The art of querying is hard to define. The exhausting process of emailing multiple agents asking for representation for your book in order to become a traditionally published author means you have to be a queen of preparation. With many literary agents and their agencies asking for various documents to support your plea, there is a way to make sure you have everything at your fingertips to make the process a bit easier.
The letter that’s usually around 400 words and fills one double-spaced page is the main component of the process since it tells the literary agent what your book is about. The secret is to describe your book in the way you would want to see it on a dust jacket: What would pull in the reader cruising bookshelves? That’s the mindset for the quintessential query letter. Successful examples can be found on The Writer’s Digest.
The synopsis describes the story in a longer format up to three double-spaced pages.
The brief synopsis can be a page-long or 500 words. Sometimes, literary agents ask for this version instead of the full synopsis.
First 10 pages
The first 10 pages paired with the query is the most common materials agents ask for. Both need to do the job to attract the agent also known as the most important reader who can connect you with a publisher. Because these pages have to do some heavy lifting, it’s good to start with action full of tension to magnetize the agent to the point where they ask for materials. And what exactly is action varies from genre to genre, such as a literary fiction piece may not have an eye-popping event happening in the first 10 pages, but the tension is already building up at the very start.
First three chapters
The first three chapters can be requested by an agent in lieu of the first 10 pages. It’s good to have these pages ready in a separate file. Most agents expect the first three chapters to be around 50 pages. This can be categorized under partial manuscript request if the agent asked for them after receiving the first round of materials, e.g. the query letter and first 10 pages.
First 50 pages
The first 50 pages is another alternative amount of pages agents ask for instead of the common 10 pages. They should be ready in a separate file as well. Like the first 10 pages, there needs to be the right dose of action and tension to pull the agent in. With a longer sample, this may give you more room to attract the agent unless they stopped reading at the 10-page mark. This counts as a partial manuscript request upon an agent’s reply.
First five pages
This is one of the rarer requests, but some agents want the first five pages in order to read quickly and go through queries faster. The opening line and pages should deliver a punch up-front to get the agent hooked. For an easy copy-and-paste job, these pages can be in their own document.
Of course, have your full manuscript ready to go. Certain guidelines on how to put your name and title on the double-spaced document varies with, for example, putting just your last name, title, and page number in the right-hand corner.
Most literary agents want a combination of the above with the query letter being the most important and the first 10 pages being the most common amount of materials to be initially requested. The industry standard has become pasting the materials inside an email to an agent due to the fear of virus-containing attachments. So preparing all the above in separate documents and putting them in a single folder on your desktop will allow you to query and respond to agents faster.
Keeping the font Times New Roman at 12-point in the document will leave that same style in your email when you copy and paste. Sometimes, changing the style within the email may make your writing appear wonky. Indentations may be off, but in the document 0.5 indent in tabs is standard for manuscripts and will help solidify the style in the email as well.
For a full manuscript request, most literary agents want the actual Word document or PDF file to be attached to an email (now they trust you!) or submitted through a portal like the Query Manager that conveniently allows you to see updates to your query.
Even after putting in all that work in researching the agents and submitting the documents they requested, there is still a high likelihood you’ll never hear a response. Sometimes, agents say on their websites and social media accounts that they welcome follow-up emails, and those may never be answered. More agents are straight-up saying if you don’t hear anything from them, then it’s a no.
Authors are usually advised to query 6 to 8 agents at a time, in case one says yes. Then it’s a 6- to 8-week wait for a response, if one gets back to you. Most agents say it’s time to take a look back at your query, first pages, and full manuscript if you haven’t received a response from an agent after 50 queries. But there are well-known authors like The Hate U Give‘s Angie Thomas who said they queried over 100 agents before hearing a yes, so there’s no rule on when to stop and if you should stop querying a book.
The best advice is to send materials like the query letter and full manuscript after it’s gone through multiple edits, either by you, your beta readers, and/or a hired editor. Many aspiring authors don’t go the paid editor route and wait to paired with one through their literary agent and/or publisher in case of different visions clouding (and extending) the work process.
On the other hand, the writers who do hire a professional editor before querying may have a stronger chance to attract an agent. Misspellings and grammar mistakes, incorrect or misleading context, and other issues glaring in the first pages will turn an agent away faster. And you shouldn’t feel pressured to accept edits you feel take away from your work.
Despite the stressful process, making sure all your items are formatted properly and ready to go whenever you want to query an agent is paramount to succeeding in the query game. A no gets you closer to the agent who will say yes.