Guest Post: The Agonizing Process of Querying Agents

As you may recall, my husband has been gone for some time training.  He moved me and then left.  Since he has leave now, I am forcing him to help me unpack and set up my office.  While I’m busy overseeing the projects, I have asked a few people to fill in for me.

Judith Marshall agreed to let y’all know about querying agents from an author who actually has a novel in print.  I’m so excited to have Judith on my blog today.  Please help me welcome Judith, and leave lots of comments.  And don’t forget to check out Judith’s novel, HUSBANDS MAY COME AND GO BUT FRIENDS ARE FOREVER.

When my novel, HUSBANDS MAY COME AND GO BUT FRIENDS ARE FOREVER, won the Jack London Prize awarded by the California Writers Club in 2003, I thought I was on my way to getting published.  All I needed to do was write a compelling query letter, buy Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents and start querying.  How naïve I was.

The first stumbling block was the query letter.  I hadn’t a clue how to write one, so I checked a bunch of online resources.  I found more information on what to leave out than on what to include; i.e. don’t start with a rhetorical question, don’t refer to it as a “surefire bestseller,” don’t  say the book has “film potential,”  leave out inspiration and personal information (it doesn’t matter to agents where you live or how many hamsters you have).  The one thing I learned is that a good query letter is not written in a day.  You need to write it and rewrite it and when you think it’s ready, send it out in waves, a few every week so you can monitor how effective it is.  Are you getting requests for pages?  One expert contends that “your query letter isn’t finished until you’re seeing about a 75% request rate.”   I never met that goal.

Seven years later, I know a little more about query letters.  Here’s what I’ve learned.  The first sentence should be the schmooze sentence, showing you know who the agent is.  Something like, “I know you represent Peggy Writer, one of my favorite authors, and I’m contacting you about… ” or “I saw your interview in Poets and Writers and…”  The second paragraph is about the book.  The key is to sum it up in five sentences.  Think of this as your elevator speech.  The next paragraph is about you – any awards or publications, etc. (leave out the hamsters).  And finally, the last paragraph is a polite close.  “I’ve enclosed a synopsis and the first chapter (or whatever the submission guidelines call for).  Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.”  And that’s it!

As for what happened with my novel, after more than 200 rejections I decided to start my own publishing company and publish it myself.  It was released last fall and I’m thrilled to say that it was recently optioned for the big screen!

Happy querying,

Judith Marshall



4 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Agonizing Process of Querying Agents

  1. I loved the tips on how to write a smashing query letter, Judith. I will repost this to my blog, as I know the writers who follow will be interested in learning how to perfect on this one chore which can a bit of struggle to pull off. Also, I will check your website. I love hearing stories about authors who self-publish. I, too, have done the same thing with my soo-to-be published children’s story, THE TALE OF OLE GREEN EYES. The industry has changed, and so must we. God bless!

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