Querying. Ugh. If there’s an activity for a writer that’s less frustrating, I don’t know what it is. I suppose it could be worse, though. I doubt agents enjoy it any more than writers do, and they’ve basically signed up for sifting through queries for life. At least in my case, it should be temporary. Although for my true feelings on the subject, you’ll have to read my flash story, Publish or Perish.
First make sure you have a query letter that you’ve checked with other writers for feedback. Mine was a quest in Query Letter Hell (that’s the real name of the subforum) on Absolute Write, but there are other places you can go for feedback as well. Don’t just dash one of these things off. Give your book’s synopsis the same care.
My first unexpected hurdle was fear, in every shape and form this debilitating emotion can take. It’s like an attack. There’s the sheer, overwhelming rush as I sit at the computer that makes me want to scurry away. Go revise my novel again, scrub the bathroom floor with a toothbrush—anything other than to stay and work my way through my list. Sheer weariness made me want to stop at times. I’d read about an agent and catch myself thinking they were too good—they wouldn’t be interested in me. Who was I kidding anyway? I should’ve known better than to think I could do this.
And what if nobody wants me? I’m fine with the idea of self-publishing, but really, it feels different if I’m doing it because no agents are interested in my novels. So there’s the lovely vista of further self-confidence crises on the horizon as well.
Work through it. I’m pretty sure we all feel stuff like this. Clench your jaw (but not until you get a headache—trust me on this) and keep going. The foe is unworthy.
Having mastered anxiety at least to the point that you won’t allow yourself to be chased from your computer, the next thing you’ll need to do is build a list. Query Tracker is a good place to go for this, although there are other places on the internet you can try as well. In Query Tracker, just follow the steps, and it’ll spit a list out.
But having gotten your list (in my case, 192 agents), you’ll need to do some research.
A true professional agent can be a staunch advocate in the bewildering world of publishing, but some agents are not so principled. Some will try to steer you to the pay-until-you-can’t-possibly-pay-anymore world of vanity publishing, and everything I’ve read advises us to avoid that route.
Google every agent. In my case, I checked them first on Preditors and Editors, but that site is now down for maintenance, so I’d recommend Writer Beware. Or Absolute Write’s Bewares and Recommendations sub-forum, although that one can be tricky to use. You’ll need to type the agency name into the tiny Google search box on the very lower left side of the page.
Query Tracker also has links for success stories from that agent, and I click on all of those. The successful queries are given as part of the client interviews, and it was useful to see what query format they preferred. QT also sometimes lists interviews and Publisher’s Marketplace posts, and I’d recommend reading those as well. I skimmed through their blog if they have one, looking in particular for query preferences. Sometimes the agency will have those posted on their website as well.
Some writers add agents to their Twitter feed. I didn’t go that route, but I’ll mention it in case you want to be extremely thorough. Or maybe you need to catch up on your tweeting anyway. Mine got neglected, along with my poor blog. All this research will take some time. Don’t expect to get it done in a week. I took over a month, working long hours.
I’ve read that changing agents is something like a divorce, and nobody needs anything like that in their life. Better to check thoroughly first and avoid heartache later.
All this netted me a list of sixty-one agents. Query Tracker isn’t exhaustive—I found six other agents on a Writer’s Digest post—but it should get the bulk of them.
Then it’s time to actually query. This is a surprisingly time-consuming process. Some agents prefer the word count, genre, and audience (adult, YA, MG) up front; others want you to dive straight into the story. Some agents have forms where your query is posted in bits so you don’t have to worry about the order, but it’s always extra work. You might have to create new files to attach the first three chapters, although most agents prefer this to be pasted into the body of the email. Each one will be different. Query letter, synopsis, first fifty pages. Query letter alone. Query and the first five pages. Give them whatever they want. There’s nothing to be gained by not following directions.
Since I’ve experienced the jaw-dropping horror of a computer crash, I’m paranoid and make a paper copy of everyone I’ve queried. Agent, date, agency, a note that says something like four weeks of silence equals a pass (from the agent’s website or automatic response email), another space to note rejections, and hopefully, eventual successes.
On Absolute Write, we’re generally advised to query in batches of ten or twenty at a time and wait for feedback. If pages are requested but nothing further happens, the problem’s not the query, but the manuscript. This can tell you whether it’s time to take a hard look at your pages or if your query needs more review.
And then you hurry up and wait. Many agents take months to get back to you. Find something else productive to do. Catch up on your blogging and social media. Revise another novel. Start another novel or short story. Scrub the bathroom floor (although not with a toothbrush). Anything besides checking your inbox obsessively.
Patience is hardly my favorite virtue, and I’m still in the waiting phase. But I’ll continue revising my other novels and start some short stories in the interim.
Do you have any advice for those going through the query process? If so, I’d love to hear it in the comments. And meanwhile, keep writing. 🙂