When seeking agency representation, how much information should you offer? Should you wade in with one toe, send enough information to tease the agent, or go all in with a proposal accompanied by a complete manuscript?
First, a note: Before deciding on any form of communication, please refer to the agent’s posted guidelines. While my office will respond to a quick question, such as “Do you represent romance novels?” (Yes.), why not make your communications worthy? A quick visit to a website to find the answers to yes/no questions can save many people–including yourself!–needed time during the business day.
Query. A query letter gauges the agent’s interest in reviewing the writer’s work.
- Advantages: Query letters take less time to compose and send than proposals. Because notes are short, you may receive a response sooner than sending a complete package. Also, consider that some agents don’t open unsolicited attachments. So in choosing to query, I recommend presenting the letter in the body of an email.
- Disadvantages: A well-crafted query letter offers loads of detail in few words. The author has less time to convince the agent to review more materials than if the materials are attached. When querying, bring your best qualifications and talents to the forefront. Make the agent keep reading, so they’ll ask for the proposal.
Proposal. While an author can present a proposal at any stage of their career, I don’t recommend that a new author submit a proposal to an agent until the manuscript is complete. Most new authors are unfamiliar with how their personal book writing process works. Good ideas often fail when the author tries to commit them to a book. Plus, few, if any, significant publishers offer contracts to debut authors without seeing a complete manuscript.
- Advantages: A proposal offers enough information about the author and the project for the agent to discern that the project is marketable. The proposal review process provides the experienced author time to gauge interest while continuing to work on the complete manuscript.
- Disadvantages: An agent may need the manuscript more quickly than the author can complete the book. While an agent and author together can address this rare dilemma, creating a sudden need to finish a book swiftly can be stressful.
Proposal and Complete. This is the most extensive package an author should submit to an agent and will contain every possible bit of information, along with the entire manuscript, that the agent will need to decide about offering representation.
- Advantages. Once an agent and author agree to work together, the author is ahead of the curve and can spend time writing subsequent books while the agent works to market the project. When the contract arrives, the author can look forward to the publisher’s editing process instead of needing to write the book. The availability of a complete book at contract time means the publisher can release the first book sooner, rather than later.
- Disadvantages. The author has to spend a tremendous amount of time writing a book, delaying the possibility of receiving an offer of representation. Even worse, because the agent has a great deal of material to review, responses take longer than anyone likes.
As with most decisions in life, the answer here is nuanced. These are simply ideas to help authors who are wondering about their planned approach. If you’ve begun the process of seeking representation and have deviated from the above suggestions, don’t worry. The best agents are skilled at discerning marketable authors and will work with you to formulate the best strategy for your career.