Querying 101

mailboxIn recent months I’ve received a lot of emails from many of you! I love mail, and thank you for contacting me to say hello. There’s been a great influx of new traffic lately and I’m really excited to chat, share, and discuss writing with you all!

However, I must admit, I’ve been confused by the growing number of novel query letters I receive. I say this because I’m not an agent, editor, or book publisher.

I’m an author.

Yes, I also do manuscript critiques to help writers hone their craft and prepare for querying. But, I’m not an editor at a publishing house. So, I’m always a little stumped when I receive a query letter, because I’m not in any position to actually publish my blog-reader’s books.

The more I thought about this, the more I’ve come to realize the problem lies in a lack of information on who you should actually send your query to. And since this blog is all about sharing information, I can help in this regard!

Who Should You Query?

The objective of a query letter is to get an agent or editor to request your book and consider you for representation and/or publication. However, that doesn’t mean you do a Google search for agents and editors, and blanket the market with your query. You need to target your letter to the proper individuals. Otherwise, you’re going to get an inbox full of rejection letters that have nothing to do with the quality of your book.

So how do you find the perfect agents and editors to query?

1) Decide if You Want an Agent

Do you want an agent? Or do you want to submit, negotiate, and work directly with a publisher yourself? I personally went the agent route, because frankly, I want to write and not worry about the business side. But there are plenty of authors who do it on their own without representation.

If you’re undecided, check out these great articles:

** If you decide you don’t want an agent, insert the word editor into the below steps.

2) Find Agents That Represent What You Write

Lit Agents bookThe number one reason your query letter is getting rejected, is because you’re sending it to someone who doesn’t represent what you write. You shouldn’t send a query for your gritty adult Noir to an agent who primarily represents picture book authors. Before you query, research and create a list of agents that represent books like yours!

How to Create Your Agent List:

  • Go to Literary Agency Websites and read the agent bio pages. These list agent book preferences, authors they currently represent, and genres they’re interested in.
  • Query Tracker.net – This is a fantastic resource. Start by searching their giant list of agents by genre. Then learn about query turnaround times, preferences, and more.
  • Writers Digest: Guide to Literary Agents – Pick up the current edition of this book (or check out their blog), to see what agents are currently looking for.
  • Book Acknowledgements – Look in the acknowledgement section of books similar to yours. See if the author has thanked his or her agent. This is a great way to find agents that represent work in your genre and age level.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – Get a paid subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace and you can search agents to see who they represent and current deals they’ve made.

3) Research Agent Book Preferences

indexSo much of this business is about taste. An editor or agent can pass on your book based on taste alone. Give your book the best chance by researching what kind of books your list of agents like to read. Narrow your list by finding the agents interested in your specific genre and story-type. For example, you’ll find a lot of agents who represent young adult books, but do they like contemporary romantic YA or gritty sci-fi YA? You may have written the best young adult war epic of all time, but if you query an agent who isn’t interested in historical fiction… you’re going to get a rejection letter.

How to Narrow Down Your Agent List:

  • Read interviews, articles, and blog posts – Agents do a ton of interviews online. Others have their own blogs outlining their query wish lists. Using the list you made from step 2, start to read articles and blogs about these agents to get a better sense of their book tastes.
  • Literary RamblesIf you’re looking for a children’s book agent, Literary Rambles has an outstanding resource for you. Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre have rounded up hundreds of interviews, articles, and blog posts, and organized them by agent. Click through their agent list to read highlights from articles all over the internet.
  • Manuscript Wish Lists  – A lot of editors and agents are sharing their dream submissions on twitter. Check out the hashtag #MSWL to see what they’re jonesing for. Or check out this site: Manuscript Wish Lists
  • Go to Conferences – Agents and editors love to speak at writing conferences. This is a great way for you to see their personalities, hear them talk about books they love, and to get a feel for if they’d be a good fit for you.

4) Craft Your Query Letter

Now that you have a list of 5 to 20 agents, create a query letter targeted toward them. I’ve written many posts on how to craft a query letter. So be sure to check out the links below.

How to Write a Query Letter:

emb5) Send Out Your Query Letter

Now that you have a small, targeted list for querying, start sending out your queries. I suggest keeping a spread sheet on which agents you’ve submitted to and the date of submission. Some agents have No Response Means No policies.  Using a spreadsheet will help you to keep track of those responses.

Every time you get a rejection, send out three more query letters! Querying can be a numbers game. Remember that so much of this is about taste. You don’t need everyone to love you. You just need that one agent or editor to love you!

Querying can be a difficult and grueling process. Keep researching, adding more agents to your list, and sending out queries. Keep the faith!

There’s a ton of great information on the internet on how to find an agent and create a successful query letter. This can be a rabbit hole and a big time-suck, but you put in the time to write your book, be sure to put in the time to research agents as well!

Hungry for more? Try these great links:

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