Hello, friends, it’s been a hot minute since I posted original content, but I’m back in the querying trenches and having Thoughts™ about it.
But, like, sort of okay thoughts this time? If you kept up with my last two posts about querying, you know I was miserable in the trenches last time around and felt like there were a lot of things about querying that I was unprepared for. But after two years in the trenches, I know a lot more about what querying is actually like. Somehow, it’s not as hard on me this time.
Admittedly, I’ve only been querying for about a month so far. So of course it’s not as hard as it is when you’ve been yeeting the same manuscript into the void for over a year.
And I have a book deal now, so that calms me down a little even though it doesn’t mean I’ll get an agent with the new manuscript.
Will I ever actually write an “I got a book deal” post? Maybe, although the further I get away from my original announcement, the more silly it feels to do so. But I feel like maybe I should actually, y’know, say something about that before the book actually comes out, especially since I’ll probably want to do a cover reveal at some point and a celebratory “my book is in the world” post at some point.
And also, agent responses have been forthcoming, which??? my prior querying experience didn’t remotely prepare me for. Like, one month into querying two years ago, I had crickets in my inbox. One month into querying now, I have a couple of requests and a few rejections. It’s weird. Where are the long response times I’ve gotten so used to that everyone’s been bemoaning for months?
At any rate, after querying the first manuscript, I’ve been doing some stuff that’s helping me obsess and stress a little less. Remember in this post when I said that, early in my original querying journey, I felt like I’d sent about 50 queries, but when I checked I’d only sent 15?
Welp, a little over a month into querying this time around, I’ve already sent 31 queries, which is almost half the number of total queries I sent over an almost two-year period last time. This is partly due to my new policy to send a new query for every rejection, coupled with faster agent response times.
But it’s also due to things I’ve done that make the actual process of sending queries a little easier for me.
Will these things work for you? I don’t know, but I hope some of them do. Keep in mind, these aren’t tips for improving your query package, although I’ll link some resources I like at the end of the post in case you’re looking for those, too. These are tips to hopefully help you maintain a little more energy and a little more calm as you query.
1. Have these materials ready to go
- a form query letter that includes meta data (title, genre, word count, one-line description), pitch/blurb, author bio, and any trigger or content warnings
- a single-spaced 1-2 page synopsis (1 page is generally better, but don’t stress if you go a little over)
- pages files (preferably in .doc/.docx format): first 5, 10, 15, 25, 50, and 100 pages, plus first 3 chapters
- the full manuscript, completed and polished
- 3-5 brief pitches, if you plan on pitching during Twitter pitch parties or at writing conferences (either physical or virtual)
- a way to track queries (I like the Notion template I’m using because it automatically tallies total queries sent)
The more stuff you have ready to paste into a query manager or attach to an email, the less time you’ll spend typing up query letters or creating new pages documents for each agent who requests. You may occasionally need something outside of the listed materials (e.g., sometimes an agent requests 100 pages attached as a PDF rather than a .doc/.docx), but for the most part, if you have these items, you’ll have everything you need to send any query or requested pages.
2. Prepare answers for extra questions
Agents who use a submission manager rather than email for queries may ask extra questions that you don’t need to answer when sending queries by email. Sometimes these questions are optional. Sometimes they’re required. Sometimes they’re ice-breaker questions that are meant to be fun, but they can still be stressful if you’re unprepared.
Here’s a sample of some of the kinds of extra questions or prompts you might see in someone’s query manager:
- one-sentence pitch of your manuscript (basically an elevator pitch; summarize the general premise in one line)
- similar books (essentially asking for comp titles, which you may have already included in your query but might need to put down again)
- potential target audience
- if your book were on a shelf at a bookstore, what books do you envision on the shelf alongside it? (yes, as a separate question from “similar books”)
- are there any trigger warnings or content warnings for this manuscript? (I include these in my query, but if there’s a specific box for them, I put them there instead)
- why are you the right person to tell this story?
- link to a playlist for this manuscript if you have one
- link to a moodboard/Pinterest board/aesthetic for this manuscript if you have one
- what’s your zodiac sign/star sign?
- what song would you sing at karaoke?
- what’s one essential item would you bring on a trip to space?
I have a love-hate relationship with the less businessy kinds of questions. On one hand, they remind me that agents are people, too, and they make the agent asking the questions feel more approachable, because hey! They’re asking about playlists and zodiac signs like my friends might.
On the other hand, for most of my WIPs, I don’t have a playlist. I’m not particularly interested in zodiac signs and can never remember my “big three” unless I have them written down somewhere. (Is it not enough to say I’m a Pisces?) I have less than zero interest in ever traveling to space. And although these questions are generally optional rather than required, as a querying author I can’t help wondering: do I hurt my chances by not answering these questions? What if I answer them and the agent doesn’t like my answers? (“A Pisces? A business relationship would never work between us!”)
Okay, fine, these questions probably don’t matter as much to the agent as they do to me. They probably legitimately are just nice little icebreaker questions from agents who know querying is no fun at all! But they stress me out. So having answers ready to go, to any random questions I remember seeing while querying previously, helps offset that anxiety. Because now, instead of trying to come up with a single favorite song to sing during karaoke in the middle of writing a query, I can copy-paste an answer I came up with a month ago and saved in my query document.
