“Publication is a marathon, not a sprint. Writing the book is only the start.”
I can’t speak for every agent, but I love writers. Maybe because I am one. As an agent, I also know that you’ve spent countless hours dedicated to developing your concept or writing your novel. It can be discouraging to send out rounds of queries with no response. While you can’t control what happens once it is delivered to an agent, today’s post can help you set yourself up for success before you hit send.
Let’s look at four querying mistakes that can keep an agent from following up with you:
- Not checking to make sure that the agent represents your category or genre.
This might seem like a no-brainer for some, but trust me, it’s not. This is low-hanging fruit here. You can save yourself the mental hit of a rejection or non-response by checking to ensure the agent represents your type of project. I represent only Christian publishing, but I receive many proposals (and queries) from writers about general market projects.
- Not being aware of the target word count for your category.
The word count of a document is one of the fastest ways for an agent to know if a writer has done their research about publishing. While there aren’t exact word counts across the board, some ranges are generally agreed upon. For example, in traditional publishing, non-fiction books range between 40,000-60,000 words. In fiction, novels range between 80,000-90,000 words for first-time authors. Established authors may complete works over 95,000 words, even into the low hundreds of thousands, because they’ve established their audiences and sales history. However, if I receive a query from a first-time novelist more than 100,000 words, I have questions about how well that writer has researched publishing a book. This is a highly competitive industry, so doing basic homework on areas like word count is vital.
- Inability to sell your book in three sentences or less.
What is your book about? Can you offer a brief summary if someone asks? One of the biggest mistakes that I see in queries is what I call “wandering to the point.” This is where someone sends three or four pages in their query because they aren’t sure what the agent is looking for.
If it isn’t immediately clear what your book is about, the likelihood that an agent will dig around looking for the meaning or follow-up with you is greatly reduced. Yet, you can improve your odds.
As we like to say in publishing, hooks sell books. The hook is what captures our interest and causes us to lean in. A hook isn’t the same thing as telling us about your characters. The hook gives us the conflict, and then it makes us curious about the outcome (fiction) or the promise of a solution (non-fiction). If you haven’t developed your two- or three-sentence book hook, that task must be at the top of your list!
- Have you established your influence with your target audience?
This final question is another way of asking about your platform. Due to the competitive nature of publishing, the tough news is that queries that contain “I don’t have a newsletter list yet, but I’m working on it,” will likely be passed over by most agents. Why? We know that publishers would likely pass them over, too.
Some of you have been working on building a platform because you’ve heard back from agents or editors who need you to raise your numbers. As an agent and fellow writer, I do the hard work with you. My friend, don’t give up! You can do it!
This Books & Such blog holds dozens of archive posts on building platform ideas. Drop in “platform” in the search and pick three articles to read today to jump-start some new ideas or fresh encouragement.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: If you’ve queried, but haven’t had success, what questions do you have for me? If you have queried and been successful, what advice would you like to share? Drop in your questions and comments below. I’ll respond!