Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Intern Advice on getting that AGENT

Hello writers. Your friendly cyber neighborhood literary agent intern here. I've just been reading a ton of query letters and first pages. And I am very sad to note that you are not listening to the many words of advice out there on the Internet for newbie writers.

Here is a small list of what NOT and what TO  do:

  • Please NO PROLOGUES - no one reads them and they take up precious space you need for your first 10 pages

  • Please READ all the information on SUBMISSIONS on the agent's website - if you do something wrong, (like not pasting in your first 10 pages like our website says to do) you get archived - there are way too many writers doing everything right! Don't be the one who does it wrong!

  • Please DO NOT PICK an ILLUSTRATOR for your picture book and have them do the illustrations. If you get signed, the agent will pair you with an illustrator. If you are a newbie, you will get paired with a well known illustrator. You do not want to miss out on that opportunity - or have to tell your friend that you can not use her illustrations.

    • DO NOT TELL us YOUR SOB STORY. Just tell us about your book. Everybody's life has major ups and major downs - this is not the place to let us know all about your downs. Tell us about your book - that's it.

    • NO RANDOM QUOTES! I don't know why new writers love to put quotes at the beginning of their 1st chapters - stop it! It just makes you look like a novice. 

    • DO NOT RAMBLE on and on about your book. Get it down to a few short sentences. This is your elevator pitch - get it right. We have to read a lot, and if you go on and on we quit reading and move to the next writer who nailed her pitch!

    • DO NOT query with "This is a query for my YA novel" and then ATTACH THE NOVEL. We know nothing about you, or about what we are about to read. We do not open attachments! Read the guidelines. Be the writer who does things right. We want to be on your side.

    • DO NOT DOUBLE CHECK  to see if we've received your query. If you received a thank you for submitting email, then we received your query. Like the site says, we do not have time to respond to everyone. Wish we could, but we get hundreds of emails per day.

    • DO NOT BE A DOWNER. Do not talk badly about any genre. We love them all! We love vampires, werewolves, robots, witches, monsters, aliens, ghosts, etc... Do not be the writer who puts any of them down. 

    • DO NOT give us your AGE. It is irrelevant, and only shows that you are very new to this.

    •  DO NOT say that this is your FIRST NOVEL. It puts you behind the 8 ball. It could be awesome, but now I'm thinking it's probably your learning novel. So don't say it. Don't say anything that makes you sound like a novice. You need to be confident, saying this is your first sounds like you're nervous. Like you're already apologizing about it. 

    • DO NOT say you HAVE NOT BEEN PUBLISHED. If you have not been published just don't say anything about it. Only put positive things about you and your writing in your query letter. If you have no writing credits, you don't have to say anything. Talk about your novel.


    • READ our SUBMISSION GUIDELINES THREE TIMES! READ any agent's guidelines that you are querying and do EXACTLY what they tell you to do.

    • PROOF READ your query and your first 10 pages. But do not use only your eyes. It's very annoying to be reading a fantastic first page and then come across a spelling error. It throws the reader out of the story, and then readers lose interest. You do not want readers to lose interest!! 

    • SIGN YOUR NAME! Again, so many of you writers forget or omit your name. Even if your email address is your name, sign your name. It's perplexing.

    • SEND YOUR QUERY ONCE. Do not resend unless you have been asked to do a rewrite. When it's a no, it's a no. 

    • SEND NEW WORKS. Even if you have been rejected by any agent, if you have new works, something you think is ready, send it. You can tell us that you've queried before with a different project. We read everything, and want to discover new, great works. 

    • DO USE AN EDITOR. So many writers are doing this now, and if you don't have great grammar skills (like me) use a professional to at least line edit your work. But I suggest having the whole manuscript worked over at least once to see if there are any plot issues or character issues before you get up to bat with an agent.

    • IF an editor is out of the question. DO USE A CRITIQUE GROUP. You have to research to get into a good one, but it's free, and can be very valuable. It's also a great idea to ask someone from the group to do a full read of your manuscript before you query.

    • THANK any agent for any feedback. Be nice. Put nice out there and you will get nice back.


    • LIKE YOUR REJECTIONS. If you are getting rejected, even a form letter rejection, it means you are getting closer to getting a YES. The time it takes to send you an email means that your pages were read. That your query was interesting enough to get noticed. You should know this...I never did. I thought some computer sent them out. Know that you are being read, and that means even if that particular agent rejected you, you are getting closer...keep going! 

    • REVISE. If you get notes in a rejection letter, listen to them and revise. If you get personal notes, take the time to really revise. I would guess about 3 months, and then query the same agent again with a reminder that you took their notes into consideration 3 months ago and you've revised. Also query other agents with the revised version.

