Querying is a process that is long, frustrating and has little to no rules or guidelines. There are a few things that agents agree that they want, but otherwise it is a messy process that leaves the aspiring author lost in this quagmire of the unknown. And it is a matter of learning from mistakes rather than having a clear cut path.
I highly dislike learning from mistakes. It leaves me in tears and wanting to tear my hair out with the occasional lapse into swearing like a sailor.
So, here are some handy tips for the querying process.
One: Have a finished manuscript.
If you don’t have a finished manuscript, why are you querying? They don’t want ideas. They want product. You need to be able to deliver the product quickly.
Two: Make a list of agents.
This one I figured out the hard way after trying to go through a marshy table list of agents that dealt with fantasy and science fiction. I started to realize that I wasn’t able to keep track of who I’d already queried, who had responded and who hadn’t. So, I did what all eagles/beavers do, I made a list.
Having a list of agents, what agency they’re with, when you queried them and how they responded is not only a time saver, it is a life saver. Finding agents is stressful enough. Why try doing it month after month when you make one list and work through it?
Especially, if you’re in a genre that has multiple agents who deal with that genre in one agency. They say that they may pass stuff along to other agents within their agency, but I’m not sure it really happens. If you have a list, you know how many agents there are and you know to start with those agencies first.
Sure, go ahead and put the agents you want to query first at the top of your list. That’s all well and good. Maybe you’ll get a positive response out of one of them. But I’m serious, make a list, when you’re at 25 agents or so in, you’ll be thankful you have it.
Three: Break up your first three chapters into different page blocks
Every agent has their own requirements of what they want. All of them will want a query letter. But most of them want at least five pages of your first chapter. Some want ten, some want twenty or thirty or fifty or on rare occasions, they’ll just take the first three chapters, thank you. This is why you want your manuscript finished. That way if you have to make any changes in your first three chapters. You won’t be scrambling through half a dozen documents to make those minute changes. But, it makes assembling a query email that much faster (and easier) if you have the first five pages, ten pages and so on in separate documents. Select All. Copy and Paste. Especially since 99% of agents want all the information in the email itself. If a list of agents, you can start to see the trends of what they want in their emails and have it all prepared before you even start querying.
Four: Have a bio.
Having a short paragraph about yourself that would resemble what would go on the back of book is handy. Some agents ask for a bio. This is usually for non-fiction works when they want to know why you’re qualified to actually write the book you’ve written.
Five: Create a synopsis and outline of your book.
They’ll ask for them. A synopsis is a one to two page (double spaced) summary of the entire book that even gives away the ending. An outline can be done multiple ways. I’ve yet to see an agent ask for an outline in their query form, but it’s best to have it. Just in case.
After you’ve outlined and summarized your book, you’ve had some practice…
Six: Write a query letter.
There is apparently no one way to write a query letter. I’ve read articles at Writer’s Digest. I’ve read agents own web pages. I’ve looked at successful query letters. None of them are the same outside of a few basic building blocks.
Some agents care about housekeeping. Housekeeping is why you chose the agency, comparison books (what books are like yours so the agent will know if you’re salable) and biographical information, any sort of writing credits you might have (publishing), if you belong to any writing associations and qualifications to write what you’re writing about. (There are actually no qualifications for writing a novel.) So, some agents don’t care about such housekeeping. If you run across agents that do care, then it is best to have a bio or a list of comparison novels to put into your query letter.
Let me put it this way, you get 250 words (or less) to interest your agent in your book this includes genre and word count and ‘thank you for your time and consideration.’ How would you rather spend it? Hooking the agent on the book? Or writing about yourself?
Personally, I want to know about the book. I recommend the Query Shark method. In fact, go read all of Query Shark’s archives and then try to write a query letter. It’s educational.
So, write your query letter. A summary about the book that introduces the character, conflict, and doesn’t give away the ending. Then write it again. And again. And again until it’s 250 words and represents the book you’ve written. If you need help, see Query Shark or go find the comparison books and read the backs of them and try imitating that style. (You might get a better book out of it as you need to change things.)
Seven: You’re a business. Close your letter like one.
Remember, your query letter is a business letter. You want the agent to be able to get a hold of you. After your name on the closing, it needs to have your phone, your email, any website you’re using, and your address.
Eight: Assemble your emails according to agent directions and send.
Follow agent directions carefully. This can be difficult. Check the agencies submission page but also the agent’s bio page. Individual agents might have different requirements than the agency they work for. Double check your work and then send.
If you have a list of agents, this will go much faster as you can google their agencies and compile queries rather than having to find more agents every time you want to send out another batch of query letters.
Be prepared not to hear anything. Be prepared for form letters. For automatic responses to tell you that if you don’t hear from them it will be a rejection. For short letters. And the perennial favorite, “It took so and so this many queries to find an agent, don’t give up.” Be prepared to not hear from agents at all, but from their assistants. Mostly, be prepared for “thank you for querying, but this project is not for me” without any idea of why exactly that project isn’t for them.
It would be really helpful if they could give a one to two word answer as to why. Content. No Publisher Interest. Length. (All of the above) This would give me at least some direction of “is it me or is it you?”
Sometimes there are the well-meaning and helpful offering tidbits of information about what is expected from debut authors. This can be twice as frustrating. Sure, it gives me some idea of the reason why it was rejected, but usually it’s something I already know. It’s something I want to fix. And I would fix, if I had an agent or a friendly editor to point me in the right direction. But I don’t… which is why I’m querying and receiving all these lovely rejection letters.
Finding an agent is like trying to find someone to date with people who can take up to three months to get back to you instead of three days. The ones you query first may not understand your story or you. And if you aren’t working against a deadline and have the time to put into the process, it will most likely be worth it to get an advance and onto store shelves. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, which is why The Lone Prospect is now for sale on Amazon through Kindle. I just hope this list can help someone else in their querying process.