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Thoughts

My Research about Querying

Benjamin Stein

There’s an astonishing amount of uniformity when it comes to online advice about how to properly query literary agents. Every bit of advice comes down to the three following items:

  1. Be clear.

  2. Don’t waste time.

  3. You aren’t special.

There’s a lot more specific information about how to format your letter, how to locate agents who might be interested in your work, and so on. The publishing industry has been around for a long time, so I suppose it makes sense that advice will have congealed into a homogenized mass by now. Trends and methodologies change over time, but the basics have had quite a long time to solidify.

After reading hundreds of articles, tweets, and diagrams by published authors and agents, my understanding has evolved towards the following:

1. Be clear.

Clarity is paramount because agents need to know why you’re contacting them to make an assessment of whether your work fits with their current needs/interests. Flowery language is generally frowned upon. Flowery prose doesn’t add to the message the query must convey: here’s what I wrote, here’s why I’m contacting you, and here’s who I am.

2. Don’t waste time.

Clarity and brevity go hand-in-hand. If an agent receives 20 queries each day, that agent will want to spend less than five minutes making an initial assessment regarding whether the work is relevant before proceeding to a more in-depth analysis.

3. You aren’t special.

Well, everyone’s special to someone. My boyfriend thinks I’m special, I hope. But generally speaking, no 1-page query letter can convey how wonderful you might be. Stick to clarity and brevity. Learning that a fellow human is special takes time and is a process that may occur once you meet an agent you work with over the course of years.

So far, I’m finding the experience to be a fascinating process, which is all I’d hoped for a few weeks ago when I decided to head in this direction for my new novel. I don’t know if the process will bear fruit, but at the very least, I’m finding many new and wonderful books to read.