The Query Question

The Query Question

I recently had a friend ask me how I got my agent with the idea being that she also would like to pursue publication. But when I started explaining, her eyes glazed over and she got that funny twitch in the corner of her mouth that people get when they’re like, “Are you kidding me??”

It occurred to me that I remember thinking when I was at that point that I wish someone would just sit down and explain the process step-by-step for me. Guess what? It’s your lucky day because I’m going to do that now for you! 🙂

If you get to the end and I still haven’t answered your question, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by email or leaving a comment below!

There’s a lot that goes into acquiring an agent, but it really comes down to three things:

  1. Research
  2. Waiting
  3. Waiting

And yes, I said waiting twice because there’s twice as much of it as there is of research! 😉

Now before I get into it, I want to clarify that I’ll be speaking from the point of view of someone who was submitting to agents who represented adult mystery. The children’s fiction market is a very different animal. However, it’s still true that you’ll want an agent if you’re looking to get traditionally published, as most children’s book publishers don’t take unsolicited manuscripts.

“Unsolicited” means the publisher doesn’t take manuscript submissions from just anyone, they must come from an agent. This means you cannot get published by the big names, like Random House or Penguin, without having an agent to get through the door.

This can also be true for agents. If you see an agent that says they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, what they mean is that you can’t just send them an email with an attached MS. You have to query them first. I mean this literally. If you email them an attachment, it will bounce into their spam folder and never be seen by them, so don’t even try it.

So how do you find out what they want? Research.

I recommend starting with query tracker. Query Tracker is a free website where you can do a search for any kind of agent. They only charge you if you want to get very specific with what you’re looking for, and want to track it all there on their website. I just made myself a chart on Excel to keep track of who I’d queried, when, how long they typically took to respond, their response, and any notes.

Query tracker is just a jumping off point, to help you find the agents in your genre. Then you still have to research each agent by clicking on them and going to their website and finding out if they’re accepting queries, what they’re looking for right now, and how they prefer submissions.

What’s a query letter?

A query letter is the cover letter that introduces you and your book to the agent.

There’s some great websites out there dedicated just to writing a query letter. I recommend checking them out. My only advice beyond that would be to make triple sure it’s edited, practice your pitch on other people, and change the wording here and there until it is perfect.

Some agents want only a query letter, others want a query with a synopsis, query and first 50, query and first three chapters, etc. You won’t know what they want until you look up each agent. DO NOT go based on information on query tracker. They do not always have the most updated information.

Plus, you might miss out on something important. For example, many agents include a short bio about themselves and what they like. Keep in mind that finding an agent is like dating. You want to find someone you can trust and who you’ll get along with. After all, you’re trusting this person with your career and your future. In my notes on my spreadsheet I would write down anything I read about an agent that made me go, “Oh! We have that in common!” A personalized query letter goes a long way to making a good first impression.

Then I narrowed down my list to the top 10 I wanted to submit to first. After I received rejections from those ten, I submitted to the next 10, and so on until I finally had a response. Keep in mind that most agents take 3-6 months to respond. Therein lies the waiting.

What should you do while you wait? Write more. Writing is a craft that takes time and practice, practice, practice. The more you write, the better you’ll get at it. And the more you write, the more you’ll have to submit. If the agent doesn’t like your first book, try submitting your next one. Maybe it was just the wrong time for that book, but they’d be interested in working with you on your next project. It’s hard to tell because rejection letters are generally not specific. 🙁

Like I said, it’s a very long and difficult process. And this is just finding the agent. Then it’s the agent’s job to do this all over again, but with publishers!

That’s the traditional publication process for you, folks. I hope this helped a little. I wish you the best of luck and feel free to ask me any questions you might have!

The most important piece of advice I can give is this:

If writing makes you happy, don’t stop!

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