As promised from my previous post I will be focusing lastly on SASE, Sample Chapters as well as some examples of things agents both look for as well as hope never to see. Hopefully as you go through your work adding and subtracting finishing touches this will help you narrow in on a few specifics to look for. The SASE is a simple topic I just wanted to touch upon because I was confused when I first started my research and I would see it mentioned. A SASE is simply a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. They ask you to include it making it that much easier to respond if and when they have an answer to your submission.
So you have your letter, it is professional yet interesting and you have sent it out to a number of agents. As the SASEs start returning you get the expected but hard to swallow rejection letters filling a bottom drawer in the spare room where you can hide the away. Hope is flickering, you are rereading your query looking for changes for the forty seventh time when something spectacular happens, a letter requesting more information.
Go ahead and hug someone close, have a celebratory drink even high five the cat if that's your style (mine just like to lay on my laptop when I am working). Now that you have it out of your system time to get back down to business. First thing to know, what did the agent request? At this point many will request the full manuscript and if that is the case then make sure you have a crisp printed copy (or formatted document file if they prefer) and send it as soon as you can. You don't want to keep them waiting as though you have other offers, playing coy is not the way to go.
If by chance the agent only wants to see a few sample chapters then that is all you should send. Do not give them unsolicited work. They want to know that you pay attention and will do what you are asked. Go ahead and proof read what you are sending one more time. Then send it and wait to hear back. Once you have an agent interested it is still possible to have additional queries out but if the agent asked for some exclusive time it is customary to give it them instead of continuing to search.
The beginning of the book is a big deal. I have spoken with a few, submitted to several as well as read numerous sites and books offering tips from active agents on what they do and don't look for. The first chapter is almost always the first thing they mention. One of the items I have seen and heard repeatedly is that the first chapter needs some action in it. Do not give long winded descriptions of characters or take three pages setting a scene. Characters need to be doing something productive not just mindless moving about.
Next usually comes point of view. Make sure it is clear who is doing what, who is speaking and if it is third person or first person. This should not however be done in a blatant uncreative way by simply announcing something. Weave it into the story just make sure everyone is on the same page. Remember that the characters that live in our heads and speak to us daily cannot be heard by the rest of the world so it is vital that stories not rely in inference but can be understood by anyone that chooses to read it.
Creativity is, of course, key to great story telling. While not everyone can or would come up with the same book you wrote it is also important to make sure not everyone could come up with the open of that story. Don't use gimmicks or cliches, beginnings seen a thousand times over, write something unique to you and your characters. Get the agent interested and then keep them interested by making sure the excitement, passion, romance or whatever else you sold them in the query actually exists.
The last thing I want to leave you with is the most difficult one for most writers I know. Every agent is different. They have different tastes, personal desires, professional affiliations and unique outlooks on what is or is not a good fit for them. You will get rejection letters. It will hurt. It is ok to cry or pout for a bit and wonder what may have made them choose it but the truth is that you may never find out. You just have to pick yourself up and move on. Keep trying because while not every book is right for every agent persistence can pay off and when you finally get that one acceptance letter it will make you forget every rejection that ever came your way.