Agents’ slush piles are full of queries coming from rookies. The majority of submissions should never have been sent yet because they are not ready and writers get impatient. ““Slush” is the inside term for unsolicited manuscripts, and slush stories are, for the most part, unoriginal, sloppily written, and messily presented.” 1
That means that if your manuscript is polished, it will stand more chances to catch and agent's eye. It also means that agents will spend less time reading your submission.
Avoid the mistakes that will hurt your chances to land an agent. Ready, set, check!
- Polish a complete manuscript. If you cannot remove any word or rewrite any part and you had feedback on it, you’re ready.
- Prepare a query and a synopsis before submitting. Make sure you get feedback on them and learn to write them properly. They can be a pain and take a lot of time to polish.
- Make sure you know the genre of your novel and which two other novels it compares to.
- Check the agent’s name to make sure it is not misspelled and make sure you know something about him or her.
- Check the reputation of the agent. Some are not worth your time.
- Send your manuscript to an agent who specializes in your genre.
- Follow the agent’s submission guideline to the letter.
- Do not submit to two agents working for the same company at the same time. If they think their colleague might like your idea and style, they will pass it on.
- Remove extra adverbs, adjectives, interrogation and exclamation marks from your manuscript.
- Number your pages and put your name and novel’s title on the front page, this way: Author Name: BOOK TITLE.
- Starts your first chapter with a first line that is a punch line. Absolute Write Forum has a place where you can submit your first sentences and get a feedback.
- Develop a unique voice and an original plot. Avoid clichés.
- In the first chapter, remove back story and daily life descriptions and get into a significant event in the main character’s life, something that is life changing.
- Avoid the prologue.
- Send only one to maximum three queries at a time.
- Check manuscript and query letter for grammar and spelling.
- Do not boast, but mention your credentials in the query.
- Clearly convey the concept of the novel in the first pages of the book.
- Up the emotion and the suspense in both manuscript and query.
- Show, do not tell. If you do not know what that means exactly, research it.
- Write in scenes, which means making sure each episode of your novel has a purpose. “A scene must have a definite purpose, which is to advance the plot, deepen characterization, or—preferably—both at once. Before you write a scene, you should know what it is supposed to accomplish, and how.” 2
- Do not forget to include your address, phone number and email in the query.
- Put the genre and word count of your manuscript after you describe it, not before.
- Include the first 250 words of your manuscript along with each query. “(You didn’t hear this part from me:) Even if the agent’s listing in Writer’s Market or elsewhere says, "Query only," include at least the first two pages of your book. Some agents are willing to look at as much as the first three chapters of an unsolicited ms. If your writing grabs them, agents will be more willing to take a risk and look at a complete ms. Therefore, your first two pages had better be pretty darn good.” 3
- Do not include racist, homophobic, or misogynistic comments in the first chapter.
- Do not write the query on the behalf of your character or on behalf of the writer. Agents like to deal with the real writer.
- Personalize your query to a specific agent. Mention why you have picked this agent. "I admire your client ____. I did some digging to find out who his or her agent was. This led me to your web site. Based on what you say there, I thought you might be interested in my manuscript. Let me tell you about it…." 4
- Show do not tell in your query. Tease. Evoke. “Here are Daniel Lazar's thoughts on querying: I think the best query letters are specific and evocative – not loaded down with too much boring detail, but just enough detail (little touches of description or turns of phrase) that show the letter is crafted by a real writer. For example, instead of saying "Joe Smith, the hero of my novel, is a quirky kid," you could say "Joe Smith, the hero of my novel, likes ketchup on his Frosted Flakes and never wears matching socks."” 5
- A query basically presents the main characters and their quirks (no more than two), then presents the problem/conflict that will carry all the plot; finally, describes a choice the main character has to make.
- Always send a SASE if you do not query by email.
- Include only one or two lines about you.
Do not take rejection personally. You will get a lot of rejection letters no matter how good your novel is. Think about querying as a long process. Be patient and persistent. Sending back an angry letter will not help your career, but might get you on a black list. The literary world is a small world. Be always polite and professional. Treat your query as an employment letter.