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Writing a Query, Finding an Agent
By Michal Strutin
December 9, 2022
Getting to the top of the slush pile…

 

December is the month for holidays. It’s also the month to fill in your Excel sheet with the agents you’re going to pitch to in the new year. Plus, it’s time to polish up your query letter: crafting the hook and fashioning a synopsis that’s succinct and compelling. Aggghhh. I’d rather write a NaNoWriMo’s month of words than a one-page query letter.

 

QUERY LETTERS  

In addition to Jane Friedman and Writers Digest, a few other of the resources listed under “Agents” below have good advice on writing a strong query letter. Just type in “query letter” in the search box of each resource. Below are a few sites that are good for query letters. More specifically, writers’ sites may also tell you how to put together the “Hook, Book, and Cook” structure of a query letter. Try those three words in the writers’ sites search boxes.

 When it comes to the business of writing, there’s no better than Jane Friedman. On Friedman’s “Find a Literary Agent” page, she also provides links on how to write a good query letter. The site includes a Writing Advice Archive. You can also sign up for her free newsletter.

Nine Tips on Writing Query Letters  and The Hook, Book and Cook Query-Pitching Technique, Writers Digest

 

AGENTS

Before you start filling in your agent “send-to” list, narrow your search to your genre. For most of us, that would be “historical fiction.”  Perhaps: mystery, historical mystery, or time travel.  

Identify your comps (comparative titles) in popular historical fiction and check the Acknowledgements pages. Authors often mention their agent’s name. If not, I’ve had success just doing a Google search of an author’s name followed by the words “literary agent.” Most querying advice includes the following:

  • Make sure an agent accepts queries in your genre.
  • Always check an agent’s submission guidelines, found on their agency’s website.
  • If you have a personal connection, such as one of the agent’s writers recommending you or if you’ve heard the agent at a writers’ conference, mention that in the email Subject line and in your email’s introductory sentence or two.
  • Include 2-3 comparative titles published within five years; best-selling, if possible.

Query Tracker: Helping Authors Find Literary Agents. QueryTracker boasts that it’s been named to Writer’s Digest’s list of 101 Best Websites for Writers for 14 years. You must create a (free) login, which helps you organize and save your queries and helps QueryTracker collect data. You can filter your search by genre and see the writers each agent represents. There’s also a Premium subscription with a few more ways of searching and tracking.

Manuscript Wish List MSWL posts what agents are looking for now, be it literary fiction, histfic, steampunk, YA time travel, etc. The MSWL site allows you to search by genre, keywords, agents, editors, and more. This webpage gives you tips on how best to search the site. MSWL is also searchable on Twitter.

Writers Digest has all sorts of tips for writers, including articles about agents. Type “agents” into the search box. Results may include columns on agents—often new agents—who are looking for clients. Writers Digest also has articles on all sorts of writing-related topics: how to write fight scenes, plot twists, the “Hook, Book, and Cook” query letter, a newsletter, writing competitions, and more. This year, Dec 10-11, they are hosting a fee-based “unique” all-day virtual conference on historical fiction. Presumably, if they have a big response, their histfic conference won’t be unique next year.

Publishers Marketplace is the place to find out who’s doing what in publishing: up-to-the-minute book deals; publishing news; sales; contact information for agents, editors, and publishers; information on publicists; etc. It costs $25 per months to get full access, but you might need full access for only a few months. Check out Publishers Marketplace’s Writers Guide to see what specific information they offer.

Poets & Writers has a literary agent database, searchable by genre. In addition, this long-time publication–the nation’s largest nonprofit organization serving creative writers–offers essays on the literary life, profiles authors, and “has the most comprehensive listing of literary grants and awards, deadlines, and prize winners available in print.”

NY Book Editors includes a site that offers a wealth of information on literary agent,: from telling you what good agents do and the 15 questions you should ask them to advice on your query letter: “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that your query letter is the most important letter you’ll pen.” Plus a form to sign up for Literary Agent Alert: a free 2-week trial and $10/month after that. I’ve not signed up, so I can’t say one way or the other.

AgentQuery.com bills itself as “the internet’s largest free database of literary agents.” Its Quick Agent Search allows you to search by genre. Its tabs, with drop-down specifics, include writers, agents, publishing, networking, community. Under “Writers,” there’s information about literary agents, writing a query, how to submit to agents, avoiding scammers, and what to do after agents offer representation.

If you’ve got resources to add, let us know in the comments.

Michal Strutin
Written by Michal Strutin

Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus is Michal Strutin’s debut novel. She is now working on a mystery series set in the Late Renaissance. Michal’s award-winning nonfiction focuses on natural and cultural history and travel. Her eight nonfiction books include Places of Grace: the Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest with photographer Gary Irving; Discovering Natural Israel, a high-spirited discovery of flora, fauna, and people; Florida State Parks: a Complete Recreation Guide; and History Hikes of the Smokies.

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