Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guide to Literary Agents - Passing Along the Wisdom

Last Friday evening was the opening night of the Tallahassee Writer's Association conference. It started at 6, and there were tasty things to nibble (other than my fingernails), beverages to sip, and mingling to be done. Let me let you in on a secret: I am not a social butterfly. My heart had been pounding erratically all day at the thought of attending an event where I didn't know a soul and introducing myself to strangers. I'm sure a lot of you fellow writers feel the same in such situations. But, we all know that if we become published authors, we have to get the hell over it.

So, I arrived on scene. I discovered that 'cash bar' is a quite literal term. As in, no card machines. Since I never carry cash, that meant no libations for me. Totally sucky, since I was counting on a little liquid courage. I saw one of my mom's friends and went to say hello. Then another writer came up and introduced herself. Then I was on my own again. That's when I saw Chuck Sambuchino out on the patio talking with a group of people. You know, the editor of Guide to Literary Agents? Probably the most popular writing blog ever? I wandered over in a starstruck daze to introduce myself.

You know when you approach a group of people already in a conversation, and they all have their backs to you in a little circle and you kind of walk up and wait there awkwardly for someone to notice you? Well, that totally didn't happen. Chuck immediately gestured for me to join them, and did this to everyone else who approached. He asked for everyone's business cards and got us all used to the drill. I think he could tell that a lot of people like me didn't know what the heck they were doing and were a hot second away from passing out from nervousness.

I harrassed him We got to chat a few other times over the course of the weekend, and he was just really cool and laid back. If you ever get a chance to attend one of his workshops, I highly recommend it. You guys probably know, since of course you read GTLA every single day, that Chuck is also an author, of both Formatting & Submitting Your Manscript and How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack. He wrote an awesome post the other day about his publicity plan, which you should check out. Right after you finish reading this. Oh, and if for some heinous reason you are not currently following his blog, the link is in my sidebar as usual.

Man, can I blab or what? Okay, so here's what Chuck talked about in his workshop on agents. Well, not everything, but I think most of you probably know the basics. I took notes on the things I'd always wondered about. Email me if you have a question about something I don't cover here.

- Send 5-7 queries at one time. If you get nothing but rejections and no-responses, you probably need to edit either your query letter or the beginning of your book. Work on this, then send another batch, so you don't burn through all your contacts at once.
- Only include publishing credits for things you've been paid for. So, if you've written an article in a small local paper, you can list it if you were paid for it.
- If an agent doesn't state what their response policy is, follow up in 2-3 months via email and politely inquire.
- If an agent asks for an exclusive read, 4 weeks or less is reasonable.
- The preferred format for a synopsis these days is 2 pages double spaced. Of course, a particular agency may state their preferred length, but if they don't specify use the above guidelines.

So, consider yourself wisdomized. Questions? Tips to share?

On Friday I will feature what I learned from agent Katharine Sands at her workshop on pitching!


  1. That's great that he was so welcoming and awesome and got you started on the right foot.

    I like the idea of querying 5-7 at once and then waiting on them to see what happens with that. Very smart move! But how do you choose which five or seven to do first? Your top five. Or two of your top and the rest from your middle/bottom? DId he say anything on how to divide that up?

  2. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I'll have to check out Guide to Literay Agents.

  3. Melissa,

    Yes, he's a proponent for making an ABC list. I don't remember him talking about how to break it up within the 5-7, but I've read interviews in which agents talk about mixing it up - so if you do 5 queries, maybe send to one from your A list, and a couple each from your B and C lists. Rinse and repeat!

  4. How wonderful to hear how cordial Chuck is!
    I get nervous at conferences too.
    Thank you for the tips as I am querying now. ACK!

  5. You had me up until synopsis. Then I started twitching. ;p

    Those are great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I'm glad there was an experienced person there with sense enough to put others are their ease. It shows great character but also good business sense.

    He gave some cool tips. Thanks for letting us know what he had to say!


  7. I'm so wisdomized now! Those are great tips, especially the small batches one. Makes sense!

  8. Sounds like an awesome and informative evening. Yeah, I suck at the social thing, too. I've gotten better.

  9. Thanks for this post, Alexia. These are great tips.


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