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An introduction to submitting to literary agents

Agent query packs – also known as agent submission packs – are essential for any author hoping to gain representation from a literary agent. Submitting to literary agents involves creating, personalising, and sending agent query packs.

Aspiring authors put together agent query packs when trying to secure a literary agent. Comprised of a query/cover letter, book synopsis, and an extract of your manuscript, an agent query pack is sent to literary agents in the hope that they’ll be interested in representing you and your book.

If you don’t know where to start, read on to find out more.

Image by Olga Tutunaru on Unsplash

What are the parts of an agent query pack?

There are three parts to an agent query pack: a cover letter (also known as a query letter), book synopsis, and a manuscript extract. When submitting to literary agents, make sure to include every part and follow any submission guidelines posted by those agents.

What are query letters?

A query letter is what you write to introduce yourself and your book to a literary agent. These are typically in the body of your email, though some agencies and other organisations might request that you include the query letter in the same file as your synopsis and extract.

Query letters should be personalised to agents, but you don’t need to write each from scratch. By creating a template query letter, you can cut down on the time you spend writing letters and mark where you want to personalise.

At the absolute minimum, you should make sure to address the letter to the literary agent you’re contacting. Don’t use “Sir” or “Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”. If you can see an agent’s name, you should address them by their first name.

Find more tips for agent query letters here.

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is an overview of your book’s plot.

Usually a page or two long, the synopsis should go over the main beats of your story, including plot and character development.

Don’t be afraid to spoil the ending in your synopsis. Agents aren’t your readers – they’re your advocates. You want to make sure they know all of the main beats of your story.

Some agents don’t even read the synopsis until after they’ve read and enjoyed your extract. For these agents, the synopsis acts as a summary of the plot and tells them whether the ending will pay off.

What is a manuscript extract?

The phrase “manuscript extract” isn’t usually used, but it encompasses what you’ll be asked for. The extract is usually the first 3 chapters or first 10,000 words of your manuscript.

Literary agents will specify which they’re looking for, so make sure you make a note of what they’re expecting.

Why are agent query packs important for submitting to literary agents?

Agent query packs are important and one of the only ways to gain interest from a literary agent. They give literary agents a taste of your story.

When you send a query to a literary agent, you’re trying to convince them to request the full manuscript.

There are three stages to querying literary agents:

  • Finding agents who might be interested in your book
  • Sending agents your agent query pack to convince them to represent you
  • Receiving a full manuscript request and sending over the rest of your book

To get a literary agent to represent you and your book, you’ll need to impress them enough to get to the third stage. Once an agent has your full manuscript, they’ll determine whether or not they want to represent you.

Unfortunately, querying is a long and difficult process. You’ll receive rejections – mostly generic rejections – and you’ll spend a lot of time waiting to hear back.

But if you find the perfect literary agent who wants to sign with you, you’ll be a massive leap closer to being published.

How to query a literary agent

Once you know how to find a literary agent, it’s time to start querying.

Before you start submitting to literary agents, remember:

  • Only submit to literary agents who are looking for books in your genre or authors like yourself
  • Check what each literary agent wants and how they want to be submitted to
  • Personalise your query letter to make it clear why you’re submitting to them

Once you have your agent query pack put together, you can begin contacting literary agents. You might find a spreadsheet useful to track who you’ve contacted and when they’ve replied. Alternatively, try QueryTracker.

Make sure not to send multiple queries to the same agent unless they’ve requested it! Some agencies also ask that you only contact one agent within their company.

When querying a literary agent, double check what they’re looking for and then personalise your query letter.

Most agents want to be contacted by email, though some agencies will have a general submissions email. Make it clear who you’re contacting – if your query letter is within the body of the email, it’s already done, but if not you can state who you want to contact.

If you haven’t already, you might find it useful to create a new email for your writing. This might help keep your email inbox clear. If you use a pseudonym, you can use your pseudonym in your email – though remember, to be paid and to sign contracts, in most cases you’ll have to use your legal name.

When drafting the email, make sure you double check everything: are there any typos in your query letter? Have you attached your synopsis? Have you attached your manuscript extract?

After sending the email, make a note when you contacted them and, if possible, when you expect to hear from them. Some agents will state when to expect a response, but it’s sadly common that you’ll never hear anything.

You can query multiple literary agents at once. Be prepared to wait, and try to prepare yourself for rejection.

While waiting, you’ll have time to edit the rest of your manuscript further. Or you might want to start working on your next writing project. Many writers get stuck on editing the same book over and over again while they wait for responses. Sometimes moving on to your next project is better, especially if you’re planning to write a series.

Good luck with your querying journey, and remember to be proud of yourself for finishing your book.

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