Top 5 Successful Query Tips for Beginners

by Kristen Howe

First off, congratulations! The first hard part is over, now comes the second–finding an agent. Here are some helpful hints.

1. Research!

Like with any novel, you need to research agents. I would recommend buying Writer’s Digest Guide to the Literary Agents, and also to subscribe to Writer’s Digest Magazine. You can also subscribe to GLA’s enewsletter to the blog. Bookmark websites like Agentquery.com, Querytracker.com, and Writersmarket.com. I recommend Preditors and Editors. If the agency has a website/blog, place it in your favorites. Most agencies are found on Twitter—follow them. If you have writer friends at Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, or any other site, talk to them about their experiences. Absolute Write is a great website, when you can find out about some bad agencies. These are all excellent resources to get you started.

2.Compile List

If you write the same genre as your favorite author, you can find out who their agent is on the acknowledgment page in their latest novel, at their website, or at the Who Reps Who? Section at Querytracker.com. If you write in more than one genre, pick out agencies that represent a lot of genres.

3. Preparations

When you’re ready, it’s time to create your query. I suggest looking at sample queries at many of the sites listed above. Get feedback on it from your friends or forums like at Querytracker.com. It won’t be perfect the first try, like anything, practice makes perfect. Then, set up your list of your chosen agents in an orderly fashion. Follow the guidelines of what they want along with the query—some want a synopsis, a sample chapter or pages. If you do nonfiction, they probably want an outline or proposal.

4. The Waiting Game

When you’re ready, it’s time to send them off. Make sure you have everything requested. While you wait, keep writing or editing. Each agency has varying response times– some are short like a week or less, others average a few weeks, or a few months. If there’s no response time listed, it’s usually three months. If they’ve said they respond when they’re interested, it’s a month. All you can do at this time is wait, wait, wait. If after the response time is over, and you haven’t received word, it’s okay to inquire about the status. Sometimes they don’t have a record of them; some will ask you to resend them. Give them two weeks. If they don’t respond, move on.

5. Rejections!

No one likes to get the dreaded Rejection. But it’s part of the process. After you get your first few, it’s okay to be disappointed and share your experience. You may find, that you want to revise your query more than once, for dozen of rejections, until you find out one that works for you. Keep going, until you get a “bite”–if you’re lucky, you get a partial bite for sample chapters and synopsis; only a few will ask a full ms from the query. When you get them, you’re doing it right. When you get more Rs, move on. Send out those “revenge queries”. For every R you get, send out three more. Remember: it only takes one yes out of a 1000 nos. And for those that don’t respond, it means they’re not interested. It’s even worse than a plain old rejection.

Hang in there and good luck!

Kristen Howe lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She’s currently querying her first eco-thriller, Venom, and will query her first thriller, The 24-Hour Chain Reaction, this spring. She’s a published poet and has published articles in Associated Content. She’s currently editing on her other mss.

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