We all know my life is a myriad of many things at once, but one of the things I’m currently doing is querying for BORN OF STARLIGHT (check out the Pinterest board to the right). I jumped into the query trenches last November and it’s been… an experience. It’s neither good nor bad, but one of the hoops you jump through on the way to traditional publication. The many, many hoops.
If you’re in the same boat as me or plan on jumping in soon, I thought I’d would share some wisdom I have acquired in my short time querying. I’ve learned some of this from the process of querying, as advice other authors have given, or by following literary agents on twitter (I definitely advise following the agents you want to query plus more that accept your category).
Don’t think you’re above the rules.
I see this on Twitter a lot. I mean, like a lot. Agents and editors each have a specific set of guidelines they would like you, the author, to follow when querying. These query guidelines are meant to streamline work on their end as they’re usually facing a massive amount of queries.
A lot of the time, we see authors overwhelmed by the different guidelines of each agent or editor and they decide to skip all formalities and send what they want to send. Don’t be this person. It shows that you are unwilling to put in the effort necessary to do your job and that could reflect on your work. If you want to ignore their guidelines to make your life easier, how much work did you actually put into your own manuscript?
You’re making a first impression here. You don’t want anyone to see you as lazy or pompous.
Follow the guidelines presented by each agent or editor. In reality, they’re really not all that different. Prepare yourself with separate doc files that include the first three chapters, or the first 30 pages. Have a synopsis written and ready to go whenever one is requested. That way, you are prepared to meet each agent/editor’s guidelines ahead of time. It will make everyone’s life easier.
Oh, and definitely don’t treat an agent like they are a useless gate keeper you have to pass through in order to enter the publishing world. That’s rude and, well, wholly misinformed. The person you are querying will be your advocate. They are the person guiding you, helping you make the best of your manuscript, and trying to get you the biggest bang for your contract.
In short, this person is going to be your best friend while you try to get your manuscript published. Treat them with respect.
You’re making a long-term relationship.
A literary agent or an editor is someone you’re going to have to work with for years. You want to make sure this person not only has your best intentions in mind, but that you’re going to get along with them. This work relationship is there to help you get further and any discordance between you and your agent/editor will keep your joint effort from moving forward.
Start by doing your homework. Research the agents you are querying. Stalk them on twitter to get a feel for their voice and attitude. Check them out on Manuscript Wish List to see what they’re looking for. Having this knowledge before submitting your query will help you find the agent or editor that you will ultimately connect with.
Second, if they do want to work with you, remember that they might ask for another round of revisions for your work. They don’t do this to say your work is bad, but to help your work become the best that it possibly could be. In the end, they aren’t the ones who make the revisions. You are. You are the one growing and learning with each step.
Rejections are a dime a dozen.
This is a part of the process that you cannot avoid. If you did, you’re hella lucky and I hate you. JK! But, I’m guessing you’re in the query trenches alongside me. If you are, I’m offering a stout high-five and a bit of reassurance.
There are a number of huge names that received an inordinate amount of rejections before they hit it big. Don’t be afraid to sit in that seat for a while. Accept the rejections as one of several things:
- Maybe the agent/editor didn’t immediately fall in love with your manuscript. That’s alright. Someone else will.
- Maybe it needs a bit more love and tweaking. Don’t be afraid to give it another round of revisions. Confidence is great and all, but over-confidence can blind you to the things that could be better. You have the ability to make it great, so never stop trying.
- Maybe your query letter isn’t doing your work justice. Visit Meg LaTorre’s Query Hack to get a feel for how query letters should be structured and see great examples.
- Maybe the book you’re querying isn’t going to be the one. Don’t be afraid to start work on another book in the meanwhile, something new to throw into the ring later. Don’t see it as people aren’t ready for your book, but that maybe you weren’t up to snuff at that point and you might bring it with the next book.
Don’t give up.
If you are one hundred percent committed to your craft and your future as an author, you won’t give up. Things are going to, undoubtedly, suck. You’re going to face a lot of rejections. Remember that those rejections don’t exactly imply that your work was bad. Sometimes, a rejection just means they didn’t love it as much as someone else might. Move on to the next query, or the next batch of queries. Keep trucking forward and you will find what you are looking for.
It might take a long time, longer than you wanted. I know I’m at that point, wanting to rush the process, but you can’t. You can only hope to get lucky and find the one sooner. If that doesn’t happen, hang on and set yourself up for success.
I personally use a Google Sheet to catalogue the agents and publishers I have queried or want to query. It’s an easy way to keep track of their guidelines, website addresses, email addresses, interests, and the dates you queried. This Sheet is going to be jam packed with names and possibility. You’re going to be crossing off names with rejection stamps, but go back to Manuscript Wish List, go back to the Twitter-sphere and keep looking for more agents or editors that want what you’re putting out and add them to your list.
If ten rejections is enough to stop you, did you even want this to begin with?