As my regular reader knows, I’ve been querying my first manuscript, ISLA’S INHERITANCE, for about six-to-nine months. I’ve blogged about my generic strategy for querying before.
You’ll notice the first of the items in my strategy is from the Miss Snark playbook: exclusives stink. I noted that one of the benefits of having a lot of queries out at once is that a single rejection seems smaller. Think about it: if you’ve got ten queries out there and one agent says no, then the ratio of “no” to “possible yes” is 1:9 in your favour. Those are pretty good odds.
I don’t blog about the actual details of querying—who has my query, who said no, who has a partial or a full—because there are some things a writer just shouldn’t share with the (largely indifferent) masses. How many agents or publishers have already said no is one of those things; do I really want to advertise to a potential agent that a number of other agents passed? Especially if it’s a big number?
(As an aside, thoughts on individual rejections—especially if they tend toward vitriol—are another, and top of the list of things not to blog about. Not that I have any vitriol to vent, mind you; the rejections I’ve received have generally been very polite form letters. Sometimes I’ve gotten nice individual feedback, including from an intern who said she was sure I was getting lots of offers. Bless her and her wishful thinking; do you think I should send chocolate?)
However, I think I can say without oversharing that I’ve had a little bit of trouble finding a home for Isla and her friends. I like to imagine it’s not because of the writing—although I may be deluded on that score; every parent thinks their child is the most beautiful and talented, right? I had some problems getting the pacing at the start of the book right, but my beta readers have helped me with that and I think I’ve more-or-less nailed it now. (Again, I may be deluded.)
No, I’m pretty sure my biggest problem is that my book falls somewhere between urban fantasy and paranormal fiction, depending how you look at it. And it seems the big publishing houses aren’t that wild about urban fantasy or paranormal fiction right now. So agents aren’t that wild about it either, because if they can’t sell it to a decent-sized publishing house, what’s the point for them? I’m not judging, mind you; it’s just a financial reality.
I haven’t quite given up hope on getting an agent. I still have faith in Isla’s story, across the first book and the sequel both. But I’ve stopped sending out new agent queries. The last batch that are out there is my last.
This decision means my number of queries in the field has dropped below the magical ten that were keeping me sane. My ratio doesn’t look as cheery anymore. Suddenly I’ve developed a number of nervous habits, mostly around checking my email inbox and spam folder every twenty minutes. I can’t bear not hearing anything. I can’t bear it! Obviously I want to receive a “yes, I love it; here is a purse of monies”, but at this point I’d be satisfied with a “not for us, thanks”, just so I know!
Any tips for me, so I don’t pull all my hair out before my next birthday? (Which is tomorrow, by the way, so yes, it’s serious!)
Here is my second and final entry into the Bad Query Contest. (See the previous post for my first one.)
At ten thousand words, my novel on birds
Is the tastiest treat you will read.
And I know Mum is right; she says it’s a delight
So become my agent, I plead.
I’m sure that you know it. I am a poet—
But my book is written in prose.
It covers the tales of two Willy Wagtails,
Relating their highs and their lows.
In case you’ve not heard, that type of bird
Comes from the land of Australia—
Rather like me. I’m sure you will see
My writing, it shall not fail ya.
And so it is I wait for your reply.
Please send the contracts to me,
And so that I may send them back the same day,
Please enclose an SASE.
(Yes, I actually winced writing the end of the third verse. If you’re wondering.)
Edit: This one was posted on the Bad Query Contest blog, here. I won the “Best query in verse about birds” award. I’m so proud. Do you think I could use that as an author credit on future queries? 😉
Jessica Sinsheimer is running a Bad Query contest over at Tumblr. You should check it out, because it’s absolutely hilarious! I think the prize is a query critique, but honestly, that’s not why anyone is entering. 😉
Here’s my entry. For the love of God never write a query like this!
I saw on Twitter that you really like cheese and seen as I really like cheese too I thought that you would be the perfect agent to buy my book, which is a cross between The Hunger Games and the Bible (it doesn’t currently have any cheese in it but i could add some if you think it would help you to seell the book to the Big Six or Five or whatever. Cause, you know, The Hunger Games is about hungry people adn who doesn’t like cheese anyway? I bet Jesus does, unless he’s a vegan. I’m not sure because I’ve never read the Bible. Don’t tell my mother!)/
My book is currently complete @ 25486 words long, although I am still editing it to add in extra scenes after getting feedback from my best friend and my boyfriend. I reckon when I’m done it will be 30000, easy.
Anyway, I have attached the full manuscript because while i know your website said to embed it in the email I thought you would be really keen to read it straight away and I didn’t want to slow you down. You’ll find I’m a super considerate client like that.
Oh, and have you seen Tim Minchin’s song called “Cheese”? I thought it could be our song. Watch it, you’ll see. We’re practically soul mates, you me and Tim!
Lots of love,
Here are a few of the things I did wrong:
* She refers to herself as Jessica on Twitter. For all I know “Jessie” one of her pet peeves! Get the name right, and use it the way the agent does.
