Querying Post: Part 1

By Premee Mohamed
Apr 28, 2018 · 729 words · 3 minutes

I did a Twitter poll to see what people wanted to see for subscriber posts, and for the longest time 'how I flesh out ideas' was in the lead...till at the last minute (it must have been, because I kept checking) 'querying, etc' took the lead! 

Initially, I was thinking self-publishing; no agent would be interested in my stuff, at least not if they wanted to 'make money' and 'not eat catfood forever.' Then a friend pointed out that I should at least start querying, and in the meantime, if I felt like it, get ready to self-publish. This seemed like a sound idea, and the thought of being ready to go on my own after a couple hundred rejections was appealing.

So I set up my querying spreadsheet:

- Name of agent, and their email or query form

- Name of agency

- Whether you could query more than one agent at the same agency (not very common, but not something you want to screw up, either)

- Link to the agent's 'What I Want' page or similar (any MSWL, or Manuscript Wishlist, stuff) if they had it

- Their requirements (different between almost every agent!)

- Date queried, date responded if any, and response

I figured I'd go in batches of ten, waiting a month between batches, and going in order of most preferred agent. This didn't mean 'biggest name agent' or 'agent who had sold the most books,' but mostly just... preferred. I didn't have anything written down, but I was kind of going by a mental algorithm of did they seem nice on Twitter, did they have clients whose books I liked, did they write somewhere what they liked, and... I don't know. Some intangible quality, if possible, suggesting that they might like weird stuff and weren't too fussy about genre divisions.

So I sent out my first batch of ten, out of which I got:

- Six responses (four people didn't respond at all, so I figured those were 'no')

- Of the six responses, four requests for partials; two 'nooooo, go away'

- Of the four requests for partials, two requests for fulls (so, two who never responded to the partial)

- Of the two full requests, one offer of representation.

And since this was in my first batch of ten, i.e. the ten agents I most wanted to be represented by anyway, I figured 'What the hell' and sent the offer back. :) I started in November 2016 and got my signed copy of representation back in January 2017.  

I figured I would have more time (a year or so) to refine my query, which initially struck me as kind of...crude and simplistic, not to mention unrepresentative of everything that happened in the book. But I guess it worked, for one thing; and for another, I didn't realize that some agents are getting thousands of queries a month. Like, hundreds a day. And the simplistic approach might just be what they're looking for, as well as maybe a giant handful of Advil.

The structure of my query was basically:

- There's a main character; what does he want?

- A bit of his back story, and how the back story leads into what happens in the book

- What's preventing him from getting what he wants, related both to his past and to the events of the book

- Who or what might help him get what he wants (ha ha, not bloody much, sorry kid)

- Something that sets up the ending of the novel, and clarifies what might happen if he fails or succeeds

- The wordcount, title, and genre

- My writerly biography (at the time, a couple of short stories, which I was super embarrassed about)

Too basic, I figured. But as I read more of Janet Reid's literary blog (which I love, and is the main reason I decided to try to publish traditionally instead of self-publishing; also a great comments community) and Query Shark (also run by Janet Reid!) I couldn't really tease out what an agent would reliably want that was more than that. Comparison titles? Not always. 'X meets Y'? Not always. Marketing plans, author platforms, etc? Not always.

Bleh, this is getting too long. Next post: my example query!