The following is Writers House Agent Rebecca Sherman’s list of Do’s and Don’ts for querying a literary agent. She shared this list at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day:
- Begin with the kind of description that would appear on the back of your book or jacket flap.
- Tell me some brief biographical information.
- Tell me why YOU wrote this book.
- Tell me abut interest from or submissions to other agents and/or publishers.
- Tell me why you are submitting to me.
- Give your query letter voice.
- Strike a balance between professional and personal.
- Always begin with a proper salutation and end with a proper closure.
- Research agencies and agents.
- Draw a connection with the agent that you are querying.
- Base on the guidelines of the agent you are submitting to, include samples – full manuscripts for picture books, sample illustrations, up to ten pages for longer work.
- Use Times New Roman 12 pt. font or a similarly standard and easy to read font/font size.
- For snail mailers, include a self-addressed stamped envelope that will properly accommodate the material you sent.
- Note that you are an SCBWI member and if you attended a conference that the agent spoke at.
- Note if an editor, writer, or someone else that the agent knows referred you.
- Know the market you are writing for.
- Be patient.
- Make the story or your characters unclear.
- Devote too much space to biographical details.
- Pad your query with irrelevant publications.
- Simply take information about an agent from research and paste it into the query or lead with the fact that you found the agent’s name of agentquery.com, or publishersmarketplace.com, etc.
- Compare yourself to an agent’s client without showing how you are also unique.
- Compare yourself to a bestseller or award winner without showing originality.
- Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story.
- Tell me that your work is sure to be a success because you tested it on your child, kindergarten class, or other small sample group (especially those with whom you have a personal relationship).
- Include endorsements from anyone other than prominent authors in your genre/for your age group or nationally recognized in the media.
- Put a limit on the time an agent can read the material or assume a sense of urgency.
- Submit to multiple agents at the same agency.
- Call and agent unless the agent herself has told you specifically to call.
- Email if the agent does not accept email queries.
- Email or writer to ask how to submit to that agent.
- Be discouraged if your query is rejected. Don’t forget that it is one person’s subjective opinion.
Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.