Query Tips

by sarahenni on April 8, 2013

photo (6)Querying is the pits. It’s also the best! The peaks and valleys, that emotional yo-yo, can make the weeks or months of frantic e-mail checking really tough to take. I was so excited to announce that I snagged a great agent this go-round, but it wasn’t my first time on the query train. And having gone through the experience twice, there are some tips I have to make the experience ever so slightly less maddening.

  • Create a new e-mail address. I sit at my day job with my every-day email open constantly. I used that e-mail when I queried the first time, and it led to a lot of unnecessary stress. Each new *ping!* of my inbox stopped my heart, and when it turned out to be yet another Madewell discount e-mail I was upset every time1. So this time, I not only created a new e-mail address, I also gave it a distinctive notification (different buzz and ringtone) on my phone. When I got an e-mail in that inbox, I knew it. And the rest of the time I found it easier to relax.
  • Query by committee. There’s just no way my query would have gotten to where it was without the help of literally a dozen friends. If you ask around to some writing friends (both those who’ve read your book, and those who haven’t) my guess is you’ll find those few crazies who actually enjoy query writing! It took me weeks, and several completely different versions of my query, to find one that reflected my story in content, tone, and voice. Wouldn’t have been possible without the shrewd analysis of my friends.
  • Find agents through multiple channels. There’s actually been a lot of attention paid to this trend recently, especially in Jennifer Laughran’s post about ‘rock star’ agents. I queried a lot of agents who I’ve been following on Twitter for years. Obviously I already knew we’d get along great, and all my friends knew who they were, too. But as I got farther in the process, I started thinking about all the other agents, who I was less familiar with but who represented some of my favorite writers. Some of them had almost no online presence, but if they could help my favorite authors get books into the world, they could certainly help me. That’s how I ended up querying my agent, Sarah2, and I couldn’t be happier!
  • Have questions at the ready! This isn’t unique advice by any means, but WOW was it necessary! I cobbled together a list from Kate Hart and Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles—you can download the list I made here. I printed out my list, put it on a clipboard, and hammered through the questions. That made for long conversations, but at the end I felt like I knew exactly who I was talking to and what someone could offer me. (And whenever I mentioned I had a list, the party on the other line was excited. “Ooh, a list!” Oh, book publishing! You are my people!)
  • Celebrate! I’m always preaching about this, but I really, really mean it. It’s distressingly easy to have a milestone on the path to publishing get overwhelmed by nerves, frustration, or anti-climactic feelings. Celebrating your success is a choice you make to acknowledge how far you’ve come, and prepare for the battles left to fight. I love this advice so much I did it twice–when I got an initial offer, and when I finally signed. Carve out the time and pop some bubbly!

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  1. 25 percent off AFTER I’ve already spent $120 isn’t a deal, Madewell! Insult to injury!
  2. Though she does have a Twitter!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kay Seeberger April 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

Sarah, I found this querying process very interesting and it sounds like you have good ideas on how to deal with it…. Wish I was there to celebrate with you !! Love you xxoo

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Jessica Love April 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

I agree about celebrating! It’s so important! Mandy Hubbard had a great blog post about popping some champers every time something good happened in her career, then saving the cork, writing the cause for celebration w/ the date on it, and displaying the corks in her home so she can look through them when she’s feeling low. I absolutely love that idea, and I started to do the same. I have this beautiful Kate Spade bowl I got as I gift and right now it has ONE cork in it. BUT I know there will be more ot come, because this girl loves to celebrate. :-)

I’m still so thrilled for you, Sarah! :-D

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Jaime April 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm

I did the very same thing with my email. The email address I had been using was one that my dad decided to inundate with seriously ridiculous forwards (grrr), so every time it pinged (multiple times an evening), I would get worked up thinking it was a response to my query. More often than not it wasn’t. I also just like the idea of having that separate email that’s used for only one purpose and nothing else.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing that list of questions to ask agents! I’ve been wanting to hunt down these kinds of questions, so you’ve helped a bunch. :)

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Ghenet Myrthil April 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Great tips! I’m in the query trenches for the first time and I’m so glad I created a separate email account to query with. Thanks for sharing your list of questions! If/when I finally get “the call” I’d like to be ready. :)

I hope you enjoyed your celebration! You deserve it!

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yahong April 9, 2013 at 9:19 am

Ooh, this is really a good conglomeration of tips! I like that separate email idea (though it might be a little unwieldy, I have a few already, haha), and it’s good to get that list of questions reinforced. Was it not awkward to ask some of the questions? I always feel a little tentative asking probing questions, haha.

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Kendra Leighton April 11, 2013 at 9:31 am

Love the tip about creating a new email address. Wish I’d thought of that when I was querying, would have saved a lot of heart-attacks over junk mail! Great ideas, thanks!

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Rachel Meenan April 12, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I plan to start querying next year (After I am finished with my edits on my first four novels) and this advice is just what I needed. I especially like the separate email advice and the list of questions you have. Thanks!

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