Feature · publishing

Path to Pub: Querying your Book

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Path to Pub is an ongoing feature in WBP where we talk about each step to publication and beyond. From idea to drafting to book deal!

So this is the step where we have finished and completely polished our wonderful manuscript and we’re ready to send it out to agents for consideration. (Note: This is for people who are pursuing traditional querying, not self-pub or submitting to small presses that allow unsolicited submissions directly from writers).

STEP 1: WRITE YOUR QUERY

The elements of a query letter are: Introduction including why you’re querying this agent (~50-100 words), summary of the book (200-300 words), bio including writing credits or experiences that make you specifically qualified to write this story (100-150 words).

We have yet to do our own post on this at WBP, but here are some great resources for writing your query letter.

The Parts of a Good Query

Writing a Query Letter

Query Shark

Query Tracker Success Stories

Writer’s Digest Successful Queries

STEP 2: RESEARCH AGENTS

The first thing to do is research agents. Recently there has been a lot of writer-world conversations about agents that have pulled the wool over the eyes of both writers and editors. And in a strange coincidence of timing we had just posted about Researching Agents with Subjective Information. But this is where I’ll just break down some of the more concrete sources for researching agents.

– Query Tracker (use the comments section for great advice for current/past clients)

– MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist)

–  #MSWL on Twitter

– Writer’s Digest

– Absolute Write Forums

– Publisher’s Marketplace (for sales numbers)

STEP 3: DECIDE HOW YOU’LL SEND YOUR QUERIES

So this is where you decided how many queries you’ll send out at a time, who you’ll send each “batch” and what you’ll do in response to a rejection.

What I did was send to smaller batches (~5-10 agents per a batch). And after this first batch I waited to received back a few responses to see what the general reaction was to my query. (Now, the con to this would be if all 5-10 agents you query take a long time to reply. If that is the case you can consider just sending more queries to your second batch).

Then when I received enough responses to see if there was either general success (e.g. requests) or rejection, I made a decision if I wanted to revise my query letter or first pages based on the responses. Now, this was only if the responses seemed to not get the intention of my story. If it was just subjective rejections saying “it’s just not for me” then I went ahead and sent more queries out.

Once you get a feel for if your query/sample pages are getting the message of your story across, you can consider the practice of sending out a new query for every rejection that comes in. (I started doing this once I had about 20 queries out in the world. I wanted to keep the number of queries out around 20 so I knew I had a good number of hooks in the ocean).

STEP 4: MAKING THE HARD DECISION OF WHEN TO QUIT

This is a step that I hate including but it’s very important in a Querying post and I don’t often see people talking about it. This is a very subjective step for sure. And it’s really based on your own personal feelings about the project. There is always an argument for powering through. But I will also say gaining a gauge of your limits as a writer is an important skill to develop since querying is where you’re thrown into the trenches (for the first time). Numbers-wise, I’ve heard people who have queried over 100+ agents before throwing in the towel. I personally queried around 50 before I gave up on my first querying attempt. The reason why the number fluctuates is because each story is different and a writer has their own personal limits. Knowing the industry is a good way of knowing how your query might fare (e.g. perhaps your story is very niche), then you are prepared going into the querying. But if you truly believe that your story has a place in the publishing world, then you can decide you’ll power through the hard times, too. The important thing I heard about people who put out more than 100 queries was this wasn’t the only MS they were laying their hopes on. Even while they sent more queries they were writing a new manuscript with the hope that if this one didn’t get them to that next step, they had another manuscript that they could query soon.

I’ll also add that knowing you’re sending the query only to agents you’d love to be represented by is important. Do not just send to someone because you saw their name on a list. You have to research research research! And if you don’t have any more verified agents to send your query to then perhaps that’s a sign to take a break on this manuscript (for now).

STEP 5: CELEBRATE YOURSELF

I wrote another post about step-by-step querying process (with more nitty gritty details) and in that post I included the step to celebrate yourself. If you sent out a query and you did your due diligence then you deserve to celebrate your accomplishment! This is a big moment and you did something amazing by writing a whole book and putting it out into the world!

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Do you have any advice for other writers in the query trenches?

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