QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 30, 2015

The 5 Essential Steps to Getting a Literary Agent (Guest Post)

We've spent the month discussing different aspects of the querying process and writing query letters. It's really been a lot to take in! However, I want to leave you all with a message of hope, simplicity, and achievability--querying can a tough process, but it's not an impossible one.
Here is a guest post by Peter Hogenkamp, who wanted to share his thoughts on getting a literary agent. Only five simple steps--and it all starts with a query letter...

It was seven years ago, but I can remember it like it was today. I woke up on the day before Thanksgiving, booted up my computer, and saw the e-mail in my inbox. "I have reviewed your query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript and I would like to read more; can you please e-mail me the first 50 pages along with your author bio and and a list of comparable titles."

Now, by virtue of the fact that you are reading this blog on QueryTracker, I suspect you all have received similar e-mails and realize that this was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me at the time, and it is still something I remember fondly. I had sent this--my very first--query to Writers House (I am sure you all know what Writers House is) and gotten a request for a partial. Things fell apart from there, of course--the I regret to inform you e-mail followed shortly--but it was the first step of the 5 Essential Steps to Getting a Literary Agent.

Step 1)  Getting Your First Rejection.

Why, you ask, is this the first step? Well, consider the number of talented writers I know who have never received a rejection. The obvious reason is that none of them have ever sent a query letter in the first place. And why haven't they? The list is long--too much work, such a small chance of success, and not wanting to be slapped in the face top the list--but the reason doesn't really matter. If you are going to be a successful, agented and traditionally published author, you have got to put yourself out there--again and again--and in so doing you will be rewarded with rejections, apathy, criticism, (Sounds great, huh?) and the occasional positive response. Cherish the positive responses. Enjoying the small successes is the best way to keep on going.

Step 2)  Getting Your First Partial Request.

A request for a partial is not a guarantee you are going to be the next James Patterson or Daniel Silva, but it isn't a bad thing either: Someone (likely an intern or an agent's assistant) Somewhere (likely in NYC or San Francisco) thinks you can write. It is a validation of what you have known deep down all along. It is not a good thing: It is a great thing. But let's take a step back for a second, and do some math. Yes, yes, I know, they said there would be no math, but it is simple stuff and it makes my point. You sent out 10 queries and received 5 requests: What can you glean from this? You did a good job writing your query letter. On the other hand, if you sent out 20 queries and received just the 1 request, your query letter isn't any good. Revise it. (Here is the link to the QueryTracker Forum, where you can get great advice on how to improve your query.)

Step 3) Getting Your First Submission Request

After reviewing your partial, 10 agents have requested your full manuscript (this is what is called a submission request) but you get nothing but form rejections, lack of enthusiasm and, in many cases, nothing, in response. The fault here lies in your manuscript. I am not saying that your manuscript isn't any good, I am saying that it isn't good enough... yet. Getting an agent is a hard thing to do: Take a look at the acceptance rates on QueryTracker (and don't even consider the querying process without having QueryTracker on your Favorites list.) Many agents sign only one or two writers a year, some less than that. And many of the writers they sign come from referrals, not the slush pile. I am not saying you can't do it: my agent found me in the slush pile, and if I can do it, so can you. But you have to learn from the failures along the way. Kabitzing about how unfair the process is--or how arbitrary, or how frustrating--gets you nowhere. Asking yourself how you can improve is the correct approach. Go back to the comments you may have received; what are the agents telling you? Where is the weakness in your manuscript? Are your characters well-developed? Is your dialogue genuine? Is your prose tight? This is where you become a better writer: Don't waste the opportunity. Stop querying agents until you have fixed the problems with your manuscript; there are only so many agents who represent your genre. Stop querying. Start revising. Then query again. I say this from experience--this is the exact approach that worked for me in the end.

