On Querying: Part 3 - Sending your Queries or Doing The Thing
Here we are in the third and final part of my Querying series. In the first part, I talked about how to cultivate a list of agents to query and in the second, how to write a query letter focusing on your pitch and your professionalism. Now, finally, we get to the good stuff, actually querying.
Before we dive headfirst into the different schools of thought on querying strategies, I want to address something I’ve seen over and over again with friends in headed into the trenches: fear.
I understand fear of rejection. It’s the most normal thing in the world, but here’s the thing: being afraid of querying is sill because you’ve already done the hard part. The hard part of publishing is finishing the manuscript. Writing a book is by far one of the most difficult things in the world to do. It’s something most people will never accomplish, though many aspire to it. And you did it. You climbed Everest. Sending some emails to see if other people might like it? That’s NOTHING to what you’ve already been through. So, spit in the face of that fear. You’ve got this!
Now, how to query?
The traditional advice is to send out queries in small batches to test the waters. If this is your first time in the query trenches, sending out queries in batches of five or ten seems to be the method most recommend you employ.
Querying, at first, often feels like trial and error because you really can’t know for sure if you’re doing it correctly until you start to get some feedback. However, publishing - especially querying - is known for having the speed of a sloth on it’s day off. So, how can you know if you’re querying properly, in a timely fashion, if no one responds.
This is where Querytracker comes in. If you delve into the “Data Explorer” section of an agent’s profile, it can give you a general idea of where an agent is in responding to their slush pile. So, while the advice varies on which agents you should query first, my recommendation is two fold: the first agents you should query are the ones that seem like a good fit beyond simply representing your category/genre (perhaps they mention something like your manuscript on their MSWL) and respond quickly. Odds are if you combine that criteria and your query is solid, you’ll get at least one or two partial/full requests in your batch of five to ten queries.
Now, here is the big caveat: remember that a FANTASTIC request rate is about 20%. That’s one request per five queries, but there is very little way to know which agents on your list are in that, hopefully, 20%. It could be that you simply queried five or ten agents that fall into the percentage of agents of “were never going to request your particular manuscript for whatever reason and it has nothing to do with you or your query.” If you receive nothing but rejections on your first batch of queries, don’t completely rewrite it yet: reach out to fellow writers, give it to someone with fresh eyes who hasn’t read either your query or manuscript before, post your query on the forums at QueryTracker and AbsoluteWrite or if you don’t mind spending a bit of money, hire an experienced editor for a query critique/edit.
All that being said, querying, especially if you are new to publishing, is very much a numbers game. If you’ve done your due diligence and researched all the agents out there that represent your category and genre, odds are you have a list of 50-100 agents, at least, that you could potentially query. I’ll use myself as an example, when I queried GAME. SET. MATCH. In 2012, I sent out 90 queries over the span of about a month and a half. Of those 90 queries, I received a partial or full manuscript request from 17 agents. When I queried #AngstyGymBook this past July, I queried 109 agents in about three weeks.
Fast? Yes. I call it the Kool Aid Man Method because it felt like this…
A few of my friends have dubbed it the, “Rip The Bandaid Off” Method and that feels pretty accurate.
I know what traditional querying wisdom says about this, but I just...disagree. If you’ve done your due diligence - which you have, right? You’ve polished your manuscript to within an inch of its life, your first chapters sing out to be loved, your query letter has a fantastic pitch that holds up the major tenets of storytelling (main character, conflict, stakes!) and is set aglow by your professionalism, then there is no reason not to test the waters at first to make sure all of that is true and then query EVERY. SINGLE. AGENT. ON. YOUR. LIST. AS. QUICKLY. AS. YOU. ARE. COMFORTABLE. DOING. SO. You’ve already done your research, you have a list of agents and access to their submission guidelines, so putting together the query letters for each agent should be a relatively simple process.
I want to remind you of something I said way back in the first part of this series: there is no way to really know whether or not you want to work with a particular agent, until you speak to that agent about your book and your career. And the only way to do that is to get your manuscript requested and read by enough agents that you can begin to speak to them about representation. Thus, my philosophy is to query any and all agents who, through the superficial lens of the internet, seem like they might be a good fit and then get as many of them to read as possible, as quickly as possible.
Do the thing.
DO. THE. THING.
Send your queries out into the world because there is an agent out there who is going to adore your manuscript as much as you do, who wants to champion it to publishers and celebrate with you as you conquer the industry together. And the sooner your lovely polished query and fantastic manuscript are out in the query trenches, the sooner all of that can happen.
When I parted ways with my first agent early last summer - while I still count her as a friend, we just didn’t share a vision for #AngstyGymBook - I followed literally every step in this series, but here’s a quick timeline for how it all played out.
I parted ways with my previous agent on July 3rd.
I gave myself through July 4th to be sad about it.
When I got home from a Independence Day BBQ, on the evening of the 4th, I logged back on to Querytracker and started making a list.
That process was done pretty quickly. Remember, I’ve been in the industry for six years. There were scores of people I could keep or eliminate at a glance.
Because I always write a pitch before I write a manuscript, I already had the first part of what would eventually become my query letter, so I sat down to write out the reasons I was looking for new representation and a very brief bio to introduce myself and my qualifications.
I had a query letter ready to go by the morning of July 5th.
And then...I queried.
Here’s a video to show you how it went!
Some other little tidbits of advice before I sign off! Remember, keep all your interactions with agents courteous and professional and once you have an offer, don’t forget to update everyone (yes, even agents who only have your query) to let them know someone wants you and your manuscript. It’s amazing how quickly the requests roll in once you have an offer!
Also, one of the things I did, which flouts tradition just slightly, was I reached out to authors represented by every agent who requested my full manuscript. Usually, the common practice is to wait until you have an offer, but every author out there with an agent has been where you’ve been and will understand why you might want to do your research before an offer is made. Every single author I reached out to responded almost immediately and talked about the pros and even sometimes cons (usually issues of personal preference: editorial vs. not, smaller agency vs. larger, etc.) of working with their agent.
Thanks for reading and happy querying!