I finished my first novel January 27, 2015. I know this because it’s 27 chapters long and I edited a chapter a day until it was complete, not because it was a huge event or anything, though it totally was. First book, guys! Once finished, I took a short break, and in March of 2015, I set out to try and hit that next big step all writers want: representation
I uh, didn’t get it.
However, I did spend almost an entire year aiming for publication, in both seeking out an agent and sending my manuscript to publishing houses (jury is still out on those since they take so darn long to get back to you), and it might be helpful to others to detail some of that information here. The internet is filled with tons of resources on this, but I’m not sure all of them are what I’d like to call complete.
So hey, welcome!
My goal with this post is to offer a comprehensive guide on agenting, what you’ll need, where to start, etc. I’ll also be waxing poetic about feelings and other nonsense because this is my blog. Sorry.
But first, let me [try to] establish some credibility. I sent out my query letter/cover letter to around 150 agents. That’s a lot. Of that many, only three of them asked for my complete manuscript. That’s not a lot. Now, depending on who you ask, that’s either really good (some agents will respond to 1/100 unsolicited queries) or really poor (other agents will respond to 10/100 unsolicited queries). In my case, The Ninth Life is an epic fantasy novel and a very long one at that.
As a brand new author, long novels are risky, and one no one was willing to take. I know this because a few agents told me this outright in ways that can only be described as rude.
Of the three agents that read my manuscript, none of them had any negatives to say on it, and one of them even said it was darn well written! It just wasn’t quite the fantasy affair any of them were looking for. They kindly wished me well on my endeavors.
I think I did alright, on the whole. Yeah, I got nothing, but it was a big shot in the dark. It always is though. There’s your first lesson.
So now with that out of the way, let’s begin.
Before you start hawking your manuscript to agents, you’ll want the following:
- A finished, well-edited manuscript
- A query letter
- A cover letter
- A three-page plot summary of your story
- A one-page plot summary of your story
- A first set of pages ready for copy/pasting
- A database or two (or three) of agents
- A spreadsheet to keep track of who/where you sent your queries to
- A bunch of envelopes, some self-addressed
- A few miscellaneous things that we’ll get to later
A Finished, Well-Edited Manuscript
Okay, so this one is pretty obvious, or at least should be. You can’t just finish the first draft of your book and assume it’s ready to be sent out to the world. However, as someone who reviews books on this blog and for WeTheNerdy.com, I get too many requests to read poorly edited, poorly written fiction that’s clearly only seen one pass through.
Common sense ain’t very common, as the saying goes.
“Finished” is relative to each author. I went through The Ninth Life five times before I was sick of looking at it, which is my barometer for, “It’s done!” You might need more drafting, or you might need less. Odds are you’ll need less because five drafts feels like a lot. It takes me a month to go through a draft, so I spent five months editing my damn book.
I can’t get those months back, people.
My quick-and-dirty editing tips are: When finished with a draft, immediately reread chapters one through three again to make sure they are stylistically in line with the rest of your novel; control + F every curse word to see which ones are really needed; control + F “ly” to find every adverbial to see which ones are really needed; control + F every semicolon to see which ones are really needed, and if you’ve noticed any other words you tend to crutch on, search them up to.
Stephanie Meyer likes the word, “chagrin.” I know this because I’ve read her books and lost count of how many times that one popped up. It isn’t even a common word!
Don’t do this.
But really, it is all up to you. Editing is a slippery, crazy ride with no right way about it. I just hope you find a way to have fun with it, because damn I do not.
A Query Letter
The query letter is the primary way you’ll be interacting with agents. It’s a brief blurb about your book, a brief blurb about you as an author, and ultimately, a brief blurb that tells an agent how well you can write and how well you prioritize your novel.
It’s a complete and utter pain in the ass to write, and if you do it wrong, you’ll get nowhere.
Before you begin your query letter, you absolutely must read through QueryShark to get a big sense of what to do and what not to do. It’s an invaluable resource. However, because this is my blog, you also get my query letter as an example:
Animals are migrating north, slaves are turning against their masters, the devout are desecrating temples, and the moon is missing from the sky. The world is changing, but for one cat cursed with nine lives, none of that matters.
It’s hard to care about the living world when the door to escape the afterlife is almost closed.
Kitgazka has lived and died eight times, and every death has ended the same: a dark forest, monsters made of fire, and a small door, shining far off in the distance. Hell is a real place, and once the door closes for good, it will last forever.
