5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author

I really enjoy talking about debuts.

Many debut authors are nervous about their credentials (do I have enough? do they mean anything?), their contacts (who do I have to know? what if I don’t “know” anyone?), and their book (what if it’s not good enough? what if it’s the best I’ve got?).

I think it’s time debut authors gained their confidence and started to tap into the excitement that agents feel for them.

Here are 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author:

1. Agents look forward to your work. Any agent who is building a list is looking for work. Not all agents are building a list however, so save yourself the heartbreak and query agents who advertise that they’re looking for new talent.

2. Your credentials aren’t holding you back. No bylines? No problem. I never brush off writers who haven’t been published in literary journals or newspapers. Everyone starts somewhere. And, as an agent whose talent is breaking out authors, I’m looking for writers at the early stages of their careers. It’s okay to tell me in your query that this is your first novel.

3. You don’t have to know anyone. Yes, referrals get you in the door, but agents still have particular tastes. The best way to get an agent is to query properly. The only people you need to know are authors whose work you love and then see who represents them. Start there.

4. You’re the best advocate for your work. (Don’t hire a company to query for you.) I feel sad for writers when I see that someone has queried on their behalf. If you’re too busy/scared/uninformed to query your own book then agents aren’t inclined to work with you. You, the writer, are always the most passionate about your own work so why would you outsource it? You can’t outsource ambition.

5. Someday you won’t be a debut anymore. Yes, I’m sure you knew this, but what I mean to say is right now it feels rough. But, the most important thing is making good business decisions early on in your career to set you up for success later. Don’t be swayed by short term gains for the sake of your future career goals. A bad agent fit (either not passionate about your work, doesn’t have time for you, or doesn’t share the same vision) is worse than no agent.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

29 thoughts on “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author

  1. Lovely, confidence-boosting advice to start off the week.

    As debut writers, we hear so many conflicting pieces of information (because so much in this field depends on individual taste). So, it does us all good to be reminded of basic facts once in a while. Thanks! :)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. As one of those (hopefully-one-day) debut authors, this is a great read. I think that one of the greatest problems I would face, and being honest here, is telling an agent ‘No thanks, maybe this isn’t right.’ Just the fact that anyone aside from my mom (kidding, she would beat me over the head for some of the things I write) would like my work enough to endorse it would have me flipping tables in the middle of a library on Sunday. I guess this is why I’m so hesitant on who I query, and why I’ve only queried a handful of agents. Or I’m that scared big guy in the corner, holding his MS and rocking back and forth saying over and over ‘They’ll love it, they’ll love it!’

    I rambled. Hey, I look forward to seeing you at DFWcon this summer! If you see the guy wandering about with the dazed expression (my first conference) just avoid me because I’ll probably talk too much. Or, hit me on the head with something. Either of those work.


  3. What I hear more of, and what scares me, is that agents/publishers ONLY want debut authors. That if I self-publish a book that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, or publish it with a small press, and if it sells what you’d expect a self-published or small press book to sell… that that will ruin my chances of every getting an agent for my NEXT book.

    I’m not sure how much of that is true, and how much of that comes from a group of old-fashioned authors who just really don’t like self-publishing (at least SOME of it is that), but it’s extremely scary. It makes me feel like I am in the position of either having to trash the book of my heart in favor of another one that I like well enough (and think is more commercial), but don’t LOVE in the same way… or being stuck forever not being a full peer of my agented friends.

    Debut authors, I wouldn’t worry. Debuts get amazing deals all the time… established self-pubbing or small press authors? Not so much. THAT is scary.


  4. Although I haven’t submitted many query letters in the past, but the ones I had were replied as rejects. I wasn’t devestated nor did the rejections hurt my self esteem; I felt hopeful. Why? At least the agents had taken the time reply and stated their reason why they couldn’t accept my manuscript. I know some won’t reply at all.


  5. Reblogged this on For my writing journey and commented:
    I won’t lie to you, the closer I get to finishing the first round of edits the more I think about the AFTER, the agent hunt, the stress and the uncertainty that entails. I guess all debut authors feel it and I’m no different. If you’re like me, the reblooged article may help you.
    I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea that what’s stated at #4 actually happens, but she’s the professional, so I guess it does. Despite all the stress the agent hunt brings to debut writers, I think the process will be enlightening and one that will show (to me at least) if I’m up for it. I don’t want to miss learning something from the process.


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