I’m so grateful to have signed with such an amazing agent, who got me an absolutely brilliant and insightful editor. It was a long, arduous journey, so to hopefully make it a little easier for other authors, here are a few things I’ve learned about querying over the years.
1. Do your research
Seriously. I cannot possibly say this enough. Sending out a form letter to as many agents as possible is not going to get you an agent, certainly not the agent you need specifically for you. Find the agent who accepts manuscripts in your book’s genre and follow their submission guidelines to the letter. The more targeted your query, the more interest you’ll generate.
Use Manuscript Wishlist. The search feature allows you to search agents by genre, theme, settings, comp authors, etc. Incidentally, this is how I found my agent, Carly Watters with P.S. Literary Agency.
Using Twitter is also useful. Keep an eye on #MSWLs, as a lot of agents tweet what they’re looking for. You’ll even sometimes find pitch contests there or at #PitMad. You can also use Publishers Marketplace to check out agent’s book sales to make sure they’re who you want representing your book.
I also read the author’s acknowledgements at the end of books that were in my genre, then researched those agents using their website, blog posts and interviews. It sounds a bit stalkery, but I swear it isn’t. Do your research and you’ll know exactly what excites your chosen agent so you can effectively pitch them.
2. Find the right agent for you
This sort of falls under ‘Do your research’ above, but it’s so important. Make sure you’re looking at agents in your specific genre, but also make sure that agent is as enthusiastic about your book as you are, has the relevant experience to sell your book, and that you get along well with him or her.
I say this from personal experience. My first agent didn’t have a lot of experience with fiction, only non-fiction. I was so eager to get my book out there I signed with her anyways. She liked my book, but didn’t know enough about the fiction market to be able to sell it effectively. This showed up at the stage where publishers got to read my book. After publishers rejected it, I spent another year trying to write another book, but by this time my agent had gone MIA, meaning I wasted a few years with an agent that wasn’t really suitable for me, personally. In the end we went our separate ways and I had to start over.
So find the right agent for you. It’s one of those things that may seem difficult in the short term, but will save you a lot of time in the long run.
3. Polish, polish, polish
Once you’ve finished your first draft, sit on it before you revise it. Do not query before your book is completely ready. This can take time, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve queried an agent and they’ve rejected you, you can’t query again with that same book. So make your query count.
In general you’ll need to submit a one-page query letter, a synopsis and a portion of your manuscript (page count varies). But read the submission guidelines of the agent you’re querying, as they are different for each.
Polish, polish, polish. Make sure every single letter, sentence and paragraph is perfect before you submit. If you do receive feedback from an agent, listen to it! They’ve provided you with free advice and this is worth its weight in gold.
4. Be patient
Be prepared to wait, and be patient. An impatient writer is a rejected writer. Make sure your manuscript is the absolute best it can be before you even think about submitting it. Then ask others to read it. Then wait some more.
Send out small batches of queries (five or six) so you can test your pitch and sample pages. This, again, means being patient, and it feels like you’re waiting for-eeever, but it’s worth it. You don’t want to risk sending all your queries without testing if it’s the right pitch. You will sometimes get feedback to revise your pitch or your sample pages, and you’ll want to do that before moving on to another batch of queries.
Even once you get an agent, it takes time to get a publisher. Once you get a publisher, it takes time to get published. By the time my book is published it will be two years and seven months from when I signed with my agent. That isn’t even counting when I started writing it! So be patient. You’ll get there in the end.
5. Don’t give up!
Rejection is part of the game. I know it doesn’t feel good, but it’s part of the process, and as wiser people than me have said, rejection is how we learn. Honestly, rejection is the first thing we need to learn to cope with in this industry. It isn’t personal, it isn’t about you, and you don’t need to be ashamed of it. In fact, if we take rejection and learn from it, get better because of it, rejection is actually a win. Just keep going.
There are thousands of very talented writers out there, but the only ones who make it are the ones who don’t give up.
I cannot wait to read your book! Good luck!