Step 4)  Getting Your First Revision Request

You may see this referred to as a Revise and Resubmit, but be careful: agents are very savvy about how they manage a writers expectations. You may need to read between the lines of their comments to realize you have received a revision request. What do I mean? Take my case. I worked very hard on revising my manuscript after it was rejected two dozen or so times at the submission level. I was fortunate to receive a lot of comments with the rejections, both good and bad, but let me tell you something: It is the bad comments you should be paying attention to. It is something you can work on. One agent told me: You write well, and I like the premise, but the main character isn't strong enough. That, my friends, was a revision request by my way of looking at it. So, that's what I did: I spent several months making the characters stronger and I sent it back to her with a carefully worded letter explaining that I had addressed the weaknesses of the manuscript and would she be interested in taking another look? (The key here is to be professional and polite.) In fact, I sent my revised manuscript to all the agents who had taken the time to make some comments (don't bother with the ones who sent form rejects or who didn't respond at all--they have no interest) and to the one agent who had specifically asked for a revise and resubmit. The agents who made comments were interested enough to spend some of their valuable time to help you: You owe it to them and to yourself to give them another shot. But only after you have worked hard to address the shortcomings in the manuscript.

Step 5)  Getting Your First Offer of Representation

Interestingly enough, the one agent who had specifically requested the R/R never even responded to my letter. Even when the offers started coming in and I let her know that I had several offers of representation, she simply said she was 'no longer interested.' (I wrote her back to thank her for help, by the way.) Her lack of interest didn't phase me, however, because I had received an offer. What to do in this case, when I still had another ten or so submissions out there? You want to let the agents know you have received an offer. They will either bow out (and save themselves some time) or expedite the reading of your manuscript in case they want to make an offer. I ended up with six offers in the next few weeks. (But just so we are clear, these six offers represented five years of querying, ten years of writing two different manuscripts, two writers conferences, and several laps of the earth trying to hike away my angst.) It can be done: You can get an agent through the querying process but it can only be done with a lot of hard work. Their are no shortcuts, no head starts, no tricks or gimmicks.

Just five steps.

Author Peter Hogenkamp
Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The Five Stages of Querying Grief

Elizabeth KΓΌbler-Ross described the five stages of grief in 1969 in her book, On Death and Dying. It detailed her observations of terminally ill patients as they dealt with their diagnosis. I think it’s equally applicable to the querying process.

DENIAL:  This is it! My 250,000 word urban fantasy featuring vampires and brooding shape shifters is going to land me an agent at the biggest, baddest agency in New York. There’s going to be a bidding war with the BIG 5. It’s going to be made into a blockbuster movie. Foreign rights will pay for my private jet. I’m going to quit my day job and wear pajamas all day for the rest of my life, just like Hugh Hefner.

ANGER: Crappy form rejections! What’s wrong with these agents? Don’t they recognize talent when they see it? You know what happened to the stuck up kids in high school who never invited you to their parties? They became agents! I’ll show them. When I hit it big, I’ll start naming names of everyone who rejected me. They’ll be sorry.

BARGAINING: I’ll only send five more queries out, then I’ll stop. I can stop any time I want. If I just personalize it a little better…Hey wait, this agent loves Joss Whedon! I love Joss Whedon. This could be the one. It only takes one yes. I don’t need multiple offers. I don’t need a movie deal. There’s this one literary agent in Omaha that’s also an insurance agent. It could work. My neighbor’s grandson has a start up press in his garage. Indie is cool. Indie is the new traditional. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just one more query first.

DEPRESSION: I suck. I suck so badly I even suck at sucking. I’m a worthless, talentless hack. What was I thinking? Why did I bother? My mother was right. I should stick to what I’m good at: Sucking. Are we out of chocolate?

ACCEPTANCE: I had a tough sell in a crowded genre. It’s not personal. It’s business. I’ll dust myself off and move on. I jotted down an idea for a new book the other day. I think I’ll start outlining this weekend. I do love to write, after all. This too shall pass.



This is it! This is the one!

P.S. Don’t let yourself stay too long in stage 4. Sure, we all get down, but don’t let the rejection get the better of you. It does only take one yes. And you can’t get to that one “yes” unless keep writing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Queries: All Those Little Things You’ve Wondered

This month on the Querytracker blog, we’ve been discussing queries and querying. Today I want to discuss the little things you might have wondered about as you prepare to send out queries.

Full Verses Proposals

The answer depends on if you’re querying fiction or non-fiction. If you plan to query a non-fiction book (with some exceptions such as memoirs), you can send the agent a proposal, which includes a query, outline, and sample chapters. If you are querying fiction, then the novel needs to be completed. If you’re already traditionally published (or have self published and have strong sales), some agents might accept a proposal for your next novel, but in most cases, you’ll still need a complete novel.

