The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying
A couple of weeks ago, I sent out a tweet calling on agents who are interested in representing Asian lit/ authors, and the responses were overwhelming! I’ll be organizing my list and promoting them soon once I’m done – but before I do, I’d like everyone to first understand the basics of how to query these agents.
However, I do not want to be putting together a list of agents who are interested in Asian-related manuscripts or in repping Asians, only for people to overwhelm them with emails that do not follow any of their personal or agency guidelines, which are almost always an instant rejection for them.
So. Before anything else, here’s a very short primer on the Do’s and Don’ts of querying. Don’t know what a query is? Then please read the 5 Kinds of Querying You’ll See in Publishing to understand what you’re supposed to do before searching for an agent (and an example of the query letter that got me published). See also So You’re a Filipino (or non-US) Author Seeking International Agents/Publishers for a general FAQ of the most common questions authors who aren’t living in the US often ask when querying for US agents.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Many agents whose interviews I’ll be posting have said that Asian authors following #SEACritterspub who are querying to them can use my name or the #SEACritterspub hashtag as part of their query letters, so that they’ll know the authors came from this initiative (guidelines for that will be explained on the interviews themselves). That said, I will not tolerate having my name or the hashtag poorly reflected on query letters that do not follow the rules. This is why the Do’s and Don’ts guidelines below will occasionally be peppered with vague and not-so-vague threats. DON’T DISHONOR ME, GUYS – I WILL ABSOLUTELY CALL YOU OUT IF YOU IGNORE THESE RULES AND MISBEHAVE.
- DO research agent’s preferences: Some agents want a lot of romance. Some agents ONLY rep scifi / fantasy, or will only accept YA but not adult fiction. Some agents don’t want historical fiction. Some want a lot of humor. That means no matter how talented you are, or how amazing your YA thriller manuscript is, pitching it to an agent who doesn’t like reading scary things will always make it an automatic no for her. Don’t waste each other’s time pitching something that they’re not looking for in the first place.
- DO research agency guidelines: Some agents want you to send them a query letter plus the first five pages of your manuscript. Others might want the first chapter. Still others might not want any attachments at all, and would either want you to copy and paste the first few pages on the email body. Or they might not even want to see any pages unless they like your query.
- DO research every agent like they’re the only agent you’re going to query to: THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT, especially bolded for emphasis. Yes, I know there are a bazillion agents out there that look to be a good fit for your manuscript, and you intend to email every one of them. You are still going to be Don Juan, and you’re going to treat each of them like they’re the only person you’ll ever want to woo, even if that’s not necessarily true. Spell their names right. Check what pronoun (he/she/they) they prefer. If they mention something specific in their wishlist that’s a good description of your manuscript, point that out to her in your query (“I’m emailing you because you mention in your agency page that you’d like to see more queries in your inbox about killer penguins from outer space, which my MS has whole armies of.”)
- DO personalize your queries: If I ever get an email from any of the agents I contacted, telling me you used me to introduced yourself to them and STILL started your query letters with “Dear Sir/Ma’am”, I swear to every demon I know I am going to kick you in the hoo-ha.
- DO talk about what makes your manuscript unique: The whole point of query letters is to differentiate your manuscript from the hundreds of queries agents get every week. Is there something personal about this MS you can bring to the table that no other writer can convey?
- DO space out sending your queries: I’ve mentioned this before: it pays to be organized, and I speak as a living chaotic mess who can’t even fold clothes right. Have a list of agents you plan on querying, and divide them into A and B lists – A for the agents you think are the best fit, and B for the ones you’re okay with. Send out small query batches to, say 3-4 of the A list, then 7-8 of the B list. Wait for responses to ascertain if your query is being received well. If you get rejections but with feedback, revise your query accordingly and send out again. If you get requests for your full manuscript, send out the query to more agents at a time – that means it’s working!
- DO follow authors / agents on Twitter: A lot offer great tips! Agents will also occasionally talk about what they’d like to see more of in their inbox!
THE DO NOT’S:
- DO NOT Query if you DO NOT have a finished manuscript: No exceptions here. No agent will take on partials from unpublished writers.
- DO NOT contact agents through other sources: Do not send them messages through LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, unsolicited snail mail, telephone, telegraph, jazz hands, creeping outside their window, etc. If they tell you to only send through their email, then that’s the only place you send your manuscript. Some agents will tell you they have built-in forms for manuscript submissions, and you can do that too. Sometimes there will be a limited window where agents will accept pitches through Twitter (usually when there’s a pitch contest going on) but once that window closes so should tweeting at them. Not only will this be easy grounds for blacklisting, you’ll also be doing this in public where other agents can see your shenanigans and block you without even engaging.
- DO NOT pay agents to represent your work: In traditional publishing, the money should flow from the publisher -> agent -> you, the writer, and never the other way around. You are not expected to pay for anything, and the first time money should change hands is when you get your first advance after signing a book deal contract with your publisher, your agent then taking a commission from that. Be wary of agents claiming to need money before they can take you on – these are scammers. If these agents claim to also be marketers, understand that marketers promote to readers because that’s where they expect the money to come from. If they promote to authors, then that means they expect to earn more money from you instead of your intended viewership. And that’s saying something about your book, and none of it good.
- DO NOT query to more than one agent from the same agency: Generally considered a polite thing to do. If the agent you queried feels that their colleague would be interested in your work, they’ll pass it along. If there are two agents from the same agency that seems to be a good fit for your work, just go with your gut.
- DO NOT query the same manuscript to the same agent multiple times: If they didn’t like it the first time, they’re not gonna like it the next twenty-eight times. The only exceptions are 1.) UNLESS they themselves tell you to revise and contact them again, and 2.) your revisions have transformed your manuscript into a practically different story than what you first submitted. (as drastic as changing it from YA horror to YA contemporary, for example. Changing your white protagonist into a person of color doesn’t count.) Even so, allow maybe 6 months or so before querying again.
- DO NOT throw a hissy fit should an agent reject you: Again, important. If you use my name or the #SeaCritterspub as reference in your query letter, and word gets back to me that you reacted violently to an agent who’d rejected your manuscript, I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN. I WILL FISTICUFFS YOU. I take this very seriously. Which also leads me to —
- DO NOT USE THE #SEACRITTERSPUB OR MY NAME IF YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS NOT ASIAN LIT / YOU ARE NOT AN ASIAN AUTHOR: you would think this would go without saying. But this is the internet. And yes, I’ll call you out, too.
Now that that’s done, check back soon for a list of agents eager to find Asian lit/authors and follow the #SEACritterspub hashtag for updates!