How Querying Works and Why It’s Important

For those of you who may be reading this who haven’t thought about publishing a book, “querying” as a word may not mean very much to you.  However, for those of you who have thought about publishing a book, you know that querying is everything.  It’s makes all the difference, a lot of the time.  So, for starters today, I’m going to talk about what querying is and what it means for your book.

What is querying?

Querying, in my own words, is the process of pitching your book to a literary agent.  In the case of fiction (which is all I have experience with), you have to write a one-page or shorter letter that catches the attention of an agent and shows them that your book has potential to be sold to publishing houses and, in turn, make them some money.  Many literary agents are interested in authors as a whole, meaning they are making an investment in your future, too.

So, in order to query an agent, you have to have a polished manuscript and a sharp, crisp query letter.  Sometimes they also ask for a synopsis and some sample pages, but not always.  But you have to be ready for them to ask.

Why do you need a literary agent in order to publish your book?

Well, in short… you don’t.  There are plenty of small publishing houses that take unagented work.  If you want to go that route, more power to you–it’s a lot more work on your part, as you won’t have the literary agent advocating for you through the process.  You also won’t likely reach the same audience as if you get an agent and have your book printed by a big publishing house.

If you want your book to be marketed professionally and all of that, querying and acquiring a literary agent truly is the way to go.  It’s a long and difficult process, but it’s definitely worth it in the end, if you are successful.

What is my experience with literary agents and querying?

Ehhh.  It’s not awesome so far, to be honest.  However, now that I’ve been following a lot of literary agents and editors on Twitter (if you want to be a professional writer, I can’t tell you enough–get Twitter and FOLLOW AGENTS AND EDITORS. They have taught me SO much about the whole process, and I haven’t even started querying You Better Run with vigor yet.), I can see that my only experience in querying was with the wrong type of story.

Yes, that’s what I said.  I wasn’t querying the right story.

Without going into too much detail about my baby, Something Beautiful, I have come to realize that that book is not likely to snag me an agent.  Why?  Because the conflict is internal.  There isn’t anything driving the plot in that way.  It’s a growing up story, it’s a story about finding oneself.  But it doesn’t have the same type of visceral, external conflict that You Better Run and Chasing Calli have.  So yeah, I’ve probably been rejected by somewhere around 50 agents in the last 3 years while sporadically querying Something Beautiful.  But I have renewed faith in the process with You Better Run.

What is my querying plan this time around?

I’m going to do a lot more research going forward.  That was definitely one of my weak points when I was starting to query Something Beautiful–I wanted it to happen quickly.  I couldn’t see that I needed to put in as much effort as I have love for the story and the characters.  That will be changing.  I get it now.  I want to find the perfect person for my current story and all future stories.

So here’s my plan:

  • Find an editor who will help me with plot holes, missing links, etc.  I’ve actually already done this part!  In entering a Twitter contest, I found an editor who I got along well with and who seemed to be a lot like me.  She agreed to edit You Better Run for me, even though I didn’t win the contest (I mean, I hired her, but I’m still thankful that she said she’d do it.  Love you, Nicole!), and I am actually helping her by being a beta reader for her forthcoming novel Without Benefits!  Once that’s released, I fully intend to write a review on this blog about it.  Anyway!  This is a key for me, since I’ve always been too sensitive about my work to send it off to an editor.  After doing some freelance editing myself, I get it now.  It’s totally necessary.
  • Once my manuscript is tight, polished, and ready for viewing by agents, I’ll start researching.  I’ve used Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents in the past, and that’s been super helpful.  But there’s an even better resource out there now–the newly updated manuscript wishlist website!  I can’t wait to start diving into that once I have my manuscript squared away.
  • After doing general researching and coming up with a list, I’m going to individually research each and every agent I am considering submitting to.  I want to be 100% happy with any agent who offers to represent me, so I want to be secure in my research.  I’m also hoping that this part of the process will slow me down a little bit.  Due diligence is a slow process, and I want to get it right this time.

At that point, I’ll start querying.  I’m aiming to only send one or two each week, because I want each letter to be personalized and well-thought-out.  I am ready to take this step.  I want to be a writer on top of everything else I already do, because it’s been my dream since high school, at least.

Whether I’m talking about the specifics of researching agents or am talking about the querying process in general, I’ll be updating this blog with query-related information each Wednesday.  To all of my fellow #amwriting and #amquerying folks out there–I’m right there with you!

Lots of love,

-A.

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