Querying (1): Step by Step Query Process

So, I just went through the journey we call querying and I thought I’d write about it since I love step-by-step guides.

This post probably won’t be completely comprehensive, but I did try to include everything I personally had questions about. And if you have any additional questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll try to use my resources, friends, CPs, etc. to answer them.

Step 1: Write your query 

(This will be a separate post. Just need to compile querying advice from my own trusted sources to share with you happy people)

UPDATE: Query Letter post is HERE

Step 2: Research Agents

This step can be done at any time during the writing and querying process. In all likelihood it WILL happen before you’re done writing your MS. Because we all like to look ahead a million steps and dream (If we didn’t dream, we probably wouldn’t be writers).

Here’s a sample of a spreadsheet I compiled with data points I thought were important for agents.

You can include as many or as few data points as you want. This is just what I did because I like to compile data (I’m a clinical researcher by day).

This helps because you can write up a query letter that includes detailed reasons why you are querying the agent. Doesn’t need to be much. It can be as simple as “I am querying you because you expressed an interest in Urban Fantasy with diverse characters. I am hoping to interest you in my diverse fantasy set in the city of Bangkok.”

Sites I used to research agents:

– Agency Sites (I always start there, they have the basics such as genre they rep and how to submit)

Query Tracker

MSWL (which stands for Manuscript Wishlist)

– You can also search Twitter for #MSWL

-Speaking of Twitter, you can follow your fave editors and agents

Writer’s Digest

Publisher’s Marketplace

– Also, lots of great interviews on blogs (I just googled [Agent Name + Interview])

Step 3: Make sure you pick the proper genre:

Genre is NOT MG, YA, NA, Adult.

Those are your audiences. You cannot just say you are writing YA and think the agent will think, “Great, that’s what I represent.” Some agents do represent all YA, but even they will think something is fishy if you don’t include a genre. So a genre is:

Fantasy: This is magic! Elves, wizards, mermaids, dragons. There is high fantasy (Lord of the Rings style) and low fantasy (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Style). There are subgenres in fantasy such as Paranormal, Magical Realism (to be discussed later,) and urban fantasy (to be discussed later).

Fantasy YA books: The Star-Touched Queen, The Wrath and the Dawn, Graceling, Throne of Glass, Prophecy, and Serpentine

Science Fiction: Also easy to define. This is taking something that is rooted in science and stretching it and expanding it into something fantastical. But it is not magic. So something like The Matrix is Sci-Fi because they do live in a world without the true laws of physics, but they’re ruled by machines and computer code. This includes sub genres like: dystopian and space operas.

Books that are Sci-fi: Legend, ZeroboxerHunger Games, These Broken Stars

Urban Fantasy: This is magical elements in a kick-butt urban world. So, Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series is Urban Fantasy.

Other Urban Fantasy books: Vampire Academy, White Cat, Shadowshaper, Labyrinth Lost

Contemporary: These books are set in a realistic, contemporary setting (thus the name). They can be issue driven, but don’t have to be. They are often quieter in nature, but are most times coming of age stories within the realm of YA. (Think John Green, Jenny Han, Katie McGarry). Tiny Pretty Things, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thriller: This is like the action movie, suspense genre. It’s more contemporary in setting (so no magic), but it has faster pace. I don’t read much of thriller genre in YA so I’d defer to other sites and their definitions, but some books in YA Thriller are The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, We Were LiarsAfter the Woods

Horror: Just like it sounds. It’s horror. I don’t write this genre a lot, so I defer to other sites on deeper definitions, but some books that are YA horror are Anna Dressed in BloodThe Madman’s Daughter, A Monster Calls

Magical Realism: This one is harder for me to define because I can see how a book would be Magical Realism one way, and then fantasy another. So I like THIS post to explain it. It’s pretty much a contemporary world with a magical element that is treated as a reality of life (I often think of Miyazaki films for this). The Weight of FeathersThe Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)Bone Gap

Historical: This is how it sounds. A book that is set in the past. Usually doesn’t have fantastical elements, but there have been some good historical with light magic (magical realism books).

Under a Painted Sky, Code Name Verity, The Book Thief

At the end of the day genre is definitely fluid. Some people would say their book is Science Fantasy because it’s a space opera with magical wizards on Mars.

I personally called my current MS Contemporary Fantasy because it is based on Mythology with a mythical creature, but it is in modern day Seoul and the characters deal with a lot of contemporary issues.

Step 4: Check on your word count 

(this actually could be a “pre-step” since it comes about in writing and revision stage.

