Guest blog by Gillian McAllister
When I was querying, I found there was almost too much material on the internet (especially because some other markets, like America, rely only on queries and not on sample chapters which puts a totally different emphasis on things). That being said, I thought it would be helpful to distil some of the less obvious tips I read into five key points.
1. Your word count
I wasn’t aware that the word-count should be included until quite a late stage, but it helps agents to flag at the earliest opportunity whether there is likely to be a problem. While word counts are not strict rules to be obeyed, under 60,000 or over 150,000 is very unusual, and it varies again within those for genre. Fantasy is likely to be longer, but if your crime/rom com/police procedural runs to 150,000 words it might cause an agent concern.
2. Whose readership you would like
Do not say your book is ‘the next Harry Potter’, but do feel free to state in whose genre you are writing, particularly if you are working across genres. There are hardly any writers who sit exactly in my genre and, if I were querying now, I would most certainly mention Liane Moriarty’s name.
3. The age of your protagonist
This isn’t always necessary. In a police procedural, for example, it matters less because saying it is a police procedural tells the agent all they need to know about where to place it on the shelf. But if you’re writing dystopia, the distinction between YA and adult is huge. Likewise, women’s fiction with a twenty-year-old protagonist is hugely different from something like Thursdays in the Park which features two people in their sixties. It goes quite a way towards identifying genre.
4. You book’s hook
Don’t say it’s crime fiction with a gripping twist. Tell the agent what the hook is: its USP, the central question which needs answering in your novel. State themes, for sure, but always, always, always state your novel’s hook.
5. Why that agent
It’s so easy to do a blanket submission, but a sentence or two about that specific agent – a work they represent, how good they are at Twitter, a blog piece they recently wrote, a book they sold – goes some way to getting you to stand out of the slush pile and getting your chapters taken as seriously as possible.