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18 Etiquette Guidelines for Querying Literary Agents

11 Jun

A few months ago, I decided to close down the editing company I cofounded, Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, as my cofounders had moved on in life, and managing a company presented extra complexity compared to being a sole practitioner. I’m now reposting the content I created for Sounding Sea on my personal website.

Querying is unlike anything I’ve experienced in any other industry: it’s guided by unspoken rules. Everyone has slightly different ideas of what those rules are, and newbies can be left completely oblivious.

I’ll cover some basic guidelines for tricky situations that come up when you’re querying. These guidelines come from talking to other querying writers, and partly from seeing querying from the other side, via my internship with agent Carrie Pestritto (though she hasn’t seen this post, so these are my views, not hers!).

General querying etiquette: 

  1. Agents talk to each other. And to their clients. This impacts querying etiquette in so many ways. I’ll touch on that throughout this post. Always think about what you want agents to say about you when they’re all hanging out at the same conference—or DMing each other on Twitter. 
  2. In that vein, if you get multiple requests for your full or multiple offers, treat all agents as equals, even if you’re way more excited about one. You never know—that agent who is quieter online might be amazing on the phone. That agent with the smaller sales record might be hungrier to grow your career.
  3. Do NOT mass email one query to a bajillion agents with all of their emails in the “to” field. Agents can then simply reply to each other to talk about how careless you were in doing your research.
  4. Personalize each query. It’s best to include a specific reason why you are querying the agent, but even using the agent’s name shows you have done at least a little research. 
  5. If you’re in doubt about which honorific to use because you don’t know the agent’s gender or marital status, just use their full name. “Ms.” is also better than “Mrs.” if in doubt. (I could write a whole other post about how it’s ridiculous that the English language includes a woman’s marital status in the honorific but not the man’s—harrumph.) 
  6. Some agents prefer a more formal address than others. Start formal and follow their lead. If they write to you and sign an email requesting a full with their first name, write back with their first name. Until then, use their last name or full name. You’re not going to offend someone by being too formal, but you could offend someone by being too familiar.
  7. For the love of all that is holy, do NOT tweet or post publicly about your querying process in any specific manner while you are querying. There are many ways this could go wrong. Agents will look at your Twitter profile. You don’t want other agents to know if they were the first agent you queried or the last. You don’t want other agents to know which agents rejected you. Please don’t @ mention an agent about a query. There are RARE situations when this is okay, like if you’re pretty sure your query went into spam. But if you Twitter pitch an agent with an @ mention, they’ll tell you to submit following their guidelines—and they’ll remember you didn’t research their guidelines before pitching them on Twitter. If you @ mention an agent in a tweet about their rejection, you won’t change their mind, but you will annoy them. And they’ll remember your attitude when you go to query them with your next book.
  8. Don’t query multiple agents at the same agency at the same time. That’s a given across most agencies, unless otherwise specified (which sometimes happens during contests). Every agency has different rules about querying multiple agents. Learn which ones let you query one agent only, and learn which ones let you query another agent either after a rejection or a certain period of time. 
  9. Nudge after the time specified on the agent’s website. Sometimes, queries get lost in the email wilderness, and agents need a little nudge. Some agents will give you a timeline to wait before nudging. Others don’t specify. Three or four months is probably a safe bet. If an agent says “no response means no” on their website, don’t nudge.
  10. Don’t trash talk any genres or age categories or types of books or individual books in your query. For all you know, the agent could represent a book just like the one you’re trash-talking. 
  11. Don’t insult the agent in your query or in a response to a rejection. This seems obvious, but it happens, and it’s not helpful to anyone.
  12. In general, don’t respond to rejections. It’s too easy to come across as bitter. For more detailed rejections that include specific feedback, it is appropriate but not required to send a nice thank you. If an agent has put a lot of time into writing you a helpful rejection, definitely send a nice thank you. If you are working on a new project, it is also appropriate to respond to personalized rejections with a note about that project. Tactful, nice responses to rejections can be a good way to build a relationship with an agent that could help you later, with a different project. 

