The universally accepted way to establish initial contact with an agent is to send a query letter. Agents tend to be less interested in—if not completely put off by—oral presentations. Be sure the letter is personalized: Nobody likes generic, photocopied letters that look like they’re being sent to everyone.
Think of the query as a sales pitch. Describe the nature of your project and offer to send additional material—and enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Include all relevant information about yourself—along with a résumé if it’s applicable. When querying about a nonfiction project, many agents won’t mind receiving a complete proposal. But you might prefer to wait and see how the agent responds to the concept before sending the full proposal.
For queries about fiction projects, most agents prefer to receive story-concept sheets, plot synopses, or both; if they like what they see, they’ll request sample chapters or ask you to send the complete manuscript. Most agents won’t consider manuscripts for incomplete works of fiction, essentially because few publishers are willing to do so.
If you enclose an SASE, most agents will respond to you, one way or another, within a reasonable period of time. If the agent asks to see your material, submit it promptly with a polite note stating that you’d like a response within four weeks on a nonfiction proposal, or eight weeks on fiction material. If you haven’t heard from the agent by that time, write or call to find out the status of your submission.
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