If you are a writer beginning the querying process, like me, you have a lot of questions. I’ve spent the last six years learning about my craft in every way possible. Like many new authors I wonder how hard it is to get published in today’s market. Agent Chip MacGregor said, “…there were about 65,000 new books traditionally published last year, and. . .maybe ten million proposals sent to agents and editors… There are a couple thousand literary agents in this country, and if they all get 10,000 queries per year on average . . . the odds are awful.” You know what that means? We need to be putting our best foot forward if we have any hope of success. Here I’ve compiled seven tips for you to consider when you start querying agents.
- Make sure, if you’re writing fiction, that the manuscript is complete. Do not even bother an agent until then. Why? Imagine your novel is only barely started. You’ve crafted the perfect query letter. You’ve found THE agent to make your publishing dreams come true. One morning, you wake up and find a response from said agent. She requests your entire manuscript to look over. Now what? She won’t have months to wait for you to finish it. You’ve just blown your perfect shot before you’ve even begun.
- Beta readers, get some. I cannot express to you the importance of a good beta reader. They are the folks to whom you entrust your very raw, barely formed word baby. They read it. They offer advice. How do you get them? You ask people who can give you legitimate writing feedback. Your mom is not a good choice. This is the woman who celebrated your first use of a toilet. Her standards are a little low. Do I recommend friends? Nope. The only caveat being they must be able to hurt your feelings and feel no remorse. If you have that kind of friend, use them (and cherish them, because honesty, baby). Pick people who are writers or readers that you trust. For example, my beta readers consist of all writers except for two. My friend AnnMarie, while not a writer, always steers me in the right direction where readers are concerned. In a recent incarnation of my first novel, one of the bad guys killed his girlfriend’s dogs. I needed to make him truly despicable. She freaked out. “Make him despicable, but almost forgivable. I have to be able to humanize him and maybe have a small piece of pity for him. If he kills the dogs, I put the book down then and there.” The last thing I want is a reader to put my book down, so I allowed AnnMarie to save the dogs. My second friend, Renee, is an awesome beta reader. She picks up on the smallest details that I get wrong, something that I, as a reader, have put books down for in the past. Everyone else is a writer. They get the voodoo that I do and help accordingly.
- Edits, more edits, and even more edits. While your manuscript is with beta readers, edit. When it comes back from them, edit. Edit until your brain bleeds. Then you stash that manuscript away for a few weeks and edit until your eyes bleed. Repeat until your fingers bleed. I know, that’s a lot of bleeding, but it’s necessary. Expect to edit more times than you can count. Then edit again for good measure. You need to be shopping around the very best version of your work. I’ve heard too many writers say that they don’t see the need to edit, because after getting an agent they’ll just edit it for them. That’s like expecting a half done lasagna to bake itself. It just doesn’t work that way.
- Platform, Religion, and Politics. You have a platform and a brand. It all revolves around what you write when you are a writer. Unless what you write involves religion and/or politics, don’t write or share about religion and/or politics. If the last presidential election taught us anything it is that those topics are about as polarizing as they come. One fact is true: If you don’t want to isolate readers, leave those topics at the door. If you simply must share, get a private Facebook account that doesn’t allow the general public in on that side of your life. I know Stephen King puts his opinions on social media, but he’s STEPHEN FRICKIN’ KING. When you’re that big, by all means, share away. Until then, stow it.
- Stalk your intended agent before querying. Okay, not really. No law breaking. But please research who you are querying. Look them up. Find their social media. Read through it. Find old interviews. Read those. Find out who they represent. Stalk them, too, for good measure. Find the agency they work for. Read their bios. For the love of all that is holy, tattoo their submission guidelines on your soul. Whatever you do, make that query letter as personal as possible and STICK TO THOSE GUIDELINES. You don’t want to get rejected because you didn’t follow what you were told. And don’t blanket a ton of agents and blind carbon copy them. It’s tacky. It’s lazy. It’s a turnoff, and almost a guarantee for rejection. Speaking of the “R” word….
- Accept rejection with grace. I cannot stress this enough. Agents talk, y’all. They follow each other. You will find this out when you cyberstalk them. There is nothing worse than getting a rejection to lay you low, possibly even make you angry. Do not take your anger out on them. That’s a first class ticket to Ignoring-The-Crazy-Author-Ville. Try getting someone to take you seriously when you’ve just lambasted their agent/friend all over social media. You hurt a lot of feelings and make yourself look like the amateur, insufferable jerk that you are. By all means, lick your wounds. Be sad. Tie on a feedbag of Ben and Jerry’s. Do not take your anger out on those meant to represent you. That being said,….
- Get back up and brush off the moss. Don’t let rejection stop you from achieving your dreams. Trust me, I know how tough rejection is. My first novel has been rejected 29 times so far. I used to take a page from Stephen King’s book and hang them all on a corkboard. But then they started to mock me. My writing suffered. I’d look at that pile of rejection letters and think the worst thoughts. I hung a little Snoopy charm (I love that beagle!) on them so that maybe I’d smile when I saw them. That cute little dog started to mock me, too. I removed it all and just keep a tally list now. I cannot allow the pain of rejection to keep me from writing. First, because there’s no stopping the drive to apply words to paper/computer screens for me. It’s how I process the world. Second, I have faith that somewhere in this wide world is one other crazy person employed by a literary agency that just might believe in me as much as AnnMarie and Renee. And I owe it to myself to find her (or him, but more likely her). So, I am getting back up, brushing off whatever moss has grown on me, and trying again. While I anxiously await agent responses, I’ve started another novel.
You should do the same. Keep chugging along. Follow these tips and give yourself the best possible chance of success!