Monday, February 6, 2012

How I Query

So....ONE has been querying for a week! Yaaaay!

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 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?


  1. Ah, I'm so not at this stage yet but I'm really liking your posts on it (even the erm, distressed ones... I feel the need to apologise for that ^^;).

    It's sort of really nice for me to follow along someone as they're querying to see the reality of it, it takes the edge off it and doesn't make it seem quite as intimidating, you know?

    That said, thanks for sharing your method :) will be coming back to this later on and looking forward to your next post!

    Good luck until then :D (that 20% rate might come through!)

    1. Hahaha don't worry, it turned out alright in the end. :)

      You should know that most people think 20-30 queries out at a time is INSANE. It just helps me attach to my new project more quickly, because I know that I'll know whether this one goes in the drawer sooner.

      20%....we can dream, huh? <3

  2. As I'm steadily approaching querying (come on Spring!), this post was a really interesting chance to see a way of going about it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love to be nosy about other peoples' methods. Thanks for reading! <3

    2. Maybe I'll do a post when the time comes and you can be nosy on my blog ;)

  3. This made me think about how awful my req rate is.


    ;;;;_;;;; (<---I don't know what this is. Crying spider?)

    1. Why? Mine's not any better.

      Crying spiders FTW!!!

  4. God, I'm terrified of querying. But your method terrifies me even more! Dream Agent FIRST?! Cue convulsions!

    Even though I think my LYM query is good, I'm still terrified that I'll wake up one day having figured out how to make it better - and then I'll be so mad at myself for querying my A-list with a subpar query, and start pining for what might have been.

    But then again, I had 3 query revisions during my LBD query phase, and all 3 got requests. So who the heck knows - it all comes down to subjectivity, that fickle bitch!!

    1. Okay, but don't you ever think, what if I get an offer out of my first flurry, and then I missed my chances with Dream Agent?

      (I think I'm equally paranoid, just in the other direction.)

      Subjectivity = bitch. Seriously, even thinking of her is making me growl.
      On the upside, if you see her name in an email from an agent, you know it's an R after half a second. :)

  5. Wow! You are really dedicated to querying. I need to do more of it, but my manuscripts aren't ready. For a year I queried one manuscript every week and got lots of bites, but no takers. I have an editor interested in it and am waiting to hear back from her to query on it more. She may be sending me an editor's letter and I want to do an edit based on her suggestions before I send it out again.

    1. Hahaha! I think I'm just fatalistic by nature, and I'm not a fan of the slow burn.

      So exciting about editor interest on your book! Crossing everything for you!!!

  6. It usually takes me a while to get up to 20 queries at once. I like to test the waters and tweak. But I never query without running it through the paces over at the AgentQueryConnect forums (which is kind of where I live online...). Some of the other forums are hit or miss for feedback, but AQC has the nicest, smartest peeps :) In my opinion anyway!

    I like to keep a good mix of queries: Dream Agents (I've got a lot more than one!); great agents; and agents who seem cool, but I can't find much about. Sometimes it's surprising who will like what!

    My first project had a 20% request rate, but nothing came of that. I shelved my second project after 20 queries or so because I had one lone request and it came back as a form rejection :/ Cyborg is doing a lot better, but really the rate of requests doesn't have much to do with success or lack thereof. Even if you send out 50 queries and only get one request, it could still be THE one who loves the book.

    1. Hmmmm....seems like I need to check out AQC. :)

      That's exactly right - you never know who will like what. That's why I like to cover my bases and think widely, agent-list wise.

      The request rate thing...yeah. I know it only takes one. And anything can happen any time. And you NEVER know what that will be. (Like how I got a request for my drawered MS the week before I started querying ONE? Yeah. If anything comes of that, you'll be able to knock me over with a feather.)

  7. Thanks for sharing this! I'm getting nervous just reading it and I'm nowhere near ready to query yet, haha. But I do like being able to see you through the process! I kind of agree with your method of querying your Dream Agent first. I was actually thinking about that the other day. Like you said, if other agents are interested, wouldn't you rather know at that point if your DREAM AGENT is interested or not, too? Then you can really focus on who IS interested, and not be constantly thinking about Dream Agent. Anyway, best of luck to you!! And two requests so far is AWESOME! :)

    1. Well, when you're ready, I'd love to hear about your process too! <3

      Yeah, to be honest, I'm really kind of emotionally stalled on the whole query thing BECAUSE of Dream Agent. She's really the main reason I'm watching my mail, just waiting for the other shoe to drop so I can move on. So, I'm super glad I sent to her first.

      Fabulous to see you as always. :)

  8. Keeping my fingers crossed for Dream Agent and ALL your queries! :D xo

  9. Thanks for sharing! I'm currently querying my first novel, and my process is actually VERY similar to yours. I worked on my query for a bit, and sent it to a few friends/writers that I really feel comfortable with. I didn't post it on forums, either. Once I felt good about it, I made a list of agents I love love loved and wrote down what they need in a submission (I have all of this on a very dorky Excel Spreadsheet..heh). Then, I started sending them out. Now, unlike you, I only send about 10 out at once. Once I get a rejection, I send one more out to replace that one, so I have about 10 out at all time. Perhaps I'll move up to more, like you. Good luck with your querying! (And thank you for commenting on my query at the Cupid website. I'm number #21 :) )

  10. Loved seeing how you query Leigh Ann! I've just finished a round that looked remarkably similar to yours, though I queried less agents in the end. I do think 20% is possible *winks*. I'm now revising my WIP on the basis of some awesome comments and R&Rs I received - decided I wasn't quite ready to put FTOS in the drawer yet.

    Good luck with querying ONE. We share a fantabulous critique partner, so I know it will do awesomely :)



  11. Fingers crossed! :D And I know I'm in the vast minority here, but as far as I'm concerned, querying is awesome--so enjoy the ride!

    *waves at Rach* ^_^

  12. If it works for you then that is all that matters. I'm more of a two a day chocolate bars!

  13. I have no idea how I missed this awesome post.. but I love how you query your dream agent first. If you feel like your stuff is ready, why not? You should always know what you want and go for it, right?

    Good luck lady!!