Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Failproof Querying



Since WriteOnCon.com ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about querying. I haven’t sent a query letter myself since January 2011 (Hallelujah), but you might say I have a bit of experience. 

Writing them, Sending them, Angsting over them. 

Yes, there are other ways to attract an agent, but querying is still the primary path (anecdotally. don’t ask me for data, but check out #slushpile on twitter.)

Some of you might remember my “How I got My Agent” story. I queried a lot before signing with my wonderful agent (Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary). Sixty-seven, give or take. Not that I counted. (Here’s the link: http://krisasselin.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-agent-story.html)

It always drove me crazy to see people quit after only a few queries. Or despair that it would never happen for them. And it drove me really crazy when people signed with an agent after one or two queries. Cause, you know, they didn’t spend a lot of time in the trenches (call me childish, I know).
But the bottom line is, you can’t compare yourself to your neighbor. It’s like looking over and seeing that Chuck got an A+ on his paper. It makes your B look like crap. But you’ve worked hard for that B—embrace it and celebrate!

For some people, the query letter is the worst part of writing the book. Synthesizing 60K+words into a paragraph is hard! For others, it’s part of the writing process. I know people who write the query letter as part of their outlining process. The fact is, even if you meet an agent at a conference and you connect, you’ll still have to write some kind of query/coverletter about your book. So unless you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to have a solid letter that introduces your book to an agent.

Failproof Querying (based on my personal experience):

  • 1.      Everyone always says don’t query too early. But the fact is, everyone does. If you must, send one or two out early to get it out of your system. Just don’t go crazy, cause you’ll want to scratch your eyeballs out later when you realize you sent too early.
  • 2.      Don’t worry about a personalized opening—the agent has limited time, and wants to read about your book. Unless you have a real personalization (you met at a conference, or your cousin is her hairdresser), just start with your logline or jump into the main paragraph about your book.
  • 3.      You’ve only got a few sentences to make an impact. Use strong words to describe your book. Skip the back story. Leave out all minor characters and focus on the protagonist. What’s at stake for your MC? What makes your book unique?
  • 4.      Include your word count, and any publishing credits. No publishing credits? Don’t worry!
  • 5.      Keep it to one page. Short and sweet.
  • 6.      Send out 4 or 5 at a time. If you’re just getting form rejections for a couple of rounds, reassess your query. If you’re getting partials and full requests, your query is fine. Keep on keeping on. Consider any feedback you get, and think about revision—of both your query and your novel. (There’s no such thing as “it’s done.” You need to ALWAYS be open to revision.)
  • 7.      If you get rejections, MOVE ON. Don’t dwell, don’t take it personally. Don’t get mad at the agent. Rewrite what you need to rewrite and move on. You wanted to be a writer, right?
  • 8.      Don’t quit. It’s not fast. It was over a year from my first (premature) query to signing with Vickie.

And remember, this is MY opinion. There are exceptions to every rule, and there may be people who disagree with me.

Vickie Motter’s great post about What Not to Include in your Query:

I’ll offer to critique the queries of the first five comments. Don’t leave your query here, but include your contact information and I’ll be in touch.

Happy Querying!

Kris 

24 comments:

  1. Ah. I'm thinking about jumping into the trenches. This is timely, Kris. :)

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  2. Great post and I'll add that even if you're getting form rejections it doesn't always mean you have a terrible query. It could be the genre you're writing in is flooded or your story is great just not high concept enough for certain agents to take on. If you get great feedback from your peers that's a good sign that you're on the right track.

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  3. Great advice! Kris writes awesome queries so to get her critique is priceless!

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  4. I agree with not needing a personal opening. I handle unsolicited queries for the editor I intern for and, while reading some sort of personal note on how the author met her(the editor)or a connection to a book she's worked on, it doesn't change my opinion of the query itself.

    I'd also like to add: be as specific as possible when summarizing your story. We're looking for stories that stand out. Saying things like: he didn't know what hit him, she got the worst of it, etc. is likely to be passed on.

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  5. Thanks for the advice and the encouragement. I'm about to start querying again, after a failed attempt to find an agent for an earlier book (which was more of a 'starter book'), so I'm a little nervous. But this time I'm determined to query until I run out of agents that rep my genre!

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    1. Good Luck Carla! I'm happy to crit your query letter, if you want...

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  6. Great post. I'm definitely marking this one as a favorite!

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    1. OMG! Thanks, Laura. I'm so glad it was helpful!

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  7. I'm querying agents for the first time right now (1 rejection so far, 3 still out). I'm certain it's not too early- I've gotten a bunch of "great" rejections form editors. Any specific advice for picture book writers? Finding an agent for PBs seems to be an even bigger challenge.
    http://michellecusolito.blogspot.com/

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    1. Great rejections are awesome, even though it sounds like an oxymoron. I never did find an agent for my PB...I ended making my only PB sale to a small press on my own. Personally, I think the same rules of thumb apply--

      Good luck, Michelle! Let me know if you want me to look at it for you!

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  8. Thanks, Kristine, or this. GReat advice.

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  9. I gave up too soon when I was querying two of my books 10-11 years ago, but now I realize it just wasn't the right time for me to realize my lifelong dream of being published. I also realized that those books needed some more editing and polishing before they'd be publication-ready. Querying another of my books last year also taught me that it's very important to get the genre right, and to target the right agents. I learnt the hard way that young characters doesn't automatically mean a book is YA. Regular readers have loved the excerpts I've posted from that book during my weekly Saturday bloghop, so I know I just wasn't writing the right type of query.

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    1. Great point--you learn so much about the process by being a part of the process. I think that's what I mean about getting the "too early" queries out of the way. You can learn a lot about how things work that way!

      Good luck, Carrie-Ann!

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  10. I've personalized and I've skipped on that part, and have found it makes no difference. Unless you really have something unique to say, it's not usually necessary. Agents already know what books they enjoy. They wrote it on their blog and website, after all.

    Great post, Kristine.

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  11. Great reminder to all of us out there who are still in the trenches. I think, given a chance to re-do my first taste of querying, I would definitely have waited longer before jumping in. I'm in the middle of my 2nd huge re-write (this one by choice, not an R&R) and it's heartening to know that the writing process is never over.

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    1. I finally realized we're all in the trenches...no matter where you are in the process. It's just a matter of what trench. :) Good luck, Pamela! Let me know if you want me to look at your query!

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  12. Great advice... I think I made every mistake when I first queried... I laugh at myself looking back now:)

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  13. Oh darnit! I so desperately need a query crit and read this email much too late. Thank you so much for this anyway Kris, you're awesome and still a queen of queries!!

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