Not to brag, but I consider myself somewhat of a novice at querying agents. My experience might actually qualify me as an expert, but with not having successfully secured an agent, I’m only as qualified as the average congressperson. Which is to say I’ve done a lot of things, none of which have proven successful. So, yeah… in that sense, I’m an expert.
So, let me catch you up. I finished my book… no, let’s save that story for another day.
My querying story
I sent out my first agent query on January 31, 2019. Seems like forever ago. For the next six months, I dutifully researched and pitched agents. By the end of June, I had pitched 78 agents and received 50 rejections, either firm or by the response time elapsing. And if you think that’s bad, don’t worry, it gets worse. But we’ll get there.
As a first-time novel writer I know two things about my story. First, it’s fantastic. Second, I have room to grow as a writer. It was around the end of June, 2019 that I realized my writing suffered from a lot of common noob mistakes. Passive voice, weak verbs, and lack of emotional depth for my MC. So I needed to do something about that.
Long story short, I paused my agent queries and sat down to revise my book. Over the next ten months, with the help of several resources and simply one of the best editors I know (shhh, don’t tell her… she thinks I think she’s mean) my WIP went through major reworking. The story didn’t change, but the writing improved. A lot.
Querying agents: Round 2
April 2019, with a fresh update and now 78 agent rejections on hand, I sat down to start querying again. I revisited some agents that had already passed me over, being sure to let them know that they had seen my query before, but that
I had also revised it significantly my story had gone through significant revisions.
Where do I stand now, six months later? A total of 179 queries sent with 136 rejections.
I hate even saying that, not because I’m discouraged, but because an agent may read this and think, well if he’s been rejected that many times, his story must be crap. (I assure you it’s not. Talk to anyone who’s read it.) That’s not to say that my writing or story is Michael Crichton level work, but I do think, once published, it will be hugely successful.
So now that you know the background, I think we can agree I am a politician-level expert at querying. The question now is, what have I learned.
What I learned about querying
Why I query
I think the first question many people want to know is why bother querying when self-publishing is a viable option? My answer to that is personal for me so it may or may not apply to you. But for me, self-publishing is a last resort. It’s kind of the nuclear option. Once I go down that road, there is no going back, at least for this story, and likely my entire series. Most (but not all) agents are not interested in looking at a book that has already been self-published. So for me, I want to eliminate all other options.
But why query
Yeah, I get you. Why do I even care about traditional publishing to begin with? Valid question, for sure. The publishing industry is getting harder and harder to break into and even established authors have a difficult time with it now. Like it or not, though, that just makes it that much more… what’s the word… prestigious, maybe. There is a certain personal and I believe professional validation in getting traditionally published. It’s the same reason why authors write stories for magazines. While these things do not often speak to the quality of the work it does frequently open doors that self-publishing does not.
Why I hate agents
That was just to get your attention. I don’t hate agents. Let me reiterate, I do not hate agents. I actually respect what they do a great deal.
Why I say “mean” things about agents
Those of you following me on Twitter have probably seen my query updates. Something along the lines of “Agents queries: 65, Query rejections: 56, Agents who will rue the day: 56.” This was just me having fun with the process, trying to stay positive about my story, and, hopefully, being a source of inspiration to others in my position. A good agent provides an invaluable service to their clients. I can’t imagine how many pitches they get and how quickly they have to make an assessment on someone’s work. Will any agents regret passing on my story, I hope so! But at the same time I know they know there will always be “the one that got away.” And if any agents are reading this right now… it’ll be me.
When to give up
There are only so many agents out there so at some point I will have queried them all. Some more than once. Until I exhaust all known agents interested in my kind of story, I’m gonna keep going.
Why I’m not discouraged
Discouragement is a choice. I’m choosing not to be. Plus, beta-reader feedback has been enough to make me realize that I have something really good here, even if agents don’t see it (yet.)
When to pull the trigger on self-publishing (after the agent rout has gone cold)
As much as I can’t wait for people to read my story, I am hesitant to self publish immediately. Here’s why. First and foremost, I want to be in a position to market my book. I don’t feel that I can do that adequately with a full-time job and while writing the next two books in the series. So, ideally, I wait to self-publish until all three books are written. Secondly, if book one flops, I will have a harder time investing in the next two books. And since book three is the story I set out to tell (books one and two are necessary to get us there) I don’t want anything to discourage me.
Mistakes I’ve made
Probably the first mistake I made in my query process is not personalizing the queries enough. It’s not easy because personalization requires both a knack for relating to people (which I don’t have) and a lot of digging. My go-to is to simply find what they are looking for in a story and mention how my story fits, but, so far, that hasn’t netted me anything. I have, of course, sent the wrong pitches to the wrong agents from time to time. I hate making stupid mistakes like that, but, hey, I’m mostly human.
Tracking is key
I use a spreadsheet to track my pitches. I know many, if not most, authors do. But spreadsheet organization is crucial. Here are things that I track: agent name, agency, profile URL, what they are looking for, date submitted, expected date to hear back, and what, if any, response I received. Happy to share my spreadsheet. Just shoot me a comment and I’ll send it to you.
As per usual, this post went in a very different direction than I intended. Such is the nature of writing by the seat of my pants. It did give me some ideas for future posts though, so, stay tuned.
I hope this helps you in some way and, I’d love to hear your querying thoughts in the comments below.