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Your Keys To Mastering The Art Of Querying - Without Going Crazy!

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It's the end of the road, the last hurrah, the big shebang...the querying phase. The drafting and personal edits are done and you're looking to get yourself an agent and a publisher. Eventually, you're looking to get that sweet, sweet advance money.

First you have to convince someone to get in your corner, though. To do that, you're going to have to query. You're going to have to query a lot. This is where a lot of writers start to sweat nervously and inch toward the door - but hey, you've got this!

Querying is part of the process just like editing or polishing or writing those first sentences. If you want a traditional publishing deal, you're just going to have to saddle up and get accustomed to the process.

I've got some tips and advice to help you just that - and keep your sanity, too. Pretty sweet deal, right?

man's hands typing on a laptop keyboard

Key Number One: Draft An Easily Customizable Template.

The query template is your saving grace. Truly. It saves you more time per minute spend crafting it than anything you'll ever write - so do a good job when you put the thing together, for God's sake! Make it professional, engaging, and dynamic. There is a delicate balance to be struck in the writing of a query template. Think like an agent and move in a straight line.

You want your voice to shine through, but only after the elements of your story are clear. Agents and publishers are notoriously overworked and over-queried. They don't want to wade through paragraphs of information to find what they're really looking for.

As it happens, in most cases they just won't do that. What they will do is trash your letter and forget about you. Harsh, but also pretty realistic when you think about it. Anyone who's really serious about their book should be leading with it, not with inane details about themselves or literally anything else.

So, draft a good 1-2 paragraph synopsis of your story. Refine it, rework it, and try it out on friends and family to see if it hooks their attention. That's really the most labor-intensive part of crafting the letter. Now, type up a few sentences to explain who the heck you are - if you're new, just mention that you're an active writer - and why you think your book is a good bet for the current market.

This part needs to be brief. Don't waste words, because wasted words will waste the letter. Time is of the essence. Finish off by thanking the contact for their time and consideration and provide any of your own contact details for them to use as needed. Boom, bam, you're done!

Now, you'll want to craft two or three such letters with places to switch out contact names and relevant details. The letter template should be changed up so that it isn't a mere "form letter" that is quickly and easily forgotten. Make it quality, and make it something you can adapt to the situation.

image of pink letter envelopes and stamps

Key Number Two: Go In With A Strategy.

It sounds like vague, rather "duh" advice, I know. I'm not talking about generalities, though. When I say strategy, I mean you go in with a plan. A series of very specific steps with a very specific end goal, be it 20 queries, 100 queries, or as many as it takes to find your agent and/or publisher.

Allow me to elucidate. My strategy goes like this:

  • I open up excel and start a sheet with "agent/publisher," "agency/company," "date queried," "contact address," "submission rules," and "response date & yes/no."

  • I look online at Manuscript Wishlist or other similar outlets and find as many agents or publishers within my genre as I can (taking care to check if they have good reviews) - I add their information to my sheet.

  • I then simply whip out my query letter template and a few email composer windows, then start copying my template and changing it up to reflect each contact before sending the queries out in batches of about 5-10 letters.

  • As the contacts respond - or their date of response passes - I add their response and the date to my sheet.

This not only keeps all of the necessary information in one, easy-to-access place, but it also streamlines the email process. It's far less intimidating to send queries when you have all of the relevant details listed in list format - and copy/pasting is easier than typing contact info into every single email window.

With your template to guide you and your list to keep you sane, you're well on your way to sane and efficient query-town USA.

close up of typewritten letter saying "ready to get published"

Key Number Three: Keep (Patiently) Refining Your Message.

I'm not going to lie to you, querying is rough. Generally speaking it is a series of gut-punch rejections that roll in every few weeks, and you can easily start to feel like your life is on hold between responses.

This can be deadly for your motivation, and you're going to have to learn to stay focused on your end goal while simultaneously not hyper-fixating on query responses. It's a balance that takes time and a healthy dose of self-awareness that no one else can teach you.

To help you remain mission-oriented and productive, I suggest you continuously refine your query and keep editing your book. Try a few different versions of your synopsis and see if they garner unique responses. If a contact happens to provide more than a form rejection and lets you know why they are rejecting your work, take that reason into consideration.

Not too much consideration, though. Just ponder the criticism for a moment, weigh it, and then make a decision to either change something or move on. And stick to that decision.

Indecision will absolutely destroy your momentum. Not only that, but in my experience it nearly always brings on a killer bout of writer's block. As the kids say...yikes. So refine even if it's just for the sake of keeping your mind from dulling down into nothing.

And please, don't neglect your other projects. They love you, they need you, they're depending on you to not let them rot in obscurity... If your only focus is one book and one querying process, you've veered into the danger zone. You shouldn't be putting so much pressure on any one story.

Key Number Four: If Querying Fails, Don't Give Up.

I won't lie to you - there's a fair chance you won't land an agent or a publisher. As hard as that is, it doesn't mean you haven't written something marketable and worthwhile. Really, it doesn't. If your book completely sucks, well, it's not the querying process that either proves or disproves it. Isn't that comforting?

If you have spent a significant chunk of time querying one book (a year or so, by my judgment) with nary an acceptance or even a manuscript request to show for it, know when to pull back. Don't throw your emotion and energy into something that just isn't happening.

Yes, there are lots of stories of people who got 2,000,000,000 rejections before landing an agent and becoming a bestselling gajillionaire, but those stories leave a lot of information out. The rarity of such a situation notwithstanding, most of these cases were boosted along by some major manuscript changes or lucky breaks via networking. And in the time these poor saps spent ineffectively querying, they could have written another book or two!

Don't sacrifice your momentum out of desperation. You will get published, so long as you keep writing and learning. You can self-publish, too - I did, without going the traditional route. I ended up keeping way more of my money and artistic integrity by doing so, and I made money (I continue to make money, too).

If self-publishing isn't your thing - and I get it, it's a lot of consistent work and marketing - then you should still keep your head up. Revamp your novel and try querying again. Some agencies have lots of agents and will accept a second query IF there have been significant enough changes to the manuscript, but you'll usually need to start fresh ad query new people.

You'll write more books if you stop moping and realize that rejections come in all shapes, sizes, and trajectories, and that you as a writer will simply need to adapt to them. Grow your skin thicker and figure out what works. Otherwise, you've certainly picked the wrong line of work.

There's no crying in writing, kid.

woman writing in a blank book

In Conclusion - Reality Is Reality, And You Shouldn't Be Intimidated.

There's so much information out there about queries and the pitfalls of the traditional publishing industry's way of choosing material for publication. There is some validity to the doom-and-gloom editorials, I won't lie, but it's also pretty overblown a lot of the time.

All of the trends in the world are irrelevant to you, anyway. All you can do, if you'd like to find an agent or publishing house, is query well and stay above water. Either you'll get accepted or you won't - either way, the only way your career will die is if you allow it to.

Not only is failure necessary for success, but it's also a relative concept. Be careful how you define your success as a writer in the first place. Don't undermine yourself before you even get started by having a very narrow, uninformed image of what your future as an author "should" be. You're going to do great as long as you keep writing.

Thanks for sticking with me - I hope your sweat has cooled and you aren't ready to embrace death by paper cut, now. Don't forget to join the Words of a Feather clan by subscribing and leaving a comment! And share this post if you liked it - someone, somewhere needs to hear this stuff. See you next time!

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