“Professionals have standards: Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”
Believe it or not, there’s a lesson to be learned from the Sniper of Team Fortress 2 if you’re a writer looking to get published. And it doesn’t have anything to do with shooting people or covering them in piss. At least, it shouldn’t. I know it’s frustrating, it can get tedious and nerve-wracking, but seriously, but the gun and/or jar down. Right now.
You don’t want to kill agents. That’s bad form. What you do want is to blow them out of the water.
While I don’t know precisely how to do that – if I did, I wouldn’t still be looking for an agent – I do have a vague idea of how the process works and some things not to do in the query itself. I’ve even extended my passing knowledge into a video game metaphor. Still, I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling with writing the damn thing. Here, then, is a quick list of dos and donts I’ve gleaned from my personal experience, that of others and the dark recesses of the Internets.
Do Be Professional
Present yourself professionaly. You might not be showing up in their mailbox in a suit and tie, but you can ensure your query comes close. Correct spelling & grammar, short sentences that don’t waste the agent’s time, getting to the point – all of these things will make your query look sharp. Follow their guidelines and include everything they ask for, and nothing they don’t. If they want a sample, include one and do so in your first attempt. Send a query twice to the same agent the same day, and you’ll get thrown out. It’s nothing personal – they just don’t have the time for spam. Who does?
Don’t Be Pushy
It’s one thing to send a query twice by accident (whups, forgot the sample chapters again!). It’s quite another to do it ON PURPOSE. Once you send your query, that’s it. You may hear nothing but silence in response. Get used to that, and don’t bother the agent. The more you try to get their attention related to a query they may be ignoring or rejecting for a perfectly good reason, the more likely the answer is going to be “No.” Or maybe a restraining order. You don’t want to wake up with the bloody head of your manuscript in your bed, either.
Do Be Polite
In the wording and presentation of both your query and your work, put your best foot forward. It’s possible to be professional and also be completely cold. Don’t be that way. Who wants to work with someone with zero personality? Show you’re someone willing to work with other people, to talk about your work professionally and build a relationship with the agent. The challenge, here? You’ll have to do it in a sentence, maybe two. You have to make the agent interested in you as much as they’d be interested in your work. It’s one of the unspoken tricks necessary in hooking the agent.
Don’t Be Pissy
The difference between getting frustrated and getting mad is that frustration can be used to fuel persistence (see below), while anger leads to the aforementioned pestering and urination. It’s a subtle difference but it’s all in how you use the negative emotions that inevitably come from rejection and silence, which can arguably worse for the struggling writer (again, see below).
Do Be Persistant
Querying is not a passive thing. You can’t just find a couple agents through the Internet, dash off some lackluster queries and sit back waiting for the love to pour in. You should be taking a look at your query every day, refining it, making sure it’s polished. And when another week has passed with no response? Find more agents to send it to. Hit a library or bookstore, jot down more contact information and get to querying. Do it by email, snail mail, carrier pigeon, bricks through windows*. Keep sending them out. Sooner or later you’ll find the the one that simply cannot live without reading more of your work.
Don’t Kick Yourself Too Hard When You Get Rejected
Not every agent is going to respond to you. And not every response is going to be positive. When you do get the inevitable rejection, even if it’s simply that the agent doesn’t like the way you write, there’s no cause to abandon all hope. See the last ‘Do’ item – go query more. Find more agents. I’m sure they’re out there. Even if you’re in a narrow genre like, say, “young adult fantasy fiction”**, there are bound to be agents out there willing to give it a once-over. You won’t find them wallowing in misery, no matter how good that bottle of Jack looks.
That’s it. That’s the list. It’s as much for myself as it is for you. So’s this:
What the hell are you doing still sitting there? Go query, dammit!
* Don’t do this either, this is bad.
** No, I just pulled that one right out of the air, nothing relevant to my current activities, why do you ask?