Things are slightly different at the publisher level once you’re published. Your agent might shop your fiction proposal to editors. This usually consists of the agent’s pitch, a two-to-five page synopsis, and sample pages (often the first fifty pages). The odds of an editor being interested in your book are greater when they’ve read your previous works. Then they have faith that you will deliver what you promise in terms of storytelling and writing. The advantage of selling on proposal (which I’ve done), is that you don’t have to worry about writing the book and then discover no one wants it. The disadvantage is you still have to write the novel and you have less time to write it than if you had written it first. Of course, if you land a two-or-more-book deal, you’ll have to deal with these time pressures, anyway, with the other books.

Which One To Query

Querying takes time, unless you get lucky and the first agents you query jump on your book. We’re told to work on our next book while querying, but what happens if you finish the book before you’ve queried all the agents on your list? Well, first, if the books are different genres (for example erotic romance and a children’s picture book), query each book separately. Your list of agents will likely be very different. If the books are for the same genre, query the strongest one first. Don’t mention the other books. Save it for if you get The Call. You might decide to shelf the first book and not query the rest of the agents on your list. Or you might decide to continue querying the agents on the list with book #1, and query agents who’ve already passed on the first book with novel #2. But if you’ve just received a rejection from an agent one week, don’t query the other book the following week. Allow the rejection on the previous book time to cool down first, or else the agent will assume you made the same mistakes as before and didn’t take the time to develop your writing and storytelling skills.


You’ve written the first book in a planned series, should you start writing the second book? Unless you’re planning to self publish the book if the traditional route doesn’t pan out, work on a project that has nothing to do with the series. If you do write the second book and book one doesn’t sell, you’ve wasted your time (unless you’re fine with chalking it up as a practice novel). If it’s a standalone story, which doesn’t require you read the other book first, then this isn’t an issue. But if it’s a sequel, work on a completely different project while you query the first book. Then if no one bites on the first book, you’ll have something else to query once you’ve finished the book. Otherwise, it could take you even longer before you can get back into the query game.

Short Stories And Novellas

Can you query short stories to agents? No. Most aren’t even interested in novellas. Check the agent’s website to see if she does accept queries for novellas; otherwise, query editors who are interested in short stories and novellas directly.

I’ve Have An Offer…

Congratulations! If you land an offer from an agent or publisher, contact everyone who still has your query or submission and let them know that you’ve an offer. If it’s from another agent, you don’t mention who the offer is from. If it’s from a publisher, let the agents know which one, but don’t accept it first and then tell the agents. If you do, no one will want to represent you because they can’t shop it around to other publishers.  Some agents will automatically pass on the book because they don’t have time to read it. For others, the offer will result in the book being fast track to the top of the slush pile.

Make sure you write “I’ve have an offer!” in the subject heading, or else your email could get stuck in the query slush pile for a very long time.

Do you have any questions about querying that you’ve been dying to know the answer to?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Query Lessons Learned the Hard Way

This is a continuation of our series on queries and the query process.

So this is the post where everyone gets a good laugh at my expense. And it’s also the post where it becomes clear that despite stepping in it a few times, you can still get an agent.

In my previous post, I described how I broke down my query and why I included what I did. But I did not include my blunders, because who would do such a thing publicly? Um, right.

It goes like this…

Dear Ms. – Before I sent out my first batch of queries, I asked a couple of agents who were my alumni to evaluate my query and give me their honest opinions. I didn’t know this wasn’t usual, and wrapped in my blissful ignorance, I sent out casual emails to people starting with “Hi!” and “Hey!” I can feel you all cringing for me already.

I had no idea that I was supposed to start emails to literary industry folks with Dear Ms. and Mr. I work in entertainment, and all of our emails resemble texts. So I rightfully got an email back saying, “I dislike the expression ‘reach out,’ emails that start ‘Hi’ and being addressed by my first name by someone I don't know. There's brutal honesty.” Needless to say, I never did that again. In fact, even when I write emails to my mother now, I question how I should address her.

Grammar Police – I know it’s captain obvious to double-check your grammar before you send out a query. I did. All my commas where in tip top shape. But, I made one critical error and got this response, “I'll get over my initial winces at ‘hung’ for ‘hanged’ and read your query letter.” Yes, my book is called How to Hang a Witch. And yes, this mistake was not only repeated in my query three or four times, but it was in my MS about a gazillion times.

With my tail between my legs I learned that people are never hung; they are hanged. I also learned that it is worth it to find a couple of grammar whiz friends and run important things by them.