3. Collect all query materials in one place
My query letter, synopsis, pitches, and responses to additional questions are all together in one document. That document and all my other materials (files of 5, 10, 25, etc. pages) are all together in a single querying folder on my drive. That way, when I go to send a query, everything I need is at my fingertips: I don’t have to hunt around for what I need, and I don’t end up saving duplicates of things that already exist (unless I need to). I can attach or c/p my materials as instructed, send the query, and move on with my life.
Will I still spend ages on a single query? Yes. But at least it won’t be because I had to trawl through five different folders on my desktop to find that first-25-pages document I know I had lying around here somewhere—
4. Research along the way
YMMV with this one, but: last time I queried, I amassed a long list of agents to query before ever starting. I didn’t let myself send a single query until I had finished researching all the agents in my list.
Which is fine! That’s one way to do things! But…
- agent research (imo) is exhausting
- waiting to query anyone until you’ve done your research on everyone undoubtedly means some people will have closed by the time you’re ready to query them
- it’s demoralizing to watch your list get smaller and smaller as you get rejection after rejection and cross people off
This time around, I started with a short list. Like, a really short list. Like, an “I will definitely get at least this many rejections or CNRs before I’m done querying this manuscript”-length list. But instead of adding to it right away, I sent my initial round of queries and only then started doing additional research.
I do my research in small batches and tend to do it when a rejection comes in, since a new rejection means sending a fresh query. I focus on researching one to three agencies at once (depending on their size). Doing research in batches like this feels much more manageable and exhausts me much less than doing tons of agent research for several weeks prior to querying. It also gets me into the trenches faster and means I can make snap decisions about querying agents who might be closing soon. Additionally, rather than watching my complete list go down as I get rejections, I watch my incomplete list grow as I continue querying. Yes, eventually I’ll still run out of agents to query. But it feels better this way, at least for now.
5. Trust & value yourself and your time
Querying and agent research both take me less time than they did last time around. Why? Because I’m pickier and I refuse (to the extent possible) to repeat the exhausting and emotional experience of my last round in the trenches.
For example, if an agent doesn’t list their genres, for now, I’m skipping them. If they say they take “most commercial genres,” and nowhere on their agency site, personal site, or manuscript wish list do they say what specific genres are included, I’m not querying them. I’m not stressing myself out hunting all over the internet to see if they represent fantasy. I’m not sending a query and crossing my fingers that they consider contemporary fantasy a commercial genre, and that it’s one of the commercial genres they’re interested in. If an agent doesn’t explicitly state somewhere that they’re interested in fantasy, I don’t cold-query them.
(For now. Later on, as my list shrinks, I may have to go hunting and stress myself out. But with so many agents making enthusiastic requests for fantasy, why start by stressing over someone who doesn’t?)
Another example—admittedly harder, because I’m ND: when sending email queries, I no longer check back and forth between the agent’s submission guidelines and my email a dozen times before pressing send.
Ngl, double- and triple- and quadruple- and quintuple-checking submission guidelines before sending an email probably took up most of my querying time and energy last time around. I have ADHD! so! surely I’m forgetting something, no matter how many times I check, because inevitably, when I click away from the guidelines page, half the guidelines immediately leave my brain! So I checked again and again and again and AGAIN—
It’s hard to let go of that, especially when it’s my habit in everyday life for so many things, because I know I’ll forget something.
But look. If I’ve looked at the guidelines, and gone down them like a checklist, and said “check” out loud for every bullet point that I’ve included in my email, if I covered the screen so I only see one line at a time and don’t skip any by accident, if I clicked back to my email to make sure I remembered to paste or attach the requested pages—then I’m good. I need to trust myself. I need to trust that the me who did that just a few minutes ago did it carefully and did it right, because it was important to her.
What if the me of a few minutes ago forgot a tiny detail? Sure, she got all those big, obvious things, like including a synopsis and ten pages, but maybe the agent asked for the query to be formatted a specific way, or maybe I made a typo, or or or—
But I mean, if an agent’s going to reject me for forgetting a small detail, or getting it wrong, that’s probably not the right agent for me. I worry so much about messing up in tiny ways. I need someone who’s going to say, “No worries! We all make mistakes! I made one just five minutes ago!”, not someone who’s going to say, “You gave me two comps when I specified three? NO REP FOR YOU.”
So I check everything once or twice and then yeet (and then check to make sure it really ends up in my sent folder, since Gmail was being real dodgy there for a bit in like late 2020/early 2021, which is a whole extra level of stress).
It’s tough to convince yourself to do things like this—not quadruple-check every single email before sending it, not query agents who aren’t explicit about what genres they rep, or whatever other goals you set for yourself—but it makes querying so much easier. Remember that you don’t just want any agent: you want the best agent for your book and for you. You want someone who’s going to work well with you and make you comfortable. And your methods for querying, your own respect for your time and energy, should reflect that.
Here are my favorite resources for writing query letters and synopses.
- How to write a query letter – a good breakdown of the overall query letter and more particularly the pitch, with an example written using a hypothetical (for some reason, YA) novelization of The Good Place!
- The synopsis: What it is, what it isn’t, how to write it – a good resource if you’re not clear on what your synopsis should actually be or do!
- How to write a synopsis – I recommend filling out a different notecard for each bullet point of this super-detailed post, then shuffling the notecards together, then using the notecards in order as a general outline for your synopsis! (Don’t be afraid to discard notecards as you go if something doesn’t fit.)
And while you’re waiting for a long-overdue, possibly-still-not-happening “I have a book deal” post, why not add The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher to a TBR or preorder it? It’s out April 2023 from Hansen House Books. More buy links to come!