Things to do. Things not to do. Links to wise people with good advice.
Ah, the querying trenches. Navigating them can be equal parts crushing and exhilarating--but the payoff is so worth it. I got my wonderful agent, Peter Knapp of New Leaf Literary, from the slush pile. I didn't have industry connections or advanced writing degrees. I didn't win any contests, belong to any associations or meet him at a conference. So be encouraged: slush pile success stories happen!
But this is a game with so many players that you can't win unless you know the rules--and follow them to the letter. One agent estimated that she got 35,000+ queries and took on 7 new clients in a year. (Her stats from the last few years are here, if you want a deeper dive.) So take your time to learn the query process and get your query right.
None of the following advice is original--just culled from wise people and places over the last few years. I'm hoping that some of these insights and links will help you land the agent of our dreams.
- Make sure the agent you're querying is legit. Charging a reading fee is a giant red stop sign.
- Make a spreadsheet of agents by agency name, agent name, date you queried, and response. Query 5-10 agents at a time.
- You don't necessarily need to do extensive personalizing but make sure you're getting their name correct and that they actually represent your genre.
- Never send a mass e-mail.
- Always be polite.
- Follow their submission requirements (found on their website). If you don't, it can be an automatic rejection.
- If you're not getting any bites for partials or fulls, you may need to rework your query. This is why you only query a few people at a time: so you can re-evaluate based on your response rate and, if needed, make a shiny, new-and-improved query to try on the people you have left on your list. Some agents will let you try again if you have substantially revised your query or sample pages; many ask that you don't.
- It will take a long time for a response--longer than you think you'll be able to stand, sometimes. But agents are sorting through those tens of thousands of queries; reading each one; and doing eight million other things for their day-to-day jobs. Burnout is high. They're doing their best, and "aggressively following up" (as we used to say in my PR days) is not a way to endear yourself.
- Go work on something else while you're waiting or you'll drive yourself crazy. (Another piece of advice I wish I could go back in time and take myself.) A lot of writer friends got an agent on the fourth or fifth book they queried.
- You will get rejected. It will hurt. Some of us got rejected 50+ times before we found the right fit of reworking our queries and honing our manuscripts. I'm forever grateful for a few agents who took the time to read early chapters and, even if they passed, gave me a few lines of constructive criticism to help me grow. It was of no benefit to them, and they had no reason to do it other than kindness.
- Just keep repeating to yourself: rejection is a rite of passage for every writer. And it makes success taste that much sweeter.
- Check back soon for upcoming posts on my own query process (because as a querying writer, I always loved to read those) and a post specifically for those feeling vulnerable in the query trenches. I see you checking your e-mail every two minutes, and very much in need of a pep talk--that post is coming for you.
And for those who are just learning about the querying process and how to write a killer pitch:
A rabbithole of Links on Querying:
- Janet Reid's Query Shark
- KT Literary's "Hook, Book, Cook" advice
- Some query tips from me and seventeen other Swankies
- Literary Rambles (One of my absolute favorites to help you personalize and tailor your queries)
- Chuck Sambuchino
- #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist)
- Brenda Drake, Pitch Wars
And one final extra link for writing that most-dreaded document, the synopsis.
I hope this helps! Ready for more? Head on over to Resources for Writers.