What Do Real Literary Agents Want From Your Query Letter?
For authors who want to be traditionally published, the first gatekeeper into the industry is to find an agent. Their job is to read your query letter where you pitch your book, see if your manuscript is a good fit for them, and then if they like it, and choose to represent you, they will start to pitch your book to publishing companies.
If you’re curious about how to perfect your own pitch, and get some insider secrets into what an agent is looking for, then read on! Hope Bolinger, a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. goes into more depth here on agents, and queries. Hope is also a published author, and you can check out her latest book “Blaze,” right here.
Jules: What do you look for in a query letter?
Hope: I’m really looking for a great idea. I like something that no one has ever thought before, or a book that bends the rules just a bit. We’re also looking for platform. Is the author regularly engaging on social media, does she like to speak at events, etc.? We want to know they can do more than just write a great story.
Jules: What kinds of pitches have stood out for you?
Hope: I’ll give an example of ones that have stood out in bad ways and one that was good.
Bad: I’ve had someone tell me I looked like the main character of a steamy romance novel. It was uncomfortable to read that content knowing that, and then hard to shake it out of my head.
Another Bad One: I had considered taking a deeper look into a book until one of the other agents at our agency gave me a look of horror, and said, “He’s been harassing me for months, on every social media platform, asking about updates for his manuscript.” I turned it down. People in this industry talk, so make sure to put your best foot forward.
Good: I had this positive delight of a human being send me a manuscript that was insanely different than anything I’ve read. It’s a mixture between Frozen and Doctor Who. Although I wasn’t sure where I could place it on the market, I’d already fallen in love with the main character based on the query, and writing sample alone. And the author was just the nicest human you’d ever meet, so she’s my client now.
Jules: What would a query need to make you want to take on a new writer?
Hope: I would say the idea just has to be very high-concept. Think, what would other authors wish, ten years down the road, they’d also written? We are really looking for that platform. I hate that we have to look for it, but some publishers won’t even look at a book if you aren’t on social media.
Jules: What are some common mistakes you see in queries?
Hope: There are lots of query mistakes. Here are some big red flags:
“My book is going to be a blockbuster hit.” If it does become that, awesome. But that’s not realistic.
“My book is the next Harry Potter.” No, it’s not, and besides, you don’t want it to be. A book that is a second-best something will never be a first-best anything.
“I stalked you and will now like every single social media post you’ve ever posted since 2016.” Doing research on an agent is great, but stalking is not acceptable.
The story is too vague. There’s not enough of a twist to stand out.
The story seems to be coming out of left field. I’m not entirely sure what the market is for android erotica, but I don’t take it on.
The author clearly didn’t read the genres that the agent represents.
Jules: What's one simple pitch fix that can make a query stand out?
Hope: Have a friend, or two, or ten, look over the query. Ask them to point out what makes them excited to read on, and what parts seem to lose their interest.
One cool way to practice this is by participating in a Twitter pitch party. You can see if agents and publishers, in real time, are interested in your pitch, or if you need to refine it a little.
Jules: If someone does land an agent, what's the proper etiquette as far as celebration, communication, etc.?
Hope: As soon as the contract is signed, you can post about it on social media, etc. Communication varies by agent. I try to keep in contact once a month to see how they’re doing, even if they aren’t working on a project. Some agents can take up to six months to check in. It varies. I would say, don’t message them on Facebook or other social platforms every day, or at weird hours. It’s like a professional boss-client relationship. We have families, and can’t be on the clock 24/7.
If you want to submit a query, hop on over to my website (hopebolinger.com) and peruse the Instructions tab.
About the Agent: Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 300 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 2,700+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog, which receives 63,000+ monthly hits. She is excited that her modern-day Daniel "Blaze" just released with IlluminateYA (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). She enjoys all things theater, cats, and fire. You can find more about her at www.hopebolinger.com
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