So for the last 500 years, Kitgazka has roamed the world, hoping to find the place where life and the afterlife meet, but still the door remains hidden. Now on his last life, desperation sees him once again turn south, to a desert wasteland filled with bad memories, cannibalistic lizards, and an army of walking corpses. What’s beyond the desert, no one knows, but it’s the only place Kitgazka has not been.
Accompanied by a naïve gerbil who wants to be a knight and his terrible squire, Kitgazka finally feels answers within reach. This time will be different. It has to be. Failure means an eternity of suffering.
Little does Kitgazka know that he’s walking into a warzone, and the answers he’s craved for the last 500 years are more terrible than he ever imagined.
THE NINTH LIFE is 132,100 word heroic fantasy novel with touches of high fantasy near the end. It’s an amalgamation of everything I love about the genre with direct inspiration from Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, which was my first foray into fantasy so many years ago. It’s my first novel
[What’s included with this email] A completed manuscript is available upon request.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
The above ~350 words took me six hours to write and more drafts than I care to remember. I think it’s darn good though.
I had the pleasure of accidentally running into a young lady we’ll call Monica who interned at a literary agency. We got to talking about books and writing, and when it came time to write my query letter, I of course implored her to help me.
Her advice was basically: focus on plot, characters, and be as clear as possible. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. This is writing though, so nothing ever is.
Your goal is to keep your query letter to one page in length. I’d also try and keep it under 500 words. Thick paragraphs are scary, and if you’re cramming your letter with giant walls of text, that might drive some away.
Monica also suggests keeping your bio/publishing credits to the bottom. Start strong with your novel, get an agent interested, and then disappoint them with yourself. If you start them off sad, you’re just fighting an uphill battle.
When it comes to an actual author bio, some agents really want one while others don’t ever mention it. This query letter doesn’t have one because I have little bio to tell, but for those that wanted one, I’d vomit a quick little paragraph about my degree in English, my attempts at starting a video game company, and my general hatred for free time. If you have publishing credits from short stories, novellas, or poetry, then you’ll want a full bio.
If your publishing credits are all nonfiction and you’re peddling fiction, I’d consider not making a big deal of that since those are very different markets and styles of writing.
Now, let’s talk about what I have in brackets. As you send your query package out, agents will ask for different things, and these are what you’ll be changing.
Starting at the top with the greeting, I always used Mr. or Mrs. and then the agent’s last name because if I’m not sure what is or isn’t appropriate, I default to formal. For the second set of brackets, each agent is different, meaning each will want something different from you as a package. If you’re only giving the agent a page, then say, “attached is the first page of my novel;” if you’re giving an agent six chapters, then you change that to, “attached are the first six chapters of my novel.”
It’s not rocket science, but once again, it needs to be perfect and exact or you’re going to look careless. If you’re careless in your query letter, you’re careless in your novel. That’s bad.
A Cover Letter
For those few agents who don’t want a query letter, you’ll be sending a cover letter. It really serves the same purpose as a query letter, though it’s shorter and more formal. I saw one agent write something along the lines of, “A query letter shows me you know how to write a query letter; a cover letter shows me you know how to write a novel.” I personally think that’s bunk, but we do what we can to appease the agent gods.
For your cover letter, keep it short and businesslike, and absolutely to the point. Once again, since this is my blog, you get to read mine!
THE NINTH LIFE is about a cat desperately trying to find out why he has nine lives and what will happen once he dies for good. It should appeal to fans of large-scale fantasy adventures, where characters travel across strange worlds to complete important quests. It measures 131,000 words.
While the world changes around him, Kitgazka continues his search for the Door that separates the living world from Hell. He has lived and died eight times, and his ninth life will be his last. Then the Door will close for good. Desperate and afraid, Kitgazka plans on crossing Snaetar, a large desert filled with cannibals and walking corpses. Accompanied by a naive gerbil and his terrible squire, the trio plan to wade through a warzone in search of answers, but the answers will prove to be more terrible and catastrophic than they could have ever imagined.
I have enclosed a [what you’ve enclosed]. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
You’ll notice that this one reads like a business letter. It’s only three paragraphs long, the publishing/bio information is at the top, and I’ve condensed my entire plot summary into one paragraph in the middle. The first paragraph acts as an intro and a poor attempt at marketing. You aren’t selling a story with a cover letter; you’re selling a book, and that means you should know your audience and the kinds of novels within your genre. If you have other publishing information, I’d stick it up top as well.
Honestly though, my reasoning for this format is simply that I saw someone else do it and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I wish I had something better to offer you than that. Sorry.
