Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Making Contact

by Annette Lyon

In response to some reader questions I've had recently, here's a basic refresher course on how to contact editors or agents about your work.

For more in-depth information, dig around. Find books and blogs about it. Lots of literary agents have great information about these things.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog is worth looking at. (Be sure to check out his sidebar, which has links to posts about manuscript formatting, query letters, and much more.)

Another is the famous (and, alas, now retired) Miss Snark. Search for "query letters" or any number of other topics on her blog, and you'll find a ton of great information straight from the horse's mouth.

When communicating with editors and agents, the basic rule of thumb is simple: Know what's expected, and deliver it. In even simpler terms: be professional.

Some basic dos and don'ts:

  • Use white bond paper.
  • Print on one side.
  • Keep your query letter to one page. Technically you can go over, but the longer it is, the less chance the whole thing will be read.
  • Use the editor/agent's name and spell it correctly.
  • Get others to read your letter and offer feedback.
  • Make sure your personality and voice shine through. This is the editor's/agent's first introduction to you and how you write. Don't hide your voice.
  • Proofread your letter.
  • Proofread your letter.
  • Proofread it again.
  • Include whatever the particular publisher or agency requests. If they ask for three chapters, give 'em that. If they ask for a synopsis, yep. Give 'em a synopsis. Or a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope). Whatever they ask for.
  • On your SASE, be sure to include stamps rather than a metered sticker, which doesn't work in all areas if it's being mailed back after the date on it.
  • If your work has been requested, say so on the outside of the envelope. That way you avoid being dumped into the slush pile.
  • If you met the editor/agent at a conference, feel free to mention it to help jog their memory. (Unless you were the one who spilled ketchup on them. Then jogging their memory might not be in your best interest.)
  • Mention what your book is about, how long it is, and what genre it fits into.


  • Use colored paper or perfume or send trinkets or do anything else "cute." Sure you'll stand out, but not in a good way.
  • Flaunt the publisher/agency guidelines because you think you're special. (If they don't take e-queries, they won't take yours. If they want something between 70,000 and 100,000 words, don't send something that's 150,000.)
  • Criticize or judge the publisher, agent, or the industry.
  • Or offer suggestions for the same.
  • Insist that your book is going to make them millions of dollars and that you're the next Brown/Rowling/Grisham/fill in the blank.
  • Include biographical information that isn't relevant. Unless you're writing about pit bulls, the fact that you own one is irrelevant. If this is your first attempt, no need to mention that, either. It might work against you to say so.
  • Submit something that isn't right for the publisher/agent. If you've done your homework, you'll know what kinds of things they're looking for. You may have written the best cookbook ever, but sending it to someone who works only with speculative fiction and romance is useless.


Melanie J said...

Great info as usual. Since I'm about to start submitting my manuscript in a few weeks, it's helpful to have these reminders. Thanks!

Kimberly said...

Fabulous post, Annette. I'm going to look this post up when I'm ready to put this information to use. Many thanks!