Surviving Querying

So you’re in the trenches sending out query letters and refreshing your inbox obsessively for a response to magically appear. ME TOO! So, how do we get through this process together? Well, let’s check it out with 5 tips that are currently helping me.


1. Work on a new project.

I know, you want to keep working and tweaking and perfecting what you’re querying… but right now, put it down. Put it down. Really, stop it. Stop it and start on something else. You remember that shiny new idea beating down your door when you were hip deep in your previous project? Go catch up with it, see if that New Shiny Idea is ready to become a full fledged piece.


2. Keep good records.

Keep track of who you’ve sent queries too and when/what they responded. You can do this in your own excel sheet, or on a site like QueryTracker. Knowing what responses you’re getting keeps you on track.


3. Immediately get rid of rejections.

Look, rejection sucks. It just does and there’s no way around that. The second I get a rejection letter for an agent, I note the response in my tracking system then shove that rejection into another file in my inbox so it doesn’t just hang out in my inbox. Don’t dwell on it and don’t respond with hellfire to any rejection you get.


4. Go do something fun.

You’ve probably been working on this project you’re querying for a quite a while. Go out and do something fun. See a movie you’ve been excited about, try that new class, read a book, start a garden. Do something fun and make sure you’re refilling the creative well.


5. Remember it’s not personal.

I know this novel holds your heart and soul. You’ve poured yourself into this novel and when someone rejects the novel, it can feel a whole lot like they’re rejecting you as a person. They aren’t. It’s not personal and no one hates you. Take a deep breath and remember this is your novel not you.


Querying can be tough and it can require a lot of self-care to get through. It’s also totally okay to realize you’re not at a place where you can take the highs and lows of querying. Do what fits your needs and your health at the moment, but don’t give up. 

Seven Steps To Querying


So you've decided to look for an agent. Yay! Welcome to the club! It's an exciting step to decide to go the more traditional route and start the querying process. It's also a bit overwhelming and a little scary. There's a lot of information and it can feel a bit hard to decide where to even start. So let's do this thing! 

Party dog believes in you! You can do the thing, write all the words and send out all the queries! 

Party dog believes in you! You can do the thing, write all the words and send out all the queries! 

Step One: 
Polish Up Your Manuscript!

That's right, step one is not query. It's making sure you've got a badass manuscript ready to roll. I know it's so tempting when you type The End to ride off into querying land. But please, please, please, take your time. Polish up your manuscript to the very best it can be. Pay particular attention to the first 50 pages since that's the first impression of your story. Do those pages draw a reader in or is there a lot of nothing happening? 

This is also a good time to figure out what genre best fits your book. I know it can be hard to categorize your manuscript, but a genre is neccessary. This information also will help you know what to search for in agents. Also check your word counts for your genres. (A good resource on that is here from Writer's Digest.) If you have a 250,000 word young adult novel then you've got some major work ahead of you.

Step Two:
Research Agents. 

There are a lot of agents out there and it's easy to get overwhelmed with where to being. Now since you know your genre that gives you a great starting point. So where do you even start? First, read the 'thank yous' in a novel in your genre that you like. Most authors will mention their agents. (This also serves a dual purpose of giving you a comparative title to mention.)

Personally I like QueryTracker. It lets you search agents by genre, location, and query method. You also can read comments from others who have queried. It's a great start to get names. Writer's Digest is another great resource. There's also AgentQuery, and SFWA's guide to agents

Now, once you've put together a list of agents to look over, here comes more work! Take your time and really go through this list of agents. Go to their agency websites and read over the guidelines. Look at their twitter feeds or other public social media sites (don't make it creepy) and read interviews with them. 

At this point I make an excel spreadsheet that tracks these things: Agent Name, Agency Name, Where to Query, and What to Send. From there I divide agents into three categories: favs, awesome, and great. My favs are the agents I dream of working with and I think we'd be a perfect fit together. The awesomes are agents that I'm excited about working with but for some reason, they aren't a fav. These reasons can be simple as 'brand new agent' or 'isn't on twitter, just things that knock them down a pinch. The 'greats' are just one notch below the 'awesomes.' Again, usually it comes down to small reasons, nothing major. 

Step Three:
Keep Researching.

Seriously. Research, research, research. You don't want to end up with a bad agent or a scam artist so take your time. Check out preditors and editors to see if there are any red flags raised about that agent or agency. SFWA has a great breakdown of warning signs of a bad agent. Check them on Preditors and Editors

You also can take some time to explore the magical Manuscript Wishlist. This is an awesome resource started on twitter under #MSWL where agents and editors post about things they're looking for. (They even have a great website.) You might find one of the agents you're interested in posted about looking for a novel just like yours, neat! This may bump them from an awesome to a fav. It's a good way to see if there are any agents really looking for your kind of story. 

Step Four:
Write A Query.

Okay, there are dozens of resources on queries (like the incredible queryshark which you should read extensively) to learn about how to write one. Write one and get feedback. If you have the means, take a class and get a critique. (LitReactor has some great opportunities as does Writer's Digest.) Share your query and get feedback. Let people who have no idea what your book is about read over it. Does it make sense to them? 

Step Five:
Write A Synopsis. 

I hate writing a synopsis more than writing a query letter. A synopsis ties the whole plot up in a neat package. Not every agent will want a synopsis but enough will that you should go ahead and get it together. Get feedback and help on this too. Take your time.  Here are some great resources on writing a synopsis:

Step Six:

I recommend sending out batches of ten-ish queries at a time. Send a few to your favs, a few to your awesomes, and a few to your greats. Don't burn all your favs on your first batch. Now you track responses. Add more columns to your excel sheet: date sent, response date, result. 
When I get a form rejection I mark it all down and then black out that row on my sheet so I don't see it anymore. After you've marked it on your list, send out another one. However, if you're getting nothing but form rejections then it's time to go back to step four and try again. See if you can make your query stronger. A solid query should be getting some requests. 

Step Seven:
Keep Working.

Just because you're querying doesn't mean you need to stop working on anything. Start on a new project and keep yourself busy. Writing and publishing is a lot of waiting for a response. Keep busy and don't fret yourself into an early grave. 

And that's it! Easy, right? (hahahahahahah)