Thursday, October 7, 2010

Query-go-rounding respectfully

I recently finalised my manuscript and am jumping on the query-go-round (let's see how dizzy I get) so I am doing A LOT of research into agents. So I've been compiling information on potential agents through a number of sources (check out at the bottom of the blog), stalking agents and authors on Twitter and have pitches going through my brain like crazy.

On one agent I follow made a tweet that indicated they had received a query addressed to "Dear so and so" and I was like SERIOUSLY?! And it got me thinking about form queries.

You might get lucky with a stock standard query, but for the most part I think agents will see through it. If you have nothing in there that shows why you want them specifically as an agent then why would they want you as a client?

For me I'm not just querying every single agent who has represented YA.  Just because I write it and they represent it doesn't mean we'll be a good match. My field is speculative fiction and there are a lot of YA agents who aren't into that. I am wasting my time and the agent's time if I query them and they don't want speculative fiction.

For the query letters I have been drafting, it has been a really slow process because I don't just want to show the agent why I want to be their client specifically, I want to show them why they would be interested in my story and myself specifically. What is it about Mishca that would attract them the most? For some it's the romance as that is their focus, for others it's the darker elements of the story and for some it's the fact that I have a unique hook that is not currently in the YA market.

Although it can take LOTS of queries to get a deal, you don't want to query 100 agents at once. Word could get around town and you don't want to get a bad reputation as a serial pest. Most agents understand that you are going to query a fair few agents but stagger it rather than bombard everyone at once.

While I am not signed yet, I have scored a manuscript requests from a really good publisher after I was fortunate enough to meet with an editor a month ago. The editor at the publisher specifically mentioned how great my pitch was. Here's hoping agents can see the potential the publisher has seen so far.  AND here's hoping it leads to more!

In the meantime here's some tips for researching and writing a great query letter:

  1. Look for websites that have agents listed in your genre well before you want to query.
  2. Make a list of potential agents and look for social networking opportunities (Twitter, Facebook) and set up a query tracker spreadsheet.
  3. Take note of their social networking posts (conferences they are attending, online chat/question sessions opportunities, pet query peeves, what they are looking for).
  4. Look for agent interviews with them - it will show you if you are a good fit for them as a client AND if they are a good fit for you (do you want an editorial agent, are you looking for a long-term career as a writer and want an agent who is interested in developing you as a writer, do they take debut writers).
  5. Take note of some information that would help personalize (but try not to be stalkerish about it).
  6. Think about what in your story would be specifically attractive to that agent.
  7. Look for query letter examples that won the agent over.
  8. Proof read your letter as well as your story.
  9. DON'T send a query until your story is ready.  Preferably have a Beta Editor who really knows what their doing or even pay a professional to check your work. There are lots of online critique opportunities nowadays as well.
  10. Check if the agent's response time frame or if they don't respond at all. Some agents tweet/blog where they are up to time wise for queries. This can help.
  11. Don't send a narky response if you get rejected or ask for feedback if the agent haven't supplied any.
I once read that it's good to send out about 10 - 15 queries at first then send out a new query for every rejection that comes in.

Aspiring writers should all know that this is a tough gig. Nothing happens over night, there's a huge amount of waiting involved and not everyone wants to take you on as a client - sad but true fact. But let's not forget that agents are people too. They're not robots at the end of an email waiting to make your life hard. They're looking for a story that they feel passionate about enough to take it to a publisher and say "you need to make this into a book - it will sell."

Here's some great links to help find agents and for more query advice (primarily I look at sites for YA but some are universal):

Agents Listings:

If you write YA this is one of the best sources of information:
Fantastic site. Subscribe for alerts on new agents and tips:
A massive database to help you find agents that may be a fit for you:

For Industry and Query Advice:

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