Sending out query letters to literary agents is an exciting, yet terrifying, time. Will they love my book? How long until I hear back? What can I do to increase my chances for success?
These questions will at some point cross your mind during the process. The querying stage can be a tough one. There’re plenty of agents out there, and I believe what makes the process even tougher is finding the right one to champion your work. You want an agent who believes in you and your writing. One that can give you confidence, advice, and guidance. You should envision yourself working with an agent for the length of your writing career.
So, no pressure, right?
In truth, it’s easy to fill your mind with doubts during the querying process. Rejections almost always come first, so be prepared to thicken your skin. But don’t despair just yet! Countless authors, even the most successful ones, have been where you are now. Many received dozens of rejections before finding success. (Google some if you need the support)
As you prepare to give this process your best, here are a few tips to improve your query letter:
- Research agents before querying them.
I can’t stress this one enough. The more you know about agents, as in who they represent, what they’re on the lookout for, what they want included in the query letter, the better off you’ll be. I’ve read many blogs / articles written by agents where they describe queries that feel impersonal. Agents want to know why you’re querying them specifically. Typically, you can explain this by revealing how one of their clients inspired your work, or that your story goes hand-in-hand with the kind of book they’re on the lookout for. Anything that shows thought behind your query will help!
- Query in batches.
I strongly suggest sending no more than 5-7 queries out at one time. The thing is, you don’t want to burn all your bridges at once. Imagine sending a batch of 50 queries out, then later finding some misspelled words, grammatical errors, or that you thought of a better, more compelling, way to pitch your story.
You don’t want that kind of mistake hanging over you.
Also, querying can be a lot like trial-by-error. If your first batch doesn’t deliver any requests for your manuscript, then you may want to revise it before sending the next handful.
Lastly, own your rejections! They sting, sure, but they’re yours. The best thing you can do is learn from them.
- Allow your peers to read your queries.
Anyone who you trust to give honest feedback should be considered. You want to see if your query hooks them, as in they want to read your book based on the 3-5 sentence pitch. Personally, I suggest finding other authors who are going through / have gone through the querying process to look over your letter as well. They have insights! See if you can pick up on some dos and don’ts.
- Familiarize yourself with helpful websites.
There’re tons of websites out there that give invaluable information to querying authors. They range from examples of successful query letters to specific wants from agents.
Here are a few I found especially helpful:
- Manuscript Wish List ( www.manuscriptwishlist.com )
The MSWL website is a must when you’re trying to land an agent. This site allows you to see what agents are looking for. If you’ve written the next Narnia, then type that in the search bar and BAM! You’ll get a list of agents who say they’re looking for the next Narnia. Also, you can familiarize yourself with editors at publishing houses. They’re on the MSWL website too, and your future agent will appreciate it if you have a couple of editors who may be interested in your book.
- Query Tracker ( www.querytracker.net )
Query Tracker is a great website for learning response times. Many authors post on the website about how long it took to hear back from specific agents. Now, of course this doesn’t mean the agent you’ve queried will take 3 months to respond just because another author experienced that, but it can help with realistic time frames.
Another useful aspect to Query Tracker is authors will post if an agent is currently closed to submissions. You don’t want to query an agent who’s not accepting queries, for that’s an automatic rejection.
- Publishers Marketplace ( www.publishersmarketplace.com )
This one is a big one. Almost every agent has a profile on PM. You can find out an agent’s list of clients, past book deals, current likes and, more important, dislikes, and what he or she requires with each query. I suggest paying for the membership to PM so you can experience all its features.
As I said: querying can be exciting and terrifying. Unfortunately, there isn’t a sure-fire formula to get you an offer of representation, but take it from me. The day I signed with my agent was one of the greatest days of my life. It validated the years of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication in a single phone call. Continue writing. Keep fighting. You’ll get there before you know it.
Don’t forget to follow Cody on social media to stay up to date with his writing.