Wendy's favorite quotes

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."— Dr. Seuss

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Agent Laura Rennert's Tips on Queries

At Storymakers 2010, Agent Laura Rennert, a senior agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, shared an agent’s eye view of the process. I’m happy to report that she is both friendly and engaging as a speaker.

The question she asks of every query and pitch session is: “who, what, where, and why should I care.”

The WHO is your protagonist, and yes you should include the name. WHAT is your main conflict. WHERE is the setting, which can be geographical, temporal or both. And WHY SHOULD I CARE is that little detail that makes your story different from any other like it.

“Keep the query short,” she cautions. And be careful not to overhype, by making all sorts of glowing statements about your work. A simple exercise you can use to revamp your query:

1. Write down the title, category, setting, protagonist, and central problem.

2. Write down one vivid detail that makes any of the above elements different.

3. In your story, identify credibility, inherent conflict, originality, real emotional power, and voice. (By the way, original voice is the biggest factor for what new clients she takes on)

4. Come up with 3 “big words” relating to your story. (love, journey, destiny)

5. Set a timer for 5 minutes and crank out a query using the information you wrote down. Be sure to use one of the “big words” in the last sentence.

For your pitch, use credentials or anything that makes YOU the perfect author for this book. (Give a glimpse of the story behind the story) For instance, as a farmer who lives on the reservation, I’ve got a good handle on what that is like for my characters.

Another thing she looks for is your platform. Do you have an online presence? One of her clients, Maggie Stiefvater of the NYT bestseller SHIVER, had a great website which suddenly got loads of hits from a publisher as they were deciding whether or not to buy the book. Getting yourself “out there” is a good thing, my friends.

Be very cautious of exclusives. She suggests that you should only consider doing exclusives that are 2-3 weeks tops. An easy and polite way to avoid the exclusive dilemma is to send out your work to more than one agent/publisher at a time. Then you can politely say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve already sent it out to another person for consideration.” She says this response is not offensive.


1. Have multiple email addresses in the “To” line on the email. They know you send it to several places, but having it shoved in their face without even a customized email is irritating.

2. Send the wrong agent the wrong category. If you write Horror, and send it to an agent that only works with YA, you’ve just wasted a stamp and both of your time.

3. Hyperbolic praise. (My story is so cool that Stephen King will weep when he reads it)

4. Not being able to situate a book in the market. Be squarely in a category for your first novel so that agents don’t run at your declaration that it is a mainstream, horror, fantasy, YA book with a chick-lit twist. Um, what?

5. Careless errors, such as typos and grammatical errors.

6. Not following instructions. Every agency/publisher has submission requirements. Find them. Read them. Follow them.

You can learn more about Laura and her agency at http://www.andreabrownlit.com/agents.php , and you can see some of her work at http://www.laurajoyrennert.com/ .

I think the biggest thing I learned from her was that agents “are just people who really love books.” If you have a good tale to tell, then she wants to read it. It was a pleasure to meet her, and I hope her advice helps you as much as it did me.


Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Wendy, what an awesome post! I wasn't able to attend that session, so thanks very much!

Love your blog, BTW. :-)

MTeacress said...

I was thouroughly impressed with this woman's presentation. What good information! Her respect for aspiring authors made her all the more believable.

Wendy Swore said...

That's it exactly, I've been so busy putting agents on an insurmountable pedestol that I'd lost site that they really are regular nice people who love books--a lot!

Thanks Nancy and MT for stopping by. :)

Rita Webb said...

Wow, great article, Wendy. Thanks for sharing.

Renee Miller said...

Thanks for sharing Wendy. It is sometimes easy to forget that agents are like you and me, people trying to do a job. With all the advice out there on writing a good query, their jobs shouldn't be quite so hard. Following instruction is apparently a technique not many have mastered yet.

Author Susan Griscom said...

This is a great article, Wendy. It's very inspiring to read what an agent wants. The more information, the better. Thanks for posting this.

MTeacress said...

PS, I tagged you on my blog this afternoon. ;)

Wendy Swore said...

Thanks, Rita, Renee, & Susan,
I'm glad you found it helpful. I've many many more notes to go before I'm done with what I learned at the writer's conference.

MT Thanks for the tag! You're very kind. :)

Amy Jo said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! It was an SCBWI retreat for the Southern Idaho/Utah region (the retreat was held in Ashton, ID). If you're not already a member of SCBWI, you should join! They're having a regional conference in Boise in September, as well as one in SLC in November.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Wendy! Like you, the editors, agents and others in the publishing industry I've met have been friendly and approachable. Too often I see posts from writers who appear to view agents et al as the enemy. They're people too! Did you see Nathan Bransford agent for a day challenge? Ai!

Thanks again for sharing a bit what you've learned with the rest of us. : )

Wendy Swore said...

Amy, I'm looking up SCBWI now. Anything that has Idaho meetings is cool with me! In Septemeber, I'm picking corn and running the corn maze, so that month is out for me, but November 1st is my most favorite day of the year because it means farming is over for the year. (yea, yea there's clean up... but we're closed! So it's easier to deal with)

Writermomof5, thanks Shawna! I didn't see Nathan Bradford's challenge. Can you steer me in the right direction or should I just google it?

Thanks, both of you for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I love your list for how to get a quick rejection. Sometimes it takes being put like that, for it to really sink in.

Thanks for the comment on my blog. I'll keep in touch!

Sharrieboberry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wendy Swore said...

Sharrieboberry- thanks for the catch! I missed that one. Thank you for stopping by. :)

Lani Woodland said...

I missed that class. Thanks so much for such a great re-cap!

Dee_Marie_SOA said...

Hi Wendy,

Thank you so much for sharing your conference experiences with us. You are the best :]

Your friend,
Dee Marie