Format Shmormat – When I got my first full request, I almost fainted from delight. I jumped in the air, clicked my heels together, and pressed send. Surprisingly, even though query dos and don’ts are addressed everywhere on the interwebs, the format used when sending a full or partial is not. I sent mine single-spaced with no title page. Nuff said.

The sound of my forehead hitting my desk could be heard down the block. But, despite all of this brouhaha, my request rates were good. And I’m not sorry I made these mistakes. I’m actually really glad I did. They taught me right up front that there are all kinds of things about querying and the literary industry that I don’t know that I don’t know. Because of these blunders, I joined writing groups and developed a whole network of knowledgeable people who would ultimately save me from myself.

If you have any embarrassing query experiences that you feel like airing out, please share! 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Querying with Efficiency and Accuracy

When I first stumbled across QueryTracker, I was sure I was "almost ready" to query. I created my QueryTracker account, started saving agents to my list, and worked on polishing my novel with my critique partners.

Eight long months later, the novel that was "almost ready" was "actually ready." These things always take longer than you think they will, but that is beside the point today. Those eight months did something wonderful for the time I spent querying, though: they gave me a long time to prepare.

Since I was querying a YA dystopian and knew they weren't doing well in the market (well, I knew it by the time I started querying. I did not know it when I wrote the book), I decided I would query 50 agents and then shelve it to work on something else.

QueryTracker made the process of deciding on the 50 agents quick and easy. I used the search feature to only look at agents who represented young adult and added them to my query list. All you have to do to add them to your query list is check the box on the left by their name, like in the screenshot below.

But just adding every single agent who repped young adult was going to get me a lot more than 50 agents, plus I knew different agencies had different rules about whether you could query more than one of their agents, and then there was the whole "you should probably mesh with them if they'll be handling your career" aspect.

So instead of clicking on everyone's check box, I clicked on their names. From there, you can find links to their agency's website, their blogs, their Twitter feeds, common places for interviews... and I spent months researching agents. In the end, I found my 50 agents. In addition to adding them to my QueryTracker list, I made a spreadsheet of my own. I've always liked having duplicates of information, and personalized things in my spreadsheet that I didn't do on QueryTracker. Here's a screenshot of some of my (randomized and made anonymous) list.

On the far left is an arbitrary "Priority" rating I wouldn't have needed if I'd used QueryTracker premium. The C agents were in the third group of 10 queries I sent out. The next column is name, followed by email address. The fourth column was the most useful to me: whenever I went to submit to an agent, I could check my spreadsheet to see exactly what they were looking for. The second row shows "email: 'submission Deans: Damaged' query, first 10 pages of MS." That person wanted an email with the subject line "Submission [Last Name: Title of MS]." They wanted the query and the first 10 pages pasted in.

Knowing that, I would grab my generic query, personalize it based on what I'd read in interviews (especially the information in the last column), add in the number of pages, and press send. I'd then go to QueryTracker to mark that I'd sent a submission to that agent, and add it to my spreadsheet for redundancy.

Turning querying into something akin to data entry worked for me. With the exception of one email glitch resulting in a 20-page sample with no paragraph breaks, I was able to send my submissions quickly and accurately. It also turned off the emotional part of querying. Every query I sent was a button on QueryTracker and a line in a spreadsheet. Every rejection I received was another button. I would fill in my personal spreadsheet with red for each rejection. I felt like I was just finishing a spreadsheet for work that way, and it stung less, especially when querying in a dead genre.

I'm getting ready to query again soon. The only thing I'll do differently is get the QueryTracker Premium membership. With the ability to open a new project in the database, prioritize agents, and use the amazing data explorer, plus a million other awesome things, it was the only thing missing from my first querying adventure. Well, that and an offer of rep. But that was probably a given.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

And Our Final 5x5x5 Winner is...

RC Hancock ( ) is the final winner of the 5x5x5 give-a-way. Congratulations RC!

He has won a $100 gift card to either Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ITunes. His choice.

Thank you to all who participated. Now get back to writing!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Query Process: laughably bad rejections

I've gotten some eyebrow-raising rejections, like the form that says (rough approximation) "This is nothing I would ever want to represent." But one personalized rejection stands out in mind whenever someone says, "What if a literary agent is just obnoxious?"

