I talk a lot about the queryingprocess. Maybe someday I can talk about actually working with an agent. But, if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that traditionally published books need an agent and that most publishing houses don’t accept submissions for unagented works. You know, in order to get an agent, you need to send them a one-page query letter, telling them about the story — the characters and the stakes, the manuscript’s stats and comparative novels, and a brief biography of yourself. I’ve talkedabout how to pick who to query. I’ve even let you know about my worries about when to send that query letter.
But that’s not all you need to think about.
There’s debate about how many agents to query at a time, when to stop, and whether to give up and ‘drawer’ the manuscript or self-publish. I know I have the bad habit of revising my whole manuscript every ten queries or so, which I shouldn’t need to do unless I’m getting consistent feedback or my manuscript isn’t ready.
However, I’ve been running into querying writers who are sending out ten queries a day, without stop, until they’ve queried everyone in their genre, (or at least not opposed to their genre.)
You’re only hurting your own chances.
I agree that queries should be sent out in batches — but of 3-5, maybe up to 10. But then you need to wait. You need to see what sort of responses you’re getting.
If you’re getting form rejections, that doesn’t tell you if the agent doesn’t find your voice or story compelling, nor does it say that it’s not what the market is looking for. It simply means your query (and/or your first 10-pages) aren’t working.
It’s a LOT easier to edit or tweak a query and opening chapter than it is to revise and revamp an entire manuscript. But, industry standards are such that one does not re-query with the same manuscript unless there have been substantial changes — plot, pacing, characters — to a majority of the story.
A slight aside about those opening pages – a lot of publishers and agents and even veteran writers have told me that newbie writers often start the story in the wrong place — even if their writing is great.
Now, back to the query talk. If you query every agent immediately, you’ll never know if the problem is your query and opening, or the story itself.
If you query in smaller batches, you can tweak and adjust until you’re getting requests for more pages, or more personalized rejections. Both mean you’re getting closer. Feedback is useful, but lack of feedback just means you haven’t hit the mark yet (or you’ve been querying the wrong people).
Don’t waste your query chances with your first polished query. Once you’re getting rejections on partial or full requests, it may be time to query more widely, because you’ve got the query just right. Or, it might be time to look at the story. But all a form rejection means on a query is that the query isn’t working.
Slow down your querying. The publishing industry is a slow process, and rushing the querying process won’t do anything but close doors to your current manuscript.
Have you queried a manuscript? What did you find to be the right size for a batch?
Now that we’re firmly into January, it’s time to determine what my goals for the year are.
Last year was intended to be a year of querying/submitting, revision, and networking.
Thusly, I listed my goals:
Querying and submitting
As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This year? This year my focus is on writing, revisions, and querying/submitting.
As always, I like to set SMART goals –
Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2021, but some items may have specific dates associated.
So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.
Finish my NaNoWriMo space fantasy! Preferably by April. At least the rough draft.
I’m not sure if I want to do OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. I skipped it last year. But, I really like participating in NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.
I managed last year’s goals to finish my revisions before Balticon! And then was query-shy in the wake of the 2020 querying climate. And I managed to at least edit my middle grade fantasy.
Remembering, of course, that rewriting IS writing, this makes revision half of my writing goals. But? The final goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.
So much to polish!
This year’s goals? Revise three of the short stories I drafted during my NaNo-Of-Shorts back in 2019.
3. Querying & Submitting
I’ve talked a lot about the differences between querying and submitting, but basically — one is to get an agent to sell your book, and one is to publishers to buy your stories. Typically, writers submit their own short stories, but publishers usually want agents to submit full length manuscripts.
Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.
Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.
This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to actively submit at least 6 short stories to at least 3 markets each markets. Plus? At least the first round of the submissions needs to be by March (for the stories that are already prepped). And query my YA fantasy 3 times a month, unless revising.
You are my supporters, my community, my friends. You cheer me on and watch me learn and grow. As always, blogging helps keep me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.
Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. Since we all know how much I hate ending a streak, I’m going to keep at it. You’ll be seeing my a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.
I’ve also started a podcast and weekly live-stream. I plan on taking a week or so off between seasons, and no more than one live-stream off a quarter (unless double-booked with a convention).
5. Conventions | Writer Groups
My goals here are: to panel at 3+ conventions, attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Staff Balticon and maybe another virtual con..
Ravencon pushed out my panelists dates from last year to this, I’m staff and panelist for Balticon again (May), and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in Washington DC. My panels were well received last year, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be accepted back. (All of my panels were topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, where my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).
Plus, I’m running social media for Balticon’s parent group. So… there’s another time suck!
What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?
First, it’s a greater reach for my blog/vlog/podcast that’s supposed to lead to a larger audience when I do get published. It’s a great way to network and meet more writers and readers who like the same stuff I do. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.
But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun?Or part of your social media addiction?
Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.
And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!
Thanks to this year being what it was, I managed to read 46 books, with 35 of them being physical and nearly all of the physical books being from the pile that moved into the house with me.