THIS is a great guide written in detail about word count for all genres by Chuck Sambuchino at Writer’s Digest

But in general, these are the guidelines I follow (keep in mind these are just my rules for myself and I only write MG and YA):

YA Contemporary: 50,000-70,000 (Sweet spot ~55,000 to 65,000)

YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi: 60,000 – 100,000 (Sweet spot ~75,000 to 85,000)

MG (I tend to write “upper MG”): 40,000 – 60,000 (Sweet spot ~45,000 – 55,000)

Step 5: Make sure you FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

I cannot stress this enough. I have friends who work or worked at Literary Agencies. They say that the biggest reason for auto-reject  is that the person did not follow submission guidelines. I think “auto-reject” is the saddest thing ever because it happens before your pitch or work can speak for itself.

Things to make sure you double check:

– Does the agent represent your genre?

– Does your MS follow word count guidelines for your genre?

– Do you have the proper submission email? (This could be different from an email found on an agent’s blog. Go directly to the agency website to get the right email address for submissions)

– Did you address the agent in a formal way? (Mr. or Ms. LAST NAME)

– Did you write a personal blurb about WHY you’re submitting to them? Many agents like to know why you’re querying them. They want to know that you did your research.

Additionally, my critique group (and specifically the wonderful David Slayton @davidrslayton) created this sweet flow-chart of do’s and don’ts

Step 6: Headers/Subject lines/Attachments/Body of email

This is something I had A LOT of questions about. So I will just say what I did. This will definitely vary depending on the agent you send to, so please check their requirements before you send the same email to everyone (also, this should NEVER happen, you should personalize your emails for the agent you’re sending to):

SUBJECT LINE: Query [Agent Name]: TITLE OF BOOK

(the reason I put Agent Name is that a lot of submission emails are agency wide. It just helps to name the agent in the subject line)

BODY OF EMAIL:

1. Query letter

2. PASTE sample pages

3. PASTE synopsis (if requested).

(I personally liked to put synopsis last because the synopsis is kind of dry, language-wise. I want their first impression to be my voice. Now there is nothing I found that said what the order of sample pages and synopsis were. But if you do find that then follow those rules. Just know that query letter will ALWAYS come first. It’s your opener).

SIGN OFF: I put my signature at the end of the query letter. Because that was my formal opening and then the sample pages were like an attachment that I just copy pasted into the body of the email. 

I used a simple “Sincerely, Kat Cho”

BONUS:

 If you are submitting to an agent because of a request or a contest then the SUBJECT LINE should include that fact!

I did both a conference and an online pitch contest they looked like this:

RT Con Request for [AGENT NAME]: GUMIHO

#DVPit Request for [AGENT NAME]: GUMIHO

Step 7: Send the query!

Okay, now you’re ready to send the query! So press send!

Step 8: Step away!

Okay, so, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to FREAK OUT as soon as you press “send.” Try as hard as you can NOT to do that! It will only end in stressed sadness. So, this is the “waiting and distraction” phase.

Some suggestions of activities to distract yourself with:

1. Start another WiP

2. Read your whole TBR list

3. Watch everything you’ve ever wanted to watch on Netflix

4. Flee the country (and/or go on a reasonable trip)

5. Do…fun things? I don’t know, you’re lucky I came up with 4 things already.

Step 9: Submitting Requested Materials

You did it! You got an agent to request your materials! Whether it’s a 50 page partial or a full MS, this is a celebratory moment. I personally bought myself a little gift after my first request. (Then I drank heavily after I sent out the materials, but that’s…not a requirement)

I’ve heard varying advice for this. So, I’ll just say what I did.

I replied to the original email chain and changed the subject to “Requested Material: TITLE”

Then I put a little blurb into the body of the email. Not anything huge, just something simple like:

“Thank you so much for requesting my Full/Partial of TITLE. I have attached the requested material as a Word doc.
For your convenience, I’ve pasted the query letter below.
Thank you again, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Your Signature
PASTE QUERY HERE”

So, you don’t actually HAVE to paste your query letter again if you’re replying to the original thread. But I did it (and I’m not sorry!)

Step 10: Step away AGAIN! 

Yes! More waiting! So, see step 7 for my great suggestions on how to not worry about your MS being in the hands of agents.

Also, peppered in between each step should be halfway steps that I call CELEBRATE YOURSELF

Seriously! You did it! You rock. You are awesome. Even just sending ONE query means you’re putting yourself out there. That is huge. I know that I felt ridiculously accomplished after sending one query. And then I just rested for a while thinking “Yes, I did it. I pressed send.”

(I really spent time celebrating sending ONE query)

So, bask in your glory. And ask any questions you might have below. I’ll try to answer or provide links I’ve used.

Just as a final note, querying to find an agent might not be for everyone. I know people who have gone straight to a publishing house with their MS or have self-published to great success.
This post is merely for people who would like to find an agent as their next step on their writing/publishing journey.

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