And if I’m truly being honest, I do think my cover letter is somewhat weak. It’s not terrible, but it could be better. It did get me past the gatekeeper at Penguin though, if that counts for anything!
As with the query letter, change the things in brackets as needed. I’ve noticed that most people who want cover letters work at publishing houses, and they usually want your query package physically mailed to them. Screwing this up not only burns a bridge, it also wastes time, paper, and money.
It will also make you feel like a complete idiot.
A Three-Page Plot Summary
No one ever told me I’d need to condense my novel down into three pages. I spent something like eight months writing, editing, and perfecting (ha, as if) it at 430 pages, and now I have to break it down into three? Are you kidding me? That’s rude, and impossible, and a third thing that makes me sound angry and petty!
Honestly, it isn’t that bad. I mean, you should fret a bit because it’s still somewhat bad, but not impossible, and there’s a sort of puzzle aspect to it that’s kind of fun. As always, starting is the hardest part.
It should be said that in this case, three pages equals three double-spaced pages in your standard format (one inch margins, 12 point, Times New Roman font). I know, I had hoped for single-spaced pages too.
Books are big and filled with details, and while I love me a beefy, image-heavy paragraph, those have no place here. Instead, focus on major plot points and character arcs only, and if you have a ton of characters, focus on the three main ones. You won’t have room to fit any others in.
I won’t share my entire plot summary since I’m not going to give my novel away, but I’ll post the first paragraph:
After winning a royal melee, a desperate calico cat named KITGAZKA requests voyage to Snaetar as his prize. He doesn’t want to return to the large desert, but he’s been everywhere but the far, far south on his search for the Door. This is his last life and his last chance to find it. However, when he’s asked to kill a gerbil named TAZ, he refuses, believing the lost creature might be of use. This act of defiance causes the strangely violent crowd to burst into a riot, and the two combatants are forced to run for their lives. They eventually flee the city with the help of a runaway slave.
So, what I’ve done here is introduce my main protagonist and his backstory/quest alongside my second main character, though his backstory/quest are detailed in paragraph two. For The Ninth Life, this paragraph is the first chapter of the book. I felt like I needed to get everything about Kitgazka out in the open right away before I continued, though of course the information is better paced in the book.
This will become a challenge for you as you go. Your revelations and backstory are of course well-presented in your novel and given proper context. Somewhere in the latter half of my novel, Kitgazka sits with a ghost and learns every secret he’s been searching for. The chapter is a hair exposition heavy, but tonally it’s great, mixing dream logic with magic. I’m a big fan of it.
In my plot summary, I had to cut everything but the revelation. It comes off as a bit stupid and nonsensical; talking ghosts? Come on!
However, I do think that’s the norm here. There’s no other way around it because three pages just isn’t very many. What you can do to mitigate this sting is focus on your sentence structure and variety. You’re stuck with machine-gunning the details of your book, but you aren’t stuck with simple sentences or the same drab sentences over and over.
The content might feel rushed, but the summary itself shouldn’t read that way.
A One-Page Plot Summary
Oh come on! I spend all this time forcing my amazing (ha, as if) fantasy epic into three stupid pages, and now you want me to shove it into one? How. Dare. You!
Okay, so the bad news is you need to start from square one. Taking your three-page plot summary and cutting doesn’t really work—or it didn’t for me—but the good news is, this isn’t that hard to write. You’re stuck with one page yes, but that’s almost more freeing in a strange way. There’s no fleshing out here, just your main character and his story.
Also, it should be noted that my one-page summary is single spaced. It’s possible that’s a faux paw, but I did enough Googling to not give me a concrete answer on how big this should really be.
Plus, The Ninth Life won’t fit into a half-page, single spaced entity. I can’t do it.
Like my three-page summary, I’ll share the first paragraph of my one-pager:
After winning a royal melee, a desperate calico cat named KITGAZKA requests voyage to the desert in search of a mysterious Door. When he refuses to kill a mystery fighter named TAZ, a lost gerbil from the desert, he causes a city-wide riot, and the two are forced to flee. Once safe, they talk about the strange changes and rumors going on in the world. Something bad is about to happen, and shadow cats are at the center of it all. As they lay down for bed, they notice that the moon is missing from the sky.
So, the difference is pretty big: I cut out Kit’s major reason for questing here. It’s now located in a different paragraph where I found it fit better. Plus, my query letter and cover letter contain enough of Kit’s motive for that to suffice. In all honesty, I maybe didn’t even need to start off with it in my three-page summary, but what’s done is done and it reads better with it than without.