So? I’m upping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – to 36 books! Three a month is less than I’ve achieved the last couple years. Plus, half of them should be physical and already on my to-read bookcase.
7. Beta Readers
This year, again, I’m going to try not to beta-read more than 3 full manuscripts for others.
I will need the short stories I’m preparing for publication beta read. As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.
I’m still a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales.
This year, I’m starting off with my focus on drafting, not my usual revision, but plan to do a lot of querying and submitting. The middle of my year will be rather convention heavy, but by October/November, I should be back in the writer’s seat. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging and podcasting throughout the year.
Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.
We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2021 foresight.
Thirty-six rejections in, this story has been decently queried, but has not blanketed the literary agent world. (Especially since I find myself revising the entire piece every ten rejections or so.)
One of those revisions was based on a revise-and-resubmit, one of those times was based on finding a writing mentor who could help me bring my writing to the next level.
After I finished my latest round of revisions, I queried five agents back in July. The most recent rejection arrived just last week — two months after I’d closed out the agent as “no reply means no thank you.” But, closure is kind.
Why haven’t I queried more? Well, I told myself I was finishing the revisions on my middle-grade story for Pitch Wars. I was prepping for my NaNoWriMo story. And I wanted to see how my new query and first pages worked.
All I’ve gotten is a stack of form rejection letters.
How to handle rejection
Indulge in self-pity — Not forever. Not even for a week (unless you really need it). But? For a night or two? Wallow in it. Let yourself grieve over the hope that has been shattered and eat chocolate or junk food. Complain (privately) to a few trusted friends.
Distraction — Got other projects to work on? Books or shows to binge? Maybe you’re also moving, or helping school your children. There’s always stress-cleaning your house from top to bottom and re-alphabetizing your bookcase (forgetting this sorted-by-color trend). Distraction can help a lot.
Track it — If you can, see every rejection as a step closer to publication. Maybe you’re going for 100 rejections. Maybe you’ve decided if you hit a certain number without getting an agent, you’re going to self-publish. So, update your querytracker.net account, or your spreadsheet, or wherever you’re tracking who you’re querying and from which agency (because some agencies only allow one query for all their agents combined). Some people paper walls with printed out rejection letters, or add a bead to a necklace, or in some way commemorate every rejection on their path.
Assess — What is the problem? Do you have a writer friend you can trust to tell you? Can you glean anything from the rejection? Some tell you something… others, are just polite form rejections.
What can one gleam from form rejections?
A form rejection tells you… nothing. Although, there are a few different things one can think.
The query is badly written and not pulling people in. But… I felt my query letter was solid, if not amazing. Although, it is easier to write someone else’s query, I feel confident in my query writing skills.
The query is well-written, but the story is trite and no one is interested. Maybe. I’m my own target audience, but sometimes, from a higher level, a lot of fantasy quests can feel repetitive.
The first ten pages let the story down, and that’s why no one wants more. It feels weird to say this, but… the last time I read through my story, my first third of my book even impressed ME, and I’m the one who wrote it. Although, the one revise-and-resubmit did suggest more backstory before the inciting incident, and maybe I am starting too quickly, before you care about the characters?
Maybe 2020 was a horrid time to be querying, especially young adult fantasy. Agents were too wary and not picking up much of anything. I mean, it can always be the market, right. My book is on the cusp of YA and adult, should I do a few edits so I can query it in the wider adult fantasy market?Should I just wait a little for people to recover from 2020 and then send out, as people feel more eager for new stories?
Those five agents weren’t right for the story, but the right agent (and publisher) are out there waiting. Possibly! This is what I keep telling myself. Maybe I’ll start querying again in mid-January, waiting a week or so after the agents re-open to not get lost in the flood, probably a Tuesday morning, after the coffee’s kicked in, before the lunch hunger starts to distract them…
Querying is scary. There’s very little solid feedback — thanks to both outlier writers-of-yore-and-today who argued and harassed agents, as well as the massive number of querying writers these days, as technology makes the process more accessible than ever. One has to have faith in one’s writing abilities, confidence that the story can stand on its own, and the perseverance to see it through.
Best of luck to all of you in the query trenches. If you’re self-publishing, I salute your bravery! And? Wish me luck in 2021!
While I consider myself rather well-versed with the querying writer’s life and expectations, I recently ran across something new and worrying.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, literary agents are well-read people, familiar with the industry, who are versed in contract law and help writers find a publishing house. While you can go it alone, the larger publishing houses often do not even accept submissions from un-agented writers. Querying is the process by which we entice the agent with the characters and stakes of our story, let them know where our story fits in the market, and include any relevant biographical information. It’s a one page letter that works almost like a job application — only, if the agent selects us (with that lovely external validation) — they’re working for us, to promote our writing.
