You made it! You’ve drafted and revised, and then revised some more. And then you’ve gotten feedback and then revised some more! Lots of dishes went unwashed. Lots of veggies went rotten in the crisper. You’re ready to query. Here are my tips! As usual, take them with the biggest grain of salt. Most writers have their own version of query tips, so do your research to see what works best for you.
- Speaking of research, this is your first step. The last thing you want to do is query-bomb the entirety of children’s lit. (Yes, these tips are geared towards kidlit writers, as it’s the only field I know well!) Get yourself on Twitter, take out the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market from the library, and Google your little butt off. Don’t forget the Acknowledgements sections of your favorite books, because writers usually thank their agents (as they should!). Most agents have a ‘wishlist’, where they indicate the genre and category of books they want to rep. Make a list of every one that sparks your interest.
- Hate to say it, but you’re going to have to actually write your query. I know, it’s awful. But it’s also an incredibly useful skill to have, so get practicing. (I write a sample query for every book idea I have, because it is a great way to test the viability of your idea!) There are some amazing websites that will help you with this, such as Query Shark, Verla Kay forums, and Rachelle Gardner. Googling “query help” and “sample queries” will get you a long way. There are also TONS of query contests online, which is why I highly recommend Twitter for writers, as it’s a great way to keep your ear to the ground for these opportunities.
- When you’re sure your query is up to snuff (this query series by Susan Dennard is great!), send it out! It is your choice if you want to send it out to a whole bunch of agents at first, but I would recommend sending it out to a handful at a time. Target your queries, and see if you get any bites. The trick here is finding out if it is your query that is turning agents off, or the idea itself. A good hint will come with the type of rejections you get. In my experience (and that’s just my experience), personalized rejections likely mean ‘sorry, this book isn’t for me’. More form style rejections can mean ‘sorry, this query isn’t cutting it’. Lots of people tweak their queries here, before sending them out again.
- A note on ‘dream agents’. There is a lot of talk about these fabled people! Just remember, your dream agent isn’t necessarily the one you think he or she is. Your dream agent is the one who LOVES your work, and who is competent, ethical, and eager to help you build a career. Do not discount newer agents, and do not discount agents that don’t have a huge following on Twitter. Also, a reputable agent will never, ever charge you to read your manuscript. If they ask, run.
- If you get rejections (hint: you will), don’t let them get to you. This isn’t personal. This isn’t them saying ‘you’re a terrible writer’. You know how sometimes you pick up a published book, read the first line and think ‘nah, not for me.’? Agents get to do the same thing. Again, it is not personal. Stay confident, and if you feel the need to vent (normal), do not do it online. There is no need for that little trail of breadcrumbs! Find a friend, or a dog, who can listen instead.
- If you get a revise and resubmit request, this is GOOD. Agents don’t usually ask for these unless they see a spark in your writing, and they’re not big on wasting their time. Some don’t even sign a client until they know they’re able to revise, because it is such a huge part of publishing. My own agent asked for an R&R, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. My tip here is to take your time. Don’t hastily tweak your manuscript and send it back. There is no rush! They won’t forget you, I promise. You have a chance, so make it count.
- Finally, be nice and follow guidelines. You’d be surprised how many agents receive nasty responses from their rejections. Don’t be one of these people. The publishing industry is a small world and people talk. (And, it’s just mean and a waste of your time.) Likewise, you know how agents are always talking about following their guidelines? They do this because SO many people don’t follow them. Read guidelines carefully, don’t pitch to them on Twitter or FB (unless invited), and don’t call them in their offices. Following their online guidelines will put you in the top 30% of their piles, seriously!
These are the nuts and bolts of querying, but if you’re looking for some more general help during this crazy time, check out my PEP TALKS!