About nine years ago, while I was still working on my masters degree in writing at USC, I took a class called The Business of Writing. On one of the final days of the class an agent came to listen to our elevator pitches and gave us each a bit of feedback. He said that we were all welcome to come meet with him in his office and that he’d be happy to give more feedback, but that in all the years he had been a guest speaker for that particular class, no one had ever taken him up on the offer. That sounded like a challenge to me.
A week later I was sitting in his office in Beverly Hills. I wrote a blog post about it, but I kind of figured he maybe didn’t want me throwing his name around, so I called him the FHA (Fancy Hollywood Agent). He gave me some advice on my story and said I could send him a few pages when it was ready. So I did.
Well, I am super excited to announce that the FHA is now officially my agent. I mean, how cool is that? He’s been at the top of my list for nine years and he loved my story.
His name is Joel Gotler of Intellectual Property Group. My agent. I’m so excited.
My Querying Story
I got a pretty decent response from my query letter, with four of my initial ten queries resulting in requests for the full manuscript. Of those, one passed, one had a death in the family and ended up unable to read it, and two asked to represent me. I talked with them both last week and by Friday it was official.
I’m feeling super lucky because I know this kind of timeline is not the norm, but I’m also allowing myself a bit of pride, because I worked damn hard to get here. And since I try to keep this blog focused on craft, I’d like to share a few of the thing I think I did right, just in case they might be helpful to my fellow writers out there.
Here are the steps I took. None of this will be revolutionary if you’ve done ANY reading on the topic of submitting your manuscript. I didn’t use any gimmicks or tricks. I just tried to present my story in the best possible light by being super professional.
Reflections on a Successful Query
- Finish the manuscript right. This should be a no-brainer. Don’t just call it done because you’re tired of working on it. Keep editing until you’re confident that it’s the best it can be. Have it fully formatted and ready to go in Word, and as a PDF.
- Write a professional query letter. There are about a gazillion websites on this topic, so read up. I like Jane Friedman’s blog – good, useful tips on how to present yourself like a pro.
- Query agents for a reason. I started each query letter with a sentence or two telling the agent why I thought my book might be of interest to them (and I wasn’t bullshitting). It took me two days to send out ten letters, so consider that personalizing these things takes time.
- Sweat the synopsis. I agonized over my synopsis, like, a lot. It was the second paragraph in my query letters, right after the two lines about why I was writing that particular agent, so I knew it had to be good. I asked writer friends to read drafts. I rewrote it a bunch of times.
- Send them what they ask for. Again, this should be a no-brainer. They wouldn’t go through the trouble of outlining what they want in a query if they didn’t care. Do your homework. Check their website. Ignoring their requests is just rude.
- Have a one-page story summary ready. I know some agents ask for a longer version, but I figured it would be easier to add things back in after cutting the story down to one page, so I started there. I had one request for the 1-pager, no requests for anything longer. (btw – I obsessed over the one-page story summary even more than the blurb – that baby took a WHILE to get right).
And that’s it, in a nutshell. I made a list of 30 agents, prioritizing from Mr. Gotler on down to agents I didn’t have a connection to, but who I would still be thrilled to have represent me.
The plan had been that, every time I got a rejection, I would just send a query to the next agent on the list. All in, I got 4 letters of “sorry, it’s not for us” and another three agents who simply never responded. But lucky me, by the time I got rejections, I was already in discussion with my soon-to-be-agent.