Querying tips with Laura Pohl
Welcome to the first Open Blog Month post on Queen of the Bookshelves! Say hellloooooo to Laura Pohl who will be sharing some really great querying tips. -- Nicola
Hi guys! Nicola offered an open spot on the blog, and I decided to talk about something that might interest a lot of you: query tips. Querying is a hard business that requires you to seat back and wait for answers, all the while being paranoid and refreshing your e-mail 84 times a day.
You’ve probably seen posts like this a million times and one, but these are a couple of tips I have with my hands-on experience. So here we go!
Before you query…
- RESEARCH the agents you’re sending out to. This is such an important part of the process – the more you research, the more likely you are to find an agent that’s compatible with you and your project. Look at their websites, search for interviews, stalk them on twitter, look at the MSWL website. Anything that might help you on the path to find the perfect fit. I keep a spreadsheet for potential agents that represent YA, so when I find a new agent I pop it back on the list. (If you guys are interested, I can send it to you in an e-mail).
- Have someone critique your query. This part is essential – they’ll be able to catch spelling mistakes, see if the stakes and the plot are clear. There are several how-to-write a query guides out there (I particularly recommend Susan Dennard’s), but it’s not going to come out perfect the first time. Rewrite, critique, repeat. There are several people who offer query critiques for free and Facebook writing groups that may help you.
- REREAD it. Yes, again. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes or unclear things – this is one chance you have to impress the agent. A spelling mistake won’t kill your chances, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Make sure you’re including everything that needs to be included in the query – a personal note on why you’re querying the agent, the genre and title of your MS, and the word count.
- DON’T forget the last greetings. Needless to say I send two queries without thanking the agents OR stating my name and ugh. Rereading helps!
Got all this? You seem ready for the front lines.
It’s time to send, so…
- Prepare some time off to reread the agent’s submission guidelines. Don’t send it to multiple agents at the same time. Make sure to spell their names correctly and that you’re following the guidelines in regards to number of pages and query style. DON’T send queries to 2 different agents in the same agency. Follow the rules and stick to it. If you do this, you’re several steps ahead in the game. Make sure you have the right e-mail address!
- REREAD all e-mails before sending. Paranoia is actually your friend in this part of the process.
- Tag the subject line correctly. If the agent asks for ‘query’ only, or if he asks for ‘query: MS name’, etc. Following this increases the chance of your query to be seen and answered.
- Send only a batch of queries at once. That can be between 3-10, depending on what you’re looking for. Keeping numbers small means you don’t discard all your options at once. Rejections are inevitable, but sending queries in small numbers can help you improve the MS for the next batch. With every query you send, you can improve. (I send a batch and wait until I have all the responses before sending out a new one. This gives time for improvement in both the query and the MS.)
- Some people use QueryTracker to track their queries, which is a great resource, but personally I prefer to keep an Excel spreadsheet – Name of the agent, date of the query sent, if I’m querying because of a contest or just cold, response time, agency. These are all super useful information to have at hand, so you don’t go mad while sending out the e-mails.
You sent it, hooray! Now it’s time to…
- SIT back and wait. Don’t refresh your e-mail every fifteen minutes. It’ll drive you insane. Establish that you can look at your e-mails once every hour, and no more than that.
- AVOID making changes to your MS after you send out a query. Your MS should be in the best possible condition before sending them out. If rejections come in, look at the responses, and then decide if you want to incorporate the feedback you’ve been given. But don’t get prickly on the story you’re querying and changing everything all of a sudden.
- WORK on something new. Querying business is a lot of sitting on your chair and waiting for a response. Whip out a new MS meanwhile, work on something different and something new. That also shows the agent that you’re in for serious business.
- DO NOT EVER (EVER!!!!!!) respond to a rejection with a mean comment. I’m guessing you guys already know this, but it’s always a good reminder. This is a small industry, so yeah, one rude comment to one particular agent may be your downfall. Remember that rejections are never personal – agents need to be the perfect fit for them to champion your story. Find someone who loves it as much as you do, and don’t waste time being angry with people who rejected you. They were probably not a good fit anyway.
- IF an agent asks for a full and you get a rejection, it’s OK to ask them to clarify their feedback for you to improve the MS. They won’t always answer you, but take it as an opportunity. Asking doesn’t hurt anyone!
- THINK about the feedback you receive from agents. This is a subtle industry – what works for some agents don’t work for others. I’ve had comments to tighten the pacing (which I did), and others that told me to complete overhaul the story (which I didn’t). Listen to the feedback and go with your heart in what you think needs to be improved on your MS. If you agree that the villain is cookie-cutter, flesh him out more. If you don’t agree that the main character needs to be changed, then don’t. This is your story and you need to decide how you want it to go.
The number one thing to remember while querying is patience. Enter contests like #PitMad (they work!) and sit tight while you wait for responses. It’s hard work – but it’s also striking at the right time. Good luck!
Laura Pohl was born in Germany to Brazilian parents who love to travel. She first started writing letters to Santa Claus and never stopped after that. She loves Star Wars, dogs, fantasy and unlikable main characters, not always in that order. You can find her at her blog onlybylaura.wordpress.com or pinning stuff at pinterest.com/onlybylaura
Until next time,