So you’re preparing to query. Congratulations on finishing your novel and editing it until it polishes like a diamond. But if you haven’t done that yet, stop right now and get back to work, you’re not ready. If you have finished writing and editing, read on.
Querying can be an intense process for publishing hopefuls, because there is a lot to prepare, consider, and organize. First, you’ll obviously need to have your manuscript, and goodness knows how long writing, revising, and editing may take.
Next, you’ll need to write a query letter, which is a whole other beast in and of itself. I’ve noticed that many agents will now specify the outline they’d like to see your query letter use in their submission guidelines, and usually it follows something like this:
- Dear _____,
- Two-three paragraphs of a back-cover-like synopsis of your work, including genre, word count, and comparable titles
- Brief author biography and any relevant publishing credits
- Closing line and then your signature with contact information
That’s not all you’ll need to prepare, just in case, because many agents will also request a formal synopsis, which again, is a whole other thing. This is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of the entire book, including spoilers, in which you write any new character names in all caps the first time you mention them. This is the part I hate the most, because I’m boiling all of my work down to the bare essentials with a straightforward tone.
Some agents will ask that you include certain pages in your query submission as well. Some ask for the first five pages, some the first ten, some a certain number of chapters, and some–very few–the whole manuscript.
As you can probably tell from what I’ve written so far, especially if you haven’t started mulling around in the trenches of querying yet, every agent’s submission guidelines are different, and it can be trying to keep all of them straight, unless you’re focusing on one submission at a time.
If you’re not focusing on only one query and response at a time, which many authors don’t due to the long time frame some may take, it’s called simultaneous submissions; and it’s a good idea to disclose this to any agent who asks for additional work from you, which is called a “request”. Some ask for a partial manuscript, some ask for full, and this is sort of like a second round interview for your book.
Again… there’s a lot to keep track of, and I haven’t even begun to talk about researching which agents would be the best fits for your manuscript.
If you’d like the ease of having everything in one spot for this adventure–your research, your lists, your community input, etc–consider paying the $25 yearly subscription fee for Query Tracker. However, if you’d rather save the money and put in some leg work, then I have a spreadsheet for you, one that I use when I query.
I also have some advice on how to get started with all of your research, since you can’t just submit your manuscript to any agent. They’re all looking for different things.
My first piece of advice is to check out #mswl on Twitter. MSWL stands for “manuscript wish list” and it’s a hashtag meant for agents and editors to share what they are looking for in the submissions they receive. This should not be used prior to writing. Tastes and trends change so often, so I wouldn’t recommend looking at these threads to figure out what to write about in order to fit the mold. When you boil down all the specifics, agents and editors are looking for authentic voices (#ownvoices), especially in young adult fiction. They are looking for your story, not something generic you wrote because you thought it was publishable.
Checking out #mswl on Twitter can help you to find some agents who are looking for works like yours, but if you can’t find any, I would recommend checking out a more official source for agent and editor’s wish lists: The Official Manuscript Wish List site.
Once you search through the Official Manuscript Wish List and read agent profiles of what they are looking for, you can come up with a list of appropriate agents for you. The site will also tell you how to submit your work to them, so that you can set yourself up for the best outcome.
When I queried the first time, I had no way of organizing all of my submissions and keeping track of them, so I just looked back at the date I sent the emails and waited for responses.
The second time I wanted to be more organized, so I created a Google Sheet that I could update as I queried, submitted, and found agents that would possibly be a good fit for I am Deathless.
With my six column spreadsheet, I was able to keep track of which agents I had already queried, so I wouldn’t pester them into never looking at my work again.
Most agencies don’t allow for simultaneous submissions to their agents, so keeping track of the agency is crucial. If you find two agents from the same agency who you think would be a good fit for your manuscript, it’s your job to figure out who would like your manuscript more.
The third column was probably the most helpful for me, because that allowed me to write the email address/website for submission as well as requirements. This is crucial, because agents ask for different things. Some only want your query letter, others want the query and first three chapters or a certain number of pages, while others want the query and a synopsis and a certain number of pages. You’re going to want to know exactly what each agent is asking for.
The fourth column is important for keeping track of the date when you sent your query, because some agents will say things like, “if you don’t hear anything in six weeks, consider it a pass.” You’ll need to know when your submission has gone cold.
In the fifth column, I’d write the date of when I heard back from the agent or when I’d realized that the submission had gone cold. That date would be more important when I’d receive a manuscript request, because the clock would start again as they took a closer look at my work. I’d be able to keep track of when the agent received my manuscript so that I knew when to expect a response or to nudge them.
An agent nudge is a friendly email reminder that they have your material, which is in NO WAY your opportunity to be snarky with them about how long it’s taking. It takes long. When an agent says they will respond in 2-4 weeks, I’m astounded, because they receive so many manuscripts every day. You have to be patient and gracious. They have a lot of work to do, and until you’re their client, your work is not their priority.
The sixth column is where I wrote notes about when to consider a submission a pass or if they had any comments on my work. This, again, is not an agent’s priority or job to do, so if they pass but give you feedback, that’s amazing. Write it down. It means they liked your work enough to have some sort of investment in its eventual success with another agent.
Since my first draft of this chart, I spruced it up a bit for round 3 of querying I am Deathless and round 1 of querying Misfit Theater Company, and I’ve included it here for you in case you’d like to track your queries in the same way I do.
If this organizer speaks to you, download my free Querying Spreadsheet and get to work!
If not, how do you organize your queries? Share in the comments!
Either way, best of luck to you and your project! Happy querying!