Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Write a Query Letter...A Workshop with Literary Agent Joanna Mackenzie

My life is getting very exciting. Take tonight for example. Leaving the pigs, cows and peacocks and husband behind I trekked up to my old neighborhood in Chicago, Ravenswood, to learn something new.

This old dog needs stimulation if she is to continue remembering the names of her children.

The workshop, sponsored by the Chicago Writers Conference was so worth the moola. For just $50 I was able to meet Joanna Mackenzie, Literary agent with the only literary agency in Chicago, Browne and Miller Literary Associates. Not only did we meet...

Ms. Mackenzie: "Hi"
Me: "Hi"

Yes, I understand the whole idea of networking is to actually work that net so to speak, draw people in, make an impression and all that, but she was just sitting down and the session was starting so I was being respectful of her time.

Who's defensive?

Am not.

Am not.

Do you mind? I have a post to complete. So the session was very good.

They gave us free wine.

Turns out that agents are not as mean as so many of the articles written about them, would have you to believe. In fact, Ms. Mackenzie covered all the basics in a warm and helpful manner. She explained the reasons WHY an author needs an agent, HOW to find and agent and WHEN a query letter should be written. She went into detail about the contents of a query letter and she shared some of the best BAD query letters I have ever seen. 

And they gave us free wine.

She also gave us a serious reality check. Immediately after I asked the question, "Could you please give us a reality check in regards to the number of query letters you receive as compared to books that make it to publication?"

And they gave us free wine.

The breakdown went like this. In a weeks time her agency receives approximately 200 query letters. Seems everyone has the next best seller. Of those 200 her staff will pick out 30 they think are worthy of her time. Of those 30 she might ask 5 authors to send a few chapters. And of those 5...only 1-2 will be selected for possible sale to a publishing company.

Seems a bit daunting does it not? Oh well, at least,

They gave us free wine.

So for those of who are ready to send those first query letters to an agent Ms. Mackenzie advises:

     Do your research. Do not contact an agency that publishes only YA fiction about your fabulous
     new roadkill cookbook.

     Be professional. Instead of "Hiya" Consider, Dear Ms. Mackenzie.

     Tell about your book in a synopsis of one paragraph. Do not send drawings, CDs DVDs or live
     models ready to do a puppet show.

     Do compare your book to other similar types but DO NOT mention that yours is so much

     Do follow the agent specific submission guidelines. Don't send by registered mail if they only
     take email submissions.

     Do wait an appropriate amount of time, such as a couple weeks, before you call to politely
     ask if they received your letter. DO NOT park yourself outside the agents home. This would be
     stalking. Agents don't like stalking

Again, for more information about how to query an agent, go directly to their website.



  1. I remember passing the Ravenswood stop on the L.

    I (obviously) did not go this route because it was waaaay too daunting and because I didn't think anyone out there (non-homesteader, non-farmer types) would get what I was doing. A novel, though, sounds like having a better to at least make it to the agent's door.

  2. Hi Leigh, I think you would be surprised at the number of non farmer types who read books written by homesteaders. The allure of a life "living off the land" (as if all we had to do was pitch a tent) appeals to investors, bankers as well as those who milk goats for fun and profit. I think in our heart of hearts we all seek the romance of country., if not under our toes then at least in between our page- flipping fingers.