Querying is So Much More Than a Letter
This blog post is based on this twitter thread.
I started querying in March of 2013 and signed with an agent on my third manuscript in January 2015. That agent left publishing before I landed a deal, and so I've been back out on the query circuit since 2018. Across six total manuscripts, I've sent just over 500 queries.
Unfortunately, I've had to become very, very organized in my querying.
Look, I really hope you find an agent and a deal long before you ever have to get organized on this level. But even if you only query one manuscript, I've got some tips for you on keeping yourself organized and making your life a little easier.
NONE of this is more important than a good book. You've got to write a good book and you've got to write a good query, but this is all just a few ways to keep your querying process organized.
Keep an organized list of agents and queries. I use this spreadsheet:
This is similar to the online database that QueryTracker will let you build, if you pay for a premium membership. I don't like paying for memberships and I like having full control over the data I'm tracking.
This spreadsheet gives you a place to track the basics: Agent Name, Agency, the date you sent a query, the date you expect to hear a response, the date on which you actually get a response, space for QueryManager links, and a space for results/feedback notes. Also, I track what materials were sent (10 pgs, a synopsis, 3 chapters, etc) so I can keep track of where my weak point in my submission package is. I also keep track of general agency policies ("No response means no", whether or not you can re-query another agent at the agency, etc).
This spreadsheet will also automatically calculate how many queries you have outstanding, how many rejections you've accumulated, how many agents are still out there, average response time, and what your request rate is.
Format your files ahead of time
1. When you have your final draft ready to query, save it in Word. Sorry, nobody wants your .rtf files or your scrivener documents and definitely not a google doc.
2. Go into File --> Properties -->Summary and change the document title, document author, and summary. This information all automatically transfers to a kindle or other e-reader, which is how most agents and editors read manuscripts.
3. Add page numbers to your header or footer
4. Add your name and manuscript title to the header.
5. Save as: "MANUSCRIPT TITLE - LastName" or "MANUSCRIPT TITLE - LastName, FirstName". You do not want to send "mermaid book - draft 5(1)(1) FINAL revision staceys notes. doc" to an agent.
Now you've got a fully-formatted manuscript. Now, delete everything but the first 100 pages, hit 'save as' and save it as "MANUSCRIPT TITLE - 100 pgs - LastName". All those properties you created will carry over.
Now create a 50-page version, a 3-chapter version, and a 10-page version.
Paste your query letter on the first page of your full manuscript, the 100-page partial, and the 50-page partial. Agents often make requests and then don't read them for weeks or months; having your query letter on the document reminds them why they wanted to read this in the first place.
Whenever an agent or agency requests one of those documents, you'll have it ready to just copy-paste, so you don't have to scroll and try to find your break points.
Find your break points
If your chapter ends on page 51, go ahead and get to the end of the chapter for your 50-page partial. If the chapter breaks, or scene breaks, on page 48, that's fine too. This partial is just to give agents an idea if they want to read the whole thing. Chances are, they know that long before they get to page 48. I wouldn't recommend pushing this more than 1-2 pages in either direction, but it's ultimately your call.
Prep all your materials
- a query letter
- a 2-page synopsis
- your polished, finished manuscript
- your partials
Save everything as .doc or .docx - it's rare that anybody wants a pdf, so you can make those conversions as needed.
Make decisions about the nitty-gritty details
- Salutations: Some agents want "Dear Ms/Mrs/Mr/Mx". Some want "Dear FirstName". Others want "Dear FirstName LastName". If their website doesn't specify, then go with your gut. I've seen agents get grumpy on twitter about each of those options, so you just gotta follow instructions and then do your best.
- Query organization: There are two basic query organizations
Some agents want it one way, some want it the other. Follow whatever instructions are on their websites, but if they don't specify, make a decision based on what's best for your particular book.
- Paste everything into the body of the email: No attachments. Ever. Unless someone specifically asks for them, in which case they will be very clear about this on their website.
And since this specific question came up once on twitter, I do mean that you should open your word doc, select all, copy, and then paste it into your email draft. Do not paste individual jpegs of the pages of your manuscript.
"No response means no" is exactly what it sounds like: If an agent doesn't respond within the pre-established timeframe, it means they are passing on your project. Usually, an agent with a "no response means no" policy will be very clear about their turnaround time; they'll say, "If you haven't heard from me within eight weeks, please consider it a pass" or something similar. If they don't list a timeframe, assume twelve weeks.
Standard practice is that you may query every agent at the agency (assuming they represent your category and genre), one right after the other if they all reject you. I don't know why you would do this, but it's an option that's available to you. Some agencies have a "no from one means no from all" policy, and those policies should be respected.
If an agent does not have a "no response means no" policy, and they haven't responded by the end of their stated turnaround time, you may nudge them. (I, personally, do not do a lot of nudging, but it is permitted) Reply to the email you sent, politely reference the date of the original query and ask for an update.
"Hello, Mr. Jones, I sent this query thirteen weeks ago. Do you have an estimate on when I can expect a response from you?"
They might ignore you, they might give you a timeframe, or they might say that they thought they replied already and give you their response again.
If you don't feel comfortable nudging at the query stage, wait two weeks past their stated turnaround time, cross them off the list, move on.
If an agent uses QueryManager, do not nudge. Any nudging you do will push you to the back of the queue, since QueryManager keeps everything in chronological order.
Remember, this is all to help keep you organized while you query. It does not make your query better, and it does not overcome a poorly-written manuscript. But it can help you sleep better at night, knowing you submitted a well-organized package and you know exactly where you are in the process.