I’m coaching several clients right now through the agent pitch process and have noticed some of the same questions coming up again and again – largely about process, but many of the questions veer into the territory of etiquette, too. Here are seven burning questions writers ask when they’re in the midst of pitching, and answers honed in the trenches.
1. What if I fall in love with one agent above all others and think she’s perfect for my project? What do I do?
Often, a single agent emerges as a top candidate – someone you are more excited about than all other agents. In this case, you can offer that agent an exclusive first look at your query.
An exclusive is usually known as something that agents themselves request of a writer. If they want to read your manuscript without the pressure of knowing other agents are also reading it, they can request the opportunity to read it on an exclusive basis. What that means is that if any other agents request pages, you have to decline until the first agent says yes or no. To learn more about the pros and cons of exclusives, see this great post by Nathan Brandsford.
When a writer offers an exclusive to an agent on a query, it’s a sign of extreme respect, hope, and courage. It’s you saying, “I value your time and I think you are perfect for my book and I am therefore not going to send my query to anyone else until I hear from you.” You may have to be prepared to wait awhile since you’re the one offering the exclusive, but this tactic can sometimes get agents to reply faster.
Tip: Put “Exclusive Query” in the subject line along with your book title – unless the agency has specific requirements for the subject line. In that case, follow their rules.
2. Can I query two agents in the same agency?
No, not at the same time. You can query one after the other sends a rejection – UNLESS the agency specifically states that one rejection from them is a rejection from all of them. In that case, if one agent rejects you, you’re out of luck at that whole agency.
Note that in some instances, an agent will write back to say that they think your book might be a better fit for another agent in their agency and they will forward it along of their own accord. This is usually a very good thing, because it’s like a mini endorsement.
Tip: Where do agencies state their pitching requirements? On their websites, look for a tab called “submission guidelines” or “how to pitch,” and be prepared to follow them. Many agencies have very specific requirements – and they’re dead serious about them.
3. Should I tell agents about “good” rejections I got from other agents?
No. No one wants to hear that they weren’t chosen first, and talking about “good” rejections is the equivalent of saying, “I went to someone else first but you are my second choice.” Also, while a “good” rejection is indeed good news for the writer – it means the agent really read your pages and took the time to personally write you back, which are all great signs that you are doing many things right – it’s not news you can use with other agents. A rejection is still a rejection, and it’s not the kind of thing you can use to boost your chances with the next agent.
Tip: You’re looking for someone to fall in love in love with your work. Yes, an agent-writer relationship is indeed a business partnership first and foremost, but it often starts with them loving your work, and love is obviously highly subjective. Trust that there is an agent out there who is going to love your work.
4. Can I use the same letter for every agent?
No again. You can use the same basic template, but you want to personalize each letter just as if you were writing an actual letter to a real person – which you are. The customization part of the query may only be two or three lines, but they are critical. These lines show that you have done your homework (scoured their website, done a Google search for articles and interviews, checked out what the agents said at the last conference they attended) and that you have good reason to believe you might be a good fit for their agency.
Be real when crafting these lines. Say something personal and authentic to you. If the agent represented your all-time favorite book, say so. If you read their interview about ideal clients and thought, “That’s me!” say why you think you might fit their criteria. If in their blog they constantly talk about how much they love the Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys and you are also a raving fan, say something clever about your shared love.
Tip: Name the specific publication or site where you learned about the agent – i.e. “I read on the Writers’ Digest site that you spend a lot of your free time growing an organic garden, and as a chef in charge of four organic gardens, it made me think we might be a good fit.”
5. Do I have to tell the other agents when one agent requests pages?
Yes, for two reasons.
· It is polite to let the agents know where they stand and what is happening. Remember these are people you are hoping to have a long-standing business partnership with. Be professional right from the start.
· It may generate excitement among the agents if you share the good news. They may read your query or your pages faster, and may look with more interest on them if they know another agent is interested.
Tip: Always include a line in your query about how many agents you are querying. A line such as, “I am sending this query to a small group of select agents” lets the agents know they have been chosen, and that are you not blanketing the town with random queries.
6. How soon can I follow up after I send a query, and what should I say?
Most agencies tell you how long you need to wait to hear back from them. The timing can vary wildly – I always say to be prepared to hear from agents anywhere 30 seconds to never -- and you really have no choice but to wait. If the agency shares information about following-up – i.e. “If you have not heard from us in four weeks, feel free to send a follow up email” – you can certainly do that, but most of the time, you don't get to follow up.
There are some special circumstances where sending a follow-up is warranted regardless of what the agency says:
· If an agent has requested an exclusive (or accepted an exclusive from you and requested your manuscript) you can send a follow up note after the agreed-upon period of time – usually somewhere in the neighborhood of three weeks to a month. Just send a polite note – i.e. “I am writing to follow up on Book Title, and to see if you have had a chance to evaluate it.” You can also add a statement of your intentions – i.e. “I am planning to send it out to other agents beginning September 1st.”
· If an agent requests a full manuscript and you haven’t heard anything after a month, the same sort of polite email is acceptable.
Tip: Most agents read requested chapters and manuscripts after work or on the weekends. Their days are spent working with their writers, keeping connections with editors, going over contracts, and taking care of the myriad tasks required to run a business. Four to six weeks may seem like an eternity to you as you wait to hear from an agent, but to the agents, that time period goes by in a heartbeat – plus they have 17 other manuscripts waiting for evaluation, and yours is on the bottom of the stack. Try to be patient – and work on your marketing materials or your next book
7. Can I send agents a response to their rejection?
Sure you can, but most of the time, it would be unwelcome if not downright odd. They have rejected your project. They don’t want to do business with you. What, really, do you have to say? Take your lumps and move on.
There are three exceptions to this rule that I can think of:
· The agent has passed your query or pages onto another agent at her agency (which as I mentioned above is tantamount to a recommendation) and has written you a rejection that gives you this news. In this case, write to thank her for her kindness.
· The agent has rejected your project but asked to see more of your work in the future. In this case, write to thank her.
· The agent has rejected your project, but took the time to make a very detailed explanation of why. I have seen agents write 3 or 4 pages of evaluation on a book even while they are rejecting it – which is crazy, but is also free consulting. In this case, absolutely write to thank the agent for her time and wisdom.
Tip: Query five agents at time, and send them out in waves. You often get very useful information in rejections that you can use to strengthen your query for the next round. (For example, zero response to five queries tells me something is not right with the book title: no one is even opening the email. Form letter rejections on five queries tells me something is not right with the query. ) Sending 10 or 15 or 35 letters at one time walls you off from using any of that inside intel.
8. And finally the BIG question – how do you write a killer query letter?
I’ve put together this handy guide: How to Write a Query.
There is an offer at the end for getting feedback on your query letter from my team of editors at Author Accelerator. Readers of my newsletter can skip the link and write directly to Jade@AuthorAccelerator with the code JennieToldMeICould and get 25% off.