As many of you know, Twitter has become a hot spot for book publishing industry professionals to gather, tweet out advice, and host a number of giveaways and #AskAgent sessions.
For those unfamiliar with Twitter, select hashtags can be used while tweeting, which make a certain topic or conversation easy to follow by searching for that hashtag. One of the popular hashtags for literary agents answering live questions is none other than #AskAgent.
When I first entered the Twitter-sphere, like many new writers, I followed Lit Rejections. In their article, titled Ask Agent, they provide a quick overview of why Twitter and #AskAgent are great resources:
. . . Twitter [is] indispensible for a writer: getting to know an agent’s personality prior to submission. Knowing what genres they represent is all well and good, but it means nothing without the ability to understand if an agent’s personality is one the writer can sustain a career with.
To facilitate this process many literary agents, even those still adjusting to tweeting, now open themselves up to writers through one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter: #askagent
Leading up to my query box opening to unsolicited submissions, I hosted a number of these #AskAgent sessions. During this time, I was surprised by how many writers had the same questions… and made the same mistakes.
What #AskAgent Is Not
Before we jump into the most popular questions, let’s lay a quick foundation of what #AskAgent sessions are NOT:
- #AskAgent is NOT a time to pitch your work to literary agents. Save those pitches for Twitter contests and conferences.
- #AskAgent sessions are NOT a time for manuscript-specific questions. Instead, gear your questions toward industry-specific inquiries, such as what to include in a plot summary in your query, how to tackle a story with multiple POVs in a query, and so on.
- #AskAgent isn’t a time to complain about a specific literary agent, editor, or the state of the industry. In all things, be kind. This is a small industry, and agents/editors do remember.
“#AskAgent is a great platform for writers to approach agents without all the nerves or formality,” said Kaitlyn Johnson, Literary Agent Apprentice, Corvisiero Literary Agency. “However, it does sometimes get taken advantage of. Agents grow tired of doing an #AskAgent and then having writers pitch them two days later without permission.”
“I actually like the hashtag because it opens up a barrier that’s usually there,” said Kelly Peterson, Jr. Literary Agent, Corvisiero Literary Agency. “The only problem I feel is that, as an agent, if you answer a few #AskAgent questions, you can sometimes feel bombarded by people who breach that wall and the hashtag in order to ask you questions that can be answered easily by doing a Google search.”
Remember: Agents are people too. Be respectful of their time and when they open to questions from the public on Twitter. If you check the day/time of their #AskAgent tweet, that can quickly solve any confusion. We know the Twitter-sphere can be a bit wonky as far as when random tweets are retweeted/liked and appear on our timelines.
Now, to the reason why you’re all here…
FAAAQ: Frequently Asked #AskAgent Questions
Q: What is the ideal word count for [age group/genre]?
A: I wrote a blog on this topic! Check out my breakdown of word counts for various age groups and genres in my blog: How Genre & Category Impact Your Ability to Get Published.
Q: If I met an agent at a conference or through a workshop, where should I mention that in the query?
A: Usually, that information is best put at the beginning of your query. You also want to mention any industry referrals or if an agent requested materials at the beginning.
Q: Is it OK if this is my first novel?
A: Absolutely! Literary agents are always looking for debut authors. Make sure to edit/polish your manuscript before submitting. (No first drafts, please!)
Q: Any tips on how to make my query stand out in the slush pile?
A: Definitely! I wrote a blog in Writer’s Digest on this very question: 10 Ways to Make Your Submission Stand Out in the Slush Pile.
Q: How long should my query be?
A: Similar to cover letters, queries should be no longer than one page.
Q: What is the best way to format a query?
A: While there’s no single “best” way to write a query, I’ve found that many writers who’ve written excellent queries tend to follow this breakdown:
Dear [name of agent]
First paragraph: Plot summary
Second paragraph: Plot summary
Third paragraph: Plot summary
Fourth paragraph: Metadata* and reason(s) why you’re querying this agent**
Final paragraph: Bio and writing credentials (specifically, why you’re the best person to write this story)
*Metadata is the word count, genre, and age group of your manuscript.
**The reasons why you’re querying an agent could be as simple as they’re accepting the genre and age group that you’re writing in.
Q: Any recommendations for the plot summary/story blurb in a query?
A: Sure! Check out my blog How to Write the Perfect Plot Summary for Your Query.
Q: If I’ve submitted to another agent at your agency who declined but since that time I’ve done a major revision, can I submit to you?
A: This is a tricky question. The short answer is: If you’ve done a MAJOR rewrite of the manuscript, yes. However, simultaneous submissions to multiple agents at the same agency are NOT allowed. In general, you must select one literary agent per agency to submit to.
Q: If I’ve submitted to one agent at your agency who declined, can I submit to you?
A: I can’t speak to all agencies, but at CLA a rejection from one agent is a rejection from all.
Q: Can I submit different manuscripts to literary agents at the same time?
A: To start, you should only query a single manuscript in each query. You can certainly query literary agents at different literary agencies (in different query letters/submissions) with different manuscripts. Agents expect you to be submitting to multiple agencies at the same time. However, you should not query two literary agents at the same literary agency with two different manuscripts. Select one and wait for a response. If it’s a decline, you can then query the other with the second manuscript.
Q: What do you represent?
A: Check my bio page for submission guidelines and my MSWL.
***Note: This isn’t a good question to ask in an #AskAgent session since it can be easily answered by doing your own research. Make sure to do some digging first!***
Q: Are you interested in a series?
A: Of course. However, remember that you want to make an agent fall in love with book one first. If they don’t love the first book, they won’t be interested in reading (and representing) an entire series.
Q: For fantasy and science fiction, do authors provide their own maps and diagrams? If not, who makes them?
A: In the initial submission, the author provides them. Should the book be sold, they will then be professionally done. There are tons of platforms writers can utilize to make these. Alternatively, they can create/draw one themselves. A vague map of the geography is usually sufficient.
Q: If I had my novel professionally edited, should I mention that in my query?
Q: When pitching to agents at a conference, what are some key points to focus on that can help make a good impression?
A: First, remember that agents are people too. Be yourself first and foremost. In the pitch itself, get right to the story. Focus on the plot and how your protagonist ties into it as much as you can.
Q: If an agent gives you a personal rejection but no feedback except that you’ll find an agent soon, does that mean they see nothing wrong?
A: It depends! It might be that your story is good but wasn’t for them. It could also be that they represent writers with a similar story, or it could be that your work is close to being ready but still needs more editing. In short, it could be many things. But no matter what it means, keep working on your craft!
A Few Additional #AskAgent Insiders
- If you’re unsure about a specific literary agent’s submission guidelines, check their individual agent bio pages. These pages often answer most/all of your submission guideline questions (as well as what stories they are looking for).
- Check if a literary agent has a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, or frequently writes articles for outside publications. These are great places for answers to many of your #AskAgent questions. More over, these resources are free! (Don’t forget to like/subscribe to your favorite outlets, such as YouTube channels. That shows the agent that you like what they’re doing and want to see more! More demand=more insiders.)
- Do your research. #AskAgent sessions aren’t a time to forego research. Instead, do some digging on your own and bring insightful questions to the hashtag.
- Be careful asking agents for references to other agents who represent certain age groups/genres in the industry. In general, writers should do this research themselves.