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Demystifying the New York literary agent: part 2


The aftermath of the query letter

As a writer, you have several opportunities to “get in” with an agent. Sending targeted, specific query letters and submission packets (all based on the individual requirements of the agencies submitted to) is the metaphorical knock on the door. Sometimes no one is home (read: form rejection letter), sometimes the neighbor asks you to call again later (read: a personalized, perhaps encouraging rejection letter), and sometimes the door opens.

In our current technological age, agents will often send a response to a hopeful author by email, usually requesting the first three chapters, the first 50 pages, the complete manuscript, or some other combination along those lines. This is fantastic news – the agent is interested in learning more. It’s not time to break out the champagne just yet, but in these competitive days, it’s certainly a hearty pat on the back.

From here, there are further crossroads. Once the pages are submitted (through the agent’s preference of email or snail mail – don’t be afraid to ask which they prefer), they will again have to decide if it passes to the next level or if the journey ends here. They’ll be in touch with you directly if they want to move forward, don’t worry about that. If they send you a rejection after this point, all is not lost. Typically this will be a rejection with more feedback. If it does not include this, though, DO NOT ASK FOR FEEDBACK. Take the reply professionally, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Effusive eagerness in an email can read as unprofessionally as a surly demand. It’s important to remember that agents deal with upwards of thirty different clients’ projects daily (their assistants sometimes more), so please don’t call them unless they call you first.

What about following up? If an agent requests to read more of your work (in whatever commodity), give her a good four to six weeks to get back to you. By the end of that time frame, a short and simple email to check in is totally acceptable.

If you are fortunate enough to receive feedback on your work in a rejection letter, run with it. Take almost all of the editorial suggestions – at the very least, take the ones that make sense to you and fit in with your overall vision. Remember that good agents really know the industry and what qualities and components books need in order to sell.

Insider Tip: The best kind of client in an agent’s eyes is one who enjoys editing and rewriting. The writer who truly listens and takes the agent’s advice on editorial notes with grace, appreciation, and verve is the same writer who will more likely find himself a client with a book sale than his friend who disagreed and grumbled about the suggested editorial notes, and then promptly sat on them without rewriting.

Agents who send thorough feedback will often offer to reread your pages after you’ve edited them, so if you find yourself in this situation, don’t pass up the opportunity. Roughly translated, this means that the agent is very interested and wants to see how you do with editing (i.e. the real world of published authors). The chance of the agent taking you on as a client will greatly increase if you edit quickly, incorporate the suggested changes, and resubmit the pages in a professional (and timely) manner.



  • RG HART 5 years ago

    Why would I listen to editorial suggestions from someone who can't pay me a dime? Check out Heinlein’s Rules ....