[Haha! I lied to you, as writers do. This is not a tutorial on how to write a query. The floor of the internet is absolutely littered with them. This is a little story about how to successfully land an agent who’s a good fit for you and your work. Which actually has very little to do with your query.]
You are a produce seller, with a stall at the farmer’s market. And a sign, describing your wares. You don’t have a wide variety of products. Probably one. Maybe two. Rarely three. In other words it’s all about quality, not quantity.
An agent is a shopper, going to market with a list. And they also have some sort of sign… maybe a fluorescent sandwich board, maybe just some words scrawled on the back of their t-shirt with a faded purple sharpie. But they all have a sign somewhere, if you look for it. You can read—find it and read it.
Let’s assume they’re looking for peaches. Specifically, peaches that remind them of a warm summer’s evening when they were a kid, hanging on the street corner with other kids and eating farm-fresh peaches with the juice running down their chin. Those kinds of peaches.
Not canned peaches drowning in high fructose corn syrup.
First off, if your sign says “Strawberries!” they’re likely to pass on by, even if your strawberries are exceptional. (Especially if they’re carrying a sign that says “No berries!” and you still try to talk them into your strawberries. Odds of success here are rapidly approaching zero, right?)
However, if your stall has a sign in front saying “Peaches for sale,” they’re very likely to stop and at least take a look. If your sign says “Fresh peaches for sale,” I suppose they might be even more inclined to stop, and if it says “Ripe, juicy, farm-fresh peaches for sale,” they’re almost certainly going to stop.
But peaches are expensive and they only have room for a few of them at the moment, so guess what? They aren’t going to think, “That’s a really well-written sign—I’m just going to buy those peaches.” Are you kidding? They’re going to try a sample.
And at that point, everything depends on that sample. Everything.
You can tell them, “These are the best, juiciest, freshest peaches in the whole market,” and it won’t make one damn bit of difference if they take a bite and disagree. You can talk about your peach-growing degree or the fact that you won the peach pie contest in eighth grade or that all your friends absolutely love your peaches and… Yup. They don’t care. If the sample is less than scrumptious in their opinion, adiós.
But if your little stall has a simple sign that says “Peaches,” and you say, “I see you’re looking for fresh peaches… here’s a sample of mine” and they take a bite and the juice runs down their chin and they’re suddenly transported back to being twelve years old on the street corner on a warm August night, guess what? They’re going to buy a bag and see if the rest are the same. (They will be, if you take your peach-growing seriously.) And once they realize your sweet little sample was telling the truth about your peaches, they’re going to want to be in business with you, helping you sell your peaches all over the world.
8/8/2022 06:30:40 pm
I have a handful of picture book length stories that I would love to have published! Would you suggest that I try to get an agent, or just self-publish?
8/8/2022 08:02:18 pm
That’s entirely your decision, depending on your goals. If you just want your story out there for friends and family, the indie route might be the best/easiest path for you. If you have a message you feel is universal/timely/important/in-demand and you want the world to see it, I would shop it to agents and see what sort of response you get.
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