Just wanted to do a little post on how I query, since I know a good portion of my critique team thinks it's crazy. This is mostly an attempt to convince them - and myself - that it actually makes sense. In some universe.
So, before I do this, I'm just going to make the blanket statement that this is MY querying practice, because I think it's the right way FOR ME to query AT THIS TIME in my career. If you do something different, and you like it, and you're happy, well, that's all that matters, my love.
Now that that's out of the way.....here we go.
First of all, I work on my query until I'm sure it's good and clear and voicey and hook-y. I don't post it on forums, because I don't know the folks over there, and I don't have the emotional or physical energy to deal with people who tear things up just for the sake of tearing them up. I send it to some people I "know" or have "met" via Twitter, critique groups (CPs of CPs) and then my actual CPs for this. Just like when they're critiquing my novel, they're not afraid to tear it up, tell me something doesn't make sense, and I know it's all with the intention of making my novel succeed.
Second, I set up an initial list of agents I'd like to query - somewhere between 60 and 80. I spend a good week on Query Tracker, scoping out agents listed as representing YA, making sure that they'll look at Science Fiction, and noting what projects they've sold to see what kind of styles and voices they like. (I don't stress too much about the styles-and-voices thing, because I know that for an agent, it's all about finding a book she loves. How many of us have fallen in love with a book completely different from all the other ones we've ever loved?) I make notes about what materials they're asking for, so setting up queries later is easy-peasy. (Yes, obviously, this is not as easy as it seems. Hm.)
I query my Dream Agent first. This is for a few reasons.
- One, she's the agent I'm most nervous about querying, and so if I get over my terror of clicking "send" on her query, it's all downhill from there. I mean, sending every other query is relaxing in comparison to that experience.
- Two, if she sends me a form rejection, then I'm not stuck wondering "what if" for the rest of my queries. I know she doesn't want it, so I can set my sights on other agents and move on.
- Three, if she IS interested in the material, she gets first crack at it and I have no qualms about (please please pretty please) signing with her.
Then, I begin a series of what I like to call Query Flurries.
I send an initial query batch of 20-30 (I think this time, contests and web forms included, it was something like 26)
I like to throw in a couple of agents I'd LOVE to work with, some that I know are awesome but I have no special attachment to, and some that I haven't really heard of, but seem to have great clients and sales.
Now, I know you're saying, "Hold on. 20 agents is a whole heckuva lot at one time."
But here's the thing. A good request rate - like, a really good one - is about 20%. So, let's say you and your query and your writing sample totally kick butt. You send out 20 queries, and get four requests. You are ON FIRE. If one of those agents reading your manuscript is totally in love, and wants to sign you, that means that you still have three others considering your work at the same time. This puts you at a great advantage.
(Personally, I'm not really believing that a 20% req rate is very possible these days. I'm thinking more like 10% would be admirable. But that's neither here nor there.)
After I send the first query flurry, I wait until I get a decent number of responses.
This past week, I got two requests and eight rejections.
So, today, I'll send out eight more queries, to make up for the eight rejections I got last week.
In this way, I always have about 25-30 queries out in the universe.
(I'll also be contesting my MS, which I consider a "soft query." It'll tell me which agents aren't interested, without me sending an actual formal query to them.)
"But, Leigh Ann," you might say. "How do you know that all those rejections aren't because your query SUCKS?"
Well, I don't. But I don't stress that much about it (unless I'm getting 100% rejections for awhile) for a few reasons:
- First of all, I've done the research and worked really hard on my query, remember***? I've had a lot of feedback on it. I'm super-confident in its ability to do its job.
- Rejections come for lots of reasons other than a query sucking. It could be that the agent likes science fiction about cyborgs, but not superheroes. Rejection. It could be that the agent just signed a superhero novel, or for whatever other reason is not confident in her ability to sell it. It could be that the agent is really only looking for multi-ethnic fiction. It could be that she hates first person present, or she had a rough commute, or her kid is obsessed with X-men and she just can't bring herself to deal with anything else regarding superheroes. All reasons that might make me, personally, not want to read a book, let alone try to sell it. REJECTION.
- Lastly, form rejections almost never come with any helpful feedback on the query itself. Agents don't have the time to tell you WHY SPECIFICALLY they don't think that they can sell your book. So, I could try to change the query purely based on the fact that I'm getting a lot of rejections, but without agent feedback, how do I know WHAT to change?
(***If you are worried about your query, GET MORE FEEDBACK. Run it by people who you know are supportive but haven't read your book and don't know you - i.e. don't really care about upsetting you that much. Make sure they're people who know what grammar looks like, and who understand query basics. Read QueryShark. Read From the Query to the Call. Do your homework.)
As I get more rejections, I send more queries.
Along the way, I might tinker with my first page or query to see if it gets more bites. But overall, again, I don't sweat it.
I do this until I run out of agents to query.
When I've run out of agents to query, I put the book in a drawer and gear up to query the next one....
And I'll blog about that on Wednesday.
If you feel comfortable sharing, my loves, what are your tried-and-true-and-loved querying practices? Have you changed anything since you first started querying? What are some resources you love?