Chip MacGregor

December 6, 2013

When is an agent query like a party? (a guest blog)


Think about approaching an agent to talk about your book. You see the agent over there, holding a glass of wine. You approach. You make an introduction. There’s some small talk. You start to chat about your story. But there are some things you want to be aware of…

When you ask the agent to meet too many characters in the space of one page, it’s a problem. It’s like getting introduced to a dozen people at a party all at once, trying to remember their names, what they do for a living, and how they relate to the host. When approaching an agent, stick to your POV characters. Use their names. But for everyone else, refer to them in the manner they relate to the POV character; i.e.: husband, daughter, boss, etc.

And you want to make sure you have the right directions to the party. Before racing off to meet the agent, check into their website in order to know what he or she is looking for. If they only want romance and suspense, don’t send your YA sci-fi. That’s the shortest route to getting escorted out the back door.

At a party, if you’re the one writing those nametags everyone has to wear, be sure you spell their names right. Oh, and for pity sake give the right one to the right guest. Slapping Brandilyn Collis on  Chip MacGregor’s chest is just wrong on so many levels. If you use the same query email, make darn sure you’ve replaced the previous agent’s name. Sending Chip a query with Steve Laube’s name on it will guaranty your email is deleted before it’s read. And showing that you’ve sent the same note to fifteen agents will get you banned from any future parties.

When the guests don’t know when to leave, the host can begin to get a bit grumpy. So know how long to take, and when it’s time to step away from the featured guest. The query synopsis should be short, like back cover copy. Save the 3-page synopsis for when the agent asks to see it. The query is a teaser, a hook, and you ought to have a one-line version and a three-to-seven sentence version of your story to share at the party. Pique the agent’s interest but don’t put her to sleep.

Oh, and make sure to check the dress code. Showing up for a fancy dinner party in jeans suggests you don’t know what you’re doing. When you approach an agent, read his or her guidelines carefully, and follow them. If he wants them emailed, don’t send a four pound box of paper. If she wants the whole manuscript, don’t just send the first ten pages. Checking the details ahead of time will save you a lot of embarrassment.

If you follow the party rules, you might get an invitation to the next event… or at least invited to send your proposal and sample chapters. 


Novelist Ane Mulligan is President of the award-winning literary site Novel Rocket. She writes Southern-fried fiction for her dinner parties in her home in Suwanee, Georgia, where she lives with her artist husband and two very large dogs. She likes sweet tea and proper attire. 

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  • Lee Thompson says:

    Great advice, Ane!

  • Rick Barry says:

    I’m no agent, but as a writer I can amen the short teaser synopsis. Occasionally I’ve asked a new acquaintance, “What’s your book about?” only to be buried alive under a bulldozer load of names, places, red herrings, and plots twists. I suggest that even in small talk with folks who are not editors or agents, a compact little elevator pitch will intrigue listeners more than an audio version of the complete story.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Love the cocktail party analogy. I can see how querying agents is similar to a party, except it usually isn’t much fun–that is, until an agent is interested. Then it’s a blast.

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