Query Tips

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!

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