Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Let's Talk About Queries, Shall We?

Querying is a process that most writers go through in the hopes of becoming traditionally published. As I am currently in the thick of this, I have noticed trends of my fellow writers that I want to point out. Why? Because I want you to succeed as much as I want to.

--Please, research your story's genre!!! There is no such thing at Barnes & Noble as the "Young Adult Sci-Fi romance with magic realism twist" section. Nor is there a section for "Fantasy romance" or "Mystery with supernatural crime edge". I wish I could say I was kidding about these fauxnres (a word I made up for faux genres) but these are actual genres people are listing on their queries. And it's scary. Your story could be PHENOMENAL, but if you can't be bothered to narrow down its genre by doing your research, you're basically telling agents you don't take publishing seriously. To help, here are a couple of great resource for figuring out genres and subgenres:

--Don't mass query!! Again, research is key here. Did you write a non-fiction historical novel? Then you need to find agents who represent such. If you send out your query in an email with twenty agents cc'd, guess what? You're most likely going to hear crickets in response. 

--Find agents you want to work with. So Sally Smith may represent middle grade fantasy, but do you know anything about her? Is she someone you think you'd mesh well with? The agent/author relationship is important for many reasons. You'll need to find someone who shares the same interests and enthusiasm for your novel, but also someone you can trust to guide you through things like revisions, submissions, publishing contracts, etc. This is a person you want to like working with. So get to know the agents you plan to query. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter, read their blogs and/or interviews they've done. Take a workshop (if they happen to be offering one nearby or online), meet them at conferences. Get familiarized with authors/books they represent. Most importantly, review their submission guidelines and ms wish lists. Agents want to know you WANT them as your agent for themselves and their skills, not just because they happen to represent what you're trying to sell. Once you've done that, make sure you mention it in your query letter why you chose them, and if there a titles they represent you feel yours would fit in with, mention that, too. Some great places to learn more about your dream agents are just a few clicks away. Google them, check out their profiles on sites like or Comb over their agency's site, as well. I know, it sounds a little like virtual stalking. But knowledge is power, and knowing who's the right fit for your novel is key.

--Market yourself. Above I mention how you should research agents before querying, but did you know that agents you query will research YOU? Oh, heck yes, they will. Google is a vital tool in an agent's quest for signing authors. This is something virtually all agents do now, because the working relationship goes both ways. They have to want the same things listed above in an author, to know that you're serious about what you're doing and that professionally, they can depend on you to do what's needed on your end. And like they represent you as an author, you represent them, as well. A little like an employer/employee. So if you have a public social media presence, make it count. Present yourself professionally, keep things you talk about in open forums civil and clean. If you don't have a social media presence, it's time to make one. A simple author website, Facebook page, twitter account, and/or blog are great ways to put yourself out there for agents to find you. Build your platform, then stand on it with pride and confidence. Think of it as a second chance after querying to prove that you're the author they want to sign. 

--No thank you. So you've received a dreaded rejection. LEAVE IT AT THAT. I can appreciate the desire to respond with a polite note of gratitude for their consideration and time, or the need to say one more thing in the hopes it'll change their minds, but agents typically receive thousands of emails a year. Though a nice gesture, save them the space in their email accounts and just move forward. They'll appreciate that more.

--POLISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT!! This is where my own personal experience is going to shed some unfortunate light on mistakes I made early on, ones I want you to avoid. When I finished my first novel (as in, the first draft of it), I googled how to get a book published, learned about writing a query, and wrote one in a haste. I quickly found the information of the agent whom represents one of my favorite authors, and anxiously--and naively--mailed out my letter and first chapter, without doing any of the crucial steps needed to succeed. Like revising, editing, and getting critiques on my ms and query, giving it that sellable shine. I figured that's what editors at publishing houses are for. Nope. Mind you, this particular agent is amongst some of the most coveted agents in the literary world. So imagine my disappointment when I got a very polite form rejection three weeks later. Knowing what I do now, I'm embarrassed to have done that. But, it led me to learn everything I could, to hone my craft and educate myself. Writing a novel is a tedious endeavor; it takes time, LOADS of patience, a thick skin and hard work. You have to have passion and determination to succeed. So do yourself a favor. Learn everything you can about publishing. Learn how to self-edit (or hire a professional editor with reliable references), find critique partners you can trust. Revise, edit, polish. Join writing associations/groups, take webinars and visit conferences, and READ. You may not realize it, but being familiar with what's in your genre and reading regularly will help you become a well-rounded author. 

--Don't put all your eggs in one basket!! What I mean is, don't query fifty agents at once. DO query agents in small batches of six to eight at a time. Wait and see what the response is. I know this is the tough part as some agents can take up to eight to twelve weeks to respond, but again, this is a marathon, not a sprint. If you receive rejections from all, you'll know you may need to work on your query and/or opening pages. This will allow you to go back, revise and submit to the next group of carefully researched agents on your list.

--Be PATIENT. As I said above, some agents have response times of eight to twelve weeks. Some a little less. Some more. And those are their best estimates--it could be even longer. What's important to remember is how busy agents are. They have much more on their plates besides slush piles to go through. They're some of the hardest working folks in publishing, so cut them a break and just wait it out. After you send out your queries, put it out of your mind as best you can and keep writing. Don't call, don't email, unless their submission guidelines say it's okay to. You queried an agent fourteen weeks ago and heard nothing back? More often than not, this means they're passing on your ms, so unless they specifically state to follow up after a certain amount of time, don't. For example, I received a rejection today for a query I sent out three months ago. This agent in particular had a typical response time of six to eight weeks listed on their website, so at week ten, I had already closed it out as no response (though I do very much appreciate the closure even this far out). So pad the numbers a little. If they say six weeks, give it eight before you close it out. Waiting stinks, but being professional and courteous is important.

--Don't trash talk. You receive rejections, and it stings. You may get angry, you may be hurt and disappointed, but don't lash out, don't blast insults about agents on your Twitter account, and definitely don't insult them directly. Would you do that after applying for a job and being passed over? I would think (and hope) not. Their rejections are not a personal attack, and there are countless other writers who know exactly how this same rejection feels. Even many of the most famous authors have felt this same burn. And if you've been doing your publishing homework, you know exactly how competitive and hard it can be to get noticed in mountain-high piles of slush. So instead of calling Agent X a jerk and an idiot or whatever, take a deep breath and turn that frustration into creative energy. Put it back into your writing and use it to make your query stand out to the next agent.

Lastly, don't give up. I don't mean to scare you with everything I've written about the querying process. It's not a tactic to get you to drop out of the race to the bookshelves. I revel in your successes; they help to keep me going. Stay positive, stay classy and stay focused on the right course. Hard work and dedication will pay off in some way. But if you decide traditional publishing is no longer the direction you want to go, you're in luck. We live in the digital age, and there are several other ways to get your stories out to readers. Querying directly to publishers that are open to submissions or self-publishing are also great options that may offer you more peace of mind and the creative flexibility you desire. Just remember that what you're willing to put in to your writing is what it should give back. 

I hope you've found this helpful, and as always, if you have a question or comment, feel free to post below.

Until we meet again. <3

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your no-nonsense, logical approach to managing one of the most perplexing parts of pursuing publication (sorry for all the alliteration.) I'll be referring to this post as I try to flag down an agent!