Querying agents. Stiff upper lip and all that…

I’ve been querying agents on Isla’s Inheritance since mid-to-late 2012. When I started I thought I was ready: the query and synopsis were drafted and proofread. The manuscript had been drafted and edited several times, by me and my beta readers.

Then I discovered Twitter and competitions that involved feedback on my query letter and first pages, and suddenly I didn’t feel ready anymore. (Apologies to those first agents that got my work. Please excuse me if I don’t make eye contact with you if we ever meet! The shame—it burns!)

After taking a break over Christmas, I’m back on the querying treadmill. I was going to write “querying bandwagon”, but a bandwagon sounds like fun—maybe coming with an impromptu jam session—and a treadmill, well, isn’t.

There are a ton of good blogs out there about what to do when you query (do your research, be patient and businesslike, etc) and how to write a query letter. I’d share my query letter with you, but until or unless I actually woo secure the representation of an agent, I don’t feel qualified to provide advice!

So this blog post is about how to maintain the momentum when querying. Because those polite little form rejections can wear away your enthusiasm like the ocean eating a headland. (Or, on a bad day, like a hammer smashing glass.)

#1 Exclusives stink

This was probably Miss Snark’s top catchphrase. A famous blogging agent from last decade, she advised that if an agent asked for exclusive rights to consider your query, you just skip them and move on. You might have to send dozens of queries before you get a nibble; do you really want to waste time on one agent who may take six to eight weeks to even look at your query and first few pages? (Some agents will ask for an exclusive on a full request; you could do this, but they ought to respond in a reasonable time.)

I send out my queries in batches of ten (give or take). When I get one rejection, I send out one more query, to keep the number in the field steady. If I get any feedback, I revise before I send any more out. This has one massive advantage in terms of my fragile writer’s ego—if I get a rejection, I shrug and look at the list of other agents who haven’t said no yet. If I’d only had one query out there, the rejection would be far more devastating.

#2 Accept that you will get rejections

Before he got his first book deal (Carrie), Stephen King had a railroad spike on the wall in his room. He’d spike all his rejection letters on it; he learned to treasure the rejections that had even a hint of personal feedback (such as the idea that you should always cut at least 10% from your first draft when editing—apparently he still follows that advice decades later).

It’s a bit hard to spike an emailed rejection, or plaster it on the wall, unless you want to print it off (think of the trees!). I use an email folder instead. Less dramatic, but we can’t all be Stephen King.

I read a blog not long ago that suggested these early rejections are actually a good thing: they help you develop a thick skin. Because even if you get your agent and a publishing deal on your first go, humans are fickle beasts and some readers WILL reject you. It’s much easier to stay calm in the face of a one-star review on Amazon or Goodreads if you have already developed the hide of a rhino.

#3 Follow agent (and intern) accounts on Twitter

Many agents and literary interns will tweet comments about some of the bad queries they see. I like the #playnicewiththeintern hashtag for query rants. Here’s one from this morning:



It makes me feel better that I don’t make those kinds of mistakes. And if I did… well, it’d be a kick in the pants to check, wouldn’t it?

#4 Do other things

Don’t sit and pine, waiting for agents to love you. Do other things. Write something new. Work on establishing your social media presence: blogging, Facebook, Twitter, PinTumbG+, whatever.

Read some of the books you missed while focusing on your own, especially new releases in the genre in which you’re writing. If you’re on top of the current trends you may not be able to predict the next one (I don’t think even agents and publishing houses can do that with any reliability), but you’ll at least be able to avoid looking like a clone.

Go on holiday or, if you can’t afford that, to the library. If you’re going to write what you know, know more!

Exercise: see if you can lose the weight you put on sitting in a chair and eating chocolate. (Ok, maybe that one was just me.)

I hope this advice is helpful to you. Now I’ve procrastinated enough, I should get back to that treadmill. Good luck to everyone that’s in the query trenches too!

6 Comments on “Querying agents. Stiff upper lip and all that…”

  1. Amber A Bardan says:

    I feel you on this one. am in same boat, I queried 5 before I was ready but thought I was, now I know better. Now have major query terror! Good on you for getting back on it! I have been thinking lately about what to do if don’t get agent? Is it worth it to query publishers direct? Let me know if you want a query crit, just had some awsOme advice the other day that changed the way I look at the query monster ;p Good luck and thanks for the great post 🙂

    • I wish I could say I only sent the bad query to five people, but sadly my figure is in double digits. That’s a lot of agents I have to avoid now. :p

      A lot of the smaller presses will take unagented queries. My plan is that if I can’t get an agent I’ll try some of those directly. But I want to rack up 50 or so rejections from agents before I do that, so I’ve got a way to go yet.

      If you want to have a look at my query I wouldn’t say no. 🙂

  2. […] Querying agents. Stiff upper lip and all that…. […]

  3. It sounds like we are taking similar journeys. I started querying about 6 months ago myself, and despite my best efforts, research, polishing, etc, my first letter was not what it needed to be. Keep on doing!

    • My query is a lot better than it was in the beginning. I’ve won query crits and had others crit it for free, and recently an agent posted it to their site as an example of a good one. I don’t think the query is the problem at this stage. :S

  4. Lloyd Irvin says:

    Good information. Lucky me I ran across your site
    by accident (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

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