You wrote a novel, and you made revisions. You had beta readers, and you made revisions. You went to a workshop, and you made revisions. You’ve polished your piece to be the best you can possibly make it. Now what? I get this question a lot from writers who have no idea what the whole querying process entails. Here are some basic tips to help guide the uninitiated.
- Write a rocking query letter. This letter is your introduction to agents and includes a short summary of your work. You get one page to draw the attention of the elusive agent. You will spend hours crafting this one-page Times New Roman nightmare. Lucky for you, several agents have been kind enough to post their guides to writing query letters, including Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, and Janet Reid. Peruse their blogs for tips. I’ve also included my query letter here as an example, along with the tips an agent offered to make my specific letter better.
- Have other proof your rocking query letter. After you’ve drafted your query letter, you might want to post it to the Absolute Write Share Your Work forums to have it critiqued, or have a good friend (who is grammar-wise) proof it for you. You will find that you are constantly tweaking that letter to make it better. Continue to proof it with each tweak. Tweak. Proof. Repeat. [Did you catch that I left the “s” off of “others” in this heading? You might not catch it on your own work either.]
- Research agents. There are hundreds of agents out there. How do you possibly figure out who to send your work to and who would be a right fit? Here’s what I did. I went to Querytracker.net and looked up authors in my genre. Those agents went on my to-query list. I visited their PublishersMarketplace and AgentQuery pages to see who they repped and their record of sales. I also checked the Absolute Write Bewares and Backgrounds Checks forum to see if authors had issues with any of these agents, like scam agents who charge writers to read their work. After all that, if the agents fit my criteria, they went on my to-query list. This process takes HOURS, but it’s important. This person will have your career in their hands, and you want to make the right decision.
- Research specific agent query requests. Don’t send a query until you know if the agent wants a query letter or a query letter plus the first ten pages of your book. Every agent has different criteria. Know what they are.
- Address your query properly. This is by far one of the biggest pet peeves agents seem to have and an easy mistake to make. Make sure you have not sent a request for Ms. X to Mr. Y. This screams unprofessionalism, and your query may be deleted immediately. I can’t say I blame the agents, so check the address and salutation before you hit the send button.
- Be organized. It’s important to keep track of your submissions. Know who you’ve sent query letters to and record who you’ve heard back from. You don’t want to bother an agent with a query follow up if they’ve already rejected you. It makes you look unprofessional. I used Querytracker to organize my queries, but a lot of people use tables in Word or Excel. Whatever your method, stick to it.
- Wait. This is the hardest part. You will hear querying authors wail about this. Sometimes an agent responds in five minutes and sometimes they respond in five months. There is no norm. Rejections may flood in, and you may begin to feel despondent. During this time, you should get going on a new work. Don’t let your life revolve around your gmail. Trust me. I speak from experience.
- What to do with a rejection. Chalk it up and move on. Nine times out of ten, you will get a form rejection. Agents get hundreds of queries a day sometimes. IF they take the time to give you personal feedback, show some class and thank them. This applies to every step from here on out.
- Partial Request. If an agent writes back and requests a partial, they will tell you what to send. It may be the first 30 or 50 pages, or even the first three chapters. Pay attention to their request. If they read your partial and don’t think it fits them, they may reject you. If they like your partial, the agent may ask you for a full. This whole process can take months, so be patient.
- Full Request. This is the mecca of querying. You may get a full just from a query or it may come after a partial. Either way, it’s exciting and your heart beats fast and you’re thinking OhmygoshohmygoshIcouldgetpublished. Slow down. You may be one of 50 fulls that the agent requested of which they may make only two offers. Celebrate the victory (because it is a victory), but KEEP WORKING. More months may pass while the agent responds to their fulls. If you don’t get an offer for your work, you want to have something new to start querying.
Now, if you are lucky enough to get an offer after all of this, trust me on this – you will put Ochocinco’s endzone celebrations to shame.