    • Do be CONFIDENT. Be confident in your work. Just state the facts about your novel using the strongest, most alluring words possible. 

    • If writing is what you want to do with your life, DO SAY SO. Tell us that you have always written, been drawn to writing, have always had stories pop in your head, have tons of ideas, constantly write, and want to do this as your true career.

    • RESEARCH AGENTS. Which ones are the rock stars? Which ones will probably only take on known writers? Which ones are new? Which ones want new works? Which ones are open to new writers? And send your work to the appropriate place. 

    If you are a newbie writer and you only have one book written, and that book is your first book, you should probably query a new agent, one looking for new writers, and so will help more with edits. Think of it like a business. If you were to go on an interview and you had just graduated college, you probably would not apply for the CEO position of the company. You would start at the entry level, and show that you can work your way up.

    You DO NOT have to keep your first agent, or your third. You are the decision maker. But you need to break in somewhere. Find yourself a hungry, new agent looking for amazing ideas, but has the patience to work with a new writer, who will not have the whole book polished, who needs help understanding contracts, and who will need more of the agent's time overall. 

    Once you show that you can make sales, that you work hard, that this is your chosen career, and that you take revision notes seriously, and can work with an agent to create a great read, then you can choose to query the rock star agents, if you so desire. They will be more interested in looking at your work.

    But if you are a novice, research new agents. Writers Digest offers a new agent page once a month. They show the agent's photo, and tell a little bit about them, like what they are looking for and how they became a new agent. Query them first. You'll have a better chance of getting a request for 50 pages or a full. 

    If you still get rejected by new agents, then my suggestion is to have a professional look your book over. Many first time novels are learning novels. They helped you to become a better writer, and to understand how to finish a bigger work, but that's it. They've served their purpose, and should be stuck in a drawer. Move on to your second novel, and I don't mean a sequel. Start a new work. You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to write than your first.


    ELEVEN ways to catch the eye of a ROCK STAR agent:

    1. You are a seasoned writer with a known track record of good sales.

    2. You have sold over 10,000 copies of your self-published work.

    3. You are leaving your agent and you have good sales. 

    4. Your agent is leaving the business for whatever reason and you have good sales.

    5. You have a book coming out in 2014 or later with a well known publisher.

    6. You have huge hits on your blog and your book is amazing.

    7. You had a book published in 2013 or earlier and it won awards.

    8. You have a publisher interested in your book, but you HAVE NOT signed a contract yet.

    9. You work in the industry and have an amazing book.

    10. You have been recommended by a known author, or known editor, and they've actually written a quote about your book. 

    11. You have another agent offering representation. 

    I hope you read these guidelines and pass them on to your writer friends. Agents want you to be the one they've been waiting for, but you have to show your very best work, and show that you have done your homework. 

    Good Luck!


    1. Wow, Angie, this is one of your best posts yet, filled with comprehensive advice that I'll be coming back to many times.

      A few questions, though. On the point about prologues, are you saying don't include them in your submission if they ask for the first ten pages? It seems a bit deceptive to me to withhold the prologue; how will they feel if they ask for the whole manuscript and you didn't include it? I asked Harold Underdown what he thought about this. Here's what I asked him followed by his response:

      "If I follow submission guidelines, two scenarios might occur:

      The agency asks for the first chapter or two. Does that include the prologue?
      The agency asks for the first fifty pages. Again, does that include the prologue?"

      His response:

      "I could make a case for either approach. The important question is: how important is the prologue? Does the story really start in the prologue? Then include it, in either of the scenarios you give. If it serves some other purpose, then I suppose you could leave it out. But if you do, say so in the query."

      On your point about thanking the agent, does this apply to ones that reply with a rejection, but offer no specific feedback?

      Thanks again for sharing your experience!

      Writing as AR Silverberry

    2. Hey Peter -
      No one I know reads prologues unless they've asked for the full. So if the story starts in the prologue, don't call it a prologue. Call it your 1st chapter - or flashback - so many prologues do not help the story in any way and are not needed. OR don't call your chapters by numbers. Separate them with *** or +++ - that way we just read, and the word prologue doesn't throw us out of wanting to read it.

      I see thank yous from form rejections and from specific feedback. But both types mean that you were read, and your idea or writing was worth sending out a rejection, and not just archiving the work. So I would thank them, just a quick note. We talk about the writers who thank's good to have your name talked about in that positive way. Right?

    3. Sorry forgot to add this: yes, don't include the prologue in your first 10 pages --- really we want to read the book, and you want us to read as much of it as possible, right? Do you read prologues when you buy a book? I never do, and I never need them. But if there is something in your prologue, a line, a specific thing that readers absolutely need to know, add it to the first chapter, or do what I said above.