While I was querying the book that landed me my awesome agent, there were several moments when I wished I could go back in time and give Past Me querying tips. I don’t possess the power of time travel (which is just as well, really, as I’d age myself out of existence in short order just trying to cram more hours into my day), but I can pass these tips on in hopes that others starting out on the querying trail may find them useful.
Making my list of things I wished I’d figured out earlier, I discovered that it’s embarrassingly long, so I’m breaking it into a series. In this first post, I’ll address my first newbie mistake: doing it in the wrong order.
So… okay, Past Me. You think your novel is polished and ready. (You’re wrong, but that’s another post.) You’ve written a query you’re happy with. You’ve researched agents. You’re ready to go. What do you do first?
Think carefully. Here’s a hint: the answer isn’t “Send my query out to my dozen top choice agents!”
First and most important, Past Me: for the love of chocolate, DON’T send out a query without getting feedback first. You may have just read through the Query Shark archives and feel like you know what you’re doing, but you are not equipped to spot certain kinds of problems in your own query. There are lots of great places to get fabulous query feedback — AgentQuery Connect, awesome blog workshops hosted by generous writers, feedback contests like Become An Agent, and more. Comb Twitter and find them. Use them. Don’t get cocky — this is too important.
Okay, Past Me, you’ve gotten feedback and polished your query. Great! But wait — it’s still not time to send it to agents. Do a contest or two before you query. You can learn whether you’re ready, make connections, get feedback, and pick up all kinds of great querying tips, all while risking nothing. Contests close no doors. Querying does. And besides, Past Me, I happen to know you’ll meet people through contests who will give you advice that will prove absolutely essential to getting an agent.
Now you’re ready. Query in batches. Send out 6-8 queries, then wait for responses. (I know you hate waiting, Past Me, but wow are you going to have to get used to it.) If you get no requests, STOP. Get feedback. Fix your query. Maybe fix your book. (Hint to Past Me: FIX YOUR BOOK.) Then try again.
If you do get a request or two, don’t get overconfident and send out a dozen more queries immediately. I know you’re an optimist, Past Me, but remember: you never stop learning. Keep those batches small so that when you inevitably think of ways to improve your query or your book, it’s not too late.
Finally, Past Me, who did you pick to query first? As it turns out, it doesn’t matter, because the agent you’ll wind up with is actually a way better match for you than the first agents you queried. But I’ll give you this tip: for your first batch of queries, or when testing a new query, pick a mix of agents you’d love to work with who also happen to be fast responders. For this first batch, only pick non-responders if they periodically post where they are in their query pile or have a fairly short “if you don’t hear from me within X days, it’s a rejection” window. You want to get a sense of how well your query is working quickly, so you don’t have to wait two months before sending out the next batch. Remember, you can send out more queries while agents read your full, so you’re not risking your chance at an agent by not querying them first — in fact, you may have a better version of the query to send them after the first round.
These tips on order might not work well for all queriers, of course. Everyone’s different. Maybe you aren’t into contests, or have some other system for who to query first that meets your needs better. That’s fine.
Except you, Past Me. Trust me, your current plan of not getting feedback and ignoring contests is not a winning strategy — but luckily, you’ll figure that out pretty quickly. Stick with it, keep learning, stay humble, and it’ll all end happily ever after.
How about you, writers? What order did you do things in? And what would you tell Past You to do differently?
More posts in the Dear Newbie Querier Me series to come, focusing on different topics!