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Monday, July 21, 2014

My thoughts on the query process...

I queried to early. At the time I thought I was ready, but seeing what happened to the manuscript while it was on query and after feedback from agents... it wasn't ready. I'm not sure there's a way to fix this. JANE DOE was the first novel I wrote, finished, and edited until I felt it was submission ready. My gut instinct is that almost everyone will query their first novel too early. That's why most I Have An Agent! stories mention the first novel that was trunked and how they found an agent with the second novel.

That being said, I think you need to query anyway. If the novel you've written is the best you can make it. If you've gone to critique partners and writing groups and gotten feedback, go ahead and send that sucker out. Worst case scenario: nobody wants it and the books doesn't get published. Since this is the exact same result of not querying, it's a zero sum game. Send it out and try to learn something. Change your query. Consider all feedback a blessing. Be courteous.

And get yourself some social media.

I was really surprised how many of those requests came from Twitter interactions. This is why I keep harping on the idea of having a submission packet. Two of my full requests came from query critique contests that were literally an agent tweeting, "First five people to send me a query with the title HONEST CRITIQUE will get feedback." That's one third of my full requests. Both agents read the query, and got back to me in under 24 hours with a full request.

Now, the key to making that work is stacking the deck in your favor. I queried 63 agents total. Before I sent them anything I made sure of three things
1) they were open to queries, 
2) they represented all the genres I write in (SF/SFR/UF), and
3) they'd sold books in those genres recently.

Querying an agent who doesn't rep what you write, and who hasn't sold who what you write, or who isn't even open to queries is a waste of time. At best, it's an auto-delete because the query email isn't being checked. At worst, it's a rejection and some agent griping to their publishing buddies how authors who can't read query guidelines while you weep over a rejection. Don't beg for rejection.

If you find the agents who rep what you write, follow them on Twitter or on their blogs, and keep track of what they're requesting (Agent and Editor Manuscript Wishlist anyone? It's on Tumblr. Read it.)

The reality of modern publishing is that you will be expected to have an internet presence. Your publisher will want you to help market the books. Your fans will want to be able to contact you. It may not be your favorite thing, but rummage around on the web until you can find a place where you are comfortable being social... and then go to all the other major social media sites and start following agents and writers you love. If you don't interact, fine. You're listening and learning. If you do interact, great, it means the agent can match you to an avatar when they read your query.

By the way, be prepared for them to follow you back. The first time I realized an editor was following me I nearly died. I checked every day to see if she was still following me. Agents will follow you, check out your author's FaceBook page, maybe even skim through your instagram photos to get an idea of what you're like. Sometimes they stop after they reject you, sometimes they stick around and congratulate you when you sign. Anything could happen. Just be yourself (the normal, public self that doesn't scare the neighbors) and you'll be fine.

Last but not least, be patient. I was on submission for a year before I received the revise and resubmit from Marlene. I spent six months redoing my novel, stripping out a subplot I didn't need, and tightening the story line with her suggestions. I was on query for over eighteen months before Marlene asked to talk to me.


You could have two children in eighteen months without having twins (although your doctor might yell at you)! When people say this isn't a fast business, they aren't joking. It takes time for an agent to read the queries, read the pages you send, and make a decision. Sometimes, sure, they'll know right away. But sometimes they really have to think about it. And if they send notes it'll take any more time.

But it's going to be worth it. Query the agents you love, who love what you write, and go work on something else while your novel is making the rounds. With any luck, you'll be so busy with your next project you will forget you have something on submission and stare in confusion when an agent says they want to talk about that title. It's a good kind of confusion. :)


  1. I'm really enjoying your posts on querying. And you know? I too queried a few years ago, my first novel (a novel for kids that went through CC) and I think it was too early for me too. At the moment, I'm revising all the submission material and I think I'll be trying again soon. Maybe this summer I'll have the time to have everything ready.

    I've just opened a blog, after putting off hte idea for years, because yes, I know, I have to have an internet presence somewhere. And you know? I'm even enjoying it a lot!
    I'm considering opening a Twitter account, because I don't like FB and I'm unlikely to open a page.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Nowadays, so many people are self-publishing and sometimes it feels like the traditional way it's not even worth it. I'm glad to hear from you that it is :-)

    1. One of the reasons I signed with my agent is because she is supportive of the idea of me having a hybrid career. I intend to keep publishing novellas with my small press (Breathless Press) as long as they will have me. I would like to sign with a big press. I will probably keep self-publishing short stories. There's no reason an author should limit themselves to only one format of publishing.

      The only time it becomes damaging is when an author doesn't keep their self-pub stuff as professional as their published-with-a-press work. Every book you do should be equally professional. You can't slack on editing, or cover art, or anything else

      Even if you stay self-published through your entire career you shouldn't slack on that. You are selling a book. That book should look as professional as you can possibly make it. If you can't do it right, wait until you can.

      Good luck with your querying, and hopefully I'll see you on Twitter sometime soon. :)

  2. Well, looks like we think fairly the same. I'd like to sigh with a big press (hey, it's a dream, why shoudl I keep it small?), but I'm also planning to self-publish short stories and novellas.
    Let's see... :-)

    1. Hybrid careers are the best! (I may be biased.)