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Ask the Agony Editor: on agent queries

In this month’s readers’ advice column, Brian Francis congratulates you on finishing your novel. But wait – your work is only half-over…

Brian-Francis-FinalBonjour, Brian,

It’s your former elementary school French teacher. I have completed my first novel. It took three years to get it to the point where I feel I can think about publishing. I am currently sending queries to agents. Do you have any tips? Your advice would be appreciated.


Madame From Your Past

Bonjour, Madame,

It’s always nice to hear from a former teacher. How is the LeDuc family? In some ways, agents are like second languages. You don’t necessarily need one to get by in life, but they can give you a competitive edge. Agents, after all, have connections to publishers and editors. They help generate interest in your book and negotiate contracts, foreign rights, and all sorts of things that overwhelm fragile, sensitive types who avoid living in the real world. (Hand up right here!) Having said that, agents work on commission. They need to feel you’ll be a good return on their investment. The less well-known you are, the higher the risk. Chances are slim you’ll land an agent for your first book. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim your arrow high. I spoke to literary agent who offered the following tips for query letters:

▶ Don’t be afraid to mention any personal connections you may have to writers or publishers, or if you’ve studied with a well-known writer.

▶ Don’t say your book will sell a million copies.

▶ Don’t be lazy. Do your homework about the agent and the types of books he/she represents.

▶ Keep your query letter short.

▶ Point out that you taught French to one of the greatest Canadian authors, like, ever.

If you don’t get any interest from agents, try approaching publishers directly. But prepare for a long process. It took you three years to write the book. It will probably take you just as long, if not longer, to see it published.

Bon chance.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.