Querying writers have quite a few hurdles to jump through to secure literary representation. For those of you who don’t know what a query is or what I mean by literary representation, let’s go over a few of the basics to start.
There are a few ways to publish a book, one of those being traditional publishing. As of early 2019, the big five publishers—whose names you have likely heard of many times before—are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. If you want to be published through the big five or through another traditional publisher, you need to have a literary agent.
Many people call literary agents the “gatekeepers” to the traditional publishing industry. Whether or not that’s true, writers have to pitch their unpublished manuscripts to agents via a query letter, which is essentially a professional cover letter all about your book.
There are certain formats and pieces of information that are expected to be within your query letter, but we won’t dive into that today. To learn more about querying, be sure to check out iWriterly’s Query Hack series, where we critique queries.
Essentially, writers are expected to pitch their book (via a query letter) to one literary agent per agency. Many represented writers have shared that they queried an upwards of 100 literary agents before they signed their contract with their current agent. On average, most writers write an average of four books prior to securing literary representation. That means, they likely wrote several books before writing the book that landed them an agent.
If you do the math, a writer could potentially send out 400 queries (assuming they sent approximately 100 queries per manuscript) before signing a contract with a literary agent.
Now, imagine you write a book that no agent is going to want. You spend a year or more writing and editing the book—both by yourself and with critique partners and beta readers—prior to sending out your 100 queries. You are beyond excited for this book, and you think readers are going to be as captivated about the story and character as you are… if only agents had fallen in love with the first book in the series.
One less known fact about literary agents is that most will not consider representing subsequent books in a series. That means agents need to fall in love with the first book in a series first. If they don’t want to represent book one, they aren’t going to want to represent the whole series.
Therefore, the months—or years—you spent drafting and editing the sequel will not assist you in your goal to land a literary agent. In fact, some might consider having written a sequel a waste of time. Personally, I think that any book written is never a waste of time because it teaches you to hone your writing craft. However, this sequel will unfortunately not be able to assist you in your goal to get literary representation, which is a main stepping stone to becoming traditionally published. In addition, even if you are picked up by an agent, if the agent can’t sell a series to a publisher and only sells a one-book deal, then there is nothing you can do with those sequels.
Instead, once you finish the first book in a series, consider going on to write a new book in a different series (or a standalone). Try to write these books as standalones with series potential. Meaning, a reader can read the first book and feel completely satisfied with where the story ended. There aren’t any glaring cliffhangers to the main plot or conflict. However, there might be little threads that the author could pick up later to write subsequent books in the series.
By writing several first books in different series, you are increasing your chances to secure literary representation—and, eventually, securing book deals with traditional publishers.
Meg LaTorre likes to think of herself as an avid book nerd with an exceptional taste for mac and cheese. She is a writer, YouTuber, host of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, developmental book editor, writing coach, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website or follow her on social media.