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Leveraging Relationships to Successfully Query Agents: How Author Jennifer J. Chow Did It

Updated: Apr 11


Imagine you’re trying to get a job at a prestigious, multi-million dollar tech company. Your qualifications are stellar; and you could certainly submit applications for various positions, with a fair chance of securing a job. But now imagine you have a friend that works for this company. Asking your friend not only for a referral, but for background intel on the company, could provide that last little bit of oomph that pushes you through the door. The world of publishing operates on a similar principle. However, asking for help from author friends can feel like an imposition and leave us with fears of how they will take it.


The good news is that it doesn’t have to be an either or situation. Anthony, Agatha, and three-time Lefty Award nominee Jennifer J. Chow navigated this process with grace, getting an agent, all while keeping her friendships intact. We’ll take a look at her process as well as offer takeaways on how to recreate her process.



Join a Writing Community


Many people mistakenly believe they can write in isolation, which could be true if you’re simply writing for yourself. However, Jen notes that writing can be a long and sometimes solitary journey, and having a network of people who understand the process is crucial for motivation and perseverance, as it may take a while before you see the results of your efforts. Jen says,

It's important to have that community to encourage you as you write because sometimes it's a process. It takes a while before you see the fruit of your efforts.

You might be thinking, I already have friends and family who support my writing; why do I need more? While your existing circle may provide emotional support, Jen emphasizes that they may lack the in-depth understanding of the writing process. She notes, “I think they don't really have that close-up view, so that's when it's nice to have somebody else who already knows it.”


So what if you’re just starting out and don’t have any author friends yet? Jen recommends specificity. She says, “I like joining different organizations. So mine are more mystery specific.” Jen is part of the organizations “Sisters in Crime” and “Crime Writers of Color,” organizations tailored to mystery writers. 


To get started, be specific in your search. Identify local writing groups that align with your genre or interests. Like sending query letters, you never know which group will be the best fit. Dip your toe in the water by exploring three local writing groups and attending at least one meeting for each.



Focus on Long-Term Relationships


Jen had poured years of dedication into her writing craft long before an unexpected opportunity came knocking on her door. An editor reached out to her, captivated by a book she had self-published, and expressed a keen interest in publishing her next work. The publishing house had a contract ready and waiting, but Jen's focus was set on the long-term.


She knew she wanted someone with a skill set that she did not possess, and so she was very clear on what she wanted—literary agent representation. She says,

I thought that it would be wiser to get a literary agent at the time because then I don't have to deal with going through the language. I didn't deal with negotiations. Plus the agent would be there for the actual writing career versus the one book or two book…deal.

Certainly, a literary agent isn't the only valuable long-term relationship to cultivate in the writing world. Once you've established your writing community, it's crucial to actively seek out a select group of writing professionals, such as fellow authors, editors, and more, with whom you can foster lasting connections.


At first, the idea of seeking and nurturing these long-term relationships might seem daunting. However, if you focus on meeting and staying in touch with one or two like-minded professionals, it becomes far more manageable and less overwhelming. It's essential to remember that the aim of these relationships is not merely to gain leverage in the future but to build genuine friendships or business partnerships that will stand the test of time. These connections can become an invaluable part of your writing journey, offering support, insights, and opportunities when you need them most.



Do Pre-Query Reconnaissance


Now that you've built a strong writing community and cultivated lasting relationships with writing professionals, it's time to address one of the lingering fears many of us have when considering reaching out to author friends or contacts. We dread the thought of making an ask because we worry it might be an imposition or could potentially harm our relationships. But what if we shifted our perspective on this process? What if we viewed it as a valuable information-gathering mission instead?


Jen approached this phase of her journey with multifaceted intentionality. She says, “I asked the editor who they liked working with. So then I had a list I made from that. And I had an author friend who said, ‘Well, if you're looking at this genre, here are the people who are making recent deals.’ So I had that list. And then I had other author friends who just had agents that I knew. So I talked to them.”


If you’re uncertain if any of your author friends have connections to the literary world, you might begin by simply researching their author sites or published books. Authors’ agents are often listed on the “Contact” page of their websites and also often listed in the “Acknowledgement” section at the end of published works. This shouldn’t be thought of as cyber-stalking. When done in a professional context, this is simply necessary background research.


Jen didn’t end up reaching out to every literary agent she learned about by talking to her friends. She notes,

Some of them were actually honest in saying, ‘Hey, my agent actually doesn't really do work in that area.’ So then I could kind of rule them out.

Instead, she narrowed her list to only agents she thought would be a good fit. She says, “It was very few. It was three.”


The result? All three responded.


Jen's approach stands out because she didn't just ask questions; she actively listened and sought information from various sources. Because of the background information she gained by asking questions and listening to her friend, Jen was able to tailor her query to the specific agent. It paid off. Jen got her literary agent from one of those referrals. 


She says, “The agent I went with, I did know one of her clients. Which was nice because I was able to talk to my friend first and then really get the heart to heart background before I actually sent out the query.” 


When it’s time to start querying your project, instead of asking your friends if you can use their name or contacts, approach the process as gathering intel. Reach out to your author friends and colleagues for insights and advice on literary agents. Begin by having meaningful conversations about what works and doesn't in the industry, who might be a good fit for your project, and who might not. In this way, you’ll not only learn more, but you’ll take the feeling of sleaziness completely out of the equation.



Conclusion:


Since Jen’s publishing of her first agented book, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, she has gone on to publish two anthologies and five more books, including her new Magical Fortune Cookie series, due in large part to her thoughtful and strategic approach. To follow Jen’s approach, take the listening and information gathering approach and keep it genuine. Doing this not only gives you a higher chance of connecting during your query, but also ensuring that they’re the right fit for you in the first place. 


So what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone, and have a conversation with an author friend today. 




Struggling to perfect your query letter? Check out debut author, Neely Tubati Alexander’s journey in our post: From Query to Agent: Debut Author Neely Tubati Alexander’s Success Story








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