When I first decided I wanted to publish a novel and find an agent, I never realised how much the querying side of things I’d be able to relate to. Here I was, thinking I was stepping into a completely foreign world that would be scary and dark and full of unexpected trap doors that would open up and send me falling down a really dark laundry chute (or something similar)!
And yet, querying in fiction writing isn’t all that different to querying in magazine land. As a magazine editor, I get a lot of freelance writers pitching articles to me. Some will send me ideas, others ideas and a sample (read: query letter, letter and a chapter), but one thing remains the same: all the complaints I commonly see agents gripe about, we have in common.
In case you’re thinking of querying in magazine or manuscript land any time soon, here are some of my top tips:
-Don’t get my name wrong. I know you’ve worked hard to google me and find my details, and you’ve also compiled a list of 50 other people you’re harassing today but seriously; getting my name right should be one of your top priorities. It’s Lauren. Not Laura. Not Lucy. And not even Howard (I wish I was making that up).
-Don’t get the name of my magazine wrong. This is even worse than the point above, because it makes me wonder how serious you really are about wanting to be published by me. I had a lady query me about an article in Dogs the other day. My magazine is named PETS (the capitals are on purpose, yes). Sure, they’re very similar, but there isn’t even a Dogs magazine as far as I’m aware, and just check, damn it, check! You have nothing to lose.
-Don’t email me and tell me you’d ‘love to write for me.’ That’s all. No new story ideas, nothing. I can imagine agents wouldn’t get this kind of an email (‘Hey, I’d love to write a novel for you! Any special requests?) (Although…) but seriously. If I have an idea for an article, why haven’t I either written it myself or sent it to one of my established team of freelancers which I clearly already have? For me, it’s like walking into a hospital and saying ‘Hey! I’d love to operate on someone. I haven’t got any fixed studies done, but I’d be more than happy to give it a bash!’ Scalpel, anyone?
-Don’t send me an email without hitting the spell check. Then, after you’ve spell checked, read through your email to make sure you haven’t had any awkward auto-correct moments. It’s quick, it’s easy and it will save me thinking you’re pitching me an article on Drinking With Dogs instead of Driving With Dogs (two completely different subject matters, needless to say).
-Don’t be afraid to follow me up. Don’t call me the next day, or even the next week, but if I haven’t responded to you after a fortnight, send me another email or a facebook/twitter to check I received it. Granted, the agent follow up times tend to be a lot longer, and some don’t like being followed up at all (check their websites for details, people), but personally, I love a good follow up. Especially if the writer has ticked all the above boxes; then I’ll be more than happy to hear from them!
Unless they got my name wrong, of course. In which case, Howard’s off work for the day.