Recently I did a post on the agent/author relationshipas described by agent Laurie McLean. Readers found her insights and perspective very helpful, so I thought I would ask her some additional questions that authors often have regarding agents.
Laurie is the senior agent at Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco and represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers) as well as middle-grade and young-adult children’s books. In addition, Laurie is the dean of the new San Francisco Writers University and is on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference.
Here are some additional thoughts from Laurie that I think you will find helpful.
Do agents and editors have personal relationships? What I love about the publishing industry is that the writing trumps everything. I can be an editor’s best friend, but he or she will still not buy a property from me if it isn’t superbly written and just exactly right for their list. Agents and authors need each other. This means they must work together, and the closer, the better. Since we all love books, it’s easy to form a friendship based on a common bond; so yes, agents and editors have both personal and professional relationships of varying degrees, but if a book isn’t right for a particular editor, it is assumed that they will reject it and the friendship remains intact.
How important is it that an agent knows where a manuscript fits? Knowing where a manuscript fits should be part of any good agent’s knowledge base. A good agent knows which editors want what material, and even better, a good agent knows what they don’t want. Like relationship-building in any industry, information sharing and mutual respect are keys to getting the job accomplished.
When an agent recognizes the perfect storm of excellent writing skills, exceptional storytelling talent and a direct fit into the market, a tingle goes up the spine. I myself get giddy. I love it when I know exactly which four editors will go ape over a particular romance novel or fantasy novel or horror story.
What is a query? A query is a brief request for consideration of your work. My colleague Michael Larson says that queries should have the hook, the book and the cook, and I like that. It’s simple to remember and a great way to structure a query.
The hook is the brief tantalizing phrase about your book that will excite the reader enough to want it and read it. If you go to a movie, for example, the trailers that they show before the feature film starts give you a visceral decision to make by the end of a 30-second period: I’m definitely going to go see that movie, or I’d never see a movie like that. That’s what you’re trying to achieve in your hook — not the latter, obviously. You want the editor or the agent to say, ‘Wow, I want to read more of this.’ That’s the goal of the hook.
The bookis an expansion of the hook that gives more depth and builds on the promise of the hook, so the agent knows there is a story behind the hype.
The cook is about you, the author. Hit the highlights of your writing credentials. Mention any famous author endorsements or awards you’ve won, and put it last in your query letter, not as the lead. Agents want to know about the book first, then the author, and please, leave out details such as your marital status, how many children you have or that your kids love your writing. It just doesn’t matter to the agent or the editor at this point in the conversation, and you’re wasting valuable space.
How does a submission differ from a query? A submission is the first few pages of your manuscript and a brief synopsis of the plot and major turning points.
How long does it take for an agent to reply to my query? The length of time between receipt of a query, reading of a query and reply to the author depends heavily on an agent’s style and his or her workload at any given moment. It can be anywhere from minutes for an email query to six months or more in extreme cases. Some agents don’t reply at all unless they want to request more to read or offer representation. My best advice is to check the website of each agent you submit to and discover their usual response time. If you can’t find the information there, you can also email or call and ask, or check agentquery.com, querytracker.net, pubmatch.com or authoradvance.com for such information.
I try to reply to queries within four to six weeks, although when I get super busy with client deals, unsolicited submissions take a big backseat, and my reply time lengthens accordingly. If an agent hasn’t replied within eight weeks, it is perfectly acceptable to drop them a line, an email, using whatever process you used to query them originally and inquire about your submission. Sometimes queries get lost in the mail or in cyberspace, so don’t assume anything. Submit, wait eight weeks, then inquire.
One further point: At the query stage of the process, it is not necessary to grant any agent exclusivity. The idea at this point is to spread your query far and wide, to an appropriately targeted list of agents. If an agent asks to read the full manuscript, then you might consider offering them an exclusive, but only if the agent requests it and only for a month or less. You don’t want to be hung up. How can you create a query that leads to further reading? Make it personal. Make it interesting. Make it brief and powerful. Edit it to eliminate all grammatical errors — you’d be surprised at how many there are in the queries that I read. A referral from one of the agent’s clients would definitely bump you up to the head of the line, so those are the things you can work into your query that will make you stand out.