Welcome to the first Author Toolbox Blog Hop of 2018! If you’re new around here, this is a fantastic blog hop for writers, created by Raimey Gallant, where we share our thoughts, experiences and hard-earned wisdom with each other.
As you’ve probably come to expect, I’m going to focus my post on the stage of the writing/publishing process that I am currently at, which this time around is querying.
Don’t forget to check out all the other brilliant posts in the blog hop, pop over to Twitter and search the hashtag #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, or visit Raimey’s blog for a definitive list of the wonderful writers participating. Here are a few of my past posts that you might find useful:
- Writing dual timelines – Author Toolbox Blog Hop
- Self-care for writers – Author Toolbox Blog Hop
- Killing your darlings – Author Toolbox Blog Hop
My querying journey began back in October, after a little over a year of plotting, drafting, editing and polishing (read: procrastinating) my first novel. After entering Pitch Wars and not getting chosen, I didn’t have any more excuses to put off querying, so I decided to bite the bullet and jump into the trenches.
Crafting your query
As part of the Pitch Wars submission requirements, I had to have a query letter prepared, so I already had mine ready to go. If you’re just starting to think about writing your query letter, one of the best explanations I found for how to write a killer query came from bestselling author of Truthwitch, Susan Dennard’s blog:
Fortunately, as part of the PW community, I had the opportunity to share my query with hundreds of fellow writers and get a few opinions and suggestions (also known as critiques). It’s just as crucial to have a polished query as it is to have your manuscript at its absolute best, so once you’ve drafted your letter ask a few writer friends to give it a once over, or post in one of the many amazing Facebook groups for writers and see if anyone would be willing to take a look. A few of the writing groups I’m in that have been invaluable for support and advice are:
- Your Write Dream (Kristen Kieffer)
- Edit & Repeat (Zoe Ashwood)
- #PITCHWARRIORS (Morgan Hazelwood)
- PW Query Team! (Morgan Hazelwood)
Writing a synopsis
Most agents request a synopsis along with your query letter and sample chapters, and the usual format is one page, single spaced. The key difference between a synopsis and a query letter is whilst the query doesn’t give away the ending of your story, the synopsis does. Again, the best explanation for how to write an amazing synopsis that I found was from Susan Dennard, this time on the Publishing Crawl website:
Now your submission materials are ready to go, the next step is to make a list of the agents you want to query, their submission guidelines and contact information. As I’m in the UK, I use Lit Rejections list of UK literary agents to find out who accepts my genre (Young Adult), and where I can find them online. Websites and Twitter accounts are really handy resources for learning more about an agent, their tastes and what they’re looking for. Don’t just rely on the list sites as you never know how up to date a particular site may be, always check the agency website in case an agent has moved, or their preferences or submission guidelines aren’t correct.
I keep a spreadsheet of all the agents I want to query, with columns for the agency name, the agent’s name, email address or submission website, submission guidelines, when I sent the query and whether/when they responded. I highlight the agents green when I send a query, and red when I receive a rejection, as well as putting the dates in, so I can see at a glance how many queries are still out.
Sending your query
A few tips to make sure you’re not rejected immediately, before the agent even reads your sample chapters:
- Don’t paste the email address into the recipient box until you’re ready to send, that way you can never accidentally send a half-typed email.
- Use the agent’s name and make sure you spell it correctly! (Simple, but effective.)
- Triple check you’ve met the submission guidelines before clicking send – you can’t take it back once it’s winging its way through cyberspace.
- Make sure you’ve formatted your pages and synopsis correctly – single-spaced, one-page synopsis, double spaced pages with indentations at every new paragraph, except the first of a chapter/scene.
- Give everything one last read through before sending, I’ve seen agents say a misspelling or two in a query won’t put them off but it’s better to not give them any excuse, especially when the slush pile is huge. You want them to want to keep reading!
We’ve all read stories of authors who bagged an agent within a week of starting to send queries, but the truth is that most agented authors sent over a hundred queries before they finally found their match. Rejection is a necessary part of the publishing journey, unfortunately, so get comfortable with the word no and don’t take it personally when your carefully crafted query receives a less than enthusiastic response.
One of my very first queries received an almost immediate rejection at 11pm because the agent didn’t accept YA. I’d been reading the bios of a couple of agents from the same agency and gotten muddled – well it was late and I’d probably been researching for hours. So that was a pretty embarrassing faux pas, but we all make mistakes and you’re unlikely to come out of this query trench without a few teensy snaffoos of your own!
This week, I received my first real rejections (I don’t count my little error as a real query) after starting to send queries back in October, and I couldn’t be happier! As my Dad said when I told him, despite some mild confusion as to why I was so excited to receive a rejection email, “You’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince”. The first was a form rejection, but the second was personal and stated that my submission had stood out amongst the many they received. Unfortunately, they just weren’t enthusiastic enough to represent my novel, but they wished me luck with it. It doesn’t get much more positive than that as a rejection!
And that’s where I am on my query journey, one step closer to finding the right agent who will fall in love with my book and want to represent me and it on the long road towards getting published. Fingers crossed 2018 is my year!
Where are you on the query journey, just starting out or deep in the trenches like me? Let me know how it’s going and what your most positive rejection email has been so far. Here’s hoping we all find our agents this year – next step, publishing deals!