Query Eye for the Writer Guy


Today I sent four queries to four agents at four agencies. It took all day.

I had my ducks in a row: my manuscript has been professionally edited, as has my query. My synopsis is a one-page quick read. I have a website on which I sell my first two, self-published books and I have this blog, which, so far, comprises my platform. I have a list of agents who represent children’s literature.

All I had to do was send the query, right? Nope. That’s where the time comes in.

This is my process…

I choose an agent from my list and go to their agency’s website. This is the place to start. Agents move around all the time, so it’s best to make sure they are still at this agency. I once sent out a dozen queries ( for a previous manuscript), back when it was all done snail mail. I had used the Writers Market to find the agents. When I got one envelope returned to me with DECEASED scrawled across it, I knew I had to sharpen my research.

By the way, when choosing the first agents to send to, I always start at the top, with the agent I would most love to have represent my book. Someone suggested sending to lower level agents to test the waters. That doesn’t make sense to me. I am sending a book that I think is ready for agents and publishers. So why not start with the most desired? if a smaller agent loves it and wants it, do you tell them no and figure a bigger agent will love it as well? Maybe. But, to me, that seems unprofessional. My list starts with the biggest and works its way down.

Since we’re on this subject, I also caution any new author against premature querying. Once again, to test the waters, sending in a query that is not right, not finished and querying a book that still needs editing, is foolish and can burn bridges. Don’t do it! Spend your time on perfecting the book. Don’t send it out until you honestly think it has reached that perfection: no grammatical or spelling or punctuation mistakes. Proof it several times. Don’t do anything to take an agent’s attention away from the content, which should be brilliant. It’s called an invisible manuscript.

Okay, so I go to the agency’s website to begin the research on the particular agent. I subscribed to Publishers Market so I can check the recent book sales of this agent and agency and if the books are similar or radically different from mine. I get on my Kindle and buy or sample the books. This is a great tool. I can preview the books, reading several chapters, or buy the book outright, just because it looks like a good story. Doing this tells me what appeals to this agent. If the agent has a blog, I read it. Follow them on Twitter.

Now I can personalize my query and show the agent I’m invested. I can suggest how this book could be marketed.

All of this clicking and reading takes time. It’s amazing how much. But with something this important, there’s no cutting corners. You only have the one chance to make a good impression.

Once I have all those ducks in a row, I check the agent’s submission policy. Always do this. Some agents are not taking on new clients. Some will only accept submissions from people who have been to a conference the agent has attended or through contacts. Those that do take unsolicited queries will tell you exactly what they want in a submission (some want only a query letter, some want pages, some want a synopsis. It can be different for each) and how they what the work submitted (by mail, or electronically, sometimes with a form to fill out). Whatever they ask for, it’s important that you ALWAYS BELIEVE that they mean what they post. Do not second guess. Do not think this applies to everyone but special you. Do as they ask. Be professional.

There you have it. That’s how I do it. And just because I haven’t succeeded at it yet, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. It means I haven’t been ready enough or had a good enough manuscript. Yet. Alex Bullied could be the one. I asked a couple of writer friends what their processes are and here’s what they said:

“1) buff query 2) research markets 3) find out requirements 4)complete package 5) send query 6) record the submission 7) wait 8) go on to next query 9) repeat as necessary.”

One word on multiple queries — do it! All agents expect we will query more than one of them at a time. If we didn’t, with the sometimes months of waiting for a reply, it would take years to sell one manuscript.

Another friend said:

” I look at a list of a thousand literary agents, but click on AGENCIES, rather than the AGENTS. Then, going agency by agency, pick one that takes my kind of work. Then look at website to be sure agent is still there, is still accepting queries and how he/she wants to be approached.”

Are you detecting a theme here? There really isn’t that much variation on how to query. Having said all this, you never know what is going to catch someone’s attention and certainly there’s room for querying outside the box. If you do, or have, please write and tell us what  you did and how successful it was.

The waiting begins on the four queries I have out there. Some say six weeks, some three months, some say if I don’t hear from them in six months, I can consider that a rejection.

Gosh, isn’t this so much fun?

But maybe, just maybe, i will get a request for the full manuscript. And maybe I will get The Call. Rejections are always by mail (mostly email) but an acceptance will always be by phone.

On to the next four queries, and the next four and so on.

Good luck to me. Good luck to you. May you receive The Call. Now, go write a really good story.


2 thoughts on “Query Eye for the Writer Guy

  1. Good luck with your querying. Have you heard of QueryTracker? It’s a free website (unless you choose to upgrade) that has information about agents and you can keep track of all the queries you send. It makes things so much easier. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out. http://www.querytracker.net/

    Love that line: May you receive The Call 😉

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