or, Learning to Swim With Sharks
I have recently suggested that all the writers I counsel (as well as myself) play a little game before they send out a single query. To wit:
1.) Go to agent Janet Reid's Query Shark Blog.
2.) Copy the text from several random submissions into a Word .doc and delete all of the agent's comments without reading them.
3.) Read the original query as if you were the agent to whom it is addressed. Cross out unnecessary things. Comment on things that strike you as just *wrong.* Edit the crap out of it.
4.) Based on the original query, decide whether or not you would pass on the proposed project or request a partial.
5.) Compare your comments & responses with the actual agent's.
6.) Repeat with new queries from the archives until your instincts match the agent's.
7.) NOW -- write your own query for your own stuff... Engage in Steps 3 and 4 until you (the Agent) would ask to see more of the project.
8.) Research agents (fodder for another post, another day). Send that query out and put it to work for you.
** NOTE: When you have finished playing, be sure to delete all the copied files from your computer. They're not your words. Give them back to their rightful owners...
Though I have several non-fiction books in print, I was able to do so without the help of an agent. Fiction, however, is a different ballgame. A different game requires different players, and like other serious writers, I believe that an agent will be necessary in order for me to play to win.
The process of playing the Query Game has been invaluable to me, personally. It has also helped the writers that I work with make enormous intuitive leaps in understanding how an agent approaches the query process. I am eternally grateful to Ms. Reid for the time she has spent making such a learning tool available to the ranks of we humble hopefuls...
Good luck! All the best in your writing.