Querying can feel like shouting into an empty void sometimes.
Whether you are deep in the querying trenches or just about to start the process, sending your query letter and manuscript out to agents can feel like a never-ending slog. It can be demoralizing to wait weeks — or even months — for a response, only to have it be a rejection.
The best way to approach querying is to be as prepared as possible.
Querying shouldn’t feel like randomly shooting your query package out into the void, but like an intentional choice you’re making as an author — you are deliberately contacting that agent because you feel they would be a good publishing partner.
In this interview with literary agent Patricia Nelson, she goes over what she looks for in a query, in a manuscript, and in a potential client.
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Literary Agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Find out more about her on Twitter @patricianels or check out her MSWL!
What is the most common mistake you see writers make when querying? What should they do instead?
Make sure you're not querying before your manuscript is as strong as you can possibly make it. Read craft books and revise on your own using what you learn (I always recommend Lisa Cron's Story Genius for novels and Cheryl Klein's The Magic Words for middle grade and YA writers), and then if you can find critique partners to give feedback on your work as well, even better.
A great query letter is important, but if the pages don't live up to the pitch, I'll say no even if it's the best premise I've ever heard.
Considering the book publishing industry seems to be constantly in flux (shifting trends, publishing mergers, etc.), how can emerging authors best position themselves for success?
Start by reading widely in your genre so that you're aware of what's already been done — you can't avoid cliches unless you know what they are. Read debut authors and award-winners as well as books that are hitting the bestseller lists, and then think about what you want to see on shelves that's not there yet. I'm looking for original voices with fresh perspectives and something new to say. What's the story that only you can tell?
What is one thing you wish emerging authors knew about the publishing industry or the traditional publishing process?
Everyone who works in this industry is here because we love books and we love authors. We have to say "no" a lot because there's only so much time in the day, but we're all always hoping to find that amazing project that will make us say "yes."
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In your view, what are the tenets of a productive and healthy author-agent relationship? How have you seen these play out with your clients?
Every author-agent relationship is different, but in my opinion, the most important thing across the board is open communication. I try to make sure my clients feel comfortable asking me any questions, bouncing around any ideas, and sharing what they want out of their career so we can work together to get them there.
What’s a book that you have recently read and loved, and what did you like so much about it?
I can't stop recommending Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, which is the most delightful romcom I've read in years. I read widely across genre, age category, and tone, from the frothy to the serious, and the common thread in the fiction that I fall hardest for is always fully-realized characters who feel specific and complex, like they could walk right off the page. In Boyfriend Material, the protagonist's voice pulled me in right away, and the whole cast felt like friends by the end of the book — I was sad to leave them. (Although fortunately for me, a sequel just came out!)
Hi Alyssa! I've been really enjoying these Chapter Breaks. I would love, love to hear from the organizers of the HarperCollins Union on the next chapter break. I haven't yet seen a video on your YouTube channel covering this really important development in the publishing world and I would love to hear from these folks.