How to snare a literary agent (be VEWY, VEWY quiet!)
Before I go ahead and blog about how to write a query letter, I thought I should (or would?) cover the process of submitting to an agent.
I read somewhere that in order to snare a literary agent, you need bait (a blow-them-out-of-the-water query letter) and a trap (a kick-ass manuscript). Even though hunting makes me want to throw up, this is SUCH a good analogy. You might have written a manuscript that will knock the RIGHT agent’s suitably hipster glasses off, but unless they request a partial or a full based on your query letter you’re going to go hungry (literally, if writing’s your intended income—and not to be a Negative Nancy, but stay tuned for a future post on why this may be a BAD idea.)
SO, what’s a partial and what’s a full? When you submit a query letter to an agent, you may be asked to attach the first couple of chapters (the requirements differ by agent, so PLEASE do yourself a fav and check their submission guidelines, which are usually located on their agency’s website). THIS is called a partial (normally three chapters). Note, that some agents ask for a query letter with NO sample chapters. They may then come back and ask for a partial before a full. Confused? Partial = part of your manuscript (normally three chapters), which may be asked for with your query.
A full is EXACTAMUNDO what it sounds like—your full manuscript. If this is requested, it means the literary agent has eaten the bait and is now standing smack-bang in the middle of your trap. At the risk of sounding like a Negative Nancy again, you may want to keep the cork in your Champagne (or Passion Pop bottle) for the moment, as requests for full manuscripts more often than not result in a not-for-me or (hopefully) some handy feedback.
If you’ve read my earlier post on how to find the RIGHT literary agent, then you should have a spreadsheet listing the agents you want to represent your manuscript. You’ll have also checked their submission guidelines from a primary source (e.g. don’t just take the word of a third-party website; go and check their agency website). This is ALL important if you want to get off on the right foot, as an incorrect submission reads as any one of the following:
- I want you to spend hours of your time reading my manuscript, but I couldn’t be bothered spending a second checking your submission guidelines;
- I know my query letter gushes over how you’re the perfect agent for me, but I haven’t actually researched you at all; and/or
- To Whom It May Concern: I’ve email-bombed every agent I could find without personalising my submission. Thank you for letting me waste your time.
You’re basically saying to them that your time is more important than theirs. A couple of other quick rules are: do NOT call the agency. Not even to ask whether they want your manuscript single or double-spaced.
I’ll post another time about what to do once you’ve hit send, e.g. when it might be okay to nudge (hint: ONLY if they’ve requested a partial or a full).
Ernest Hemmingway famously (and arguably) said that writing was like cutting open a vein and bleeding onto a page. Sheesh. I shudder to think what he would have said about getting published! Every Tuesday, I dust off my creative writing degree (yes, from an actual, real-life university) and share my learnings about the process of writing and getting published (yes, I know learnings is technically not a word, but I worked in public relations for a number of years and we like to make words up. Helifordite?). You can check out all of my Tuesday Tips here.