I’m currently in the process of doing the final edits of my NaNoWriMo novel, and as part of getting ready to submit to literary agents, I’ve been doing a lot of research on queries. Querying is the dreaded practice of sending out massive amounts of query letters to literary agents in the hopes of finding representation. I queried once in the past for my first complete novel THE PACK and failed spectacularly. My mistakes were many, but the most glaring was that I rushed to query before my novel was polished and I didn’t get feedback from anyone else on either the novel or my query letter. It was a disappointment, but I like to think that I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve also learned the golden rule of never querying until your novel is polished. Here are 5 online resources for getting yourself ready to query.
First things first, you have to write that letter at least to give yourself something to work from. There are tons of ‘How to Write a Query Letter’ articles out there, but I found this one to be the most helpful. Why? Because it was short, gave real world examples, and was easy to follow. You’ll find a lot of people mentioning a ‘hook’ to begin your letter with, and this article, I thought, does the best job at communicating what a hook is, and how to create one. This article also has links to successful query letters, a Dos and Don’ts list, and info about non-fiction queries.
AgentQueryConnect is the social networking portion of the AgentQuery.com website. This is an online community that not only deals with queries, but answers questions about publishing, and provides a supportive community of writers. When I started the first thing I did was go to the query letter section and look at what people had written, and the comments/critiques they got. It’s a great way to get a good understanding of what you should have in a query letter and what you don’t need. Next step is to post your own query for people to critique! This sounds kind of terrifying but almost all of the users are very friendly and provide constructive criticism. The best way to get people to critique your query is to go around the forum and critique other people’s queries. As a tip put the link to your query in your profile signature as: “book title” – Query: [link] – would greatly appreciate any comments on my query letter. This way when you comment on someone’s query they can immediately see that you need help too and are often happy to return the favour. They also have examples of successful queries on the website.
The creation of literary agent Janet Reid, QueryShark is a collection of queries that people send into Janet for her to rip apart. Hence the shark. I mean, I’m assuming that’s why. The point is that it’s a great resource for seeing how a real literary agent reacts to query letters. And if you see something that you’re doing in your letter that Janet advises against, you’ll have a better idea of how to change it. Or you can be brave and send a copy of your own letter to her! Just be sure to follow her guidelines.
I only recently started using QueryTracker and it is amazing. It has a huge list of literary agents who you can add to a ‘querying’ list to keep track of who you’ve sent material to and who you haven’t. And under each literary agent is a number of resources about them which includes the company website, and can also include interviews and their #mswl on Twitter. This is great for finding information about each agent so you can personalize your letters. AND it includes success stories. Some agents have authors who have submitted an interview about the query process: how long they’ve been writing, how many queries they sent, and a copy of their successful query letter. More than anything, after going through these I felt less worried about my letter because you really see how diverse the letters are and it lets you know what the agent responded well to.
Twitter – #MSWL
Aka the manuscript wishlist. Twitter is kind of amazing for finding out what sorts of things literary agents are looking for. Further, it goes beyond what they have on their agent profile on their company website. I’ve found that some agents are a little vaguer on their profile, but will post a specific request on their Twitter. The more your book matches something the agent is looking for, the more you increase your chances of getting their attention. And outside of #MSWL, Twitter is also host to pitching frenzies where agents will look at your Twitter pitch and may invite you to submit your query letter or manuscript to them.
Out of this whole process (which is still on-going by the way), I learned two really crucial points of information. 1) Do not rush to query, make sure you have a polished manuscript you’re proud of and a query letter you believe in. Send out to a few agents and first, and then send more if your query works, or re-work it before sending to new agents. This can be a super slow process, and if you rush it you may end up selling yourself short. And 2) do not pitch a series. Even if you wrote your novel with the intent of it being a 4-book series, you need to be able to sell that book as a single standalone unit. Does that mean you have to tie everything off with a neat bow? No, it just means that the novel should be fine on its own for an agent to sell. This was the hardest lesson for me because I wrote my novel with a cliffhanger and the intent to have two books. I actually had to go back and change my ending so it could stand by itself. That being said, I have seen successful queries that pitch their book as part of a series upfront, but the standard is to try and ‘sell’ that book and that book only to an agent. After all, how can they judge what a whole series will be like without reading it? They can only judge you based on what you’ve given them. If they want to take a chance on a series, that will come later.
Can you pitch a series in a query letter? Acceptable? Or unacceptable?
Let me know what you think in the comments!