Hey, all! I don’t know if you’ve been following along, but Amy Christine Parker and I have been vlogging for the YA Rebels every Tuesday for a few months now. Since it’s NaNoWriMo time, our most recent posts have been geared toward that. For example, you can check out our NaNoWriMo tips, our revision hints, and our wrong and right ways to find an agent. On the latter, I handled the wrong ways, all of which (and more) I’ve seen personally except the sliding of a manuscript under the door of a bathroom stall. I’d like to think this is an urban legend, but I know better.
Since I tackled some don’ts there, here are some important dos:
First, before you even consider sending your novel out, take some time away from it. Two weeks at the least. A month might be better. Go back to it with a fresh perspective and all of the sudden things that worked when you were so close you could still hear the way they sounded in your head will jump at you as hitting an off note. You’ll have highs — hey, I wrote that? I’m pretty good!— and lows —I suck. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me; think I’ll go eat worms. But in the end, the manuscript will be a lot better for the perspective you were able to gain. And, of course, the most important thing about the query process is that you first write a book that people will love.
Second, do your research—not just about who represents what you write, but about who’s open to submissions and the right way to go about submitting. Most agents make this very easy for you. We have websites. We have an “About Us” section there to help you make informed decisions. We have submission guidelines that tell you how to send material so that it’s not caught in our spam filters or ignored because it’s gone to the wrong address. The guidelines aren’t a test, except maybe in the sense that we need to know that you’re serious about your search and that you’re willing to do things right. The guidelines help us manage the hundreds of submissions we get per month per agent and ensure to the best of our abilities that none get lost along the way. I can’t tell you how many inquiries I get a month on Facebook, Twitter, through my author website, etc. asking whether I’m open to submissions and what I represent. I’m not going to do a writer’s research for him or her. If you can find me, you can find the guidelines that we’ve written up to answer these questions and more. What this tells me is that the author is lazy and probably not ready for prime time. You don’t want to ask someone to invest time in you before you’ve given them reason. It’s like expecting a job interview before you’ve even sent in your resume and cover letter. (Because the hunt for an agent or for publication should be treated just as professionally as a job search.)
Follow through. If you’re a new writer, you shouldn’t be querying before you have a complete manuscript, so when an agent or editor asks for your work, you should be ready to send your polished material.
Pay attention to their response times and don’t nag before that time is up. Once it is, give it at least a few days more. Then feel free to send a politely and professionally worded e-mail to nudge them along and to say how much you look forward to their response. (Note: I’d leave out words like “speedy” or “swift” before response, as the fastest answer is always “no.”)
Another very important thing that seems obvious but apparently isn’t: be available. Don’t give a response e-mail or send from an account that requires an approval process in order for you to receive a respondent’s message. Changes are, we won’t go through the hoops. Make it easy for us to answer and to reach you.
Remember, you want to hear “yes,” and ultimately, we want to say “yes.” It doesn’t mean that we will, of course, but know that every time we take appointments at conferences or open a new submission, we’re hoping to find something unique and wonderful. It’s what keeps us reading.