Etiquette for after you get an offer:

  1. If you get an offer, let all of the agents who have your full or partial manuscript know and give them time to consider your book. Different people have different views on whether you should nudge agents who only have queries. I think it’s polite (and beneficial to you) to let anyone you’ve queried in the last two months know. That way, they have a chance to fight for you, and they don’t waste their time reading your query and sample if you’re taken. I’ve heard people say they’ve nudged agents they thought they would never hear back from, and gotten requests. That’s a lot of work, but it could mean that amazing agent you had written off could actually be in the running to be your agent.
  2. Give an appropriate amount of time to the other agents. One week is on the short side—agents need time to read your book and think about it deeply. Three weeks is a little long to ask the offering agent to wait, biting his/her nails. Two weeks seems to be about standard, depending on holidays and what is going on in your life. 
  3. If an agent pressures you to give them a decision on the phone, tell them to hold their horses! That kind of pressure could be good for the agent, but it is not good for you. You need time to make a decision that’s not emotional, and to consider all of your options. 
  4. Let the initial offering agent know when you will make your decision. Tell all of the other agents you need to hear from them a day or two before that. That way, you will have time to make your decision after you have heard from all of the interested agents.  
  5. Once an agent has offered on your book, it’s bad form to send out more queries. If an agent offers quickly, that could mean you have limited options to choose from. That’s part of why I suggest querying in batches of ten or so. 
  6. Folks say “no agent is better than a bad agent.” If you’re not happy with the offer you get, decline it. If you know right away they’re not the right agent for you, you should decline the offer right away and forgo nudging other agents. Once you’ve nudged agents with an offer on a book, it is acceptable, but iffy, to send out new queries for that book—remember, agents talk.

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I may come back and edit this post when I have more ideas! 

Comment if you have other advice to share! 

How to Get a Literary Agent: Basics for Beginners

11 Jun

A few months ago, I decided to close down the editing company I cofounded, Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, as my cofounders had moved on in life, and managing a company presented extra complexity compared to being a sole practitioner. I’m now reposting the content I had created for Sounding Sea on my personal website.

Thanks to some recent pitch contests, I’ve been talking to a lot of new writers who are thinking about approaching literary agents. Below, I’ll break down the basic process of seeking literary agents and explain some of the common vocabulary that trips newcomers up. Note that this post is primarily geared towards writers of fiction and memoir, with a few notes for non-fiction writers to keep in mind.

Why Would I Want a Literary Agent?

For one, large traditional publishing companies rarely look at manuscripts unless they are submitted by literary agents. If you want a traditional deal, getting an agent is the way to go. For another, agents are the advocates for your literary career. They will negotiate contracts for you, and step in to help with any issues that come up as you continue to write and publish your work beyond a single book deal.

How Do I Get a Literary Agent?

Reaching out to literary agents is a long, complicated process, and actually getting an agent requires hard work, persistence, and some good luck and timing. Here are the basic steps for reaching out to agents, ultra-simplified.