This agent had requested the full knowing the book had an angel in it. So imagine the fun when I got a rejection letter talking about how she knew my type and how people like me had to include "God on every page."

Based on her comments, I realized she stopped reading at page 30, and there hadn't been 30 mentions of God to that point. And this is even better: "I get that your main character is a religious fanatic."

My character was a Religious Fanatic because when the aforemention angel hassled her repeatedly, she hauled her butt out of bed and went to church to deliver brownies to a bake sale.

And then, when an extremely hot guy is at the bake sale, this happens:
He says, "Are you sticking around?"
I am not proud. Yes, I will find it in my heart to sit through church this morning.
Religious Fanaticism's bar is getting lower and lower. I read the rejection to my husband and said, "My main character also takes out the recycling. Does that make her an ecoterroist?"

I'm recounting this not just so you'll have a good laugh at this agent's expense (I certainly have -- and I've obfuscated/declarificated enough that she shouldn't recognize herself) but to show you sometimes agents are wrong. But even so, you may grant their wrongness authority because they're literary agents.

Think of them instead as just people. People with training and experience, but nevertheless, people.

Clearly because of her prejudices this agent wouldn't have been a good fit for me, and that's fine. But if I hadn't been able to go back through the manuscript and make sure her assertions weren't correct, I might have gotten discouraged. What if my main character really did drag herself to church under duress like all Religious Fanatics do? What if I really believed five equalled thirty?

In the end, this manuscript did net me a literary agent, although it didn't get us a Big 5 contract. It also placed second in 2013 Write Club and will be published by Philangelus Press in a few months. It's also got a sequel. Why? Because sometimes agents are wrong.

You're going to get nasty critiques. You may get them from members of your writing group (in which case, leave) or you may get them from agents, or you'll get them from editors, and eventually you'll get them from reviewers.

It's our responsibility as writers to make sure our writing is as good as we can get it, of course, and to do that we need to analyze others' comments. Some of the helpful rejections I've gotten were incredibly blunt: "This was confusing," "I hated your main character," and "Your book was boring." Sometimes a remark ("This was just a bunch of events strung together") pointed me toward the query as the problem rather than the manuscript, and then I could change the query to better fit the book.

The above were helpful because when I analyzed, the rejection-writers were absolutely, unequivocably right. The one who told me she hated my main character went on about it at length ("I wouldn't even accept a Twinkie from him!") and it was great because she totally nailed it; I revised and the story got bought by the next market I sent it to.

But we need to recognize that sometimes an agent or editor's comment is not right, and when it's not, we need to let it roll away.

Because rejections? Can be ridiculous. "The stakes are too high" was my favorite. But what do you do with "We just accepted a story with a main character that has the same name," or "When you said the relationship was platonic, I didn't realize it wouldn't be romantic"? What about an endless back-and-forth with a publisher where they insisted an adult novel must be midgrade because it had a child protagonist, and at the same time couldn't understand why the vocabulary, tone and themes (not to mention the length) were aimed at adults?

Laughter helps. Sometimes remembering how subjective it all is will help. So the agent writes a paragraph about how he doesn't connect with your main character? Awesome, but maybe you don't want to write a main character who's exactly like this agent. Shrug it off.

And think about what you do in a bookstore when you're selecting your next read. Do you take them all? No. Why? Sometimes, it's just not right. You may be wrong in your judgment call, but in the end, that's all it is: a judgment call.

Keep your head up. Analyze all comments to find the truth at their back. Use the true ones to improve. But the nasty ones? Laugh at them because doubtless that venom emerges from a place of overwork and burnout, jaded expectations and prejudices you had no hand in forming. Count them as victories because at least your work was notable enough that someone took the time to think of a cutting remark. (Incorrect, but cutting.)

And when you're done having a good laugh, go back to the main QueryTracker site and send another query. Send two for good measure. Let your persistence be the venom's legacy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writing a Personalized Query Letter

This month, we’re talking about the query process and query letters—and I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve written one.

So, I thought, since I happen to have a completed manuscript sitting here on my desk (handy, right?) but never wrote a query for it, why not give it a shot?

Writing exercises like this are an excellent way for writers to work on their craft. (Another good exercise? Write a synopsis. That’s like a P90X-level craft workout, right there.)

While I had no query written for this particular book, I did have a hook line written (thanks to this article which I keep on my favorites list. This post is part of series that goes on to discuss the set-up and the conflict. If you haven’t yet read those articles yet, do it now).

