Love it or hate it, Literary Agents are the gatekeepers of the the publishing world. An agent is the person who deems whether or not your manuscript is ready for publication and, this is a big one, if the agent thinks its sellable.
What does sellable mean in this context? I have come to learn that it means in the agent’s mind is their an Editor out there at a publishing house who they deal with who would take on this project. Period end of story. Agents know what those Editors like and what they are looking for and thus, if your work fits that mold, bam, you might just get picked up by an agent. It’s very subjective and your little manuscript is just one of hundreads that the agent received that week. Is it hard? Yes it is.
So, of course, the key is getting your work to rise above the rest. How is that done? A well written, catchy, query letter. I know what you are asking at this point. What the hell is a query letter?
A query letter is a few paragraphs describing the work, and a little bit about your writing career. That’s it. Usually no longer than a page and just a few paragraphs. That query letter, although short, is the key to the kingdom. Somehow, someway, within those first few sentences you must write something so compelling that the agent desires to keep reading and if lucky enough, likes it so much that they then request that you send to them the manuscript.
That’s a lot of pressure for the person writing a query letter. You have worked months, perhaps years, on the manuscript, yet it all comes down to this query letter. Like I said, love it or hate it, that’s the rules of the game.
So, here are my few tips for writers out there.
- Make sure you research the agent and what they are looking for. For example, if an agent only likes books about 14th century England, you really don’t want to send a query letter to that agent your story about the zombie apocalypse in 2017.
- It’s hard to find an agent. You will be rejected, often. Keep in mind that a lot of very successful writers were rejected by agents. Keep trying.
- All agents know accept the query letter by email. Makes rue your direct your email to the correct agent and that you spell their name right.
- Follow their submission guidelines which can be found on the literary agent websites. Some agents want a few pages of the manuscript sent with the query letter. You must abide by their rules. Remember, it’s their game and it’s their rules.
- A legitimate agent does not charge a fee to read your material. They are only paid on the commission they receive if they are able to sell your work. Do not deal with agents wanting you to pay them anything up front.
- If an agent calls you to enter into an agreement to represent you, please make sure you have a great bottle of wine to celebrate. But, keep in mind, that’s only step one. A big step, but only step one. Step two is the agent selling the work to an editor.
So, as you can see, the query letter begins this whole process. Trust me, the day an agent calls you and says that love your work and want to represent it, is a day you will not forget.
In closing, I wanted to give to you an example of a query letter. Below is my query letter for A Song for Bellafortuna, my second novel. This query letter got a lot of responses from agents to see the work and it also landed me an agent. So, before letting you review it, let me just say that I wish you the best of luck in your writing career.
Query for A Song for Bellafortuna
Considering the way life is lived today, I will tell you of a time and place where the people lived their lives with a heroic passion for decency. Bellafortuna, Sicily was such a place and the setting of my historical novel, A Song for Bellafortuna.
The manuscript was selected as a short list Finalist in the William Faulkner Literary Competition held in conjunction with the Words and Music Festival in New Orleans.
John Biguenet, author of Oyster and The Torturer’s Apprentice and a distinguished English Professor at Loyola has read the manuscript and declared that it is an inspiring story of a Sicilian village threatened by commerce but saved by opera. He said it is a quiet, reflective, and meditative work. It reminds him of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
In 1908, the great Neapolitan opera tenor, Enrico Caruso, learned that his wife had run off with his chauffeur, leaving him to care for his two children. Both humiliated and devastated at his loss, Caruso traveled from Florence to Sicily and Tunis to get away from the crush of reporters hounding him over the news. I used that historical trip as the impetus behind my story.
For years, Bellafortuna was a great producer of wine and olive oil. However, with the arrival of the Vasaio family, production over time is gradually lost and the villagers soon find themselves in debt to the very powerful Vasaio family, who acquires the villagers’ harvest and sells the harvests to other wineries and olive presses throughout Italy .
However, one family in the village, the Sanguinettis, remained outside the control of the Vasaios. But the reason for this blessing haunted Antonio Sanguinetti every day of his life. His father had worked closely with the Vasaios, aiding them in keeping the other villagers in debt. Since then, Antonio lives his life trying to overcome what his father had done. Antonio’s own son, Giuseppe Sanguinetti, follows through with his father’s mission; to rid the village of the Vasaios, bring freedom to the villagers, and once again produce the wine and olive oil that had brought glory to the village a long time ago.
With the great opera composer Giuseppe Verdi’s choral song of freedom from Nabucco, ‘Va, pensiero’, as their rallying cry, the villagers slowly come together and realize that through music and the love and kindness of the Sanguinettis, there could be a better life in the village.
A chance meeting with Enrico Caruso many years before by Giuseppe Sanguinetti leads to a wager with the powerful Vasaio family that if Caruso would ever sing in the village, then the villagers would achieve freedom.
So, in 1908, when Caruso flees to Palermo , Sicily , the entire village of Bellafortuna mobilizes to try to convince the great tenor to sing in Bellafortuna and bring them freedom from the Vasaios. The end of the story is poignant and suspenseful. Will Caruso come or will the villagers hatch a plan of their own to bring freedom to their village?
Cavaliere Ufficiale Aldo Mancusi, President of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America with regard to my manuscript has stated that, “The book was a joy to read. It is a wonderful story, told in a magical way.”
I am an attorney in New Orleans and an author. My first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, was named as an Amazon best seller and won the Pinnacle Award in Historical Fiction. A Song for Bellafortuna is a tribute to all of my Sicilian ancestors.
I hope you find this brief description engaging and such that you would like to see the work. The manuscript is finished and presently is about 286 pages or 80,000 words.
Thank you for your time and your consideration.