), you will begin to form a pattern which is best for you. But to get you started, this is the method I came to use.

I don't subscribe to the "query one, then wait" school of thought. I'm not a patient person. I send queries to the top fifteen agents on my list right off the bat. I've had people raise their eyebrows at this and ask, "But what if one of those agents wanted an exclusive?"

A few words about exclusives: Agents rarely ask for them. Sometimes an agent will say, "We prefer to see the manuscript on an exclusive basis." In these cases, I always mail the agent the manuscript with the following paragraph in the cover letter: "I am unable to grant an exclusive at this time as the manuscript is currently being viewed by other agents. However, be assured that I will contact you and give you a chance to respond before accepting any offer of representation." It's a matter of honesty to let agents know that this is a multiple submission; and a matter of courtesy to contact them when you receive another offer of representation.

On those rare occasions when an agent says, "We only look at manuscripts on an exclusive basis," you will have to decide how you want to proceed. If the agent is at the top of your list, you may decide to grant the requested exclusive. If you do, and the agent has not specified an amount of time, make sure you state the number of days you are willing to grant an exclusive. Personally, I would never give an exclusive for a full manuscript that exceeded thirty days. And I would only give two weeks for a proposal. The agent may request three months. Again, it's up to you to decide if you want to put your business on hold for three months, but if that seems excessive, call or e-mail the agent to ask that the exclusive time be shortened or if it is even necessary.

After sending queries to the top fifteen agents on my list, I waited. You will usually begin to hear responses to your queries within one to two weeks. Each time I received a rejection, I sent off another query to the next agent on the list. And I confess to drowning my sorrows over some of those bitter rejections on full manuscripts in a stack of ten new queries. Nothing blunts the arrows of rejection better than the knowledge that you have more possibilities out there.

The query process is a test of determination. It is also a test of whether or not you've correctly judged which agents are a good match for you. Many of the rejections to your query letters will be form letters badly copied on ancient copiers. Some agents actually have a rubber stamp which they thunk down on your original query before mailing it back to you. This is normal. File those rejections to prove to the IRS that you are not just playing around. Rejections to proposals are usually a fair mix of personal letters and bad copies. Also normal. File these rejections, too. Rejections to full manuscripts are different animals. You will occasionally receive a form letter. This isn't unusual. But if you receive mostly form letters on your full manuscript, it might be time to reevaluate your strategy and determine if a) the agents on your list really are interested in the kind of books you write or b) if your manuscript is ready for the world.

Never get discouraged and never give up. Agents are readers, too, and every reader has books she loves and books she hates. If you give up too soon, you might miss querying that agent who will love your book.

Next month--An agent wants to represent me! Now what?

Until then,