If you’re an author that’s just finished their book, you might be thinking about sending query letters to agents in an effort to gain representation so that you can traditionally publish your book and have it appear in bookstores. If you’ve never queried before, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Here is a step by step guide to querying agents.


1. Make Sure You Have the Proper Materials


In order to successfully query an agent, you’ll need to have a few documents ready to go.


    • A One Page Query Letter – The first thing you’ll need to do is create a 1 page query letter. While there are numerous examples online of query letters, I prefer Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript by Writer's Digest Books.

    • A Short Synopsis – You’ll need to create a one page and a two page synopsis. This is because different agents request different lengths for their short synopsizes. One and two pages are the most common.

    • A Long Synopsis – You’ll also need to write a long synopsis. In fact, you may want to start writing your synopsizes with this one. It’s much easier to create a long detailed synopsis and cut it down than it is to initially try to cram 200 or 300 pages into a 1 or 2 page synopsis.

    • The First 10 Pages – Go ahead and cut out the first 10 pages or first chapter of your book right now and put it in a separate file. This will make life easier for you later.

    • The First 30 Pages – Go ahead and cut out the first 30 pages and create another separate file. This will save you headaches later.

    • Annotated Outline – You may also want to create a detailed annotated outline for your book. I never did this and skipped any agent that wanted it. These are really tedious and time-consuming to try to put together, but if you’re feeling extra motivated, you should create one.

    • Bonus - The most common query package I saw was one that included a query letter, the first 10 or 30 pages and a short synopsis.


2. Create a Spreadsheet


  • In order to keep track of the agents and agencies that you query, it is a good idea to create a spreadsheet. On your top header, make your columns, Number or # (indicating what number this agent is on your list), Date (the date you submitted), Agency Name, Expected Response Date, Title (Your book title), Response (from the agent), Materials Sent, Agent Name, Agent Email (or how you submitted it) and Notes (any note you have about the agency or anything that stood out (good or bad)).

    • Number or # - What number is this agent. It should just be 1,2,3,4 and down the list.

    • Date – The date you submitted your materials

    • Agency Name – The name of the agency that the agent works for. This is important because you should only submit to 1 agent at a particular agency at a time.

    • Expected Response Date – When you do expect to hear back from the agent? Sometimes the agent will tell you their average response time. Other times, you will have to guess. If you have to guess, give 2 to 3 months.

    • Materials Sent – What did you send? Was it just a query letter? What it a query letter plus the first 10 pages? Write down everything you sent.

    • Agent Name – Write down the name of the agent you submitted to. Agents change agencies and go out on their own all the time. You also don’t want to double query the same agent within a short period of time.

    • Agent Email – Write down the email address where you sent your materials. If the agent had a form on their website or you submitted through Query Tracker or another Submission platform, write that down.

    • Notes – Add any notes you may have. Some agencies allow you to query additional agent after a specific amount of time has elapsed. You may also have some thoughts about the agency or an overall impression. Write all that down in case you need to review it later.

3. Think about Color Codes for Your Spreadsheet

  • You may want to think about creating a color code system for your spreadsheet in order to indicate lack of a responses, rude responses and rejections. My color coding system was fairly simple.

    • RED – Rude Response or something was wrong with the rejection that made me never want to submit to them again. 

    • BLUE – No response. The agency never got back to me and simply timed out.

    • GREY – Agent responded and did not want to see more material or offer representation.

    • GREEN – Agent asked for more material.

    • GOLD – Agent offered representation

4. Gather Your List of Agents

  • Once you have all the document and spreadsheet preparations done, it’s time to find your agents. You can find agents at Agent Query and Query Tracker. These two agent lists are completely free and relatively easy to search. I used these lists extensively during my agent search. If you want to see my list, you can view it here. You can also use Writer’s Digest to find an agent. However, in order to search agents on their list, you’ll have to purchase a subscription. When I did this, I created a bookmark folder titled AGENTS. As I looked through the list, I bookmarked all the agency websites that I thought might be a good fit so I could review them later in detail.

5. Start Submitting

  • Now, it’s time to start submitting to each agent on your list. You can do this by clicking on your bookmarked links and reviewing the agency’s website in order to find the right agent for your book. Once you find an agent and their email address or however they wished to receive queries, send the digital package and fill out your spreadsheet. With your submission materials and spreadsheet completed and your bookmark folder populated, you shouldn’t spend much time on each individual query.

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