September 26, 2022
I’m going to start off by saying I’m not an expert on this. I have learned a lot about the process through resources I’m listing below, which has given me a good amount of knowledge. But this post is simply to talk about how I got to this point, and if you read things that you like, feel free to try them out yourself.
As you might know by now, I’ve written a contemporary fantasy novel, and it’s currently being queried. While my emotions have dulled a little about that fact, writing it out like that makes my heart speed up just a bit, and my brain feel split between OH MY GOODNESS EXCITEMENT and OH MY GOODNESS NERVES.
I started writing the novel in university. It took me basically four years to write it, simply because I wasn’t good at writing it while in school. Once I graduated, the pace picked up, and once I started working from home, the pace increased even more. I went from taking four years to write it, to taking just over one year to get two rounds of beta reads, do four complete rounds of revision (as it’s my first novel and I’m querying for agents, I went really thorough), write up query documents, have those documents edited by a professional, and send the content to my first round of agents. It felt amazing.
But back to the querying itself. What did I do to prepare?
Researching the process
After I cleaned up my book to the point where I thought it was ready for agent eyes, I didn’t jump right into querying. I wanted to know more about the industry I’m trying to get into and find any tips for querying, what to expect from the process, that sort of thing.
My main source of information was podcasts. Specifically, 88 Cups of Tea, and First Draft (especially its series Track Changes). These were a wealth of incredible information. I still have the episodes I found useful saved to my podcast app in case I want to go back and listen. Both talk to authors and people in the industry, and, to my absolute delight when I found them, agents. I spent a few weeks listening to all these episodes, taking notes and digesting what I could. (All while doing a paint by numbers. Great podcast activity :P)
Then I looked at blogs and articles and the like (a great resource was the Writer’s Digest Successful Queries series). After all that, I felt I had a good place to jump from.
But I still didn’t query yet.
Researching the agents
Next, I did research for what agents I wanted to query. One of the first places I looked was in the books I love. I can’t remember which episode or which podcast, but in one interview with Cassandra Clare, she suggested checking the acknowledgement section of your favourite books belonging to the genre you’re querying and finding those authors’ agents. So I flipped through the acknowledgements of many a fantasy book and noted who represents who. Then I looked them up, and the other agents at those agencies, and made notes of who I wanted and why.
I also used Manuscript Wish List (MSWL) a lot. I combed through their search function for people who represent contemporary fantasies – and, ideally, genres I want to write in the future – and went through them all, once again noting who I liked and why. (The why is important, as query letters usually start with a short blurb as to why you’re reaching out to that specific agent). I also looked at the agencies they worked for, and looked through other potentials that way.
Around the same time, I subscribed to Publishers Weekly emails (I highly recommend!). The newsletters have a section on job moves and hires, including agents. Whenever an agent or agency is listed, I check them out.
Another great tool is Twitter. Agents often list things they’d love to see in a manuscript, what they want in a query letter, etc. I also find it can be a great place to see if we might mesh as a working unit (it’s not a guarantee, of course, but it gives a sense of personality sometimes).
Finally, I checked through the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR) directory, to see if there was anyone else I was interested in.
After finding all those names, I made a list of who I wanted to query first to who I’d query later. There are trackers for this, like QueryTracker, but I’m just using Microsoft Excel. I also keep an eye on who’s currently closed to queries and mark them in red, with a note as to when they might open back up. This information is often on the agency’s website, but I also recommend checking Twitter, because the agent might say when they’ll be open again, and for how long.
After I made my list of agents, I set to writing a good query letter and synopsis. This was when I hired a professional editor (because even editors need editors, especially for areas they don’t have much expertise!) off Reedsy. She looked over my letter and my synopsis and helped me get them in shape for agent eyes.
Then I started querying. (Technically not – I worked to get my book’s word count down further at my editor’s suggestion – but let’s put that aside for now.)
Wow, that’s a lot all spelled out like that. And it’s still going, because querying takes a while – I started in March, and I’m not even halfway through the list of agents I want to query (and the list keeps growing). I’ve still got that spreadsheet handy, and I mark off who I send queries to, when, and their response. I check from time to time who’s now open to queries and who’s now closed, and what they want in a query letter. It’s a process, but it’s a worthwhile one.
I’m also still using the agency websites, Twitter, MSWL, Publishers Weekly, another site called Publishers Marketplace (which has a subscription service. I haven’t used that side of it before, but I’ve heard great things), and good old trusty Google. Research never sleeps when it comes top querying.
So far, I’ve had no bites, but that’s ok. Agents get many queries, and only have room for so many books. I’m lucky though in that I haven’t had a bad response from anyone – either no response (which isn’t personal, just time saving for them) or a positive one. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll find the right home for my book, and the right home will find me. It might just take a while longer <3
If you’re querying and having a hard time with rejection/nonanswers, I highly recommend reading this article from So You Want to Write. It helped me get into the right mindset for querying, and I even have a couple of quotes from the article saved to my desktop for when things feel hard.
Are any of you querying or thinking of querying? Have any of you gone through the process and landed an agent? I’d love to hear about it!