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On Querying an Agent

On Querying an Agent

By Joey Burke, BGWS Student

An open letter to a friend.

Dear Dr. John,

I found your Literary Agent!

Mackenzie Brady Watson at New Leaf is everything you would want in a literary wife: poise, wit, and intellect.  She is a great partner for you and like a good wife; she nudges you in the right direction.  This is not her first marriage and as such, she brings experience to the relationship. She also represents R. Dean Johnson, author of Delicate Men. You can rejoice at his inclusion in her dowry.  She has great taste in men. I mean writers. Yes, good taste in writers. That is what I mean to say. 

When you compose your query letter to her, please include her name in the opening. You can refer to her as Mackenzie. It may seem informal and somewhat presumptuous but she wants to know that the letter is intended for her eyes and is not a form letter sent randomly to any agent located through a cursory Google search. You have to do your homework and at least read her bio so you know what actually interests her. She has a degree in microbiology so I think you share some common ground. She disclosed that she is looking for more humor in the world. I tried to write a joke for you about 2 bacteria walking into a bar but all I could come up with was something about not needing a drink since they were Staph. The attempt at a joke elicited more cringe than chuckle so maybe you should just tell her about your research instead. She is looking for the next The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Perhaps you might mention how you manipulated a HeLa strain.

 I warn you, there is a sense of urgency in Mackenzie’s voice. She gives you all the time you need to answer questions and discuss the process. Just be sure you had your morning cup of English Breakfast tea before you begin the conversation because you need to be sharp and ready. On second thought, call her in the afternoon because you immediately want to go out for a celebratory beer afterwards. In fact, you will order an I.P.A. since you feel more hipster than hippie with newfound enthusiasm and energy for the project. 

Once on board, Mackenzie becomes the super hero in your corner. She protects you from signing away too many rights and opportunities. You are not yet thinking about second printings, international distribution, or merchandising but you never know where things can go and she ensures that you retain the right to make those decisions. She is committed to wiping your brow when your manuscript comes back from your editor with suggestions and comments. You will feel concussed and confused but she can get you back on your feet again. She assumes the role   of perpetual “follow upper” with marketing, and graphics and editing. As your personal super hero, she is also your “anxiety reducer.” She supports you through self-doubt, second guesses, and general malaise. The manuscript is something she cares about, too and, she wants to ensure that it has the best shot at a good home.

Get the first fifty pages in order and send your query letter. If you could only cook for her it would solidify the relationship for life. She is in New York so I will take advantage of proximity and request a round of pumpkin ravioli in sage butter sauce as a finder’s fee. Pen and fork always at the ready!

I cc’d her on this letter, not to put pressure on you, but because she may find it interesting to be the subject of a narrative rather than the recipient of one.

Good luck,

Your Joey


Joey Elizabeth Burke RN, MSN grew up in Memphis TN and currently lives in Versailles, KY. She is in her second year in the BGWS program and writes many grocery lists, assignments for her kids, and the occasional creative non-fiction narrative. When not writing, she hangs chemo therapy, feeds the chickens, kayaks the Kentucky river, or bakes cakes.

Published on January 28, 2016

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