De-mystifying the Querying Process

So, you’ve written the next great novel. Now what? 

With the increasing popularity of independent publishing, a lot of authors are turning to platforms like Amazon to get their books out in front of the public immediately. Admittedly, this skips a lot of the steps involved with independent publishing, but it does have its drawbacks. You lack a good following, for example, or the knowledge to market your masterpiece to the proper audiences, and you’re metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot from the moment you publish. Independent publishing can work, and it can be a wonderful choice for some authors, but today, we’re going to talk about the other side of the fence – traditional publishing. 

Traditional publishing has a lot more steps, but the pay-off can be huge. Better marketing to your target audience, better visibility, more security. Unfortunately, I’ve talked to many authors over the years who are terrified of the idea of traditional publishing. Finding a literary agent can seem so daunting, and many simply aren’t sure how to go about it. This turns traditional publishing into a mountain that seems impossible to climb. 

But… it doesn’t have to be that way. 

The querying process varies by agency, but is usually spelled out somewhere on the agency website. It gives you the building blocks you need to successfully catch your chosen agent’s attention by telling you exactly what they want to see, and in what format they’d like to see it. 

The trick to successful querying is to be informed and keep your eyes open. Not every book is for every agent, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that your book won’t find a home. If you’re just starting the querying process, here’s a few important things to keep in mind: 

  1. Do your research. Agents are people. Think of them like fingerprints. Everyone is different. They have different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes that will shape what they are looking for. Pick agents to query who are looking for the book you have written. It will do you no good, for example, to submit your space opera to an agent who represents non-fiction. They aren’t going to look at it unless it fits their interests, and if you don’t do your research, you run the risk of wasting your time and theirs sending your book. 
  2. Don’t send mass e-mails. Make yourself a list of agents that you think could best represent your book, and then query them. Individually. No agent wants to see a query letter talking about how they are the best option to represent your book with 500 other e-mail addresses attached to it. That shows us that you don’t care who answers that e-mail – and that’s just not good. Tailoring your query letters to the individual agents that catch your attention shows that you have done your research, that you know about that agent and what they want, and that you are truly looking for the best fit for you and your manuscript.
  3. Read the submission guidelines. Read them a couple of times. Every agency I am aware of in operation today has their submission guidelines posted somewhere on their agency website. Those guidelines are going to tell you exactly what you need to know to have the best chance of being successful. If you don’t follow them, it’s off-putting at best, and for many agents, it means that query won’t be looked at, no matter how good the manuscript is.
  4. Patience, grasshopper. Remember, the querying process takes some time. Larger agencies may receive hundreds of queries a day. Even boutique agencies like this one can get swamped by query letters. Once you’ve submitted your query, it’s time to sit back, take some deep breaths, and play the waiting game. Different agencies are going to have different time frames for query responses. Most of the time, this time frame is mentioned somewhere on the website, and depending on what is requested, the waiting period can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In many cases, you’ll receive an e-mail with more information. If you intend to follow up on the status of a query you’ve submitted, wait until that time has passed. Do not re-submit. The waiting can be difficult, but it’s a part of the process no matter which agent/agency you choose to work with.
  5. Be ready for anything. Make sure that your materials are ready. When an agent likes your query, they may request a partial of your manuscript. If they really like it, they may even jump over requesting the partial and request the full manuscript instead. Have those materials ready to go, and be sure to follow any additional guidelines you are given for submitting them.
  6. Rejected? Fear not! Rejections are going to happen. If an agent rejects your query, don’t let it get you down. What that means is that they simply don’t feel it’s a good fit for them – either it’s not something they’re passionate enough about to be an effective representative for you, or they’re working on a similar project, or they don’t think it’s ready yet… The reasons for rejections are as varied as the agents themselves, but it’s important to keep going. Move on to the next agent. If the rejecting agent offered you some advice, take it into account. If you want your book to find a home with a traditional publisher, don’t give up. The right agent will love your book just as much as you do.


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