• Sarah Leonard

Getting an Agent: The Query

Updated: Mar 29

Finding an agent to represent your book is what will get it to publishers like Penguin Random House, Hachette, McMillian, Harper Collins, and Simon & Schuster (also known as “the big five”). The process is hard, competitive, and time-consuming. Trust me, I wish I could just waltz into an agent’s office up to their awaiting, begging, outstretched hands and drop my manuscript like it’s a mic. Then they would sob with gratitude and say, “The Great Sarah Leonard, the future J.K. Rowling, your book will go down in history.”

I. Wish.

That didn’t even happen for J.K. Rowling. But that’s not a reason to be scared. Okay, maybe a little bit…She got an agent eventually, because she worked hard for it. If you follow the right steps, submit to the right people, and do your research, you have a chance, too. This blog post will be broken up into a series to help you best prepare for getting an agent. This one will go into the process before finding the agent, meaning getting your material in check. More specifically: perfecting your query. At the end of this blog post, I have my query pasted so you can see an example of what one may look like.

Let me say right off the bat that you probably should wait to officially work on your query until your book is done. How can you truly understand your characters’ motivations and plot development otherwise? For the query, I’m going to start by giving the ten things you SHOULD do:

1. Share word count, title, and genre.

You can either put this at the beginning alongside the info from step 1, or you can put it at the end. Personally, I think it's smart to put it at the beginning. It's the first piece of infoI look for when reviewing a query. Agents want to know what they’re getting into. If they have to read a 200,000 word YA romance, it’s probably gonna be a no. Basically, they want to see that you are submitting a book written in a genre they represent and that it has a word count considered reasonable for that genre. I pitched a 100,000 word YA Fantasy to an agent, and she requested pages but asked that I try to cut it down to 90,000 words. I’m getting there…

2. Give a short intro/aka. a logline

It should really only be one sentence, because for the next part, you’ll be giving a summary of your book, anyway. My one-liner is “It's about a girl's destiny to save humanity, prophesied 500 years before she was even born.” This sentence is supposed to be your hook, make the agent want to keep reading.

3. Include a summary

This should look like the dust cover of a book (where the description of the plot is usually placed). In this, an agent wants to see character motivations, a solid plot, and a unique story with a specific audience in mind. This doesn’t have to go in your query, but you should think about who you would market this book to. Ex. Divergent is perfect for teenage girls 14 and up who love work like Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games.

4. Include a biography

Agents aren’t just representing your book. They’re representing you. And nowadays, people pay so much attention to the author. They want to see that you’re someone they’d like to work with, that you have experience to back up your goals, and that they can sell you as a client. This goes more for nonfiction writers than fiction, but try and get yourself active on social media if you aren’t already. It’s a possibility they may look you up, and you want them to see something and hopefully good things, because in the future, they’ll want you to help get your name out there. Social media is a main platform for doing that.

5. Have comp titles

Not all agents like or need comp titles, but for the ones that do, it’s good to have some you can provide. And they don’t have to be books written by an agent’s authors. However, there are rules for what these comp titles should be. Don’t say your book is comparable to Harry Potter or that you’re the next George R.R. Martin. But also don’t give them really old titles no one has heard of. The titles you pick should be work published in the last five years, strong representations of your writing style and story, and not too big or too small. Juuust right.

6. Make it personable

If you met them at a conference or workshop or whatever, mention that. They’ll want to know you’ve had an interaction before. Maybe even bring up part of that interaction if it was memorable. And if you do this, include it at the very beginning of your query.

Now, you don’t technically have to do these things in this order, and if it goes against your morals, you don’t have to necessarily include all these things either, but it’s safer. It’s more of a guarantee you’ll get a response (although, you don't really need comps). With these five things, your query letter should begin with your book intro, go into your summary, then end with your bio. Don’t indent paragraphs. Instead separate them with a line, and send the query to yourself before sending them to the agent. You want to make sure it comes through looking nice.

Now, these things NOT to do ARE NOT UP FOR ARGUMENT! Beware, my friends. Don’t….

1. Say how long you’ve spent on your manuscript

The agent doesn’t care. Just because you’ve spent seven years on your book doesn’t mean it’s any good. Just look at James Patterson. He throws novels out there like he’s dumping a bag of skittles on us, and they’re great. I haven’t read anything by him yet, though…

2. Say how hard you’ve worked

The agent has the expectation that you’ve shared your work, that you’ve had it beta read and edited. You shouldn’t be submitting to begin with if your novel isn’t fully finished.

3. Misspell the agent’s name

You’d be surprised how often this happens. This will go into one of the later entries of the series, but agents expect you to have researched them. If you really care about having a partnership with them, you should care to get their name right. And, no, you cannot substitute their name with “Dear Agent.” Please, lord, don’t do that. You might as well just say “Dear *I don’t give a bleep*.”

4. Have grammatical errors

Your query letter is the first representation of your writing the agent will see. So, don’t mess that up by having misspellings or grammatical errors. Make sure your work is polished and clean. Impress the agent right off the bat.

5. Ignore submission guidelines

This will also be mentioned in a later entry, but it applies to this entry as well. Guidelines do include info on your query. Agents may say whether or not they want comp titles included, what formatting they want, etc. It also will say if they’re even open for queries. Some may be closed to submissions. Others may want you to submit your query through a form instead of personal email. The submission guidelines are so important.

No matter who you submit to, that agent will want to hear about your book. They’ll want to hear about you. The query is the way to do that. If you follow these steps and guidelines, you’ll be fine. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be fine. Just expect to be in the slush pile for a very long time. But there’s so much more that just the query, and I’ll be going into that in future entries of the series, so keep an eye out for them! ‘Till next time, Nooksters!

My Query:

Dear _______,

The Keeper's Crown is an approximately 95,000 word YA fantasy novel that works as either a series or a stand-alone. It's about a girl's destiny to save humanity, prophesied 500 years before she was even born.

All Clora remembers from the day her parents died is the story of a child's destiny to destroy the Crown that makes its wearer invincible. Now, eleven years later, it's her eighteenth birthday, and her memories of that day have returned. She's that child. The story is real. And if she doesn't fulfill her destiny, Saeva—the leader of a group called the Keepers—will use the Crown's power to enslave the human race. So, Clora and her best friend, Lance, journey to a planet through a portal to find the items necessary to destroy the Crown with only a notebook and a map of this strange world to guide them.

They face magical tests guarding these items, an ancient Wizard they're not sure they can trust, dangerous creatures called Wilds, and internal fears they've ran from since before their journey began. Lance may not only lose Clora, but his resistance against a desire to kill he's fought since his father's death, and Clora struggles with what she's willing to give Saeva to protect the one person she loves more than anyone.

I earned a place at the Futurescapes writing workshop in Utah for three consecutive years. Since I plan to also pursue a career in publishing, I attended NYU's Summer Publishing Institute, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, and was an intern at Foundry Literary + Media. Currently, I am an intern at Corvisiero Literary Agency and Sourcebooks Publishing.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sarah Leonard


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