I took a few minutes to write my query letter using Elana Johnson’s pointers, and clocked in at 250 words.

Not bad, I thought. I opened with the title, word count, genre, and hook line. I described my character in her place and time, I mentioned her internal and external conflicts, and I talked about the man who pushes her through that important doorway in the story, that point of no return. I followed with a little comparison to other books and closed it politely, professionally. Just like Elana taught us, way back with the QTB was new.

That’s why those articles are classic—the advice works just as well now as it did then.

But writing the query isn’t a once-and-done thing—it is and should forever be an ever-changing individual approach to an individual agent.

I wrote my query before even looking at agents because I wanted to capture the essence of my book in a pitch. However, once I started looking at agent profiles, I realized that I’d have to go back to the query and tweak it.

I’d written the query for me. In actuality, I should have written it for the agent.

One Size Doesn't Fit All
A query template is a very good place to start your query, but you can’t stop there. The next reference should be the agent’s guidelines for querying, because what they want trumps all you do. Plain and simple.

The first agent on my list wanted a letter including background and writing experiences, along with three chapters attached.

The second agent on my list should be mentioned as the target for the query, with the actual query sent to another person. She wanted first four pages included in-message as well as a submission history.

The third agent wanted the query emailed to her personal address at the agency, with three chapters in the body of the email. They also provide a file of queries they’ve received in the past with their reactions/reader commentaries so you can polish your query before sending it.

Three agents, three separate sets of guidelines. Why would it even make sense to send the same query to all three?

Make It Personal
Sometimes, writers are so excited to get those queries out that they take shortcuts. Shortcuts are bad. You’ve spent months, if not years, perfecting your novel. Now is not the time to slap a sloppy generic label on it and spam people with it.

  • Start with “Dear Agent”
  • Send query as a mass email (more than one agent in subject field. BCC’ing it does not make it all better.)
  • Send an identical copy to every agent on your list
  • Attach things that are preferred in-message and vice versa
  • Assume that an agent will be overjoyed that you disregarded guidelines

  • Start fresh with each letter. Of course you can keep your hook intact, but starting out the query and finishing up fresh each time gives you the chance to personalize the letter to that individual agent. It will keep you from putting the wrong name on it. It will ensure you have the agent’s sub guidelines open in one window while you email them in another. 

They say a book is never truly finished until it’s in the hands of a reader. I think the same applies to a query. A query is never truly finished until it’s been personally written for a single agent. If you can write a book with the hopes of making one single person happy reading it, then the least you could do is provide the same for an agent on your query list.

For more on the topic of querying, be sure to check out Elana Johnson’s series on writing the query  as well as these five mistakes to avoid when querying.

Monday, March 9, 2015



You wrote a killer query letter. You polished up your first three chapters to make sure they packed a punch and left the reader wanting more. Then the rejections rolled in. Out of your list of dream agents, not a single one even asked for a partial. Why? Here are some questions to ponder.

You queried widely, but did you query “smart”? Many agents represent the thriller genre, for example. But what kind of thriller? And who does the agent represent? QueryTracker has a handy “Who represents Whom” database. More important, what has the agent sold lately? Publisher’s Weekly has a paid subscription where agents can self report sales, but there are free resources that are only a Google search away that also provide sales information.

QueryTracker provides links on the agent’s profile page to on-line resources where you will find additional information and interviews. This gives you an idea of the agent’s tastes, pet peeves, and favorite authors, which in turn, will help you tailor your query to their specific preferences. Take it a step farther. Thumb through your comparable titles in the store or library and go the acknowledgment pages, where the authors almost always list their agents.

Next: Is the agent’s current list similar to the overall tenor of your manuscript? If not, keep looking. Or, does the agent already have a client who has a book almost identical to yours? If so, why would she want yours? When you look for a good agent fit, book covers reveal a whole lot.  If all of the thrillers listed on the agent’s client page have shirtless hunks on them, it’s a safe bet he or she leans towards thrillers with a heavy romantic arc. Cottages with picket fences suggest a cozy mystery, not a slasher novel.

Don’t overlook the importance of social media, including your own. If your would-be agent is snarky or mean or only tweets about her other day job, do you really want this person as your advocate? Look at your own social media. Do you come across as bitter/whiny/demanding? You can be certain that an agent on the fence about requesting material or making an offer is checking you out on-line.