  1. Finish a manuscript. That’s right! Unless you are super famous, or win a super famous writing prize, you need a complete, polished manuscript to land a literary agent. So finish that manuscript, send it off to critique partners, revise, and repeat, until you are sure the manuscript is the best it can be. Non-fiction writers play by different rules here, and generally can reach out to agents with a detailed proposal and a few sample chapters.
  2. Write a query letter. A query letter should be a brief pitch for your book. Personally, I like mine to start with a one-sentence hook, give a short preview of the plot, and end with a very brief bio. The “plot preview” should read like a jacket cover, enticing the agent to want to read more, with one key exception: jacket cover copy often brags about the writer. It would be weird to say your own writing is “engaging” or “page-turning.” Describe the story and let the agents decide whether they think that will be engaging or page-turning. Just like with your manuscript, be sure to get a second pair of eyes (or five) on your query. If you’re new to querying, I highly recommend a professional critique (hint hint, I do those; get in touch!).
  3. Research agents. Find a list of agents who represent the kind of book you write. You can search by genre or age category on places like QueryTracker or AgentQuery, or check out what agents are asking for on ManuscriptWishList. Writer’s Digest also has some excellent resources. Personally, I create and record my queries using QueryTracker. It keeps me away from spreadsheet hell and the $25/year fee for advanced reports is totally worth it. Aim for creating a list of about 100 agents, spread across different agencies.
  4. Send a batch of queries! I recommend sending queries to about 15 or 20 agents to start. That way, you can get a good sense of whether your query and first pages are working before you run through your entire agent list (you only get one shot per agent, normally, and sometimes only one shot per agency). Agents normally have detailed submission guidelines on their websites that tell you what they would like included with the query. Common requests are the first five pages, the first chapter, or even a dreaded synopsis (a topic for another post!). Make sure that you follow each agent’s submission guidelines carefully. Forgetting a key component could lead to an automatic rejection.
  5. Wait. This part sucks. It can take agents anywhere from 3 minutes to 2 years to respond to a query (I am not kidding! Two years happens. I’ve gotten a request after a year!). A month is a pretty normal time to wait. Some agents will only respond if they are interested in reading more of your work. We writers call that the dreaded “no response means no” policy. Some of those “no response” agents will give you a timeline on their website such as “if you don’t hear back in three weeks, assume we aren’t interested in representing your work.” Agents do sometimes request after those projected timelines, but I normally add another week or so and then write it off as a no.
  6. Get rejections. An agent responds to your query . . . you grit your teeth . . . click on the email . . . and it says something like “Thank you for sending me your manuscript. Unfortunately, I did not connect with the writing, and I will have to pass.” Many new writers will read into rejections like this, thinking that there must be something horribly wrong with their writing. However, vague language about “connecting” is often a generic response that agents send to everyone they reject. Don’t read into these rejections, called “form rejections,” too much.
  7. Get requests. If an agent loves your query and sample, they will ask to read more of your work. Woohoo! Time to celebrate! Before you crack open that bottle of wine, send your manuscript! Read the request carefully and send the agent exactly what they wanted. Common requests are for the full manuscript, the first fifty pages, and a synopsis. Most agents ask for MS Word documents. I recommend saving the file with your name, the manuscript’s title, and the date.
  8. Reassess your request rate. After about a month, or as soon as you’ve heard from most of the agents you’ve tried, it’s time to take another look at your query and sample pages. According to QueryTracker’s stats as of today (May 18, 2017), the average request rate is about 9%. If you are only hitting that rate (about 2/20 queries), you may want to go back to the drawing board and revise your query and/or sample pages. Pro tip: changing your title can also make a huge difference to your request rate.
  9. Query more. If you’ve revised your query, send another batch out into the world to test! If your original query had a great request rate, there’s no reason to wait until you hear back from the agents with your manuscript. Send some more queries!
  10. Wait some more. If you have requests out, this is the really hard and long wait. Some agents will get back to you within days. Some agents will take several months. Some will respond in two years. Some will, sadly, never respond, though most agents commit to responding to requested materials.
  11. Get rejections on materials. As you send your work out more, query rejections will stop hurting. Rejections on a full or partial manuscript request, though, pack a punch. Again, make sure you’re not reading too much into form rejections. Several agents may reject your book before the right one reads it. However, if multiple agents reply back with the same feedback, it might be worth revising your manuscript. For example, if many agents say they believe your pacing is slow, or your main character’s motivations are unclear, it might be worth taking another look at your manuscript. You should only revise if feedback rings true to you, because another agent may give you the opposite feedback, or simply have a different vision for your book. If you decide to revise your book, you should stop querying until the manuscript is ready again.
  12. Get a “revise and resubmit.” If an agent passes on your book, but gives you specific feedback, and invites you to send a new version, that is not a rejection! Rejoice! That is a “revise and resubmit.” Agents mean it when they say they would read a book again. They don’t always offer that. Many writers sign with their agents in this way. However, there are no guarantees, so as I said above, you should make sure the feedback resonates with you before you act on it.
  13. Get an offer. Time for champagne! Normally, an agent will email you to ask you to have a phone call about your manuscript. Don’t get too excited yet, because occasionally agents ask for revise and resubmits via phone calls. Sometimes, agents will call you out of the blue (my dream/worst nightmare), and sometimes, they will offer right in the email (hallelujah!). When an agent “offers representation,” that means they want to sign you as a client! Now, don’t say yes right away. When you get an offer, it’s customary to let all the other agents who haven’t rejected your manuscript or query yet know, so they have a chance to offer representation as well. Normally, the first offering agent will give you a week or two to let other agents know and make your decision. This time period is very stressful and intense for writers, so if you’re feeling that way, you’re not alone. I dig deeper into the etiquette for this situation in another post.

That’s it! At least, that’s it for the process of querying agents cold. You can also go to conferences where you might meet agents, enter contests, and get referrals from author friends (carefully). Perhaps I’ll cover those topics in a future post. Now, after getting an agent, you still won’t have an automatic book deal. Those only come from publishers. Another topic for another day!

Webinar: What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Writers about Multiple POVs

6 Jun

Update: this webinar, and a transcript, for those who prefer reading, is posted here.

If Game of Thrones inspired you to write your own epic fantasy, join me for a free webinar about how to manage multiple points of view. I’m recording live and doing an exclusive Q & A next Wednesday at 3 pm New York time. The main webinar & transcript will be posted afterward.

I’m a huge fan of the show, but for this webinar, I’ll mainly be talking about the first book. Read, or reread at your own risk (I’m now halfway through the audiobook of A Clash of Kings, 40-some hours later). You don’t have to read the book to understand the webinar, but the webinar will certainly spoil the first book, and potentially the whole series. Spoiler alert! You’ve been warned.

I’ll cover the following concepts:

1. How to choose which character narrates a scene

2. How to decide whether a character deserves to have a POV section at all

3. How to avoid confusing your readers 

4. How to choose between first person and third person

5. How to make each voice distinct

Thanks to Reedsy for hosting me!

Register for free here.