Back toward the end of October, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, waiting to hear that I did NOT make the cut (again) for PitchWars, when someone in my Middle Grade Waves PitchWars support group (middle grade is what comes before YA books, but after chapter books) mentioned that they’d queried an agent… and the agent had:
a – gone on twitter to complain about someone querying outside of business hours and b – rejected them promptly
First of all, email is asynchronous communication.
Secondly? Queries are business emails. No querying writer should ever expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. But, that might be the time of day that the house is quiet and they can put their thoughts together and work up the nerve to send the email.
We should never expect a response at 2 am on a Saturday night. In fact, most of us expect our query letters to be filtered into a ‘queries’ folder and only looked at when the agent has finished dealing with their pre-existing clients. Maybe just before lunch on Wednesday, or Friday evening before they head out for the weekend. Sometimes, we suspect agents just set aside a day, maybe not even once a month, where they go through and clear out the queries that are pushing ‘past due’.
An immediate response was never an expectation most of us even thought could be a possibility.
So. Now I’m not just worried that my story isn’t ready, or that my query needs work, or that the market is oversaturated, no matter how good my story and query are. Now I get to obsess over timing of my email!
I’m already factoring holidays, school schedules, and elections into the mix. I usually hold off if there was just a pitch contest on twitter, because I know agents usually bump those to the top of their queue because they seem a bit more time sensitive.
How do I handle this?
Was this just one agent? Do I just assume an agent who dislikes this is not the match for me? Or is this more a common pet peeve?
Maybe I’ll start prepping my query letters and schedule them to submit on Tuesday mornings. Not Monday, because they’ll have all the weekend backlog, but not so close to lunch that they’re hungry and distracted…
Agents — is this a common practice? Do you feel frustrated when you get emails outside of regular business hours?
Querying writers — what else have I missed about properly timing my query letters? Anything else I should be stressing about?
All Sophie wants is a best friend, but camp is hard for this weirdo.
NOTE: If you submit your query to me (email@example.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.
[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]
This querier’s story was fun, upbeat, and almost there! They mostly wanted confirmation they were on the right path. Of course…
I did tighten the story-part a smidge…
Dear Specific Agent,
I’m excited that you are actively seeking [example: friendship stories in middle grade fiction, and books that include main characters with invisible disabilities]. BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 46,000 word contemporary MG novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity. When eleven-year-old Sophie discovers that she can navigate like a bat, she hopes her new skill is her ticket to fitting in–until the other kids at summer camp decide she’s rabid like a bat too.
All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But that was before the other kids decided she was a weirdo and before Sophie gave away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her.
Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. She’ll definitely leave camp as alone as she arrived. But with the talent show coming up, Sophie might just risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–as long as it means winging her way back to friendship.
My picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.
Thank you for your time.
The query was solid, (although whether to include loglines is always a personal choice.)
I just trimmed some of the plot, to focus on the stakes.
All Sophie wants out of summer camp is a best friend. She thought she’d found one in her roommate–a kid who wears a hat with antennae on it and goes by the nickname Banana Slug. Banana Slug even asked her to perform as a team in the camp talent show! But when she learned how to navigate like a bat (by shrieking), the other kids decided she was a weirdo. Even giving away the bat hat that Banana Slug had made for her didn’t get them off her case.
Now Banana Slug isn’t speaking to her and Sophie doesn’t know how to fix things. With the talent show coming up, Sophie got to risk going down in camp history as the weirdest kid ever–if she wants to wing her way back into friends with Banana Slug.
Q38 was happy for my input, tweaked her query, and …
Just reported back that she got an AGENT! With this query.
Thanks for accepting my referral! BAT KID AND BANANA SLUG is a 44,000 word contemporary lower middle grade novel for readers who enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree and Gillian McDunn’s Caterpillar Summer. It has received feedback from sensitivity readers for neurodiversity and nonbinary identity.
Eleven-year-old Sophie knows she’s different – after all most kids don’t wear noise-muffling headphones or barf when they get overstimulated. Plus, most kids have a best friend. Sophie hopes to find a friend at sleepaway camp, but social skills aren’t her strong suit. She spends a lot of time studying bats instead. Luckily Sophie’s roommate – a kid nicknamed Banana Slug – thinks Sophie’s bat fascination is cool and crochets a bat hat for Sophie.
Then teasing drives Sophie to give the hat away, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the new friendship. The only way Sophie can think to fix things is through the camp talent show. But even if she can convince Banana Slug to join her in a performance, there’s the risk that they’ll go down in camp history as the weirdest kids ever. Sophie must convince herself that quirky doesn’t have to mean friendless – and that the Amazing Bat Kid and Banana Slug might be the greatest duo ever.
My unpublished picture book was awarded second place in [writing contest], and three of my short stories have been published in anthologies. I’m a member of PNWA and SCBWI, and a children’s book reviewer for [place]. I also parent a child with sensory processing disorder, who has developed her own set of super-skills in response to her brain’s different way of experiencing the world.
Thank you for your time.
Let’s all congratulate Q38, and hope their agent finds a publisher soon!
And for the rest of you out there? Best of luck in the query trenches!