Monday, October 10, 2011

Querying Lessons - Finding the Balance

One of the most-repeated pieces of querying advice is to do your homework. Research, research, research. Read interviews with the agents - all of them you can find. Troll their list of clients to discover what kind of writing draws them in. If you haven't read any of their clients' works, read them - all of them, preferably. Find out exactly what that agent loves - and hates - to see in a query letter. Then edit your query letter accordingly. Check out their tweets to see if there's a font they hate (okay, this is a little extreme, I'll admit. But I do remember one agent tweeting about which fonts she hated...)

If you're like me, when you started out querying, you did all this. It took at least an hour or so - more if you actually read their clients' work (I did) -  to get each query together, but it was okay, because you were Doing What You Were Supposed to Do. Playing by the rules. You invested your time, hours that could be spent writing or critiquing or sleeping for God's sake, but it's fine! Really! Because you put a lot of work, careful thought and consideration into this query, and determined that you and this agent would be a perfect match. After all, you were Doing Everything Right. You were only querying the agents you were sure would be a perfect fit for you. You sent your query off, smiling, optimistic, and slightly smug.

Thirty minutes later, your email pinged. You nearly jumped out of your seat. You rushed to check it, fidgeting while the page loaded. You looked at your inbox and...

It was a form rejection. "We're sorry, but we don't think your work is a good fit for us."

Oh! NO! This can't be! You Did Everything Right, right?

Wrong. You did one thing wrong.

You fell in love.

When you were doing what you were supposed to do, researching agents looking for the Perfect Match, you let your love for your character and your novel and your hopes and dreams get all mixed up into imagining how you and this agent would work together. And you fell in love with the agent. And now that agent has sent you the message, loud and clear - "Never. Gonna. Happen." You mixed up "business partner" with "New BFFE."

How do I know this? I fell for an agent. And when I got my rejection from her last week, it was not pretty. I might have cried the ugly cry. (I definitely cried the ugly cry.)

How am I preventing this from happening again? I'm implementing strategies to strike a balance between love and business.

(I liked how the trays on this balance look like nooses. Because that's kind of how this whole thing feels.)

My pre-query research consists of reading the agent's bio and wishlist to make sure she's looking for the type of material I have to offer. I'll search for an interview if there is any confusion. Of course, I'll check out her agency's submission guidelines and make sure that my query conforms to those. If I already know some of her authors' work, I'll squeal a little and squirm in my seat while clicking send. (It's exciting to query famous peoples' agents!) But if I've never heard of any of her authors, I'll send anyway.

I have my documents all ready to go so I can just add them into the body of an email, no nail-biting or worrying. Sometimes I'll alter a query slightly if I think it'll draw the agent more from what I read in an interview. Usually I don't end up altering it.  Of course, I always make sure to type the agents' name at the top, and spell it correctly.

That's it! No one query takes up much more than ten or fifteen minutes, tops. If I get form rejection, I've lost the time it takes to eat an ice cream cone, not the time it takes to write half a chapter in my WiP.

Now, here are my suggestions for finding balance AFTER sending the query:

Once you query, consider un-following the agent on Twitter, and maybe even un-following her blog, until you hear back from her. Nothing will change the more you stalk her, and every time she mentions she's reading slush or that a certain character type (yours!) annoys her or that she hates the use of a certain phrase, you will go nuts. (Why yes, I do know this from personal experience.)

Once an agent requests something from you, CONTINUE TO QUERY AS NORMAL. That agent with your chapters, or your full? She might never respond. Odds are, she will eventually reject your MS despite having asked to see more. She might even send you a form rejection.  On a full. This is how agents do their jobs. It is nothing against you. Don't put your whole querying life on hold because that agent maybe, might, fall in love with your ms on her Kindle amidst the hustle and bustle of a New York cafe.

One last thing - every time I click "send" on a query, I expect it to come back as a rejection. This may seem fatalistic to you, but I'd rather be very surprised by a request than very crushed when I get a form rejection. It's just part of how I'm finding the golden balance between agent love and agent apathy while querying.

How do you find the querying balance between love and business? I'd love some more tips to keep me even less crazy...


  1. I do that last thing you mentioned--I assume every query I send out is going to be a rejection. I think my request rate is still somewhere around 20/80, so it's not far off the mark. But I don't know. I think the only time I legit cried was when I sent off a query and the first three chapters, expecting a rejection, and the agent emailed my back two weeks later with--yes, a rejection--but also "I was so close to asking for the full."

    Like, really? Talk about a slap in the face. "I almost gave you your first full request, but your characters kind of sucked. Your writing's really good though! Keep trying! :D "

    But I don't think I cried all the times my partials have gotten a rejection.

    (We'll see about the full I have out right now. Four days till I can poke her. FOUR. DAYS.)

  2. I have not started the query process. It scares me, but it must be done.

  3. I haven't started querying yet (maybe in a few months), but I'll bookmark this post so I can remember what to do to stay sane:) Thanks for sharing!

  4. I'm not even actively querying yet, but if I see an agent say that something specific bugs them, I still freak out and decide I am doomed if that thing appears ever in my MS (which it ALWAYS does). You're right--it's probably a good idea to not let yourself go too far down that road...

  5. I don't think anyone knows what a scary process querying is until they start. Now you know why I procrastinated and made excuses and did anything I possibly could to prolong the agony!

    I'm not sure I'd un-follow agents on Twitter while waiting for a response, though, because sometimes I personalize my letters by saying I follow them on Twitter. And if they checked and saw I didn't, I'd just look like a liar rather than a big scaredy-pants.

    I also expect rejections each time I get an e-mail. Otherwise I'd be ugly crying left and right. Which BTW- I doubt you're ugly, even when crying :)

  6. My favorite research is the bit that isn't in book, i.e. what the air smells like or how the sight of a vista makes you feel:)

  7. GAH QUERYING. I've done all that and more, but I think I've finally reached a balance within myself lol. Maybe. I say that NOW, right?

    This is great advice!

  8. Okay, in some really demented way, this makes me miss the querying stage (and mine wasn't very successful ultimately.)

  9. I fell head over heels in love with an agent that sent me a rejection. I think it totally helps to expect rejection! Then I could really appreciate how freaking sweet she was even in her rejection. I still love her, btw. And anytime I hear of her signing a new author, I'll just give that sigh you reserve for when you see people fall in love. I'm okay that it's not with me. ;)

  10. Well, seeing as I'm a complete querying virgin, I have no advice. BUT! I loved this bit of your advice the very most (and it was all good too!):
    "every time I click "send" on a query, I expect it to come back as a rejection. This may seem fatalistic to you, but I'd rather be very surprised by a request than very crushed when I get a form rejection. It's just part of how I'm finding the golden balance between agent love and agent apathy while querying."
    That's just the sort of thing I would (will) do. It's better to be happily surprised than bitterly, bitterly disappointed.
    Good luck!!!! I hope you get a happy surprise very soon.

  11. I don't have advice, I've never sent out a query. I think your last little bit, might be the best advice for me. Expect them all to be a rejection. Easier said then done, but I will try.

    Thanks for the great advice!

  12. Your experience sounds very much like mine. I started querying two weeks ago, and while I did all this research, looking for people who are potentially the best fit for my book, I've already gotten 3 rejections. But what I've been doing is something similar to Edison with the lightbulb, weeding out the impossibilities. "Now I know this many people who are NOT the right person to represent me." It has kept my experience positive so far.