A Guide to First Person from Reedsy

12 Mar

I adore writing and reading in the first person. Escaping into a character’s mind in first person carries me away into fictional worlds. I help a lot of my editing clients navigate writing first person, or decide whether to write in first or third person. Reedsy, a database of freelance editors, designers, and other publishing experts, published some of my thoughts on the matter, along with other great advice on writing in first person.

Read the whole post about writing in the first person here.

Free Course on Dialogue Mechanics

6 Feb Dialogue Mechanics: A Reedsy Learning Course

Over the years, I have searched far and wide for a comprehensive resource that covers basic and advanced dialogue mechanics all in one place. When do you use periods versus commas? When do you start a new paragraph? What if someone interrupts someone else?

While there are certainly conventions for these situations, they’re not comprehensively covered in typical grammar books and resources.

Thus, I was very excited to draw together many different resources and create a course on dialogue punctuation, paragraphing, and more. Best of all, it is available for free via Reedsy Learning.

You can sign up for this course on dialogue mechanics here. Once you sign up, you will receive a ~750-word email each day for 10 days. Each email covers different elements of dialogue mechanics. If you don’t see the emails, try searching your inbox for “,” as sometimes automated emails are filtered in strange ways.

I know mechanics issues sometimes make writers snore, but I had a lot of fun writing these lessons. Plus, I got to use examples from some of my favorite writers: Rachel Lynn Solomon, Courtney Summers, and Diana Gabaldon. To no one’s surprise, most of the examples I made up are about dogs.

I hope you find the course helpful! Let me know if you have any geeky dialogue questions after taking it.

Seeking Writing and Editing Work: Back From Maternity Leave

20 Aug

Tracy Gold with her daughter

I am excited to finally relaunch my writing and editing career after a rough pregnancy and some major post-partum health complications. After struggling with hyperemesis gravidarum (yup, like Duchess Kate), and complications from surgery to remove my gallbladder, I am now looking forward to fewer hospital visits and more engaging work. (Snuggles with my adorable daughter are a given!)

Here is the kind of work I am most excited to dive back into:

  • Editing creative writing (fiction and non-fiction)
  • Editing business/marketing writing
  • Writing marketing content

Check out my services page for a full list of what I can help with, as well as testimonials from some of my past clients. You can read more about my qualifications in my bio, and contact me at If you’re just here for baby pictures (or horses and dogs), check out my Instagram.

Homefront Cooking: Essay and Recipe

5 Jun

I’m very excited about Homefront Cooking, a collection of recipes and essays from military service memories and their families. I contributed a brief essay about my Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Lil, along with Lil’s delicious mashed potato recipe.

Homefront Cooking










Read more about Homefront Cooking in the New York Post.

You can buy Homefront Cooking here.

Welcome, Ava Goldwray

5 Jun

I’m thrilled to update this blog with some happy news! My daughter, Ava Goldwray, was born on March 14th, 2018. I have accordingly been on hiatus from the writing and editing world. Thanks to a gall bladder attack and pending surgery, I will unfortunately be taking the back seat a little bit longer. I will shout it to the rooftops when I am back in full swing! In the meantime, here is Ava, being adorable.

Ava Goldwray

Ava GoldwrayAva Goldwray

Advice on Handling Literary Agent Revise and Resubmits

9 Jun

What to do when an agent says--I'd love to see this again if you revise-
Today I have a guest post on Adventures in YA Publishing about how to approach a revise-and-resubmit request from an agent. The idea from this blog post came from a question a writer asked me on Twitter. If you have a question that would make a good blog post, feel free to comment here or contact me!

What Pitch Wars Mentees Want in a Mentor

5 Jun

Love Letters to Pitch Wars MentorsPitch Wars is coming up again, and mentors are preparing their wishlists! When I tweeted about having time to write a blog post, I was asked to consider what a Pitch Wars mentee wants in a mentor. As a two-time mentee who’s had AMAZING mentors, I know a little something about that.

I’ll share my experience, and then include some comments from other Pitch Wars mentees below.

Both years that I have participated in Pitch Wars, I had a very hard time narrowing down my list of mentors. For those new to the contest, there are generally dozens of mentors for each age category, and mentees choose 4-6 mentors to submit a query and first chapter to. Those mentors then ask for full manuscripts if they are intrigued, and choose which mentee they would like to work with.

Both years, there were so many amazing mentors I thought I could learn from, who talked about books like mine on their wishlists, and who were fun to interact with on Twitter. I pored over mentors’ wishlists, analyzed their past mentees, read their blogs and books, and compared mentor picks with other hopeful mentees. Ultimately, I went with my gut, and both years, I chose well. I was picked as a mentee by Rachel Lynn Solomon in 2015 and Diana Gallagher in 2016. I still talk to both of my mentors regularly, and my life is so much richer because they are in it (cheesy but so true!).