Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Querying Tactics

So now you know how to write a query, but what to do when the responses start coming in -- or don't?

Q) I've written my first novel and started querying agents in mid-September. I've sent out 19 queries and have received interest, thus far, from two agents asking to see more (and probably about 10 or so rejections). Recognizing that every book and every agent is different, is there a typical or average time frame for landing an agent? (If it's relevant, I'm writing in the genre of women's fiction.) And should I just keep sending out queries?? It would be great to hear some personal accounts from all of you (and others) about how long it took -- and what strategies you employed -- to find the right agent. I'm trying to be patient...! :)


Lynne Griffin
Keep being patient, but don't stop querying! The agent search is often approached as if it's a race when in reality it's really a journey. Think tortoise not hare. The key is to always be moving forward. The best way to feel in control is to have a plan. Long before I sent out my first query letter, I started the journey by doing my homework. (See Amy's post below) I came up with my list of appropriate agents, wrote my query letter, and began submissions via email only. Week one I sent out ten, with the next ten waiting in the wings. My fastest response time was 4 minutes! My longest? Still waiting!

Once I had multiple requests for fulls, I started crafting the questions I would ask agents if I was successful with my query. Once one offer was in, I emailed the agents I was waiting on, politely informing them of the interest. (This is where things usually get moving, because agents by their nature are competitive.) Later, if a declination came in, I thanked said agent for taking the time to consider. After an offer came in, I set up a phone meeting or an in person get-together, so I could make a more informed decision. In fact, I went to New York to meet the agent I was most intrigued by and before I took one bite of breakfast, I knew she was the one. Best career decision I've made thus far.

My advice is adopt a positive active stance on acquiring representation. Kick desperation to the curb. This is your career and you need to find the agent that's right for you. It takes as long as it takes.

Nineteen queries in two months? You need to start querying! And you haven't received 10 declinations (a much nicer term Lisa introduced to our group), but 17. Silence is a rejection. Sure, you might hear from the agent at some point, manna, but if you haven't after a week, accept it and move forward. The key here is to always move forward. The method I believe works best when querying is to send out ten every two weeks and email only. I don't care if they say to snail the query, email it. If they want only a query, include the first page in the body of the email too. If they want ten pages pasted into the query, send only ten pages. Trust me, after reading the fiction slush pile for Post Road Magazine, I can attest that most agents will know after a page or two if they want to read the full.

What should you do now? You've barely begun the journey up the mountain; grab hold of that boulder and start pushing! Query widely. Query agents who represent and sell your genre (now is the time to sign up for that Publishers Marketplace membership, if you haven't already, and make sure they've sold similar projects within the last 19 months). Write the next book (you're building a career, right?). Never give an exclusive to an agent. Know that there is no timeline. You may get an agent after 10 queries or after 110. For me, 100 declinations would indicate the book isn't going to be my first published work. That's when you allow yourself a couple of weeks to mourn, then it's time to pick yourself up from the floor and move forward. With my first manuscript, I queried 73 agents over 6 months, 50 of whom requested partials or fulls, all of whom rejected it. Ahem, declined. With Tethered, I queried 15 agents, and had multiple offers within weeks. Remember, publishing is persistence. Good luck.

Lisa Marnell
The best I can offer is that it's subjective. The agent who offered me representation said, and I quote, "I like this novel. I like it a lot. I'd like to represent you." (I saved his message for weeks)! But I do remember in a single day, I got feedback that my work was (I paraphrase now) not complex enough, another agent said my plot was too intricate. Oi!

I did snail mail and I would again (Amy, I'm sorry, I just like that old-fashioned way)! I agree; if you don't hear it's probably a rejection. Or else, it's landed with an agent who's plum too busy.

Hannah Roveto
I am in the same position, as you know, having sent a handful of queries thus far with two lovely declines. One was more personal, and referenced the fact that I mentioned that my work was unlike most of what he represents. He agreed and told me others would likely be far more interested. Lesson One: Don't tell an agent your work is unlike anything being represented, even if that is true. (I did do my research, which is another subject, and had reasons for thinking he might make an exception.) Lesson Two: It never hurts to follow your gut as long as you have reason, thank them if they pass and move on. Always thank them even if they pass, with a charming note. The queries continue to roll out and to be honest, they will until someone takes this or provides direction on what I could do differently. If the latter, I'll consider and decide whether it's valid for what I am trying to achieve. This story will be represented in time, because I believe in it and my readers believe in it. I'm pushing on that front, starting my second, and I am optimistic, keeping at it until I find Ms. or Mr. Right. Meanwhile, you and I, we are onward and upward!


Read It and Reap said...

Please lighten the green screen behind your site ... it is very difficult to read through, esp. with its underlying texture pattern.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

We are meeting to talk about this. It looked better when we were setting it up. Thank you for letting us know you agree!