For six months, I worked as an intern for a literary agency. I won’t mention the name of the agency, but they are a “real” agency with legitimate book sales. Although I did not progress to “Apprentice,” I learned quite a bit about how agencies work through my internship, and now I’m going to share some of these insights with you.
The important thing to know is these insights are not necessarily a bad thing, but may surprise you. My other disclaimer is that while this particular agency operated this way, that doesn’t mean all agencies do. You may wish to find out prior to querying or accepting representation.
Agency Insight – Agents may not read their queries
What this means is, interns like me reviewed the query inbox prior to assigning the queries to the agent. I checked to make sure the query contained all required components. If they did not, I sent them back with what was missing and encouraged the author to resubmit. Most other agencies would simply reject.
If all the components were included, I read everything to determine if the writing was good, if the synopsis made sense and contained the ending, if the query sounded interesting, etc. If there was an overall failure, I would reject the query with an explanation as to what was missing. I might suggest fixing things and resubmitting, but if a writing sample was full of mistakes and poor grammar, most likely it would be an outright rejection.
By having interns screen the queries, the agents’ time is freed up to focus on reading manuscripts and partials, work with existing clients, and review the queries that passed initial inspection. Does that mean every query I rejected would have been rejected by the agent it was addressed to? There is no way to tell since this can be a very subjective business, however I personally tried to remain objective and focus only on the mechanics, not the content. I can’t promise every intern handles things the same way.
So, yes, your painfully written query personalized with love for a specific person might not ever be seen by that person based on the interpretation of a..well, novice.
I will add that a few agents received queries directly and bypassed the intern screening process. So, depending, this may or may not apply to whom you query.
My advice? Polish your query, synopsis, and first x pages until they gleam before querying. There are public forums where you can receive helpful feedback. Be absolutely certain you include EVERYTHING the agency requests. Typically, you’d gather this information from their website specific to the agent you wish to query. And lets face it, if your spelling and grammar…need improvement, you shouldn’t query until you’re ready.
If you’ve done that? Crossing your fingers can’t hurt.