Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Agent Elana Roth on Query Letters

To give us an idea of just how difficult an agent's job is, agent Elana Roth from Johnson Literary Agency gave attendees at DFW Writing Conference copies of 20 actual query letters (names and titles changed) to accept or reject. It's a tough job! I had one letter unread when time ran out. Some of the queries were obvious rejections due to word count, typographical errors, or sheer weirdness. Others were more difficult. Some letters were well written...but didn't explain concept clearly or didn't hit a specific market.

Proving my incompetence as an agent, I "rejected" one of her client's letters.  To my credit, even Elana Roth said, "This letter sucks." It has "big paragraphs" and "it rambles." BUT it had a great concept. Yeah, I was so caught up in form, I didn't think about that part.

Lesson learned: Well written letters get rejected.  Requests are made when concept is clear and author knows where it belongs in the market. So, be sure you nail those components when you submit.

She also talked about sending good prospects to other agents. Until then, I'd not understood why an agent would pass on something he or she thought would sell.  Then she explained, "If I don't want to read a book 18 times before sending to an editor, then the author deserves someone who does."

Lesson learned: Believe an agent who says it's good but not for him or her.  I've read books I knew were good, but I never wanted to see again.  Why not give agents that same freedom?

For more information about Elana and the biz,  check her out on Twitter @ElanaRoth.  I love when she tweets as she reads queries.

Next week: Elana Roth's take on word count.

Yesterday was her 30th birthday, so from half-way across the continent and the internet: happy belated birthday!

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