So, you've crafted the perfect query. Your manuscript shines. Your synopsis rocks.
You've done the research and created a list of agents who might be a good fit for you.
So what next? There's tons of information available online about how to prepare for the querying process, but not much on how to go about it. Different writers use widely variant methods. Some writers query every agent on their list simultaneously. Others query only their dream agent and wait for a reply before querying another. Most writers fall somewhere between those extremes and, while only you can decide which method works best for you, I'd like to discuss what worked best for me and why.
But first, I'd like to introduce this into evidence:
That's me (with my sister) on my way to the prom circa 1992.
Now, if you're like me, after looking at this picture, you're rubbing your stinging nose with one hand while wiping the coffee off your laptop with the other. Which is hard to do when you're shaking with laughter. I mean that is really quite the look, right? Check out the asymmetric hair-do and the "floating pearl" necklace. Not to mention the white iridescent tights. And when you're uberpale, the best look is almost always baby pink patterned satin over white tulle, natch.
Here's the thing:
At the time, I thought I looked awesome. Other people thought I looked awesome, too. I overheard my date's younger sister whining that her brother must have bribed me or something cuz OMG, she's actually pretty!
Unfortunately, I believe writing is a bit like fashion. I finished the first draft of The Edge of Memory in 7 weeks. I did a quick grammar edit, and then shipped the manuscript off to a bevy of test readers for feedback, while I took a month away "for perspective." (yeah, right.)
Over the next several months, I completed several major edits. I then decided I was done tinkering and ready to seek representation. I read the blogging agents mantras of "Don't Query Before You're Ready" and "Write a Great Book" and felt confident. I loved my manuscript. I didn't think it was perfect, of course, but I thought I'd reached the point where I needed professional feedback to progress further.
I was both right and wrong.
Between that first stopping point (when my book was titled Still Haunted) and the final version I submitted to my agent, I completed at least six more rounds of editing. And each time I finished a round of edits, I cringed to look at the previous drafts. Just like that prom picture, I look at those versions and wonder, "what the heck I was thinking?"
In February, an agent who had requested a partial and then my full manuscript pointed out a plot detail that bothered her. She gave me a eureka moment and I subsequently rewrote several scenes that strengthened by novel. Several other agents also provided valuable feedback on my work. And by submitting a few different versions of my query letter and opening pages, I learned which ones were most effective. In other words, the submission process itself helped me create an effective proposal package.
Naturally, I wish I had known that I wasn't as ready as I thought I was when I first began querying. But I'm not sure I would have ever reached that point without the query/submission process. Certainly, I might never have had the eureka moment without that agent's input.
The take-home point here is that I'm glad I've never been a Query Player (much as I've tried). If I had queried a zillion agents when I first thought my manuscript was ready, I'd have burned all my bridges. If I had queried a single agent at a time, I wouldn't have gotten the feedback I needed.
But since I only queried a few agents at a time, I got a chance to show my best work to the fabulous agent I eventually signed with. And I'm beyond grateful for that.
My query style:
So... what's YOUR query style?
* Query in batches of 5 or so, every couple of weeks.
* Of those, choose at least 1 or 2 agents who usually respond quickly (Check querytracker.net for response times.)
* If a specific opportunity comes up (say, an agent mentions seeking manuscripts like yours in an interview or on a blog), jump on it.
* After reworking a query pitch or opening pages, submit various combinations to assess what works best.
* Keep at least 5 queries pending