Agent Query Etiquette
Recently I had the delight of speaking and taking pitches at the Chicago Writers Workshop. It is now an annual event and I look forward to attending when the invite rolls in. As with any conference, let alone the query search, an author will be presented with many choices. It can be an overwhelming process, from choosing who to pitch in person, to those to query online.
The standard in finding an agent is similar to finding the best match in today’s version of online dating apps. While this isn’t the search for a future mate (thank goodness)—the same amount of time, patience, and knowledge of any potential deal-breaker requirements is essential. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be working with that agent for a long time.
Here is some basic etiquette to remember:
Query one agent at a time (inside an agency) – Every agency will operate differently, but it’s safe to operate with the understanding that if one agent passes on an idea, it’s okay to query a colleague afterwards. Sending a query to all the agents at an agency at the same time isn’t a good idea; instead choose the agent that is the best fit.
If you’re at a conference, pitching the same book to multiple agents at the same agency needs to be handled in a professional manner. Obviously if one of the agents isn’t interested, it’s great to pitch to one of their colleagues. Just avoid sending the same manuscript to all of them. If you receive simultaneous requests, send to the agent that is the best fit.
Follow those submission guidelines – These guidelines are not meant to make the process difficult, as we create these standards to make the query process easier. There’s no need to feel you have to read between any lines, as this is a very black and white process.
If we don’t want an attachment at the time of a query, don’t send it. You’d send materials as attachments if we request them after reading your query. For conference pitches, we don’t want a physical manuscript provided (when pitched), but be prepared to email it as an attachment (if requested). If we ask for queries to be sent a specific way, then please follow those guidelines (ex: LinkedIn is not a standard platform for querying agents, but many authors ignore this). This is not a complicated process, just follow those submission guidelines and you’ll be right on track.
The process takes time – I’ve noted this many times—I don’t know if it’s just the fact more people are writing nowadays, or social media/life/challenging national issues—but it’s clear that many of us face a challenge of responding to queries quickly. This includes the time it takes to read requested reading materials. I’ve given up on personally getting my reading done in three months, but I know I’m trying. Everyone else is too.
It’s fine to check in at the two-month mark, but assume the person may have a large workload already. This happens to the best of agents and editors. It’s not a personal jab at the book an author has written.
With this being said, I’ve received ultimatums to rush the process a few times over the years. This action will only result in one response, an immediate pass on the idea. It’s important to remember that selling a book takes just as long. If I find a great book idea and it took a little longer than preferred (to read it), it’s a great sign that they will handle the publisher submission process well if we work together.
Ensure the agent is a good match – Study the agency and how it engages with writers and publishers. Look at the categories the agent represents. See what previous sales the agent has, if they are an established agent. Read those bios, as new agents generally bring a wide variety of publishing know-how from previous jobs in the industry. Follow these agents on social media, as that’s a good way to see how they interact with others. Read a few of their clients’ books and articles, that’ll provide an insight into the types of narratives they represent (and if your book falls inside those perimeters).
Avoid blind submissions. Choose one agent at a time. Allow time for responses as those queries are sent out. This will hopefully result in less frustration and better time management.
The most important things to remember are that every agent is a book lover and reader, and that we’ll always have a passion for working with writers. Keep those ideas coming!
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.