* Agents don’t buy books. They offer representation. Publishers buy books.
* Spellchecker? What’s that? Proofreading? Ha!
* No genre or title has been provided. Also, the manuscript isn’t actually complete and 30,000 isn’t novel-length. And what’s the plot? Basically, everything that makes up the most important part of a query is missing!
* Sending attachments without being asked – that’s a paddlin’.
* The whole cheese thing… it’s nice to add a personal touch that shows you have actually done your research, but “Brie” took it way overboard. To stalker land!
If you haven’t yet entered the query trenches (or hopped on the query treadmill), you may not be familiar with the terms that get used on literary agents’ websites and places like Twitter to describe the things a writer might be asked to provide. (From what I’ve seen, these terms are also used by publishers, but my experience is primarily with agents so your mileage may vary.)
Here’s a quick breakdown of the ones I’ve encountered:
Query. This is a short letter (no more than one page in Word, single spaced), that contains two to three paragraphs about your story, as well as the title, genre and word count rounded to the nearest thousand. It also has a paragraph detailing any previous publishing credits or other experience that you may have. Some agents say that if you don’t have any publishing credits, you can also talk here about your passion for the genre, why you’ve written that particular story—that sort of thing.
Don’t include how long it took you to write the novel. If the timeframe is too short it flags a lack of editing; if it’s too long the book looks overcooked.
The story paragraphs should read like a blurb on the back of a book; they should showcase your manuscript’s voice and tell the agent who the main character is, their age if it’s a middle grade or young adult book, and the conflict or challenges they face. The goal is to hook the agent, make them want to read more. The paragraphs shouldn’t provide an outline of the story—that’s what the synopsis is for. But make sure you write them in the third person, even if your story is in the first person; I’ve seen a lot of agents talk on Twitter about not liking first person queries from the main character’s point of view. (Save your first person for the other paragraphs of the query.)
Pages. Some agents ask for the first few pages of your manuscript with the query, or after receiving the query and liking it. The magic number is usually five or ten pages. I always assume they mean double spaced unless they say otherwise.
Synopsis. This is a document that actually outlines the story. Most agents give you one to two pages (here I assume single spaced unless they say otherwise), but I’ve seen some ask for three paragraphs or 300 words. It’s a good idea to prepare a longer version and a shorter one so you’re ready for either.
Partial. This is a certain number of chapters or pages (50 pages, usually double spaced, seems to be common)—it’s what an agent usually asks for if they’ve read your pages, query and/or synopsis and want to see more.
Full. Unsurprisingly, this is when the agent asks to see the full manuscript. If you get to this stage, high five! Even if they don’t offer to represent you in the end, you’ve still got some game. Double spaced is definitely the go here, unless they say otherwise.
R&R. This is a “revise and resubmit”—the phrase they use to describe the fact they like it, but have ideas for changes to the manuscript they’d like to see before they offer to represent you. You don’t have to do the changes, obviously, but if you don’t then you’re still looking for an agent. It’s your call.
Some basic rules of thumb for querying include:
Always check the agent’s website and follow their submission guidelines. In multi-agent agencies, make sure you pick the agent who is looking for your genre and otherwise seems to be the best fit. Many have blogs and Twitter accounts where you can investigate further. You only get one shot at each agency with each manuscript, so choosing the right agent is vital.
Don’t send unrequested attachments. Almost all agents want the requested materials at the query stage to be pasted into the body of an email to avoid viruses. If you send an attachment without being specifically asked to, you’ll almost certainly have your email deleted unread.
Be professional. You’re asking someone to represent you in what is, at the end of the day (and as much as we writers hate to admit it), a business endeavour. If they like your work but you come across as rude, pushy or precious, they won’t want to take a chance on you. If they say they don’t want to represent you, don’t do your nut at them. The best response is to not reply at all, but if you do, be polite and professional. Their rejection of your work is never personal.
Happy querying, and good luck!
I said a fortnight ago that I wasn’t willing to share my query letter because I wasn’t confident that it was actually going to provide a good template, given its lack of success to date.
I forgot that the divine Agent Sydney had offered to do query crits last year, and that I’d sent mine in on a whim. So, um, you can read my query letter as it stood back then, and her feedback on it, here. She said nice things, which was sweet of her.
Except my Jedi mind trick in the last paragraph—this is not the lack of publishing credits you’re looking for—didn’t work. I guess I’d better deal with that. :p
I’ve actually changed the query quite a bit since I sent it to Agent Sydney, tightening it up even further (I hope!). Queries evolve. Like amoebas.
(Also, the word count on the manuscript is now down to about 76k. I’m an editing machine.)
At the risk of this sounding like an Oscar speech, especially since I haven’t won anything, I need to give big ups to Lori, Stacey L, Stacey N, Lauren and Katie for helping me with the query at different times. 😀
I’ve made comments in passing about how there are heaps of resources on the net, telling you the nitty gritty of how to query a literary agent. Here is one that is a great summary. It’s written by a literary agent’s intern, so she knows what she’s talking about. Read it. Send cookies. 🙂