Querying: Essential Tools & Strategy

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Now that you know how to write a query, the question is: what's next?

First, share your query with others for feedback, and be open to editing/fine-tuning it. Sometimes the best thing for your query is an outsider (who hasn't read the book) asking questions/making suggestions. Even those who have some skill with query letters can use help--I had help from the amazing Beth Revis on my query for BRIGHTLY BURNING. She helped me take a first draft and make it better.

Where do you find help with your query? First, for self-editing/absorbing lots of information/tips during query drafting, I highly recommend Query Shark. Agent Janet Reid has YEARS of archives where she dissects queries good and bad, and has a few examples of "perfect" queries. Reading enough of the archives will help you with query beats, dos & don'ts, and clean writing.

Next, look to writer's forums where you can post your query for feedback (and critique others'). I recommend the Query Tracker forums, Agent Query Connect, Absolute Write and the sub-reddit YAwriters (/r/YAwriters). YAwriters is the sub-reddit I mod and we are a friendly and helpful community. You can wait for our quarterly query critique thread, or post your query in our Friday Open Thread or as a standalone query post. We've workshopped many queries that have gone on to do well in the query trenches!

Let's say you have a query you are happy with. Now you're ready to actually send queries! Here are my essential tips & strategies for successful (or at least non-disastrous) querying.

1) Subscribe to QueryTracker pro (optional but recommended). It is $25 for an entire year, so it is a bargain. While you can absolutely get a lot of value from QT for free, the pro version gives you access to many tools you may find worthwhile. First of all, with a pro account you can track multiple projects, keeping data on every book you query. But it's really all about data tools: you can see each agent's "query queue," based on all the self-reported data of other QT members. You can see when people queried, and when the agent responded, and how they responded: rejection, request, etc.

There's also a data tool that shows you the progression of response: you can see when pages were requested, when things were upgraded to fulls, how long it took the agent to reject... or offer. You can see how many offers they've made in the last year and when, on what type of project.

Between these two tools, you can get a good sense of many things, including how quickly the agent responds to queries, how quickly they read requested material, how often they offer, where they are in their "query queue"--and if they skip people, they may have a "maybe" pile--and also whether they respond to all queries. You can see from other users when to give up on a "no response means no" agent. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of things, though if you are overwhelmed by this sort of information it can be maddening!

2) Sort and classify the agents on your list. You can do this in your personal document/spreadsheet. Make note of agents who respond to all queries vs. "no response means no." Make note of who wants pages with queries (and how many pages), as well as who requires a synopsis. I always saved the agents who wanted synopses for my second or third round because I procrastinated on writing one haha.

If you have QT pro tools, note how quickly each agent responds. I sort agents into three groups: super fast responders (1 day to 2 weeks, consistently), regular/normal responders (2 weeks to 2 months), slow responders (anything more than 2 months)/may never respond. If you don't have QT pro tools, you can cobble together a general sense of timing by looking at the comments on QT which come with the free account.

Sort/classify your agent list into tiers, from "top tier"/dream agents all the way down to "maybe/up&coming." Note that you should NEVER QUERY AN AGENT YOU WOULDN'T ACCEPT AN OFFER FROM. So your lowest "tier" should NOT be schmagents/bad agents! They are good agents who are maybe new, or you don't know a lot about them, or you think they may be a fit but aren't completely sure.

3) Query in batches NOT all at once. Start with a test batch, a small sample of agents who respond quickly (fast responders) and who are NOT at the very top of your list. Try 2-3 agents. You'll use these agents to test if your query/pages are working. If you get even one request, you know something is working. If you get NONE, it doesn't mean your query (or pages) are bunk, but it warrants another small test--another 2-3 agents.

Batch querying, and particularly your early "feeler" queries tell you whether or not your query package is working. If you wash out, go back to the writer communities/forums for further feedback. Find a completely fresh set of eyes to review. Look at your first pages again. Sometimes, you get "no" responses because something is wrong with the query/pages, but sometimes it's just taste, or even the market. If you're querying a project that is going to be a hard sell, you may simply have a lower success rate at querying. So the unscientific truth is that you have to do the best you can and go with your gut.

After your test queries, query in batches of 6-10 agents at a time, mixing together all your tiers. If top agents on your list are in the slower responding category, query them in an earlier batch, especially if you know from QT that that agent reviews queries chronologically. You want to get into their queue ASAP. You can also save top agents from your list who are fast responders for later, just in case you need to revise your query/pages again. The great thing about them being fast is if you suspect an offer is on the horizon from another agent, you can query those agents quickly towards the end without doing anything shady (like querying after getting an offer).

4) You always want to save some top/quality agent choices for later in querying just in case you get substantive feedback early on, or even an R&R, and end up revising your book. You'll thank yourself later if you've only queried 10-15 agents before doing a big revision, because you'll have plenty left.

5) Every time you get a rejection, send a new query. Many writers do this as a coping mechanism--face rejection with a new hope! It's a great way to feel empowered during the process.

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