This really should go without saying, dear writers, but when it’s time to start querying agents, you should NEVER send out a bulk email to a few dozen agents hoping to get lucky. Just don’t. You know how you can totally tell just by glancing at your inbox which emails can be deleted as junk? Well agents can too. Don’t be the junk.
This came up in A Very Important Meeting the other day when a writer told me she was going with the Slow Query method. I googled it immediately and didn’t find anything so I’m assuming she made it up, but I love the phrasing because it resonates with the way I queried agents, so I’m sharing my own interpretation of it here. In short: querying is a slow process. Embrace it.
Here’s what you do:
Make a Spreadsheet
Even if you’re not a spreadsheet kind of person, trust me. Open a google spreadsheet and start listing the agents you’re interested in. If you’re new to this, you’re probably asking yourself how you even know what agents to be interested in. Well, I’ll tell ya.
Whenever you read a book (btw – you should be reading lots of books) and it seems like it might be on the same shelf as your book (when it’s finally published) – meaning, it has a similar style, content or theme, flip to the acknowledgements and look for the part where the writer thanks their agent.
Google that agent. Find their submissions guidelines. Copy that url and put it in the spreadsheet next to the the agent’s name. Make a note of the title of the book that lead you to them. Note anything else that you might want to remember when you reach out to them. Aim for about 30 agents in total.
Start doing this now, even if your book isn’t done. I spent years building my list while working on endless revisions of my first novel. It kept me motivated to think about my book actually going out to agents.
Sort The List
When you’re ready to start querying, go through your list to do a fact check.
- Are they still at the same agency as they were when you first looked them up?
- Have they changed their submission guidelines?
- What is their reputation like (try googling their name with the word “asshole” and see what comes up)?
Don’t forget, even though we all long for representation, you’re the boss in this relationship. You are hiring someone to work for you. Do your homework.
Then sort your list. Put your dream agent at the top, second favorite below them and so on until you’ve sorted all 30. You are now ready to query.
Do The Deed – Slowly
Spend the time to write a beautiful cover letter. Customize it as much as possible. And for goodness sake, follow their query guidelines EXACTLY.
Do this five times, sending out letters to your top five agents. To give you a sense of how much work this is – I spent a week writing my first five query letters. Take care, go slowly, do it right.
Here are a few post I’ve written in the past about query letters:
After you’ve sent out those first five queries, do something else. Start a new project, take a hot bath, get drunk, whatever you do to unwind.
When the first rejection comes in (and there will be rejections – be prepared), you take a day to cry about it, then you draft a query to agent #6 (btw – in case it needs saying, treat every agent as if they’re your #1, they don’t need to know about your little spreadsheet).
And what to do if you don’t hear back? I’ve heard many a writer complain that they didn’t even get a rejection. If you’ve waited weeks (like, 6 weeks) without word, it is generally acceptable to follow up, but you must be patient. If you still don’t hear back, assume it’s a pass and move on.
If Nothing Happens
If you get through your list of 30 agents without a yes, you need to revise your query letter, your manuscript, or both. At that point I would recommend hiring a professional. A quick google search will offer up plenty of options. When asked, I point people to Jane Friedman’s website. She has more information on there than any one writer could ever need.