Guest Post: Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas on How to Query an Agent or Editor: Do Your Detective Work

By Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas
(a.k.a. Mentors for Rent)

One of the things that will truly make your submission stand out amongst the thousands of other submissions is to show that you’ve done your detective work and established that your manuscript is a good match for that agent or editor in particular.

Some agents say that the first thing they want to see in a query letter is a statement saying something like, “I know that you already represent [these authors], which makes me think you will like my manuscript.”

So you need to follow up on all the clues you can discover about the tastes of your target editors or agents. Part of this is looking up the individual submission guidelines for the publisher or literary agency to whom you are submitting, to see its specific instructions for your submission package.

But we are encouraging you to take your research well beyond that.

You should also be researching each individual editor or agent to see what her book preferences are. How will your title fit alongside other books the editor has worked on? How does it compare to the kinds of books written by authors the agent represents?

Let the agent or editor know you’ve done this background check by mentioning it in your cover letter.

When you do this, there is a small difference between editors and agents.

Editors have a “list” of books that they work on for a publisher; you will want to research until you have a sense of what that list entails. Ask yourself, what kinds of books does this editor edit, for what ages?

Agents have a roster of authors whom they represent; so ask yourself, what kinds of authors does this agent work with?

Your letter for an editor might include something like, “I’m a big fan of [title here], and I think fans of it will also connect with my high-action mystery.”

This accomplishes three things:

  1. it praises the taste of that editor (and who doesn’t love praise?);
  2. it shows you’ve done your research and are targeting him because he’s a great fit for your work and not just a random choice; and
  3. it reinforces your target audience.

Or you might say to an agent, “I love the snarky humor found in books by [writer] and [writer], whom you represent, and I’m hoping you will find my work has the same kind of edgy appeal.”

We’re not saying that you should make grandiose claims such as “my book is bound to be the next Harry Potter.” That’s taking this way too far! But you can make yourself stand out by pointing to a book or books an agent or editor has worked on (or authors she has worked with) for which you can offer an honest compliment.

How do you know what books or authors an editor or agent has represented?

One way is to start with the recent books that you’ve loved reading from the category you hope to publish in (and yes, if you want to write young adult novels, you should be reading dozens if not hundreds of recent young adult novels!).

Many writers (particularly in longer works where there is more space) include an acknowledgments page where they thank their editor and agent. Or maybe they talk about their editor and agent on their webpage and blog.

Keep a record of these names when you run across them connected to books you’ve enjoyed, and when it’s time for you to start submitting your work, you’ve already got a starter list of possible targets.

It never hurts to try a Google search as well. For instance, type in, “[target editor name] interview”. A variety of hits could come up: interviews, mentions in blogs, conference notes (editors often announce their current wish lists and recent books they’ve edited when they speak at a conference). Several editors and agents also have blogs. You can use the information you find there to say something like, “I’m submitting to you because your wish list on your blog mentions middle grade mysteries.”

You put your research skills to good practice when you wrote your book. Now use them again for another critical purpose: to find the agents or editors who are the best matches for your work!

Cynsational Notes


This post was a slightly revised version of “Chapter 5: Show You’re a Pro,” from the new e-book How to Query an Editor or Agent: A Children’s Writer Insider Guide from Mentors for Rent.

One reviewer calls it “a must have for any children’s book writer. The authors have compiled a user friendly, step-by-step guide which helps take the mystery and worry out of both cover and query letters.”

See more information.

7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas on How to Query an Agent or Editor: Do Your Detective Work

  1. This post is very helpful! I've been contemplating a career in writing and this article will be helpful for me down the line, plus I've always been curious about this process.

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