Monday, January 27, 2014

Query Prep

Hey guys! Hope you're busy rocking January. :)

I'm a huge fan of planning. (Like, as in Andrea's organization posts make me green with envy and also really impressed, kind of in love with planning.) So today I'm collecting up some of my favorite tips for planning out querying and managing where and how you go through submitting a project.

I've read submissions for a literary agent and currently read for Entangled, and after seeing two of my CPs successfully query projects and land agents, I've put together a list. Disclaimer: these are suggestions-- obviously, different strategies work for different people on some of these, some are just good sense, and others I've cited agent/editor opinion where I can. Ultimately, you're the best judge of what works for you. 

Yeah, okay. You've heard this before, probably lots of times. Agents and editors only want your polished manuscripts, and polishing may mean tacking on a few more months or weeks to your querying schedule. Are revisions worth it? YES. In querying, you're auditioning to work with someone for possibly the rest of your writing career, or at least a large chunk of it, ideally. NaNoWriMo's even got a Now What? section dedicated to revising.

Part of showing an agent that you'd be a good client (or an editor that you'd be a good author to work with and publish) is showing them that you take the time to revise and develop your work on your own before passing it off to them. When I read a sub, it's pretty clear how much effort a writer put into it. If it reads like a bonsai (as in, it is sculpted and the branches are all nicely accounted for), then the more likely I am to love it. 

Is this going to take more time? Yes. Is it going to be worth it? Take it away, Epictetus. 

Gather CPs and betas, bring them into the manuscript party.
Sometimes to create your great thing, you need some help from other people. And it's cool. If you have CPs already, then get them to read your manuscript and give you some feedback. If you're looking for a fresh eyes on a project your CPs have already been through the ringer with, consider reaching out on twitter for betas. 

Don't have a CP yet, but interested in finding one? 
How About We CP is probably my fave resource for this (beyond our own kickass Buddies Project, obviously), because it's how I found one of my good friends. There's some awesome people out there and it's got helpful tags for easy genre-matching. Go forth and make friends! 

Draft a synopsis and query letter while you revise.
I love Query Shark. Honestly, one of the things that got me more comfortable writing queries was being exposed to a LOT of them. When I was interning with Mary Kole, I read a ton of queries and that was really helpful for seeing what worked and what didn't. Read lots of them, either on QS or register for Write On Con, and check out the query forums there.

The reason I suggest drafting these up while you revise is that it a) gives you a break from revising, which is nice b) has you write about what's going on in the story while it's fresh in your mind and you're excited about it and c) affords you enough time to put the query/synopsis down and pick it up again to see if it's as good and accurate as it can be.  

Research agents or editors, and choose which you'll query/submit to.
Research is pretty obvious-- you need to know who represents what genres, who wants your query, synopsis, and first five, ten, fifteen, chapter, three chapters, etc. I don't mean query an agent or an editor exclusively (exclusivity is rarely a good idea), but do choose whether you want to query agents or submit to editors. Dahlia Alder has a fantastic post on the subject for an idea how agents and editors feel when you query them simultaneously.

Again, ultimately it's your manuscript and I, as this tiny internet person, can do little to stay your clicky inbox hand. To me, though, these are different goals-- finding an agent for your career (who may not be able to sell the manuscript you signed with her) versus finding an editor for a specific manuscript (who may be less interested in your next story). Ask: am I trying to get agent representation for my whole career with this manuscript, or is this project something I feel would do best at a smaller publisher? Both are equally legitimate and make awesome books.

Have your CPs/betas read your query.
Maybe this seems obvious, but in case not: the people who've read your story are the ones you want to read your query. Are you focusing on the main conflict? Are you bringing enough of the voice in, are you setting the stakes? Your CPs and betas are awesome for help with this.

Send yourself a test email. Does it all look okay?
Paste your query and first whatever many pages into an email and send it to yourself. You'll see what agents and editors will see (if they use email submissions). Make sure that it formats nicely, and enjoy that peace of mind when it does. 

Make it easy for people with e-readers. 
This is one that I didn't know since I read submissions on my laptop. But, as more and more agents are using e-readers to read work, consider doing this to help them out:
It's also helpful to paste your query on the first page of the manuscript, too, so it's easy for an agent to remember which manuscript they're reading.

Collect up some inspiration, and prepare to move onto your next project. 
Start thinking up what you want to work on next! This can be super exciting, spending time cultivating your TBR (who am I kidding everyone's TBRs are probably massive) or researching for your next writing project. Whether you plan, pants, or something in between, this is the time to start your creative mojo. 

Remember: querying/subbing isn't the final say on everything, but the draft honeymoon should be over. 
Not getting any bites on a manuscript doesn't mean that it's the end of the line for it-- however, this is the point where the honeymoon should be over. (Revisions were the honeymoon, as awkward and perfect as that sounds.) You know the weaknesses and the strengths of this piece, you recognize that you have written a full and complete story, and you're ready to settle into moving onto the next phase of your writing life post-wedding/creating and forging manuscript. It doesn't mean that you never think about it, but more that the major creative showdown is done (until edit letters), you've taken it as far as you can go, and you're moving towards the next big challenge in your writing life.

Separate email accounts, social media as needed. 
This is two-in-one. Your query email needs to be professional-looking. That means or soandsowrites@ or if your name is already taken. It looks scads less professional if you're sending queries from or

How much separation you want between your email is up to you. I have all my writing mail forward to one place, but I can also understand (for stress/anxiety reducing purposes) wanting to have a "safe" email where you don't have to see rejections until you're ready. (I have a separate account for school-related email because sometimes I just want to be a cool writer person without worrying about who's asking me to extend their homeworks or whatever for a few hours.) Whatever works for you.

You've already heard that you have to be careful about social media-- if your CPs use gchat or text, I recommend saving the rants and sadfacing for those outlets. If you must use twitter or something to vent, either do it over DMs, or make another account for venting and protect your tweets so that only your friends/CPs can see them. Agents will check.

Batches, and the one rejection enters, another query leaves system.
Again, this is one of those your-mileage-may-vary dealios, but I feel like it keeps morale up to send out one more query whenever a rejection comes in. 

The "Badass" label, aka, keeping up your self-esteem.
Hopping on the ego train again, because querying is Rough on self-worth-- prepare for it beforehand. My trick (and you're totally welcome to laugh at/with me in the comments about this) is to label emails that make me feel awesome-- from CPs or people telling me how awesome my writing is, to cool art that people send me, or even just emails that say that someone I admire is following me on Twitter (yes, I am that vain)-- with this label that says "badass" on it. So, when I'm feeling like I suck, I can just click the badass label and remember that hey, I am kind of cool after all.

Spreadsheets! Or, keeping track of your stats.
Okay, so no one is going to hold a gun to your head and force you to keep track of these suckers. But you should have some means/method of making sure that you didn't send a query to an agent who's already rejected the manuscript you're querying. I personally recommend a spreadsheet (because I am mathy and excitable), but for the excel-phobic there's also QueryTracker.

Any more suggestions or awesome stuff I missed? Share it in the comments!

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

You can find her on Twitter @:
Or drop her an email at:
And also visit her website @: 

1 secret replies:

  1. It doesn't hurt to keep a file with personal responses, if any. Say an agent passes on your current project but says he'd be interested to see something else. Well, when you have it, you already know someone to send it to. Notes like this can be even added to your submission tracker for easier reference.