Query Strategies

I recently jumped back into the query pool. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve actively queried a new project and I have to say, it’s as rough as I remember–maybe more so. The querying process will wear an author down on on several levels.

Level 1

First, and the one we all know too well, is the emotional toll that comes from rejection. This level has sub-levels that are directly related to the differing means we have of arriving at this level.

Sub-Level 1A: Straight forward rejection as in “I’m afraid I just didn’t connect with your writing”.

Sub-level 1B: Rejection by lack of other evidence. This is when you can assume that no response is a rejection.

Sub-level 1C: The high of a partial or full request, followed by a rejection.

Level 2

Second, researching agents and publishers is a time-intensive process. You research agents/publishers and their agencies/houses to find out what they represent, their manuscript wish lists, who their current clients/books are, how they interact with the writing community/world on social media, and what their submission guidelines are. It takes a lot of time.

Level 3

Preparing to query is also a time-intensive process. You have to craft the best query letter possible, one that highlights your story, captures attention, and compels the agent or publisher to request more. And you have to do it in about 250 words or less. But you also need to have a synopsis ready, and any writer who’s ever tackled this knows the special room in hell that houses synopsis writing. Is there really a way to effectively condense a 100,000 word novel into a one-page synopsis? (No, really! I’d like to know. If you have the answer, please email me!)

Level 4

This is the actual sending out of the query to your chosen agents/publishers. This step seems like a quick and easy one, until you get started. For each query you have to check, double-check, and even triple-check (at a minimum) that you’ve followed all of the submission guidelines, properly spelled everything (especially the name of the agent/publisher!), correctly entered the email address, included only what is requested by that agent. And then you do it again for the next agent, and the next, and the next….

Level 5

You realize you’ve made a spelling error, formatting error, forgot to include your sample pages, forgot the actual query letter, accidentally pasted the letter you wrote for another agent, just re-read your sample pages and realize you should make more edits…It’s bound to happen. Everyone has experienced that horrifying moment when you realize you shouldn’t have hit Send quite so soon.

Survival Tips for the Querying Author

So what can you do to make the querying process a little more tolerable?

First, always keep in mind that even with the best manuscript it really does come down to that novel arriving in the right hands at the right moment in time. Rejection isn’t personal, it isn’t you that’s being rejected. Your manuscript really just isn’t the right fit for this person, and you don’t want someone to accept it with a “well, I don’t love it, but I could probably sell it” view. Ultimately you want someone who will love your manuscript, who will be passionate about it and pursue publication because they believe in it, and you. So keep in mind that each rejection puts you closer to the right hands.

Second, be sure you are researching agents and publishers to find the ones who you want to work with. Don’t go into querying with an anybody-will-do approach. Be sure you’re targeting submissions to people who represent the genre you write in, agents who will meet your long-term career plans (for example, if an agent only represents YA, and you plan to write in the adult market as well, you’ll need to consider that). You should be able to tell an agent or publisher why you submitted to them. Do they represent an author you admire, did you hear them speak at a conference or on a podcast, did you read an interview with them? What specific reason can you offer for thinking this agent/publisher is for you beyond the fact that they are open to submission?

Third, and this goes without saying, but will probably continue to cause all of us ongoing issues: read your submission 3-4 times before sending it! Pay attention to the spelling of the agent/editors name–as well as your own!

Fourth, learn to be patient, or come up with ways to distract yourself from the wait. On average you can expect to wait 4-8 weeks for a response (or lack of response!). I know, from the minute we hit Send on that query we begin the constant checking and refreshing of our emails. We can’t seem to get away from it, but what else can we do to busy our minds and make the wait go by faster? A common suggestion is to get busy on your next project. Writing definitely makes the time pass and keeps you occupied.

One trick I’ve adopted is to plot my submissions so that every week I should have something going out or a resolution on an outstanding submission. Part of my research involves making a note of expected response times. I then send out submissions, in part with an idea of response times (long, medium and short waits). I mix my submissions with an even number of 8-12 week responders, 4-6 week responders, and 2-4 week responders. That way every few weeks I’m either closing out submissions and sending new ones or researching more. But in my mind I’m making some sort of progress every few weeks.

When you do start feeling the sting of waiting and/or rejection reach out and talk to someone. If you don’t have a local writing community, the internet has so many opportunities for reaching out. On Twitter the #WritingCommunity threads are very supportive, and there are smaller, genre-specific groups as well. One thing you should never do though, is use social media to slam an agent/publisher who has rejected your work. Sadly, it is something that still happens, and it will not help you achieve publication–nor should it.

Well friends, that’s it, that’s all I have to offer. Above all, I encourage you to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep dreaming! (and drop me a comment when you achieve your dream–or any time)

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