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Hollywood Jane in Massachusetts, Part IV

June 27, 2008

Solstice is winding down, and though today featured the publishing panel, not a lot of the information discussed applied to me, or I’d done enough research that I’d heard it already.

However, in addition to picking up a free book, the “token agent” on the panel, left an info sheet about the dos and dont’s of querying agents.  Some of it I’ve already mentioned in my ‘how to get rejected posts,’ but I’m going to recreate it here for easy access:


The Proper Care and Feeding of Agents – courtesy of Sorche Elizabeth Fairbank, Literary Representation.  I made a few changes or additions.

The Basics:

  • Manuscripts, proposals, samples, and queries: single-sided, unbound, 20# plain white paper.  
  • Standard 12 point font – Times New Roman, Arial, Courier New, etc.
  • Queries are written as a letter, but manuscript pages/ samples should always be double spaced.
  • Keep healthy margins 1″ or 1.25″, left justify only.
  • Have someone else give an eagle-eye for typos.
  • SASEs – this agent prefers the peel and stick kind of envelopes.
  • Always affix postage to your SASEs.
  • Fill out the return address corner on the SASE and save the agent an extra hassle.
  • Don’t send anything that requires a signature or a trip to the Post Office.
  • Don’t call to see if your submission arrived.  Keep track of each agency’s stated response time, wait a few weeks beyond that, and send a brief and courteous email if you’re concerned.
  • For SASEs or anything with return postage, you should use stamps, not predated metered postage.
Email Etiquette
  • Don’t spam agents or use a spamming service such as bookblaster, scriptblaster, etc.
  • Never email more than one agent per email. 
  • Don’t attach material to an email that an agent hasn’t specifically asked to see.
  • Just because email is quick it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to write a great query.
  • Don’t refer an agent to your website where a full proposal/query/manuscript resides
  • Querying by email is no excuse to note use punctuation or caps.
  • Keep it to plain standard text in email. If the agent doesn’t have that particular fancy font loaded, the software substitutes things like numbers for apostrophes, etc.
  • Get a new email address for querying, if you have to. is not professional.  Your name or initials work best.
General Don’ts:
  • No phone queries.
  • Don’t expect an agent to sell her/himself to you before they’ve read your work and made an offer.
  • Don’t think a good query is one that keeps the agent guessing as to what happens in your novel.
  • Please do not compare yourself to best-selling writers.  However it is acceptable to provide and honest comparison to similar books in style or subject matter.
  • Don’t talk about how much your freshman English teacher liked your writing.  The same applies to your mother/boyfriend/neighbor’s kid.
  • Don’t be sloppy.  If the query letter isn’t well written, the agent will have no faith that the manuscript will be either.
  • Don’t use blanket or form queries.
  • Don’t ask or hope for comments, feedback, or referrals.
  • No exclamation marks in a query – it’s the sign of an unpolished writer.
  • Don’t list a slew of works, poems, screenplays awaiting representation.  Pick one piece to focus on in the query.
  • Don’t tell the agent how much fun or tortuous writing your story was, or how desperately you want it to find a home.
  • Don’t misspell the agent’s name.
General Dos:
  • Log your submissions carefully (fellow conference attendees recommend keeping an Excel spreadsheet for just this.  I believe Writer’s Market online has a tool for keeping track of submissions as well.)
  • Do your homework and pay attention to the agency submission guidelines.
  • If you’ve published before, include that information, but Publish America, vanity presses, POD and the like don’t count.
  • Clearly state your genre and word count in the query.  Know what the standard book lengths are for your genre.
  • Write a no-nonsense engaging letter that isn’t cutesy, bragging, or full of hype. One page is best, and absolutely no longer than two pages.
  • Rewrite your query letter from scratch at least three times.
  • If the agent asks for the first 25 pages, and a chapter ends on page 28, go ahead and send the extra pages, but no more than a few in either direction.
  • Always send the first pages of a manuscript when asked, never pages from the middle or the end.
  • If your particular manuscript/proposal has had a previous agent or has made the rounds of any major trade houses, be upfront about it.
  • If you get an offer of representation from another agent inform the other agents reviewing your work.
  • Please number your pages and have your name on them.  Standard is: Last Name/Title in the header.
  • Include what the agent asks for – when they ask for a synopsis, outline, or word count, they mean it.
The most depressing thing that the panel emphasized is that due to the sheer volume of manuscripts they receive, they have to actively look for things they don’t like about your work, and literally anything can turn them off.  So keep at it, and collect those rejections like the badges of honor they are.
Quote of the Day:
“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” – Erica Jong, author and essayist
One Comment leave one →
  1. June 27, 2008 6:11 pm

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

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