Since I started compiling #pubtip tweets, I've noticed a trend. Most of the tweets from agents are about poor queries. Most of the poor queries are bad in the same way. All of the mistakes could be solved by the writer doing one thing before querying: research. I get it. You've finished your MS and you want to get it out there ASAP. You want the money and fame to start rolling in as soon as possible. Before you rush in and send out a query let me tell you a secret of the publishing industry. You ready?
The publishing industry is slow.
From the moment you query an agent, even if everything goes perfectly, you still might be 3-4 years away from seeing your book on a shelf. If you query an small press directly, that might be shortened to 1-3 years. I'm not telling you that to discourage you, or to push you toward self-publishing. Though I understand why writers go that route, I still think traditional publishing is the best path to success. I'm telling you that to bring home this point:
The one or two months it will take for you to thoroughly research potential agents and to perfect your query letter is a blink compared to the rest of the publishing process.
If you send out a sub-par query you aren't making progress anyway. The problem is, you think you are. The reality is your bad query and lack of research has zero chance of landing an agent. Take the time to make your query the best it can be. Are my tips below the last word on querying? Heck no. But, it's a start.
1. Make sure your MS is POLISHED.
- Find a beta reader.
- Or, if you don't have one, hire a professional editor to edit the whole book. If your book isn't polished past fifty pages, the agent will probably stop reading at fifty-one.
- Don't let your MS get rejected because of typos and poor grammar.
2. Research: Make sure agents are:
- open for submissions
- represent your genre
3. Research: Know your genre.
- Know the standard word length for your genre. Don't pitch a 100,000 word MG, or a 16,000 word novel.
- All books are cross genre, pick the dominant genre for your book and query it as that. Sometimes, it's difficult to know which one to choose. Discuss it with your beta reader or editor. (For the record, I made this mistake.)
4. Research: Follow submission guidelines.
- I know, I know. They're all different. It's annoying. But, it's part of the deal.
- If you can't follow submission guidelines, you will automatically be rejected.
5. Research: There is a right way and wrong way to write a query.
- If you don't know how, Google "How to write a query letter."
- Yes, writing is creative. You can be as unique and quirky as you want and no one will judge you. We embrace the quirk in creative arts. That's why we're so good at what we do. But, a query letter is a business letter, not an opportunity to be cute. Don't write it from your main charcter's POV. Of course, use your own writing voice, but don't be gimmicky.
- Join a query critique group or site and get your query critiqued before sending it out. (For the record: the first query I sent out was horrible. Truly. I should have joined a critique group.)
6. Be professional.
- Writing is creative, but publishing is a BUSINESS! Agents and editors are professionals. Accept rejection with grace. If you want to rail about how unfair it all is, scream into a pillow. Sending nasty email responses to a rejection will not get you an acceptance.
- You're going to get rejected. Everyone gets rejected. You may want to query the agent who rejects you one day and do you really want to take the chance he/she will remember your nasty email? Or the chance they'll mention it to their other agent friends?
This information isn't hard to find, which is why it's so puzzling when writers make same mistakes over and over. As I noted above, I made some of the same mistakes! (I apologize to the agents I queried.) The biggest problem with research is there is so much information it can make your head spin. Some advice may be contradictory. But, here's the thing: if you read enough articles, you will see the through lines. When in doubt, listen to what the agents and editors have to say. They'll be receiving your query, after all.
I will give you one suggestion: buy THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED. It's a great starting point, just don't get so sidetracked by creating your platform you forget to query.
I could probably add ten more suggestions, but IMO, these are the ones I see over and over while compiling this Public Service Announcement. If there are any agents and editors who read this and have additional suggestions, please put them in the comments.