I’ve spoken about this at conferences myself, to which Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management gave a fantastic list, found on the Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s blog yesterday. This applies to fiction queries, but can easily translate for non-fiction queries.
Additional things I would include:
1. Do not mass email EVERY agent in the industry, and make it clearly visible in the “To” line. It doth not win over a potential agent, as he/she can see everyone you’ve also emailed.
2. Be prepared to have an agent ask about a personal website, your Facebook presence (as a writer), Twitter, and more. Getting to know publishing in the electronic age means the writer needs to already have a presence (or at least be working toward one) online.
3. Even agents outside of NY (including myself) are equally sardonic as the NY Agents. Please, please avoid using a rhetorical question as an opener in your query letter/email. In addition, do not ask any agent to help you with marketing ideas, ways to improve your idea, and other possible agents to contact in the query letter. Sadly this happens more frequently than a person can imagine.
4. Sending a query to agent that doesn’t represent one’s category list will be a Query Killer. If the book idea is outside the agent’s representative categories, there is a 99.999% chance the query will be rejected.
5. Personal information, I concur! Other information I have no desire to know includes how many schools one attended, # of college degrees, if one is married or not, # of children, # of jobs had in one’s life, health issues, and more….the only time to share such personal information is if it pertains to the book content and the success of the book. Agents are simply looking for the writer’s book idea, its sales potential, the writer’s platform, and the quality of the writing.
Last but not least, I want to give Janet a high five on the final point. Please avoid putting the figurative cart before the horse in regard to one’s writing career. It is better to be overprepared before going to the agents vs. starting the queries early on without a writing platform to match.