Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Question of the day: Do you have to have connetions to get an agent? It feels like everyone who lands an agent has some sort of in.

Huh. This question has popped up a few times as of late in my inbox, and it surprises me every time.

For the record, I had absolutely no connection to my agent when she signed me. And I can think of several friends for whom this is also true. Do connections help? Absolutely. Referrals are a great way to get your foot in the door (though no guarantee), and obviously, sure, if you know someone who knows someone try to milk that. But what matters at the end of all of this is whether or not you've written a strong manuscript. And even BEFORE that, what matters most critically is how kickass your query letter is. I cannot stress this enough.

A friend recently sent me a query letter, and I suggested a few tweaks which he totally implemented. He sent me the revision, and it totally rocked. And from what I've heard since, he's had a lot of success in agent interest because of that inital letter. It was witty, biting, interesting and made you want to read the rest of the ms. You have to GRAB AGENTS FROM THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE, because if you don't, even if the rest of your letter is the most incredible thing they'll read, they likely won't even make it that far: there are too many other queries in their inbox.

So how did I land my agent? I wrote what I think is a kickass query letter (which I'll try to find and post at some point). It generated a lot of interest, and I was fortunate to have a selection of all very good agents. No connections. No referrals. No calls on my behalf. My letter spoke on my behalf, and you can be damned sure that since I was sending it out into the world as a representation of my work, it was awesome. End of story.

Other authors: did you find your agent via connections or all on your own?


Trish Ryan said...

I was connectionless, too--I met my agent through an online query letter. (I'd read a book she repped, but that's it).

I've tried several times to connect writing friends with different agents I know, but there's a certain timing that has to happen: your project needs to synch up with editors the agent knows would be interested. Those conversations are beyond our control.

But that's also a reason not to give up--just because it doesn't happen with one agent doesn't mean your project won't be a love connection for another!

Unknown said...

I find that query letters are harder to write than most stories. Do you have a particular book that you suggest about writing great query letters?

Anonymous said...

I got my agent via the slush pile, with no connections. I also agonized over my query letter -- I knew I'd only get one shot to capture an agent's attention, so I had to make it great. I'm really happy with the way things turned out. In general I think introductions can help, but they only get you in the door and get a little more attention paid to your query. No agent would every take on a client merely to be polite, nor should they!

Unknown said...

I've said this before in other forums, but I really think it's true: most query letters fail because the author is trying to summarize the book. (And sometimes, themselves as a person.) The feeling you want to leave the agent with isn't "Great, I feel like I really understand that book." (Or that author.) It's "OMG! I want to read that! Give me pages!" So your query should give just enough detail to make the agent hungry for more. I always recommend the Query Shark blog for examples of what does and doesn't work.

In my query I name-checked a conference that the agent and I had both attended, but I don't think that made a difference. If it did, it was slight. The way I pitched my book in the letter made her want to read it; that's the key.

Lisa Cohen said...

I was offered representation on the basis of a query. No connections or ins.

I did take advantage of being able to send that query right through the agent's blog, as she had posted a brief window for YA urban fantasy queries a year ago september. So timing did come into play.

Anonymous said...

One lovely author referred me to her agent. Although he did request the full ms, a rejection letter soon followed. An agent I pitched to at a conference requested a partial from me. Another rejection.

But I had no connection to my (now former) agent. I sent her a query letter, she requested the ms, I made some requested changes, and she offered representation.

Eileen said...

Add me to the list of people who were "discovered" in the slush pile. I had read an interview with her in a magazine and liked her moxie so I fired off a query.