Someone recently posted this question on Twitter, and having spent a lot of time in the Query Trenches before I got my agent, I have some thoughts.
Querying is hard and filled with rejection. Back when I queried my first book, I identified my “dream” agent. She was at a top-notch NYC agency, and she rep’d one of my favorite authors. She was perfect, and she was going to love my book. Fast-forward six weeks, and her rejection landed in my inbox. I was crushed, but I wasn’t about to give up. Here’s what I learned in the months and years that followed.
Lesson #1: Don’t pin your hopes on one “dream” agent, have a bunch!
I wouldn’t have been quite as crushed if I’d been realistic about querying (and not as naive). The next time around, I made a list of agents who qualified as “dream” agents. You know, the ones who’ve had a gazillion sales, who rep your favorite authors, or who seem like they’d just “get” you and your writing perfectly.
Important Note: You can find info on agents’ sales on Publishers Marketplace. It charges a fee, but is one of the best investments I made as a querying writer.
Lesson #2: Have lists of other potential agents, and query them, too.
After I made my list of “dream” agents, I made a list of “solid” agents. For me, these were agents that were still actively growing their lists, but had already sold some books, including to big-five publishers.
Then, I made a list of “reputable newbie” agents. For me, these were agents who were in their first or second year of agenting, had completed an internship (or two), and worked for reputable agencies. Sales records were less important for these agents. It was more about whether they had access to the expertise and guidance of more experienced agents.
Important Note: If an agent was new and working on their own (i.e., not part of a reputable agency) then they didn’t make my list. Anyone can call themselves an agent, but I only wanted to work with someone I felt had the ability to help me grow my writing, build a career as an author, and sell my book. There may be exceptions, of course, but use good judgment.
Lesson #3: Send out queries in batches.
What’s a batch? For me, it was 8-10 queries sent on the same day. I divided those among agents in my three categories. For example, I’d send 3 to “dream” agents, 3 to “solid” agents, and 3 to “reputable newbie” agents. I’d then give it 4-6 weeks before sending a second batch. During that time, I’d see what rolled in. Sometimes, it was nothing (many agents are backed up, or follow a “no response means no” policy). Sometimes, it was form rejections that didn’t offer any insight into “why.” Sometimes, it was a rejection with a few words of advice. And ocassionally, it was a request for additional pages or the full manuscript.
Take what you learn from that first batch of queries and revise your query and pages as necessary before sending out your next batch. It’s all about finding what works.
I revised my query and my manuscript many times during the querying process, and I am forever grateful to those agents who offered me those rare nuggets of advice. They were gold.
Lesson #4: Don’t let rejections get you down.
I don’t know a single writer who scored an agent with their first query. Many don’t with their first book (I didn’t). But putting yourself out there and receiving rejections is part of the process of growing your writing.
Lesson #5: Write something new.
My best advice for managing the stress of querying and the torture of waiting for responses is to come up with a shiny new idea and start writing. Throw yourself into it, make it the best it can be, and remind yourself why you started writing in the first place. And if that other manuscript you’re querying doesn’t snag you an agent, you’re already ahead of the game with your next one. It’ll give you hope on those days when a rejection hits hard, or it seems like everyone else is getting agents, or when it feels like no one is out there and you’re sending queries into a void.
And remind yourself, you’re not alone. Every writer has been there. You can do it, too.