Plus, it’s more dramatic.
When you start your one-page plot summary, you’re basically going to have to either focus on character or plot. For my book, I went with plot. I did this because The Ninth Life is a fantasy epic, and most people who read fantasy epics are looking for plot reads first. We all want great characters yes, but a fantasy story can get by on a fun magic system and a crazy world with crazy locations.
In reading up on how to write these, one rule I came across was to hit your “point of no return” right away, at the end of the first paragraph. One example used was Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke’s point of no return is the death of his parents and him fleeing Tattooine with Han and Obi-Wan.
It’s good advice, I think, but it doesn’t really apply to The Ninth Life. Kit’s major point of no return occurs a few chapters in, when he and his companions board a ship to the desert, and I had to spend some time to get there. It really gives this summary a more rushed feel than I’d like.
My personal advice is to play around with this as much as you can. Draft a few versions of it, and above all else, make it readable. The content will be rushed and choppy because you’re fitting a big work of art into a small space, but it doesn’t need to read that way.
A First Set of Pages Ready for Copy/Pasting
All agents are different, which I suppose is cool in theory but in practice it’s annoying. You won’t know what one will want until you do some reading. I’d like to tell you that all want sample pages of your novel, but even that isn’t true. Some just want a query letter or a cover letter. If they like your premise, they’ll ask for more.
Those ones never asked me for more, by the way.
However, most agents do want a sample, and to make your life easier, it’s best to create separate documents you can easily copy and paste from. Early on in my agenting quest, I’d just open my final version of The Ninth Life and take what was asked for, but that got to be annoying. It’s a big book and three chapters worth of pages equals a lot of scrolling.
There is a better way!
I’d advice three separate documents, though you can go four if you want. The first should contain your first ten pages, the second your first chapter, the third your first fifty pages, and the fourth your first three chapters. If there’s overlap there, then hey, good for you! That’s one less document on your computer’s hard drive.
Some agents will ask for different page amounts, but on the whole, the above four where what I ran into most often. I’ve seen everything from one page, to four pages, to five pages, to 10,000 words, to the whole darn novel itself! At least it’s never a dull moment.
Whatever the case, never attach your sample pages to an email unless specified to do so. Not every agent is specific about this, but given how easy it is to disguise a malicious file, it’s best to err with caution. Unless told to, copy/paste your sample chapters into the body of your email.
I asked Monica what an agent is looking for in the first five or ten pages. That’s not a lot—for The Ninth Life, that’s only half of chapter one—and she gave me a pretty great answer that I’ll paraphrase for you:
An agent can tell a lot by the first few pages of your book. How do you handle imagery? How do you handle exposition? How do you handle dialogue? How do you handle simple grammar? What’s your main character like? What’s the ratio between dialogue and action/exposition?
All of that can be gleamed from a small sample of pages. If that feels unfair because your book only starts to get good at page 11, then you need to chop out the first ten pages. It should be good from page one.
Monica also mentioned something many novice authors do: They put too much information too early on in the book. There’s a fear that you won’t be understood, that you have to justify your world and characters, and the knee-jerk reaction is to place an entire history lesson in the first ten pages. The problem is, your book won’t read like a book but like an encyclopedia. Agents don’t want that (and neither does the public, I’d wager).
This all goes back to editing and writing, but examine the first ten pages of your novel and go through those above questions. How do you handle the various aspects of writing, and how much information is frontloaded in your novel? If it’s too much, you might want to scale it back.
A Database or Two (or Three) of Agents
So, you have your well-written and well-edited query package ready to go. You’re happy (you stupid, naive fool!), and ready to find some agents. You open up Google and realize you don’t know where to look because no one told you where to start.
My quest for an agent ran me through three databases, and because the purpose of this blog post is information, I’m going to talk about all three right now. This is where you start.
The Writer’s Market is our first stop. It’s a paid service that costs $6.00 a month and will give you a very nice, very easy-to-customize list of agents and publishing houses. There are check boxes all over the place, and all you need to do is click the ones that apply to your book. The database will sort the rest.
Paying for this might sound kind of annoying at first, but the quality is worth it. Every agent I sent my query package to was certified in some way or another, and none would ever dream of sending me to a vanity publisher. Yes, this happens on occasion. No, it’s not cool.
Agent Query is our second stop. It’s a free database and much bigger than Writer’s Market, though its search options are a little less refined. There are some, but you’ll be doing a bit more sifting as you go along.
I really, really like this database and actually got two of my three bites from it. The only reason I’m listing it second is you should get the paid one out of the way first, since there will be overlap.
