Querying Agents On the Super Technology Highway

I read somewhere that it’s very difficult to get an agent to look at a manuscript. In fact, people often spend big bucks to go to conferences just to have the chance to get in front of an agent for five minutes. That’s why, when it came time for me to consider looking for representation, I was a little – or a lot – lackadaisical.

I did my homework, poring over Publishers Marketplace to determine who might best help me sell my stunningly brilliant novel, Living in Bliss. I queried the deal database every way from Sunday to see who did well selling debuts, who was especially interested in comedy (nobody, it seems!), and who repped my favorite authors. Then I checked out each of their websites to learn whether my favorites were accepting new clients (alas, many were not), if there were other people at those agencies who might be a match, and if each individual agent as a whole looked like someone I would like to get into bed with, so to speak.

That task accomplished, I whipped up (okay, cried and slaved over) a query letter. Query letters are a challenge, but I felt good about mine: charming, fun, an enticing and brief overview of my plot, ended with a character sketch of who I am as a person and a writer. For good measure, I included the first 10 pages of the novel in the email; might as well tease them with my talent. Ta da! I was ready.

My logic was as follows: Send electronic queries to my top 4 choices. Wait weeks for them to respond, which would give me time to – ahem – FINISH THE BOOK.

That’s right. I was 90% done, but not completely done. Some twisted part of me thought that if I sent off agent queries, I’d have no choice but to finally wrap up the little bitty loose ends that had been torturing me for a year.

Let me tell you, this is not a good plan. Why? Because three of the four agents responded within hours, requesting full manuscripts and a synopsis. Holy crap. Those were my exact words (uttered at the top of my lungs as I jumped up and down, freaking out my dogs and cats and sending the bird into a tizzy of flapping wings). Woo hoo! I didn’t suck! Or, at least my suckiness wasn’t such that they didn’t want to read more…

And then it hit me: I hadn’t finished the darned book, much less written a synopsis.

Fortunately it was Friday. And I’ll admit, I used the Iowa floods to my advantage. (I wasn’t lying, exactly; my basement did have nearly a foot of water in it.) I asked each of the three requesting agents if I might send along the information on Monday… and then spent every waking moment of the next two days writing, editing, polishing, writing some more. I added 10,000 words that weekend. And that’s not counting the 7 page synopsis.

Did I screw up? I’m sure I did. I’m sure there were things I could’ve polished even more. In fact, I have a scene in my head that needs to be inserted into the final act, which I’ll probably do, although that makes me very nervous with the manuscript out. There’s a very good chance rushing like a madwoman lessened the strength of the book as a whole. But if nothing else, I learned a big lesson: don’t pitch a book that isn’t finished. Because in this era of super-fast technology, you never know when you’re going to be called upon to produce what you’ve promised. It may be a lot sooner than you expected.

Happy writing! Sara