(I’m slowly making my return to blogging. My husband recently deployed and I have a bit more free time on my hands. Happy to be back!)
A few weeks ago I got an email from a fellow writer who’d read my Holy Crap: I Have an Agent! post. As well as offering congratulations, she asked for advice on querying. At first I was surprised and flattered, but not long after opening her email I started to get a feeling of… I don’t know. Unworthiness? I’m so not qualified to be doling out advice! When I told my husband this, he said, “Uh, why not? You’ve been querying off and on for the last year and now you’ve landed an agent. You’re totally qualified.”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized he might be right. While I’m certainly not an expert on querying (is anyone?), I have had a fair amount of experience and I’ve gained some wisdom that’s probably worth sharing.
Below are the top ten things I’ve learned regarding the query process. Of course, the following advice only applies once you have an edited, critiqued, revised, sparklingly clean, complete manuscript, as well as a compelling query letter…
1) You won’t know if you’re truly ready to query until you send out a few letters. Of course you shouldn’t send out your first batch of query letters the same day you type The End at the bottom of your first draft. It goes without saying that there should be much critiquing, editing and revising before you ever contact an agent about your manuscript. But, you can theoretically spend ages seeking feedback and tinkering with your story. At some point, scary as it is, you have to be DONE. That isn’t to say you won’t want to revise again (and again) sometime down the line–especially after you start receiving replies on that first batch of query letters.
2) Put a blurb about your manuscript (and possibly a short excerpt) on your blog, and don’t forget your easy-to-find email address. Last fall I had an agent (one who is legit and respected, but isn’t open to unsolicited queries) happen upon my blog. She read the blurb and excerpt I’d posted about a previous WIP, and emailed me to request pages. Talk about surprising! While most agents probably don’t spend a lot of time trolling writer blogs, it does happen. Why not entice them any way possible?
3) Take advantage of helpful agent-focused blogs like Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre’s Literary Rambles, Krista V.’s Mother. Write. Repeat., and Jay Eckert’s Sharpened Pen. These people have graciously put hours and hours of time into their agent lists, databases and interviews. They are amazing resources! I learned about new agents, agents’ tastes, current clients, sales, query pet peeves, and more from sites like these. Querying is incredibly time-consuming, and accurate information on agents and agencies is sometimes hard to find online. Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s quicker (and easier) to cross-check information that’s already been compiled for you than it is to start from scratch.
4) Stay organized. Be on top of outgoing queries and incoming replies. Know which agents you’ve queried and when. Know the name of their agency. Know their usual response times, or if they’re of the no reply is a no school. And keep querying! I tried to have about eight queries out at all times. When I received a pass, I sent out a new query letter. Rejection is easier to take when you know you’ve got other options out there. On the flip side, when I received a request for pages I sent them immediately, PLUS a new query letter to a different agent.
5) Follow the blogs of agents who interest you well before it’s time to query them. More often than not, they post wish lists, favorite published books, and/or general hints about their tastes. This is a fantastic information to reference when personalizing query letters, and also a great way to gauge whether an agent might be interested in your concept.
6) Follow agents who interest you on Twitter. I reluctantly joined Twitter about a year ago (I did NOT need more social media to suck up my time!). Now, I’m so glad I did. Not only is Twitter is an excellent way to connect with other writers, but it’s taught me so much about querying and literary agents. Many agents tweet tons of helpful publishing information, plus hints on what they’re seeking in their slush. I also made a habit of following the clients of my top-choice agents. A lot can be revealed about client/agent relationships (or lack thereof) through social media interactions.
7) Participate in blogfests, contests and online conferences like WriteOn-Con, especially if they relate to query letters, pitches, voice, or opening lines/pages. Not only are blogfests, contest and many online conferences free, they are a great way to get feedback and connect with writers in the same stage of the journey as you. Plus, they keep your mind occupied while you obsessively refresh your email. Added bonus: Contest finalists often receive prizes like critiques and/or requests.
8 ) Keep an open mind about feedback from CPs/betas, blogfests/contests, and agent replies. Not all critiques are good critiques, but there’s room for improvement in any work. I tried to keep a flexible attitude about my pitch, query letter, and manuscript. When I received a critique, I truly considered it (sometimes for days) before deciding whether to make the suggested revisions. At the end of the day, this is your work. You don’t want to have eventual regrets about making changes you aren’t truly comfortable with.
9) Make friends at all stages of the game. I’m the last of my CPs to snag an agent. At times, this sucked. They were all moving forward, finalizing agent-requested revisions, going out on submission, and making sales(!) while I was stuck in the query trenches. However, when I ended up with two offers of representation and needed to make a choice, I was so thankful to have friends with experience who could offer sound advice. That said, while having writing friends who’ve progressed farther than you on the path to publication is fantastic, it’s also great to know people who are flailing in the same stage as you. Commiseration is a powerful thing, and sometimes it’s nice to know you aren’t alone.
10) Know there are no guarantees, but that everything happens for a reason. Personal story time: A few months ago I had a phone call with an agent. We had a nice little chat during which she told me she torn and wasn’t ready to offer representation, but offered some revision notes and asked me to resubmit. I was ecstatic. All I had to do was revise to her notes (which were good) and I’d have an agent. I poured my heart into that revision and was so pleased with how it turned out. I sent my manuscript back to her and spent the next week vibrating with excitement: I was positive I was going to get an offer! Imagine my disappointment when I received her reply and another comment about being “torn,” accompanied by an additional list of new issues she had with the story. She wanted me to revise and resubmit AGAIN. At that point, I had to make a decision. Would I revise indefinitely for an agent who didn’t seem to truly love my story, or would I consider her feedback and continue my search for an agent who “got” what I was writing? I decided to move on, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sure, I was discouraged at first, but I eventually realized that had I not completed the original revision for that first agent, my story wouldn’t be what it is today. I might not have received the offers of representation I eventually did.
There are no guarantees, but every query, every request for pages, every revision, every NO…
What about you? Do you have any fantastic querying advice to pass on?