It’s a new year, and I’m sure I’m not the only one ready to jump into the query trenches and go after publication. For what’s it’s worth (I’ve never been signed with an agent), here are my tips for the querying process!
Scout the battlefield
In other words, do some research on agents who are acquiring what you’ve written.
First, you have to find them. My preferred sites are Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) and the MSWL hashtag on Twitter in terms of finding many agents through one site or search. If you belong to a writer’s association such as SCBWI, their newsletters or bulletins can often have information about agents who are acquiring. Checking out the acknowledgments sections of books that are similar to yours will usually provide the agent’s name. Publisher’s Weekly also includes agent information in their book reviews. There are also sites like Publisher’s Marketplace and QueryTracker, but these sites require a subscription to use their search features fully.
Once you have an agent’s name, find out as much about them as you can. The agency website is the first place you should look. Publisher’s Marketplace will show you which authors/books an agent represents, including their most recent sales. Sometimes agents have a personal website with a more detailed MSWL that is helpful, and many agents are also on Twitter (if you weren’t using Twitter in step one).
For each agent, there are several pieces of information you need to know:
- if they are looking for novels in your genre and age group (for example, YA paranormal romance or MG contemporary)
- how to submit (usually an email address or link to their QueryManager)
- what to submit (do they want 5 pages? 10? a query only?)
- whether or not they are actively accepting queries at this time
- where you found this information / something to personalize your query
A little bit about that last one, because personalizing a query is something agents really notice. They like to know that you are querying them for a reason, and not because you pulled their name out of a hat. So, if you see on MSWL that an agent is looking for your genre, and lists a book or movie that might be a comp title, include that when you personalize. I saw on your MSWL that you are a Harry Potter fan. My YA novel, TITLE, complete at xxx words, is Harry Potter meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre. (Please someone write that book LOL). Or if you see that the agent enjoys a hobby/TV series/book you like, you could mention that.
Even if you can’t find something super personal to connect to, it’s always good to mention where you found them (I saw on your MSWL/Twitter/website that you are looking for...). And if you connected with an agent at a writers conference, definitely be sure to mention it! I just make sure to hang on to the information about where I found each agent to refer back to when personalizing. I may gather information about agents, then decide I need revise my MS. You will want to make sure you are revisiting these places to know that the agent is still working at that agency and that they are still looking for the same thing. Things can change more quickly than you’d think!
Make a battle plan
I’ll admit, I’m not much of a planner in this regard.
Some authors make a tiered list of their preferred agents, and send out batches of queries. Most commonly, they query second-tier agents with their new query, and based on feedback revise their query before hitting up their top-tier dream agents.
Some people send out smaller batches (5 or so at a time) and see how they perform before revising.
Not sending all your queries out at once is important, because you might want to query two different agents at the same agency. Sometimes you’re only allowed to query one agent, and if they reject it, it’s a rejection from the entire agency (for that project). Sometimes you can query multiple agents, but not at the same time. But it makes sense to send out multiple queries, because the wait time is so long.
If you’re querying multiple projects at the same time (as I am), having a way to track all this becomes REALLY important. I recommend using a spreadsheet. Mine has the following fields:
- agent name
- contact (email or QueryManager link)
- name of project I’m querying
- response time (given by agency website) and whether or not they respond only if interested
- date of query
- date of rejection/full request
I have separate documents for my agent research and agents I’ve queried for each project, but everything goes in the main spreadsheet so I can see if I’ve queried the same agent for a different project too recently.
Have your arsenal close at hand
By “arsenal” I mean everything you will need when querying. Some of these might seem obvious but I’ve actually made some of these mistakes!
- A completed manuscript that at least one other person has read and has been checked for typos, and fits the word count requirements of your selected age group and genre.
- A “skeleton” query letter, where you have the bulk of it written, with areas that can be personalized for each agent.
- A logline. This isn’t often necessary, but I am seeing a lot of agents who use QueryManager requiring them.
- A synopsis. Also not always necessary, but about 50% of agents do require them up front (more often if they use QueryManager), and more require them when requesting a partial or full. Better to have it ready to go before querying than to scramble to write one.
- Word documents with the first 5 pages, first 10 pages, and first 50 pages of your novel. If your novel has nice chapter or section breaks that are easy to find, you can skip this step, although you might want the first 50 pages in a document, as that’s the most common page amount for a partial request.
Gird your loins
You’re ready for battle!
Which means you’ll likely start getting rejected soon. Instead of focusing on the negatives, try to figure out if your rejection is a form rejection or more personalized. Or counterstrike by sending out another query for every rejection. Or work on a totally different new project that is clearly better than the one that’s getting rejected.
Don’t stop at 5 or 10 rejections. Keep going! Aim high! Maybe pause at 5 or 10 rejections and revise your query. Then keep at it. Don’t stop querying until you absolutely can’t find another agent out there looking your genre.
Who knows? Maybe one of those queries will hit home and you can celebrate instead!
Are you in the query trenches? How’s it going?