Wednesday, March 30, 2016


by PJ Switzer

They say never start with a disclaimer but I like to break the rules ... so I’m going to start with, you guessed it, a disclaimer.

Here it is: I don’t have an agent yet. I’m working hard to get one but as of the writing of this article, I am agentless. This means you are free to ignore or discount today’s post. But don’t. There really is good stuff in here.

No, no, too hard for you.
5. Querying is like having children. Before you start everyone tells you how hard it is.

Conversation 1 – The Warning

You: I’m going to query. (I’m going to have a baby.)

Friend: It’s going to be hard. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

You: I know.

Friend: No, it’s, like super hard. Like Wonder Woman could barely do it and she’s, you know, Wonder Woman.

You: Got it.

Friend: I don’t think you do.

Then you start the querying process or have the baby and all of a sudden you get it.

You: OH MY GOSH, this is sooooooo hard!

Conversation 2 – The Horror Story

Friend: Are you aware this process can take forever and people have died in the process? I almost died. Did you know that? It was terrifying. Are you sure you really want to do this?

You: I was until I started talking with you.

4. Agents, agents everywhere

Will you be my agent?
I had no idea what I was doing when I started looking for an agent. However, in a previous life (my early 20s) I developed some wicked research skills in the pursuit of an advanced degree and I put them to work.

Here’s what I did. (I don’t know if it was the best or fastest way but it’s what I did):
  • Checked out the most recent edition of Guide to Literary Agents. (Why buy a book that’s out of date almost as soon as it’s published?)
  • Read through the articles in the beginning.
  • Found the index in the back where agencies were listed by what genres they accepted.
  • Created an excel spreadsheet listing all the agencies.
  • Went to every agency website to learn more about them and individual agents, submission requirements, etc.
  • Filled in the information on my spreadsheet.

There are websites that can help with all of this and I’ll list them in the Resources section but I still recommend making your own record. As I went along I discovered a number of agents who weren’t listed on some of the major sites.

Now, as I send out queries I track them on both my personal spreadsheet and Query Tracker.



  • Writer’s Market series
  • Guide to Literary Agents series

3. There’s no such thing as “the right” query letter.

Despite what everyone tells you.

Query letters are instruments of torture designed by the Devil of literature. The worst part is there really is no one right way to write one, despite what you’ll hear from well-meaning friends.

Conversation 3 – The Absolute

You: I’m working on my query letter.

Friend: Okay, you HAVE to write it like this or an agent will never look at it.

(Two weeks later)

You: I think I finally have my query letter ready to go.

Different friend: Oh no, this is all wrong. You HAVE to do it like this or agents will just delete it.

Yes, the letter must contain certain pieces of information but, in my experience, you’re going to wind up rearranging that information a number of times in a number of ways not only to improve the letter but because different agents want different things.

"Must have" elements:
  • Agent’s name: Dear Ms. Jones or Dear Mr. Brown
  • Genre: Middle Grade, Romance, YA, etc.
  • Word count: 27,343 words would be listed as 27,000 words for simplicity’s sake.
  • Title: This one should be obvious but just in case it isn’t.
  • Synopsis: BE BRIEF.
  • Credentials: If you have any, make sure you list them. If not, list any writing organizations you belong to. Hint: ANWA is one, SCBWI is another. Don’t list anything unrelated to writing.

The best formula I found for this brief synopsis came from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (

The formula is simple:
Who + Circumstance + Conflict + Hook

Using Pride & Prejudice as our sample the query might look something like this:

In Regency England marriage is a lady’s only means of securing her future. This is especially true for Elizabeth Bennett and her four sisters. However, Elizabeth is determined to marry for love even if it means losing her home and her place in society.

Her resolve is put to the test by a string of suitors: dashing Mr. Wickham, groveling Mr. Collins, and wealthy Mr. Darcy. Each has his advantages and his flaws. How is Elizabeth to choose?

When disaster strikes the Bennett family, Elizabeth quickly discovers whose affections are sincere and whose are fleeting. But can she accept the man who offers assistance?

Well, you get the idea.

The most important thing I’ve learned about the letter is that it needs to represent you. Be professional, but be yourself.

2. Rejection is no fun.
It just sucks so much!

That sentence should win the “Well, duh!” statement of the year. But it’s true and it’s something you have to deal with if you’re going to try the traditional publishing route.

Two things have helped me deal with the painful parts of this process, prayer and a fantastic support network. 

Pray constantly and about everything.
  • Who should I query?
  • Is it time to revise the letter AGAIN?
  • Should I hang it up and put my manuscript away for a while?

Turn to friends and family for encouragement.
In six months of querying I’ve wanted to quit more times than I can count. In fact, I’ve given up a number of times but one or more of my peeps has told me to put on my big girl panties and get back out there. So, I have. It helps to know that others believe in me and my writing even when I don’t. Especially when I don’t.

Conversation 4 - The Pep Talk

You: I got another rejection today. Nobody is EVER going to want my book.

Friend: I don't know what's wrong with that guy. You're book is brilliant.

You: He was kinda mean, too.

Friend: You want me to take a hit out on the agent?

You: Hmm ... let me think about it.

Rejection will never feel good but the Spirit and loved ones can certainly take some of the sting out of it.

All things are possible.

1. Do not give up.
No matter how hard the process gets, do not let it derail you. Start another book, and another, and another. Revise the current letter or manuscript. Look at self-publishing. 

Whatever happens keep moving forward.

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