In order to have abs, one must work out every other second and eat kale and grilled chicken everyday for the rest of your life. In order to get an agent, a writer must query them.
Same misery. Different result.
To help you navigate getting your writer’s abs, our members weigh in on query tips for January’s “17 Swanky Things.”
17 Swanky Things: Querying
1. “FOLLOW AGENT GUIDELINES. This is so important and something that is easily missed. Each agent is different, and if they’re taking the time to read your query, take the time to follow their guidelines.”
Gwen Cole, COLD SUMMER, Sky Pony Press Spring ’17
2. Read a lot of other queries and pitches. Years before I was ready to query my own work, I would periodically drop in on Absolute Write, the Querytracker forums, and various blogs that offered query critiques…By the time I was ready to write my own query, I had internalized the sound and structure…It made my own query writing and revision process much less painful than it could have been. I think of putting together a good query like assembling an upside down jigsaw puzzle. It’s still a process I enjoy, and I try to critique a few queries each week to keep my skills fresh. (Because even when you’ve sold your debut, you still have to be able to write pitches for your next projects!)
Lauren Karcz, NO MORE BLUES – YA magical realism, HarperTeen, summer 2017
3. Read the acknowledgements in books I loved–since most writers thank their agents, it helped me know which agents represented writers I loved (and who might, not so coincidentally, love my book too).
Rosalyn Eves, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, Spring 2017, Knopf/Random House
4. Don’t write off opportunities like the Writer’s Digest Webinars where agents critique your query. I really agonized over that decision, but ultimately that is how I signed with my agent.
Sarah Nicole Lemon, UNTITLED DEBUT, YA CONTEMPORARY, Amulet/Abrams, Spring 2017
twitter: @sarahnlemon, www.sarahnicolelemon.com
5. Tone matters. Query letters should be clear, confident, and give a hint of your unique writerly flavor. It’s easy to fall into the humble, self-effacing trap, but this is like applying for a job or any other opportunity: You’ve got to believe in yourself for others to believe in you.
Katie Bayerl, A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS, Penguin/Putnam, Spring 2017
6. The purpose of a query isn’t to provide a full, accurate depiction of your book. The purpose of a query is to attract the interest of an agent. Don’t worry about trying to cram in every plot point, character, or awesome-thing-the-character-encounters-on-their-journey. Just focus on summing up the central conflict of your book in the most appealing way, and let the agent come to you to find out more. If you’re stuck, I recommend starting with a 1-sentence summary, and working your way up.
Andrew Schvarts, THE BASTARD TABLE, Disney-Hyperion, 2017
7. Keep an eye out for twitter pitch contests and enter them when you see them! Create a variety of clever pitches that will grab an agent’s attention, and mix them up throughout the pitch contest. Learning to distill your pitch into 140 characters (especially doing so in a few different ways) is as tough as writing any query, but it’s also a chance to really get to the root of what’s unique about your story.
Kate Watson, SEEKING MANSFIELD, Jolly Fish Press, Spring 2017
8. Go with your gut. Trust your intuition. If there’s something about an agent that doesn’t sit right with you, whether it’s something on social media or something in their guidelines, don’t ignore it. Don’t query someone you truly wouldn’t want to work with later.
Trusting your intuition can be a positive thing, too, for someone you feel just might be your dream agent. Go for it.
In the wise words of Roxette, listen to your heart.
Sara Biren, THE LAST THING YOU SAID, Spring 2017 from Abrams/Amulet Books
9. Don’t be discouraged by rejection; not every book is right for every agent. And consider agents’ feedback carefully! It can sting, but it can also help you make your book better.
Alexandra Ott, RULES FOR THIEVES, Aladdin/S&S, summer 2017
10. The Query Letter Hell forum on Absolute Write is one of the best sites a querying writer can use. I highly recommend spending some time there reading other users critiques of queries, and then critiquing some of your own. If you invest time and energy into it, you’ll quickly pick up what makes a query work and the mistakes lots of writers make. And then you can give posting your own query a go! The feedback you’ll get will be brutally honest, but it will also be incredibly helpful.
Cale Dietrich, LOVE INTEREST,Macmillan, 2017, @caledietrich
11. Before you start querying, group agents into three categories: A = “Superstar” agents (a.k.a., long-standing professionals with a proven track record); B= “Solid” agents (agents with several years of experience and a modest list of sales); C = “Newbie” agents (young and hungry; ready to make a name for themselves). Start by sending out queries in the following manner: three from column A; three from column B; and three from column C. Wait for responses, then adjust your query based on the feedback you receive. Repeat. This method is good because it prevents you from putting all your eggs in one basket (i.e., choosing A-list agents only, and thus exhausting your chances, before honing your query).
Melissa Roske, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, Charlesbridge, summer 2017
12. Have a system to keep track who you queried and when so that you don’t accidentally query them more than once. Excel spread sheets are good so is a notebook or a calendar.
Amy Brashear, CONDEMNED, Soho Teen, Fall 2017
13. A. Research agents. In every query I wrote, I included personal quotes from their website, or Twitter, or an interview from a blog. Personalizing a query and demonstrating knowledge of the agent (in a non-creepy way) can automatically separate you from thousands of other, impersonal queries.
B. Don’t neglect important foundations of your book. One thing I really believe in is the current push for more diversity in literature. My main character is a PoC, and I took time in my query to quickly tell agents that this was an intentional choice that I made because of experiences I’d had with diverse students in my classrooms struggling to see themselves in current YA literature. Agents that didn’t care about this issue were probably quick to skip over my query (which is good, because we wouldn’t see eye to eye anyway). Agents that did care about this issue were far more likely to give my query a thorough read.
C. A subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace can be super useful. I timed my purchase with when I expected to start receiving responses. $25 gave me a full, comprehensive list of agents, their sales, and their typical clients. When I ended up with eight offers for representation on the table, this was immensely valuable for figuring out agents’ track records and who best fit my book/goals.
Scott Reintgen, BLACK HOLE OF BROKEN THINGS, Crown, 2017
14. Yes, it’s good to first query your top pick agents, but you never know who might be the right agent for you, and don’t give up when you have exhausted your A list!
Stephanie Elliot, Sad Perfect, FSG, Winter 2017
15. “Show don’t tell” applies to your query letter just as much as it does to your fiction. Don’t tell an agent your book will be funny, or filled with tough decisions for the characters; write a description that makes her laugh, and choose plot points that hint at the emotional core of your novel. Your description isn’t just summary, it’s your chance to let an agent hear your unique voice!
Jilly Gagnon, #FAMOUS, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen, Winter 2017
16. Authors who publish their first books are yetis. We’re not even sure if they exist. One of the biggest mistakes I made after I wrote my first book was assuming that it was unprecedented, new, and I was giving agents the chance to get in on the ground floor of how awesome I was.
Don’t. Do. This.
I’m not trying to dismiss talent, I’m merely letting you know that no matter what your parents told you growing up, you are not as special as you think and realizing this early on will save you a lot of heartache and angst. The biggest battle of the writing journey isn’t writing a first draft, getting an agent or a book deal, it’s your capacity for perseverance.
Dave Connis, The Temptation of Adam, Sky Pony 2017, @daveconnis
17. Print out every query rejection and make a wall of rejection above your writing space. Let it motivate you daily. When you get an agent, tear it down, and start one for subbing rejections.
Also, after every rejection, sing or listen to Johnny Cash’s HURT.
(do this for a few days)
Then send out another one
Matt Landis, The Judas Society, Sky Pony 2017, http://www.matthew-landis.com/