Querying One at a Time

(Featured image: Reeds 2002 by Dale Chihuly at the OKC Museum of Art)

Querying a book is a mental game. You’re opening yourself up for rejection. Just remember that you did a great thing: you wrote a book. Hopefully you’ve put it through several edits yourself. But querying is a separate art altogether.

Divided Head by Henry Moore at the OKC Museum of Art

One step of the process nobody talks about is research. Don’t waste your time and an agent’s time by sending out form-letter queries to agents you haven’t researched.

Step One: Make a list of four or five books in your genre (or with a similar slant). Research the authors’ agents by checking out their websites or Publishers Marketplace or Query Tracker.

Step Two: Go to the agency website—nowhere else—to research their current submission guidelines. These change. Agents are people with busy lives. They sometimes close to submissions for a few months even if open overall. I keep a list of the agents I’m interested in plus their requirements in a program for iPad called Story Tracker. You can use a spreadsheet or notepad. Just keep a list.

Step Three: Now look on Absolute Write’s Bewares page, Query Tracker, etc. for testimonials about the agent’s reputation. Remember, anyone can have a single bad experience. Look for trends. Assuming the agent passes muster, move on.

Step Four: Search the web for interviews with each agent about their work and what they look for in a query. It’s quite simple. One of the first agents I want to research is Vicky Bijur. So I typed “Vicky Bijur Interview” and found a 2003 radio interview with her. (She was the most difficult to find interviews with of the five I have researched.)

Step Five: When you are ready, REALLY READY, you have a well-formatted manuscript, a query pitch, synopsis and outline, plus 5- 10- and 50-page samples ready to send.

Now write a personal letter to one agent, thinking about what they expressed in their interview. It will include parts of your carefully-refined query letter, but not necessarily all of it. Most important is addressing that individual agent’s interests.

And good luck! My small publisher recently went inactive so I am back in this game too. I will be sending one PARADOX query at a time. Here’s som advice from  5 agents I’m interested in querying:

Stephanie Rostan said on Samantha Sotto’s blog, “It’s the voice! Sometimes you start reading something and feel like it’s like nothing you’ve ever read before. I mean, it may be similar in certain ways but the writing feels very distinct and unique, like you’ve met a person at a party that you find totally fascinating.”

Meg Ruley quoted from a Malice Domestic Conference on Poe’s Deadly Daughters’ blog, “Ruley doesn’t believe it’s worthwhile to think in terms of trends, but she snaps to attention when a book written in a “fresh and distinctive voice” lands on her desk.”

Vicky Bijur from a Writers on Writing radio interview, “I do not expect to get a sense of the style of writing from a query. However, the query can tell you if the author can write, spell or is a serious person … What else does the writer do besides write? I get a zillion from people who tell me nothing about themselves.”

Sometimes the interview will influence who you want to work with or who you end up querying first. Just remember Your research will help you stand out from the crowd.

Query one at a time.


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