4 Lessons I Learned About Querying
Posted by sablumenschein
Keep in mind that I haven’t actually queried any agents yet. This is some of what I’ve learned about the process and preparation. These might be helpful lessons for others.
1. Only query when your novel is complete.
It’s really tempting to query before the novel is done. When you start reading about agents’ months-long reply time frames and see other writers’ stories about the endless querying, you figure “I’ll get a jump on it by querying while I’m still editing.”
Resist the temptation.
I mean it.
Many agent and agency websites state clearly to only query with a complete manuscript. This advice is common on other information/interest sites about querying, agents, and writing. But for all the people who don’t say, you might be tempted. Or, for those who do say, you might figure you’ll be done by the time they reply so what does it matter?
But that’s exactly why you shouldn’t break this rule. It comes down to preparedness. I like to be ready. When I do something, at the moment of doing it, I want to be ready and prepared to handle everything that might result from the action.
So while you’re likely in for months-long waits, what if you’re not? What if, that time you’re mired in editing and decide to redo your ending, the agent calls you in a week? What if they’re one who asked for a complete manuscript?
Will they wait to hear from you? Doubtful. Will they ask you to re-query when it’s done? Quite possible. Will they have signed a book just like yours, or filled the gap in their list, or just decided they don’t want to work with someone who can’t follow basic instructions? Very possible.
Why burn your bridges? Why make a bad first impression? There’s no good answer; the solution is, simply, don’t.
Don’t query until you’d be comfortable handing your manuscript, in its current form, over to the biggest big-time publishing house, editor, or agent you can imagine.
2. Definition of a query letter.
There seems to be some confusion about what a query letter is. It isn’t a synopsis that explains everything that happens in your book. It’s more like the back-of-the-book blurb.
It entices. It piques interest. It invites the agent to read more, and thus he or she requests your manuscript. It should titillate , focus on the main character and their choices, and have a definite sense of stakes.
It needs to do all that in a page (more like 250 words) or less. Which is why they’re so damn hard.
3. There’s no magic formula (for the query letter).
I’ve read innumerable websites and articles about how to write “the right” query letter. The one that lands an agent, guaranteed.
Thing is, there is no guarantee. There is no magic/silver bullet, golden ticket, paint-by-numbers formula, or secret key to writing a query letter.
Like most things in publishing, it comes down to a confluence of factors largely outside your control: querying the right agent at the right time with the right letter.
By all means, write a kick-ass letter. Write the best letter of your life. But know that no matter how many people you ask for advice, whether they be fellow aspiring authors, or editors, or even agents themselves, that you’ll always get different feedback. Everyone like and wants something different.
All you can do is write the best letter possible, that you feel confident about, and run with it.
Of course, if you query a bunch of agents and don’t even get a nibble, something’s probably wrong somewhere.
4. Some resources I’ve found useful. You might, too.
Agent blogs. If you have your sights on someone, find and read their blog. Learn their personal preferences. If might just be the leg up you need.
Association of Authors’ Representatives. Great for finding people to potentially query, and checking the legitimacy of agents. If someone’s a member, you can probably feel pretty safe with them.
Preditors and Editors. An essential source for avoiding all sorts of scam and problem agents, companies, and services. Always check someone out here first.
Publishers Marketplace. Great source of news, keeping up on the industry. Another way to find agents to query.
Query Shark. A real agent critiques real letters people send her, all for free. She goes through the revision process with them, too. But remember, it’s just her opinions. Definitely great stuff, though.