Q&A, Writing Discussion

A Quick Guide to Querying

Sometimes I get questions that I think would be good to add here. This is a quick (non-exhaustive) reference guide to querying North American literary agents, and intended for people looking to publish fiction traditionally.

1.Writing a good query

Is your book finished and edited? Now you’ll want to write your query. It’s a letter that captures what your novel is about, and hopefully entices the agent to read more. The goal of a query is to get a request for a partial (50-100 pages) or the full manuscript. That’s it 🙂

2. Putting together a list of agents

You’ll want to make a list of agents who represent the genre of novel you are trying to sell, and who might be a good fit. Some good references:

  • Manuscript Wish List ~ Agents and editors post what they’re looking for, and the types of books they like.
  • Writer’s Digest ~ Another way to find literary agents, especially newer agents.
  • Search #MSWL on Twitter. ~ If you find a good match, make sure to mention #MSWL and refer to the tweet in your query!
  • Check the acknowledgements in the back of your favorite novels. You can sometimes find out who represents your faves.

3. Making sure the agents and agencies you are querying are reputable

There are scammers out there. Some good places to figure out if an agent is legit:

4. Getting ready to submit

  1. Figure out how to track your submissions. You can use Query Tracker, but a simple spreadsheet works too. If you’re making your own spreadsheet, it’s useful to note what agent, agency, the date you submitted, and when / if you get a reply, along with which version of the manuscript you sent.
  2. Next up, you’ll want to double check each agent/agency website for what they require and how to contact them. Follow the guidelines. Yes, they’re all slightly different, but it’s worth the trouble.

5. Troubleshooting rejections

This is completely my preference for queries… but I suggest sending out batches of 5-10 queries at a time.

  1. If you’re not getting requests for more pages, then your query might need fixing before you send out the next batch.
  2. If you’ve gotten requests for partials and get rejections on those, you might want to consider that something might be wrong with the opening pages of your novel. The first 100 pages usually determine if the reader will go on reading. You need to hook them.
  3. Full manuscript rejections usually come with a bit of feedback. Some agents give more, and some give less. Feedback is very subjective, but if you get multiple agents making the same suggestions, they might be on to something and you might want to consider fixing your novel before you send it out again. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit – and that’s fair. You want someone who is enthusiastic about your novel to represent you!
  4. Don’t give up too soon. I would recommend submitting to at least 50 agents or even 100 if you’re getting a good request rate. As long as there’s still someone out there and might be a good fit, don’t give up. It only takes one yes.

5. Wait, what if they’re not rejections?

There are tons more resources out there. Google is your friend here 🙂 And do check out the extra links here. Good luck!

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