Query: ask a question about something, especially in order to express one’s doubts about it

Since I’m patiently waiting for my beta readers, I have more time and incentive to blog. Hurray!

So, let’s talk about querying. First of all, “query” is rather a “queer” word. And then you add the “ing” to the end and it’s super awkward to say. But alas, for writers, querying is necessary. While I did work for a stint at a magazine and contributed essays to a couple of compilations (here and here), this is my first time leaping into the world of literary agents and editors. I have so much more to learn, but here’s what I know so far.

Once you have a completed, edited manuscript, you can start querying literary agents, i.e. sending query letters that include the following:

  • Information about your manuscript (genre, intended audience, word count, title)
  • A brief synopsis of your novel
  • A short biography, including any writing experience/awards
  • A sample of your story (usually the first 5-10 pages)

Literary agents (or their interns) receive dozens of queries a day and weed through them for ones that catch their attention; they can then request a larger sample to read. The hope, then, is that they like the story, and want to make you an offer of representation.

The trick is to do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re querying the right agents for your work. Since my novel is geared toward young adults, I need to ensure that I’m querying agents who deal specifically with YA novels–in this case, a contemporary YA novel. I’ve been using the website QueryTracker to search for agents who represent YA authors. I think I started out with about 450 agents who dealt specifically with YA novels. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve narrowed down the search to about 100 agents. I went through the list, one by one, to see if the agent was looking for a story like mine.

By using links provided to online interviews and Twitter posts with the hashtag #mswl (manuscript wish list), I was able to glean more information about an agent’s particular taste in books. I compiled notes for each agent, which included some of my favorite authors and books they represented in the past. I also highlighted what they had mentioned they were looking for, in order to use as a reference once I do send queries.

I have since started a Twitter account and am following those agents on my short list who have Twitter. It’s been fascinating to watch their interactions online and read their comments about the kind of stories they’re searching for. Throughout this process, I’ve felt a bit like a stalker, or like I’m on an online dating site, searching through profiles for “The One.” What are their interests? What kind of person are they looking for? Do I meet their expectations? How do I impress them? Will they choose me?

Will this method of finding an agent prove successful? No idea. But it’s opened my eyes to the intriguing world of literary representation and book lovers everywhere.

Now, I want to make note of the second part of the definition of query above: “especially in order to express one’s doubts about it.” All the articles I’ve read about querying are adamant about the author not apologizing for their lack of experience or belittling their writing skills. Of course, there should be a balance between this and proclaiming your manuscript the most amazing piece of literature in the galaxy. And while I don’t plan to include them in my query letters, I most certainly have doubts.

I am fully aware that the literary scene is very competitive and cut-throat. There are so many amazing writers out there and only so many manuscripts that can be accepted. I know that. I also know that the majority of responses I will receive will be rejections, and that’s excluding the non-responses that aren’t even sent (and are definitely rejections).

No one likes to be rejected, and I’m trying to build up my expectations so that my dream of becoming a published author isn’t dashed to bits when I inevitably get rejected. Again. And again.

And now, some more memes to lift the spirits.

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