Query Advice: Always be ready to move on!

With so many League members this month sharing the stories of how they got their agents, it got me thinking about how I got mine. It’s a fairly standard story—wrote novel, sent queries, got offers, chose one. Voila. But I think what makes it such a boring story on the surface is that underneath it all, behind the scenes, I was an absolute MADWOMAN of organization and preparation. I made tables and charts of everything possible, I studied dozens upon dozens of agent and author blogs, wherever query-writing was mentioned. Over the months before I queried I gathered so many tips and bits of advice, and I wanted to share one of the most crucial, in my opinion!

Always have the next thing ready to go.

Now, this should be taken with a grain of salt. But first, some explanation. Always have queries ready to go for the next agents down on your list, so that if you should get rejections from your first round, you’ve got the next ready to go. This is true of any kind of submission. If you short fiction, make sure you’ve always got your next cover letter-with-submission ready to go so that if a rejection comes back, you can send the new one off right away. And it’s true on the macro level as well: while you’re querying your first novel, make sure you start writing the next project so that if this first one doesn’t sell, you’ve got another project all lined up.

It’s so, so easy to let rejection get you down. It’s SO easy to say “I’m just going to take today to feel lousy about this, and resume tomorrow” and just let it all… settle. It's hard to do the proper research and preparation for querying while you're suffering from a rejection. It’s easy to give up without even realizing you’re giving up. But if all you have to do is hit “send” to get the next query on its way, it’s a lot harder to justify the quitting!

Now, for that grain of salt. While it’s great to have your next query ready to go, you still need to pay attention to what’s going on. If you’re getting a really high rejection rate off your query letter from agents who rep your genre, that suggests that your query letter might need work. Then it’s okay to pause, reconsider, try a new tactic. Get some advice from other aspiring writers, check out some blogs and forums about the subject. The same is true if you’re getting lots of requests from your query letter, but lots of manuscript rejections—it may mean your manuscript needs work.

I may have never gotten an agent if I hadn’t been following this advice. I had two dream agents, going into the process of querying—and the first one rejected me within five minutes of my sending him my query letter. It was so abrupt and heartbreaking that if I hadn’t had the next round ready to go RIGHT there, I might have just stopped altogether. But from the midst of all-consuming despair, even I could press one button: Send.

(And I did get an offer from my other “dream” agent. I just realized that she wasn’t my dream agent after all. But that’s a totally different story, for another day!)


Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome advice, Meagan. As I start querying, I'll keep it in mind.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think the vast majority of books written to completion don't get at least a partial almost entirely due to the query letter. A good query letter and a half-decent idea should be able to get anyone a partial request.

(There are obviously many exceptions, but if you've had critique groups or betas read it and give you the okay, it's very unlikely that your book is so bad an awesome query can't get you a partial request.