How to query

General, advice

Querying: An Update!

I’ve been seeing that a lot of friends on twitter are getting ready for the adventure of querying. Wahoo! Not gonna lie, I’m so happy I don’t have to do that again, but it makes me happy to watch other people do it. I have to tip my hat to anyone with the guts to try, and I wish you all luck!

A long time ago, I did a post on how to query, and I thought I would follow up with a little note about staying organized. I tend to be a bit of a mess, and the only things that save me are tools like festive folders that I can’t possibly lose, pens stashed in every corner of my house, and the gloriousness that is color coordination. So, as you go to make your list of agents, here are some tips on keeping everything together.

I still recommend using agentquery. It’s free and easy to navigate. All the information you need is listed under each agent, and here’s what I suggest you do with all that info. In a Word document:

  1. Order the agents you want to query in order of how much you love them. This is a long-term relationship, so if you happen to see that you have similar tastes in books or know they make you laugh on twitter, put them in your top 10. Or close to it anyway. I may have said this before, but I actually put Elana in the number 11 spot because I thought we would be a good fit and I was so afraid my first 10 would be rejections that I bumped her *just* out of it. Superstitious and silly, but it worked in the long run.
  2. List the agent’s name and beside that any pertinent notes, like that they’re actively seeking your genre or you met them at a conference. Underneath that, put the agency. Note beside that if a rejection from one agent is a rejection from the whole agency. Some are small and share stuff if they think another agent will like it, so you if you have multiples from one agency, pick a fave and go with it.
  3. Get the stats: You need their email address or snail mail address if they’re not down with e-queries. Beneath that, you want a list of what they ask for. Just a query? A query and the first 10 pages? Whatever it is, write it down, and before you send out a single query, make sure you have everything you need. I needed the letter, a 5-page sample, a 10-page sample, a 2-page synopsis, and a 5-page synopsis for The Selection. Oh, and I only sent out 13 queries… so that was a lot of stuff for a small number of agents. Be prepared so they’re not asking for something that you have to make them wait for.
  4. Once you start sending your queries, start color coordinating and dating. Beside each entry, note the date you sent it, and assign a color for sent emails. Do the same for rejections and for when agents ask for more. For some agents, they tell you they’ll get back within a certain timeframe. If you sent a query 8 weeks ago (which you know because you dated it) you can follow up with a “Hey, did you get this?” because sometimes things get lost. This also helps for when agents are reading a partial or whole copy of your manuscript. At that point it gets bumped from things they *have* to read to things they *want* to read, and it might take them a while to get to it, and after a respectable time (I’d say 8 weeks again), I think it’s okay to follow up.
  5. And even though this isn’t about being organized, I want to remind you to be patient. When I was querying, I couldn’t figure out what took so long! I thought that was all agents did all day. But now that I’m on the other side of it and see just how much Elana is doing for me (negotiating contracts, helping with website stuff, giving me general advice, hunting for quarters so I can take the bus when I visit New York, and a thousand other things), I get it. And she’s not just doing that for me, but for her whole list of clients. So cut the agents some slack, and keep writing in the meantime.

So who’s querying in 2012? Keep me posted on your progress, and again, GOOD LUCK!

General, advice

How to Query

These are some of the questions I regularly get about querying, so here they are in one place for your viewing enjoyment!

Q: How do I get an agent for my book?

A: Whoa, Vanilla. First thing to do is figure out if your manuscript's even ready. Have you completely finished it? Gone back and fixed all the spelling and grammar errors you can find? Shown it to some trusted friends, teachers, or mentors to get advice on how to make it better? Told yourself it sucks and given up on it and then come back to it again? Twice? Then you might be ready.

Q: Ok, now how do I get an agent for my book?

A: You need to decide what genre your book is (young adult, fantasy, romance) and then go to a site like agentquery.com and look for agents that represent the kind of book you’ve written. You can also pick up books like the one you're writing & check out the acknowledgements page. Authors usually thank their agents.

Q: What next?

A: Now you write a query letter.

Q: What the crap is a query letter & how do I write one?

A: A query letter is a letter telling the agent all about your book and then a little about yourself. Helpful things to include are:

+ Your book's genre

+ The word count

+ A short pitch (like what you read on the back of a book that makes you pick it up)

+ Any writing experience you have

+ Any platforms you have

That's a good place to start. I can't tell you how to write a great query letter, but you should try to tailor them to the individual you are writing to. Also, spell their names right and call them by the correct gender. Also, SlushPileHell is a nice way to see what not to put in your query. Basically, try not to be an idiot.

Q: What's a platform?

A: Any way you have of promoting yourself. Social media like twitter & Facebook are good, starting your own website is nice. I have a YouTube channel, which is weird & awesome, & I put that in my query. Also, I've heard any links to media are nice to mention.

