I’m writing you not as someone who has an agent, but as someone who worked as a reader for an agency, has queried a lot of agents and received requests for full manuscripts, and as someone who now has a forthcoming novel with an independent press.
What’s my background? After I earned an MFA in creative writing from Georgia College and State University, I got a job teaching in the Institute For Writing Studies at St. John’s University. The summer before I began my job, I contacted Folio Literary Management in Manhattan and inquired about being a reader for them. This meant that I attended a weekly editorial meeting where I was given manuscripts to read and the next week I’d let the agent who ran the meeting know if I saw anything I thought they might be looking for. After a summer of doing that, I developed my own strategy for sending queries.
I look for agents on the Publishers Marketplace website. I limit my search to pages that have been updated in the past ten days. To me, this means I’m only querying agents who have recently said they are accepting queries. I read about the agent to see if they represent anything “like” I have written. The agents receive many queries a day, and so I know I only have a couple of words, if that, to get them interested. I have the title of my book and my last name as the subject line. I have a 2-3 sentence hook. For example, for the novel I have forthcoming with Cherokee McGhee Press, I said that Love on the Big Screen is set in 1990 and tells the story of a college freshman whose understanding of love has been shaped by late-eighties romantic comedies. Then I give a little bit about me: my degrees, my current job, and my short list of publications. After that, I copy the first two pages into the text of the email. I don’t send attachments. All this makes me think very hard about my title, the two-sentence pitch, and the first couple of pages. I think it’s good for me to think about those things a lot even before I first begin to write.
If there are any specific instructions, not too elaborate, I follow those. In general, that just means that an agent might want a synopsis or a different length of sample. Sometimes I hear back from agents the same day. They want the full manuscript or they’re not interested. Other times, sometimes six months later, I’d get a short note that the agent isn’t interested.
Keep in mind, this is only my perspective. Agents get a lot of emails from writers wanting them to represent their work. This means that you only have a few words, if that many, to get their attention. You should try to find out a little bit about the agent