My query process, or, How to not lose your mind while querying
26 January 2011
Maybe that title is misleading. I did sort of lose my mind a little while querying. But simply from the nerves and anxieties of the process. Otherwise, I was very organized, confident in who I was reaching out to, and happy with my process.
So I’m going to share how I tackled this monstrous step towards gaining representation. This is what worked for me. It might not be right for everyone, but I do think a few key things are important no matter who you are. Everything else aside though, you should have your MS in tip-top shape, and a rock-solid query drafted before you go sending it off to agents…
This, I hope, is self-explanatory. You cannot expect success while querying without first researching agents. You may have written the most amazing book in the history of humanity, but if you send it to the wrong agents, your book’s awesomeness won’t matter. Take the time to research agents who represent your genre. Get a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. (It is worth every penny, I promise). Read agent blogs, agency websites, agent interviews. Specifically if you write YA, pour over Casey McCormick’s Literary Rambles blog. (This was probably my #2 resources, after Publishers Marketplace).
» Spreadsheet it Up
As you’re doing all this research, make sure to keep documentation of the agents you think you’ll want to query. I relied on a handy spreadsheet that became my querying bible. In said spreadsheet, I included notes for # of sales per agent (in the last few months, vs overall), notes on what their most successful projects were, and my own personal ratings. I had two personal ratings I tracked, both on scales of 1-10: Desirability and Compatibility. Desirability was from a business and buzz sense, as well as just my initial gut reaction of how much I “dug” a certain person’s style (via what I’d read in interviews, blogs, etc from my research — remember step1?) Compatibility was a rating based on how much of a match I thought my particular novel was for each agent (again via research).
I totally suggest spreadsheets for this process because you can then sort the entire table by certain data (compatibility, vs # sales, vs desirability). It’s magical.
» Query in Rounds
I think the mini-rounds approach is so, so critical. If you try to query, say 25 agents at once, chances are you’re going to end up with errors and typos and not-so-personal query letters. It’s simply impossible to stay focused and on top of your game when you’re sending out a massive quantity of queries at once. So, what’s a writer to do?
I queried about 4-7 agents per round. I referred to my query spreadsheet bible, and in each round, I picked a variety of agents to query (eg: some at the top of my ‘compatibility’ rating, vs some on the lesser end). Then I wrote a personalized query letter to each and every agent. The actual pitch of my book was the same in each, but never did I send off a query that didn’t address each agent on an individual level. This, I think, is massively important. There is tons of slush and agents receive an excessive volume of queries daily/weekly/monthly. You want to stand out. You want them to know that you are querying them for a specific reason — which you are anyway. Remember all that research?
Long story short: Querying in rounds allows you to learn from your mistakes. If you do poorly in query round one, you know to perhaps spend some time re-honing your query before starting again. If you get some partial requests, but then all rejections, you know your story might need a little more love. Either way, querying in rounds lets you “feel out” how your work is received, and it will allow you to make adjustments before you’ve gone and blown your chance with all agents because you hit them all up at once.
» Stay Organized
Once you start getting positive responses, things can get messy quickly. Agent A has a partial, Agent B a full, Agent Dinosaur who you almost forgot about because you queried them months ago came out of the woodwork and wants a full as well! Hooray. Dance a little. And then mark it all down somewhere. Staying on top of who has what will give you peace of mind.
I do not think I would have been able to stay sane had it not been for Query Tracker during my query process. The tools available through free membership are simply amazing. You can create a list of agents you’ve queried and update it at any time. It can track who has rejected your work at the query level versus the partial/full level. You can filter this list to see just agents with your material, just agents who have sent rejections, etc. Every time you update it, you can enter the dates of said rejections or requests. It helped me stay so, so organized, and all in one place. I think the biggest relief with this tool is the peace of mind that I was not querying two agents within an agency at the same time. I just checked my query list and verified that, yes Agent 1 sent rejection, I can now hit up Agent 2.
Query Tracker also has some stats on agents, such as response time for queries vs submissions, which can help you relax a little. We’ve all sat and incessantly refreshed gmail waiting for a response, but if Query Tracker says Agent X usually takes a month to respond to queries, well now you can (attempt to) stop refreshing your inbox every three seconds. Fabulous tool. I owe them so much.
In the end, this process worked for me. It might not work for everyone. But I cannot say enough good things about the tool/resources I’ve linked to above. Either way, be sure to celebrate the mini-successes along the way. Do a little dance. Drink some wine. Eat cookies! With a great story, a killer query, and a little luck, this may be the beginning of the next step…
Anyone else have great resources when it comes to querying? Or tips? What have you done to make your life while querying a little more sane?