Tips For Authors #1: Querying A Literary Agent
Welcome to my first Tips For Authors entry - in this case I will share some of my personal feelings about queries. You know: those emails writers send to literary agents to interest them in representing them. I'm not working off anyone else's opinions on this subject but purely my own in terms of what piques my interest and some of the things that turn me off. So what the next agent thinks or requires when you email your query to them has no bearing on me and vice-versa. (Please don't email another agent and say "Lee said..." They won't care.) I like to think I do things differently - I mean, do you really want to work with an agent that doesn't have their own personality or brain? I think not. Let me also say, I'm not the foremost authority on anything. And I mean, anything. Yes I am a literary agent but please don't think for one second that because I feel the need to share my own thoughts and ideas that I think I am God's Gift or that I am the greatest literary agent on the planet. Even if I am (maybe I am?) I would never say that and would never want to represent myself that way. (Taking a deep breath) So, here goes.
Everybody Pays Their Dues (Even Me - All the Time, In Fact - When does dues paying ever end??)
When you write your query to me, I want to know what your background is as a writer. I need to believe that you know your craft and have experience. If you think that just sending me your manuscript will be all I need to be convinced that you are a professional, you're mistaken. For instance, if you've written a novel, what short stories have you had published? I am a great believer that in order to write a novel you must first pay your dues and that means writing short fiction and getting published. If you've won awards or garnered blurbs from industry pro's, so much the better. If you want to write non-fiction books, what have you written already? Are you a journalist and have you already written articles on the subject of the book you want to write? Or are you a specialist in your field and have you written essays on the subject? Do you have credentials you can tell me about? So the opening of your query might go like this:
I am a seasoned journalist with over twenty years experience of blah blah blah and my work has been published in The Lee Sobel Gazette, The Lee Sobel Journal of Sobellianism, etc. I've also recently won the 2022 Lee Sobel Award for Blah Blah Blah.
What Is The Concept and Please Get To The Point:
Then in your query after a quick setup of your experience as a writer, please tell me what the idea of the book is as succinctly and clearly as possible. I can't stand meandering, vague descriptions of books - if you can't tell me what it is clearly in one or two sentences then you need to go figure that out before you write to me. Please don't start describing who the reader is for the book or what the themes are in grandiose terms. Nothing like this "The book will be a deeply religious experience for the reader who will experience transcendence and find God and blah blah blah..." Get to the point already! Just tell me the idea and if there is an important theme please just say it in the simplest terms possible.
Why This Book Now? How is it Different From Other Books Like It?
It would be worth mentioning if you feel the book is timely in some way. Does the book delve into issues that are of cultural interest in the times we are living in? Is there some upcoming event the book could tie into other than say your Cousin Fred's birthday party? And if other books already exist that are similar, you need to tell me how yours is different and will stand apart.
Do you have any ideas on how you will support the marketing and promotion of the book. Such as, "The book is an exposé of the dry cleaning business and my Uncle Sal owns the biggest chain of dry cleaning stores in the U.S. and he's going to give out a clean t-shirt with every copy of the book someone buys at one of his stores." But seriously, do you have a huge following on Twitter or some platform that will indicate you know how to increase sales of the book when it is published." I can't tell you how attractive that will be to publishers who want authors to help promote their books.
What Not To Do When You Query Me:
Some of the things I have seen in queries that I am not a fan of is blurting out things like "This is the book you have been waiting for!" or "This book will knock your socks off, man!" I'm also not a fan of people who just send me their manuscript willy-nilly. Why don't you just wait for me to respond to your query - if the description of your book and your background as a writer appeals to me, then just wait for me to respond and ask to read it. Also, please don't make up some name that said you should contact me - it's ridiculous to drop the name of someone I have never heard of: "Hi Lee, Joe Blowenstein told me you're the perfect agent for me so blah blah blah...") Last pet peeve -- please do a little research into what books the agent you are contacting has sold. It is doubtful since I have never sold books on toilet training your pet monkey that it will have much appeal for me. You would do better to find an agent that actually has some experience with that subject. That's all for now. Hope I have helped in some way. If I haven't, please don't shoot me.
- Lee Sobel 3/23/22