The Middle Way: A new method of timing your queries

As those of you who've been reading awhile know, I'm a big proponent of big, "get everyone you'd like to represent you at once" submissions--this way, if even one agent expresses interest, you can go back to all of the others with this tantalizing information and drum up interest elsewhere.

But there is, of course, a caveat: if you're a writer who's never written a query letter before--never been a writer-for-hire, never interacted with agents or read pitch letter books and/or feel, for perhaps good reason, unsure of your letter--if you submit to all of your top-choice agents at once, and they all say no, you're out of luck until you write another book. (At which point you can query your second book and, if they take it on, discuss your first project.)

Here's a middle way: collect a pool of agents for your work and send your query to either 5-7 agents or 1/3 of your total--depending, of course, on how many agents might be a good fit. (Women's fiction will have many more than spec fic.) Now, when you choose these agents for your experiment, choose those who are somewhere in the middle--not your very favorites, not the ones who are on the list just-because.

Note the reactions: if no one asks to see more or offers anything more than a form letter, assume your query is not quite there yet--and seriously consider revamping.

If you get personalized feedback from 1-2 agents, seriously consider what it suggests. There's often a lot of meaning hidden in 1-2 jotted lines. (Stephen King has an excellent example of this in his On Writing.) Get your girl friends--the ones who brilliantly analyze male voice mails (voicemale!)--and a trusted critique partner to go over them with you. Note both what they say and what they don't say. Sometimes--but not always!--complimenting one aspect of your work is the same as telling you another aspect isn't quite there yet.

If you get a request to see your manuscript, send it off, and see how that goes. Especially if you get more than one request--or an enthusiastic, personalized request--you can assume your query is most likely just fine, and ready for the rest of the agents.

The minute any agent offers you representation, if you haven't done so already, make sure all of the agents on your list have your query. If you've just sent the queries to a number of agents, wait 24 hours (or, to make it seem more organic, 22 or 26) and send them an email to let them know you have an offer of representation (be sure to put this in the subject line--Offer of representation for [name of work]).

Et voila--you get both the agent feedback test and the benefits of having interest to breed more interest--which really, if it's truthful--trust me, we'll know if you're lying--does get our attention.

12 comments:

Lindsay Currie said...

I love this suggestion. Actually, this is exactly how I have started querying my new YA novel. The patience in sending out to only a handful of your target agents is key. From the agents who request either a partial or the full, one might hope to either get some targeted feedback, a revision request or if the gods are truly smiling on you, an offer of representation. Any feedback is more valuable than gold and the agent who provides it lands a dedicated spot on my "dream agent" list from there on out. Really helpful post!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is a brilliant suggestion. I'm just getting ready to query my chapter book and will be sure to follow this plan. Thanks for the helpful information!

P.S. I've noticed chapter books aren't usually mentioned specifically under what an agent represents/is seeking. Are chapter books generally more preferred by PB agents or MG agents?

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

haha yes, indeed. That's what I should have done. I queried about half of the agents I wanted. It didn't help that the first agent I queried asked for my full manuscript! I thought, excellent, my query is fine. But it wasn't. I think I just got a very kind and generous agent who thought she'd give an inexperienced author a chance. The rest of the agents I queried didn't even look past my query letter. So, now, as well as tweaking my query, I'm also tweaking my novel ... cause in the end it got rejected. Since then, though I've had a lot of support and advice from this said agent, and I can't thank her enough :)

:) said...

Yes, definitely save your tip top agents for when you know the query is working.

Most queries can benefit from at least one and at most infinity overhauls. Get feedback from beta readers on the query and the synopsis (which you should have ready before querying, even though I typically don't and then have to write it up in a hurry and hope it's not dreadful. . .)

:)

~Jamie said...

I am now going back and analyzing the HELL out of my email from you.

What does it mean gatekeeper, WHAT does it MEAN?!?! :)

jmartinlibrary said...

Hot diggity! Thanks for the GREAT and timely advice. Just finished a new WIP. And bonehead me wasn't sure how to tackle query strategy.

:)As always, thanks!

Jordan Deen said...

Great advice as always!

Solvang Sherrie said...

Fabulous advice!

Erin Edwards said...

Came over here from Nathan Bransford's blog...

Just the kind of advice I need right now. Thanks!

Slushpile Slut said...

Great advice...so glad I found your blog.

Jenny Phresh said...

I was gratified to find out that my seat-of-the-pants, uneducated method of querying is pretty much what you've recommended here. You have made me feel enormously brilliant. Now I just have to implement the final part of my master plan--letting agents know that I have an offer. That component is, thus far, out of my control. Thanks for the strategy tips!

Susan said...

Good advice never get's old, thanks.