Predators and Editors is our third stop, and not a very fun one. There are no search options here, just lists of names in alphabetical order. It’s daunting to look at, and half the agents listed have some red warning about why you should avoid them.
By the time I landed on P&E, I was so sick of this process that anyone not recommended I just outright avoided on the spot. It cut down a lot of options sure, but there’s no point in sending your manuscript to an agent whose been accused of working with a vanity publisher or making you hire his friend to edit your novel. That’s bad.
When it comes to sifting through these databases, take it slow. Don’t burn through one in a weekend. Send out a few letters at a time, ten or fifteen, and let it all breathe. It’s possible you’ll get some responses that you’ll want to take into account for later emails, for example. I never had an agent point out a typo, but the Internet says it’s been known to happen.
Plus, you don’t want to wake up one day with fifty rejection letters in your inbox. That’s just sad to look at.
So you know, let ‘em flow in slowly so you can be only a little sad for a year!
And hell, while we’re here, let’s talk agent websites. You’ll be visiting a lot of them on this journey of yours, and you should be prepared for one, enormous fact: Most agent websites are trash.
There are two types of website you’ll find. The first are small and were clearly made a long time ago. They have little information on them—I’ve found a handful that were just a cover page with a physical address and nothing else—and their color scheme or layout will probably hurt your eyes.
The good news is they are more-or-less easy to navigate. A small website only has a few pages to click around on.
The second kind are the opposite. Big and sprawling with more gimmicks than any one website should have, you’ll be stuck here for awhile. Agent information might be spread over multiple pages, bios might be a thousand or so words—and not always with any useful information—, and the “Submission” link might be buried in some strange corner for no conceivable reason.
When I first started looking for agents, I felt compelled to read as much as I could about them and their organization. By day three, I didn’t give a damn about anything more than if they would take my brand of fantasy. My first stop was always the submission guidelines to see what they wanted, be it a query letter with a few pages or maybe just a cover letter and a plot summary, and then to the agent list themselves. From there, I’d skim until I saw the words I was looking for, “Genre fiction” or “Fantasy.”
Because here’s the thing: You don’t want to waste an agent’s time. Ever. Sure their websites might waste yours, but as a writer, you already know that the world is cruel.
I was very respectful of what an agent wanted when I first started this hunt. If I didn’t see, “Fantasy” listed anywhere, I wouldn’t send my query package. It’s not a genre for everyone. By the end though, I was growing desperate, and that meant if an agent didn’t specify not wanting fantasy or magic, he or she got my query package!
No matter how you tackle this, just be respectful. If an agent says, “I don’t want mystery,” and you have a mystery novel, don’t send them your query package. You’re only wasting time. If that agent makes no mention of mystery though…well, it’s probably fair game. Look at what else he or she might be interested in and use your best judgment.
A Spreadsheet to Keep Track of Who/Where You Sent Your Queries To
This might not seem like rocket science—it isn’t—but one of the big mistakes I made in hawking The Ninth Life was not keeping very good records of where I sent the darn thing. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but as it turns out, adding every agent you email to your contact list becomes annoying.
Just, don’t do that. It’s really obvious, but yeah. Don’t do that.
Thankfully, spreadsheets are easy to make. Open up Excel or some program similar, and make the following columns:
Agency Name | Agent Name | Date Sent | Date Rejected | Multiple Submissions (Y/N) | Website URL
When it comes to multiple submissions, most agencies will tell you that a rejection from one agent is a rejection from all of them. Case closed. Some, however, are more than happy to allow you to keep trying. It’s nice to keep track of that information so you don’t write off a series of agents based on one denial.
And hell, I suppose now is a good time to talk about rejection, since that’s the point of this spreadsheet.
The good news is you’ll get used to it, and the bad news is you’ll be getting a lot of it. Most agents reject through simple silence, their websites saying something akin to, “If you haven’t heard back from me in two to four weeks, consider that a pass.” Others will send automated emails, the contents of which boil down to, “I have thoroughly reviewed your query package and am afraid it isn’t for me. Publishing is a subjective business, so while your book doesn’t fit my needs, another agent might fall in love with it. I wish you well on your publishing adventures.”
I wish all agents set up an automated response like the above. It’s a bit more work on their end, sure, but it’s courteous. There’s just something a little childish about the silent treatment, I think.
There are a few agents who will give you a personalized rejection, though they normally follow the format of an automated response. The few that didn’t for me either praised my writing abilities or were just flat out rude.
