The Great Big Post of Querying
[box type="note"]Hey guys! This post went up on the old Let The Words Flow blog a long while back, but it's still useful today, I think :) A lot of you might be finishing up books during NaNoWriMo, and while I DON'T recommend querying NaNo books right after finishing (revise! revise! revise!), it doesn't hurt to start THINKING and RESEARCHING about querying long before you actually start.[/box]
So, recently, a reader emailed me asking me how I went about querying and finding my agent. I’d actually meant to put up a post about this a long time ago, but the old post included my actual query, which, now that I look at it, is rather spoilery…
I will, however, go through some of the tools I found most helpful and give a basic outline of how the process went.
I started writing my query letter literally a month or so before I sent out my first email (I didn’t snail mail any queries), and then I revised and revised and revised and revised some more. I sent it to critique partners, read it to friends, etc, until I’d whittled it down to about three paragraphs that made sense, got to the heart of the conflict, and gave the reader just enough world building.
During this time, I was collecting a list of agents I’d like to work with, too. Many of these names I got from blogs, since I’d spent so much time reading agent blogs to figure out how to put together a query letter in the first place. Some I got from contests (I got my agent Emmanuelle’s name from Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest!).
Wherever I got the names from, I checked to see if they had blogs or twitter or anything like that. Not everyone does, and that’s fine if they don’t, but if they do tweet or whatever, sometimes you can get an idea of what they’re looking for. I know the internet’s not the best way to make a judge of character or anything, but sometimes you can also get a sense of how someone’s like to work with.
Also, a check on querytracker (I did a whole long post about that here) never hurt, either. There’s also www.agentquery.com, but I didn’t use that as much. However, they usually list a number of links to interviews and such that the agent has done, and those can be really helpful.
Publisher’s Marketplace does require a subscription fee, but it’s not too bad, and if you have a membership, you can see what’s been sold by whom and to whom. This is handy if you’re looking to see who has, say, a really good track record in cozy mysteries or something. Not all sales get reported to PM, though, and some are reported late, so it’s not an end-all, be-all source.
The Absolute Write forum (or water cooler, as they call it) can be very helpful, too. Many agencies have their own thread in the Writers Beware subforum, and you can search a particular agent’s name to see what sort of experience other writers have had with them in the past. Often, you’ll even see a few people announce that they’ve recently signed with said agent. The smaller agencies sometimes have rather lackluster, seldom-visited threads, though, which don't at all reflect on the quality of the agency.
Finally, I got a TON of help from just other writers. The girls at LTWF were an enormous help, as were other friends I made online, who gave me advice about everything from manuscript formatting to query-letter-writing.
I sent out queries in really small batches, since my overall list was pretty small. I ended up signing with Emmanuelle after about two months (longest two months of my life. Truly, lol), but I suppose if I hadn’t gotten any offers after a long while, I would have had to widen my search a little.
In the end, everybody talks so much about query, and there’s a ton of advice out there (even about the best day of the week or the best time of day to send a query—as a literary intern, I’m just going to say…at least at the agency where I work, this is not going to matter in the least), but in the end, there’s only so much you can do. And writing a really strong story trumps most of the other stuff anyway :)