Q: What if I don't have any experience?

A: Say so (briefly) and move on.

Q: What if I'm 16... or 13? Should I mention that?

A: There is no rule saying you have to disclose how old you are. That said, if you're that young, your youth will probably read through in your writing. You seriously might want to take this project and wait a while. You really need to write a lot to get good at it. I mean, you have no idea how much you suck right now. Look at anything you wrote this time last year, and you'll see how bad it was. If you don't think it's bad then one of these things is true: One, you are a lying liar, or, two, you haven't grown at all in the last year. Either way, it's bad.

That said, if you really want to press on, if you get a call from an agent, you should let them know you're not legal.

Q: What else should I send? The whole book? A picture? Virtual confetti?

A: Seriously, if you do any of that I will pretend I don't know you. Every agent has on their blog, agency website, or query profile what they want. Send them that and ONLY that. If you disobey that simple instruction, what reason do they have to trust you with more? If they say "I want a query and the first 5 pages", send that. If they want a 2-page synopsis, send that. It's really that easy. And do not include fluff. Most queries are done via email these days, but I've heard of agents who got queries via post with tea bags and a request that they read the manuscript while drinking it to get the full effect. They're busy, so don't do that crap.

Oh, and don't call query. That's a bad idea.

Q: What if I mix up who wants what?

A: The smart thing to do is to make a list. I made one with each agent's name, her literary agency (because sometimes a rejection from one agent is a rejection from the whole agency), her email, and what she wanted. Then, as I started sending things, I put the date by it as well as the date I was rejected or asked for more. It helped a lot.

Q: Now what?

A: You know that query letter you wrote? It sucks. Throw it out and start again. Trust me.

Q: Ok, my manuscript, query letter, and agent list are ready. Do I just start sending them?

A: Yes. Prepare yourself for that top-of-the-rollercoaster-I'm-going-to-pee-in-my-pants feeling. It's scary sending your work into the world, but it's very exciting, too. As a rule, send out 5-10 queries at a time. When you get a rejection, send another out so there are at least 5 floating in space at any given time. Agents aren't typically exclusive over queries, but it’s nice to mention that it’s a multiple submission. Just pick your faves and send to them first.

Q: Hold up. Ten at a time? Rejections? How many people are going to turn me down?

A: Probably a lot. It's all about finding the right fit. You don't want an agent who isn't excited about your work, and there's no way to tell how long it’ll take to find the right person.

Personally? I sent out over 70 queries for The Siren and even approached some small presses over the course of 6 months before I fully committed to self-publishing. For me, that was the right decision at the time. But for The Selection I sent out 13, had 2 agents who were interested in less than 2 months of querying, and I got to choose who I work with. It's all about finding the right idea for the right person.

Q: What do I do in the meantime?

A: Work on something else, continue to research, have human interactions. You know, normal stuff.

Q: What do I do if everyone rejects me?

A: Look at you! You bravely navigated the high school bathrooms of querying. That's a heck of a lot farther than most people get, so be proud. You do have a couple of options at this point, so don't fret.

One, you can move on. Hopefully, you should have another project. That's kind of crucial, since you don't want to be a one-trick pony. Work on that project or work on brainstorming.

Two, you can take this last project, work on it, maybe rename it, write a better query letter and try again in a year. If an agent read it and said no, listen to why they said no and work from there. If you feel like you must stick with this project, wait a nice long time before querying again.

Three, you can self-publish. Anyone can do it. I did. And that is why it both rocks and sucks. You can get your book to anyone if you want to, but since anyone can do it, there's A LOT of crap out there. If you choose to self-publish, prepare yourself. It's hard to do it right. I'm proud of my work, but it could have been better.

Or, four, you can quit. If that whole experience was too taxing for you, get out now. It's hard to get rejected like that, and it's even harder when lots of people read your books and not everyone thinks you're awesome. If it hurts too much, there's no shame in stepping away.

Q: What do I do if an agent wants more!?

A: After you do your happy dance, take a few breaths and come back. If an agent asks for more, then you give them what they ask for and wait some more. It's always nice to let other agents know that someone else is reading your manuscript. If they've just been a little busy and weren't 100% sure, they might ask to read it as well, so be courteous. If things go well and you get "the call", then you're out of my hands, little butterfly. Fly free! Your agent will guide you from here.

If you're ready and are feeling really brave, my literary agency (Caren Johnson Literary Agency) is having a twitter pitch session on Janurary 6th. Follow them on twitter (@cjlitagency) for more details. Feel free to leave questions for me in the comments or come visit me tomorrow on BlogTV at 2 PM EST for a LIVE Question Tuesday!