Agent McHotStuff

I’ve never done online dating before. The more I query literary agents, however, the more I understand what internet dating must be like.

You see, in order to get published with a big publishing house, a writer needs an agent. And in order to get an agent, a writer has to write a query letter.

I think that query letters are the literary world’s flail, used to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Interesting incidental meaning from this analogy: No matter how hard you flail, you can’t turn chaff into wheat. It’s just not possible.)

The literary gods, using queries to beat the crap out of their writer minions.

You see, in less than one page, you have to write 1) A hook to your story, 2) A personal message, and 3) A short bio.

One page.

Go.

So I went to the query shark and read her archives. All of them. They were incredibly helpful.

The part of the query letter that I’m having trouble with (and the reason I feel like I’m internet dating) is the personal part. It’s hard to strike a balance between, “You are one of many agents I’m querying,” and “YOU ARE SO HOT WE ARE PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER!”

Like this guy.

Because, the thing is, I do love the agents that I query. I look them up. I read interviews with them. I see what kind of books they like and what kind of books they sell (and how fast they respond, hehe). If I query them, it’s because I think they’re brilliant at what they do.

Sometimes, I’m afraid my personal messages look like this:

“You worked in the movie industry and still make lots of movie deals and that’s perfect because my book would be a great movie!” (pretentious, presumptuous, and probably a whole lotta other “pre’s”)

“You want a YA sci-fi thriller and that’s just what I wrote! We are obviously a match made in heaven!” (proposing on the first date)

“You used to work at Penguin from 1999-2010 and I love their books! And you just sold a book that is just like mine but not really! And I saw in this interview from 2011 that you have a dog named Picard which is crazy because when I was growing up, I had a dog named Riker!” (STALKER!!! OVERSHARE!!!  Run, little agent! Run!)

So what’s the literary equivalent of being interested, but not desperate? When do compliments become flattery? How do I politely say, “It would be a dream come true if you were to request a full. Because I love you so much. And the books you represent. And I know we haven’t met yet, but I’m sure we’ll be best friends. Because I’m very professional, as you can see.”?

A little help?

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13 thoughts on “Agent McHotStuff

  1. Justin Kownacki says:

    The other problem is, if an agent is successful enough that s/he’s getting interviewed, s/he may not be accepting unsolicited queries from unpublished writers anymore. And if they do, your odds of cracking through the volume of mail they receive from writers just like you are steep at best — especially because, if they’re at that level of desirability, they almost definitely don’t read their own mail firsthand anymore. (Which means you’re really trying to impress their assistant.)

    You may have an easier time writing to a new agent who’s hungry for something to sell, rather than an agent whose elite status depends on finding The Next Big Thing, which simultaneously makes him or her risk averse.

    • Laura Lee Anderson says:

      Great point! I do query pretty widely- if there’s a new agent at a respected agency who I think might like my book, I am all over that! (That’s usually where the “my dog is like your dog!” or the, “I’m originally from New York too!” or the “we’re the same age!” comments come in, hehe)

  2. bwtaylor75 says:

    My suggestion would be to keep it simple. Most agents say they like when querying writers mention something about a client, manuscript they represent, or even their blog. Whatever you can do to stand out is a good thing, if done the right way. It shows you’ve done your homework and pay attention to what that particular agent has to say. I have gotten personal responses from almost every agent I’ve done this with, some who normally form reject. Whatever you do, be subtle, be prepared, and be yourself.

    Example #1: In a recent blog post your client, Tammy Bledsoe, mentioned you were her agent of awesome. Who wouldn’t want an agent of awesome?

    Example #2: On a more personal level, your recent blog post titled, The Truth About Dead Genres, struck a chord with me and honest, intelligent posts like that are what keep me coming back for more.

    Example #3: You recently tweeted, “Who has two thumbs and wants to see more regency romance? This agent.” Perhaps you’d be interested in…(describe your regency romance here).

    Hope the examples help. Each agent is different, as I’m sure you know. These are only a few of the things that worked for me. Try and find out what works best for you and go for it. You’ve already done the hard part by writing a complete manuscript. You can do this too.

  3. johannelyhne says:

    You’re so funny! Love your honesty and I really hate making those query letters too, mainly because i know I am so very bad at them! Wish you needn’t write more than: “Hey I think you might like this. Hope to hear from you.”

  4. Kristine Asselin (@KristineAsselin) says:

    Don’t force the “things we have in common” stuff. It’s perfectly acceptable not to include that section, unless you really do have a “we met at a conference”, or some other connection that is legitimate and relevant. Agents are really just dying to get to the meat of the query…what’s the book about, and do I want to turn to the pages…Good luck!

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