Did you overlook new agents? Every agent was brand new at some point. If an agent seems to be a good match for your manuscript, is enthusiastic about signing new authors, and is working with a reputable agency, give it a shot.

Did you lead with your genre in your query letter, and if so, are you sure it’s the right one? Your middle grade adventure may actually be a young adult fantasy (I learned that the hard way). If you’re unsure, check out the many on line articles on genre and word count (Chuck Sambuchino has a very helpful one) or run it by the fine folks on the QueryTracker Forums. We are always eager to help each other navigate the querying trenches.

Did you engage in a fearless assessment of your manuscript before you started querying? Yes, your manuscript is your precious baby. But has it been thoughtfully critiqued by someone who is not a blood relative or close friend? Did you have it edited and proofread? Going it alone is a mistake. Find a critique partner or a beta reader. The QueryTracker forum is also a great place to obtain constructive critiques.

Remember, your lack of requests may have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your writing. True, agents take on what they love, but they also take on only what they think they can sell. A market driven industry doesn’t always result in a meritocracy. Maybe this time querying didn’t result in an offer of representation. It stings, but sometime all you can do is move on to the next project. Here’s to  many QT success stories in 2015, hopefully yours.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Latest 5x5x5 Winner

Kristen Howe ( ) is this week's winner of the 5x5x5 give-a-way. Congratulations Kristen!

She has won a $100 gift card to either Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ITunes. Her choice.

There is still 1 week and $100 to go, so get your entries in now.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Setting Your Querying Goals

You’ve finished your manuscript and your critique group/partner and beta readers have helped you strengthen the writing and the story. Now you’re ready for the next step: querying.

This month on the Querytracker Blog, each contributor will be sharing tips for querying. Today, I want to discuss your query goals. Yes, I know your goal is to land your dream agent. Am I right? I thought so. Unfortunately, it’s not a goal because you can’t control whether or not you’ll achieve it. A goal is something you have control over.

Let’s assume you’ve written a top notch query that will grab an agent’s attention as early as with the first line. The next thing you’ll need to do is create a list of agents who will most likely be interested in your book. If you’ve written a romance, you don’t want to query agents who HATE all things romantic. That’s just wasting your time and theirs.

Do you have your list of potential agents? Good. Now you need to figure out how many agents you will send your first batch of queries to. You don’t want to send it to everyone on the list at the same time (and I’m not referring to a mass mail out, which you should NEVER do). Maybe you want to send it to five agents at a time. Once they’ve all responded to the query (or after a given period of time to accommodate the non responders), you send out the next batch. You keep doing this until you’ve reach your next goal…

In total, how many agents are you planning to query before you move on? Some writers decide to query fifty agents before they wonder if something is wrong with the book and decide it’s time to move on. Some decide one hundred agents is the magic number. And some writers keep querying agents until their next book is ready to query. If you set a goal, it will push you to keep querying once the novelty wears off (and once you get busy with other things). It also helps to have a goal in mind for when you want to rethink your query and sample pages (usually the first five pages to first three chapters, depending on what the agent requests on the agent’s website). If you’re getting requests on your query and sample pages, then you’re golden. If you’re getting nothing but rejections on the query and sample pages, you need to re-examine those and make them stronger. But before you do that, you need to figure out at what point in the querying process you’ll consider reworking them. It could simply be that it’s not the right premise or voice for that particular agent and there’s nothing wrong with your query.  And while you’re at it, determine how many rejections on partial and full requests you’ll sit through before you re-examine your story premise and writing. It could be that it needs some major rewriting, or it could be that you haven’t found the right agent for the book, yet.

By figuring out your goals ahead of time, it will help motive you to keep trying and help you know when it’s time to shelf the project. It will help remove one level of frustration from the process.

Do you have querying goals?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Breaking Down the Query (the story of a colorful noob getting results)

This post kicks off our series on queries and the query process. Stay tuned for more awesome. 

My path into traditional publishing wasn’t typical. I’ve only written one book, which I recently sold to Knopf in a two-book deal. So, my journey was littered with firsts, and blunders that would make the queen’s guard cringe (but that’s for another post).

When I sat down to write my query, I knew absolutely nothing about them. What surprised me was that I spent as much time researching and writing my one-page query as I did 30K of my novel. I gotta say, though, it was worth it. I sent it to 17 agents, got 7 full requests, and 5 offers of representation.