You will remember all of the rude ones.
Don’t ever respond to a rude rejection. I wanted to, even typed up a scathing email to one bastard, but I made myself delete it. This is a business, and that means you want to look professional. Calling someone a fucking cunt defeats that purpose. No one wins when you do that; you only burn a bridge.
(But that dude was a total fucking cunt.)
You should also take to heart the message that this is all a very, very subjective thing. Agents don’t want to represent books they hate, even if the market for them is good. I wrote a big fantasy novel with talking animals, and talking animals aren’t for everyone. I imagine that got me booted out the door right away by more than a few people I sent my query package to.
That being said, being marketable helps. There’s a reason my second novel is a young adult thing. It’s what’s selling now; it’s what’s hip with the cool kids! I’d say 90% of agent profiles I looked at want young adult material in some capacity, even if it didn’t seem to fit their personality.
So I guess my big advice is to sell out with your next book!
A Bunch of Envelopes, Some Self-Addressed
We live in a world where emails, text messages, and Skype calls make up most of our communication, so if you’re like me, you might find it surprising that a lot of agents and many more publishing houses will want a physical query letter mailed to them.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
You know what’s easy? Attaching a file and clicking send. You know what costs upwards of $30? Printing off my whole damn book and sending it to a publisher.
The good news here is you can claim Media Mail and get a discount if you’re sending your whole book. Or maybe even a few chapters. I’m honestly not all that clear on how this works, but if I mentioned it at my local post office, the price went down no questions asked.
Whenever you send something by mail to an agent or publisher, you’ll need two envelopes. The first goes to them, and the second returns to you with a response. The second goes inside the first, if that isn’t clear. It also needs its own stamp. The response will always be a rejection because if an agent wants your book, they’ll call you. Or email you.
Probably. I’m speaking from what I assume is common sense, but as we’ve established, common sense isn’t common.
I’ll assume you all know how to send a letter, so let’s skip that and talk about hand writing. If yours sucks (mine does), then be extra careful to make sure everything looks neat and nice. I don’t honestly know if a query package will be thrown in the trash because your handwriting looks like alien scribbles, but we live in a world were presentation matters.
It’s why ties exist.
(It must be noted that ties are the dumbest thing ever and so is dressing in formal attire.)
And don’t misspell anything either! I had to throw an envelope or two away because my hands are dumb and forget letters.
A Few Miscellaneous Things that We’ll get to Later (or Now)
These last few words of wisdom aren’t so much things you’ll need but things you’ll want to do or consider that didn’t fit in with my above subheadline formatting. Let’s start with something basic:
Set your email up so you can undo sent emails. I’m not entirely sure how you go about this with every client, but I know it’s possible and you should absolutely do it before you begin. Clicking “send” only to realize you forgot to change a name or edit your signature sucks. It also happens from time to time, and if you can click “Undo,” it’ll save you some sad feelings.
Plus, it’s just really convenient to have available.
I suppose the next thing to talk about is what you should do if you actually get a bite. Unless your package/novel are really, really bad, the odds are in your favor that out of a 100 agents, at least one will want to read what you’ve written.
It’s funny, because those emails are usually really, really informal. I recall one going, “Yeah sure, I’ll take a look. Send me the whole thing.” I don’t even remember him attaching a signature!
What you do is exactly what they ask for. My standard form is to mention my happiness, reiterate that what they’ve asked for is attached in the manor they want it, and to thank them for their time. I also make sure to include my original query letter so they know who I am.
Then you wait a long time for bad news.
If a long time has passed—generally six to eight weeks—and you haven’t heard back, it’s time to give the agent a little nudge. I had to do this once, and this is the email I sent:
Dear Mr. [Redacted]
I’m writing to check on the status of my manuscript The Ninth Life sent to you on 10-23-15. I understand you are very busy; I just wanted to make sure it arrived safely in your inbox. Thank you again for your interest in my work. I look forward to hearing from you.
You probably don’t need to sound so stuffy, honestly, but I like defaulting to formal. It assures me that it wasn’t my shitty personality that got me the boot but the quality of my shitty writing.
So, this is all I have for you. This document is 13 lovely pages and over 6,000 words. I think I’ve covered everything, but if you find this and have questions or comments, let me know. There’s always room to expand and grow, and as an opinionated idiot, I’ll gladly keep talking if you ask me to.
Cheers and good luck in the publishing world everyone. I don’t really mean that because I’m a petty, emotionally stunted human being, but doesn’t it sound nice to read anyways?
Now where’s a beer. I need one.