You’ve done all the background work and identified which literary agents you want to query. Now it’s time to begin the submissions process. As a first step, I suggest you create a data source file in your word processing program and set up fields for the agent’s name and the literary agency's name and address. I also suggest three additional fields, one marked What Sent where you can make notations about each agency's submission requirements and two more marked Sent and Returned for recording the date you send out a query and the date you receive a response. Enter the pertinent information for each of your chosen agents into the appropriate fields. Then transform your query letter into a form document that can be associated with the name and address fields of your agent data file. You are now set up to merge your agent data with your query form letter and keep a record of who you have contacted and when.
All that remains is sending out your proposals. What you send and when will be dictated by the parameters set by the agency you are contacting. Some will only consider the query letter itself. Others may want a synopsis or outline and sample chapters as well. It is extremely important to follow the agency's guidelines. If you send volumes to someone who has asked for a query only, you risk having the entire mess thrown in the garbage without a look. Likewise, if you send only a query to someone who wants to see an expanded sample of your work, the agent will likely dismiss you as someone who doesn't have a completed manuscript ready to consider.
The method of contact also varies depending on the agency's preferences. The old-fashioned way is to send the requested material by snail mail. Many agencies still insist on this method. If you send your proposal this way, you must not forget the SASE, an acronym for "stamped self-addressed envelope." If you do not enclose one of these, you will never, and I mean never hear back from that agency. Some agencies are open to e-mailed submissions. They specify their contact information and what they want you to include in the submission. A warning: do not send any of your material in an attachment because they will not open it. Include everything they ask for in the body of your e-mail.
Most agencies have no problem with multiple submissions. Thus it is perfectly acceptable to send out several proposals at the same time. The agency will normally indicate how long you can expect to wait for a response. In my experience, this can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to many months. When they do respond, it will either be in the form of their standard rejection letter, or they will ask to see more of the manuscript.
If an agency is not interested in your manuscript, you will almost never receive a personalized assessment of your work. Instead, you will receive the same standard letter they send to every other petitioner. You will most likely receive many of these for every agent who asks to see more of your manuscript. I say this only to prepare you, not to discourage you. The moment you receive one of these, send out another query or two. Then put it out of your mind and focus on your next book.
But what if they like your proposal and ask to see the entire manuscript? First of all, I guarantee that you will be giddy with excitement. And you should be. So send it off — and then hunker down to wait while the agency decides whether they want to take it on. If they decide in the affirmative, you’ve jumped a huge hurdle. It could also happen that they like your book but don’t think they can sell it in today’s market. This is always a bitter pill to swallow, but it is important to remember that a favorable opinion from a professional agent tells you that you have the right stuff. This can be a huge motivator to continue writing.
Almost every one of today’s best-selling novelists received many rejection slips before they found the right agent. Nor did their first book always make it. But they didn’t give up. So keep working. Success may be just another query away!