Below is a breakdown of all of the sections I used and how I arrived at each one.

The Mini-Synopsis – aka make my book sound fantabulous in ten seconds
The idea of cramming my entire novel into a measly paragraph gave me agita. See, I thought the mini-synopsis needed to paint a complete picture of my story, and was super happy to discover it was actually a teaser to inspire an agent to read on.

Once I understood, I found my way to agent Kristen Nelson’s blog, Pub Rants, where she broke down the back of a book-cover into five or six manageable sentences. She explained the purpose each sentence served in a plot description – which was something concrete I could replicate for my own story. My logic was that a book cover serves the same purpose for a reader as a query does for an agent.

Then, I took my pitchy synopsis and compared it to the stuff the fine folks of QT wrote and the honest critiques on QueryShark. I told my ego to “shut up” and I revised, listened to feedback, and revised some more.

The Bio – I wore a skirt suit and tie to my fifth-grade school picture (true story)
Dun dun dun… I had NO writing credits or degrees and was narrowly eyeing this section like it was challenging me to a fight. I had read warnings to omit my multitude of cats and how I hate wet socks. Instead, I made a list of things that represented me best as an author and as a human someone would want to work with.

That list included clubs and organizations I was in (or could join) that related to my book subject matter or target audience, skill sets that would be useful in promoting my work, and any real-world experience that made me the right person to tell my story.

A bio wasn’t necessary and it’s debated how much info should go in there. Personally, I was a fan because I considered it an opportunity to pitch myself. Something I realized later when talking to offering agents was that they googled me, visited my website, and even knew the names of my business partners. It’s important to agents to work with someone they feel confident about, and I used my bio as a place to accomplish that.

The Comparison – Twilight Potter meets Divergent Hunger
I really liked this bit. It was an added bonus where I got to use other people’s radness to make my book look good. I read on lots of sites to avoid gigantically successful stuff and esoteric stuff. Problem was, I couldn’t think of books I wanted to compare mine to. I blame this on my bad name retention and my mother… ‘cause, well, I can, right? I wound up comparing my novel to two movies. The advisability of that is questionable.

Word Count/Genre – transcending boundaries
So, this was a no bueno situation. I couldn’t definitively pinpoint my genre. Therefore I didn’t know what my corresponding word count should be. What I did know was that I didn’t want to be rejected on a technicality. After reading genre definitions, I discovered that the wiggle room was to my benefit as long as I accurately represented my work.

My story, for instance, could be considered YA Contemporary with magical elements or YA light Paranormal. Now, Contemporary was selling well and Paranormal was being treated like the ugly stepsister. Having some working knowledge of the literary market made a difference. Publisher’s Weekly was a great place to find sales info, and lots of industry folks had wonderful blogs about this sort of thing. 

The Personal Intro – where I believed stalking agents was normal
Now I was in eel-infested writing waters. Having a sentence or two telling an agent why I queried her was something I wanted. After all, I spent lots of time choosing agents who would be great at representing my book, had integrity, and had agreeable personalities. But, I had also read all over the interwebs that the personal intro was a gamble, because it’s easy to come off as a cheesy nutter who’s trying too hard.

Of course, I’ve never been afraid of being a cheesy nutter; so full steam ahead. Trusting myself was the most important thing I learned in query-writing. I don’t think my query was successful because it was perfect or followed all the rules. In fact, I broke a bunch of them. I think it was successful because it was intentional, because I did my homework, because I asked for help, and because ultimately it represented me and my writing.

My query was only one variable in gaining representation, but it was one I could control. I couldn’t control market preferences, an agent’s schedule, or how many mss an agent had on her plate. There were also agents that were great candidates for my query, but they already had similarly themed books on their lists. For me, it wasn’t about getting bogged down with the unknowables, but having fun presenting my story.

I felt confident when I emailed my query to agents that I had done my part. I also felt confident that not everyone would find me fabulous. But, I wasn’t just looking for an agent; I was looking for someone who was an excellent match for me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Our 3rd 5x5x5 Winner!

Leah Rooper () is this week's winner of the 5x5x5 give-a-way. Congratulations Leah!

She has won a $100 gift card to either Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ITunes. Her choice.

There are still 2 weeks and $200 to go, so get your entries in now.