Querying 101

By Kayla Hoyet

So, you’ve finished your novel. It’s exciting to place that final piece of punctuation on the last page, isn’t it? You want to experience the immeasurable joy of seeing your latest literary masterpiece on the shelves at your favorite book store, but first–the dreaded querying process!

Querying is an exciting time for an aspiring author in the midst of their publishing journey. Obtaining an agent can turn into an all-consuming obsession. You want that manuscript to be a success, and sometimes, it’s tempting to copy every agent who has an interest in your genre, hit the SEND button, and cross your fingers. Unfortunately, this can be a fatal error. While every agent hopes to sign the next best-seller, that doesn’t always mean that they’re looking for the same thing. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re hoping to land an agent:

1. Make sure that manuscript is the best it can possibly be. Once you’ve finished that manuscript, do whatever you can to make sure that is in the best possible shape it can be before you send it off to agents. Make sure it’s been edited. Look for plot-holes. Look at your characters, your setting. Is the opening of your manuscript gripping? Is your ending memorable? Does it make sense? Often, having a bit of professional help to polish your final draft can be the difference between victory and defeat.

2. Get to know the agents that you are querying. One of the biggest mistakes that an aspiring author makes during the querying process is lumping all literary agents into the same box. Do your research. Get to know each agent you query individually. Agent listing sites will often give short agent bios or generalized information about what an agent may be looking for, but it’s important to look beyond this information. If you really want to make sure that the agent you’re querying is right for you, go to the agency’s website. Despite what you may read on other websites, this is the most sure-fire way to make sure that you have all the information that you need. For more information on getting to know your agent, check out this previous post on Holloway Literary’s blog.

3. Avoid generalizing your queries. If you plan on querying multiple agents, don’t just stick thirteen names into your address book. Each agent is looking for different things, and they want to know that you’ve done your homework. Find the right agent for your project. Address them by name. Explain to them why you were interested in them, and why they would be the perfect agent for you.This is more time-consuming, but the extra attention to detail can make a big difference.

4. Follow the submission guidelines. Websites like #MSWL can be an invaluable resource when looking for agents, but be very careful. Most of the time, these types of websites don’t include all the information you’ll need to make for a successful query. Some may not even be up-to-date. Before you send your query letter, check the agency’s website. Is the agent you found on another website still with the agency? Are they still looking for the same things? What are the agency’s submission guidelines? Sending queries based on outdated information, or queries that do not follow an agency’s specific guidelines is a quick way to doom your manuscript before it has the chance to be seen.

5. Don’t get discouraged. It’s rare that the very first query that you send out will be a successful one, but don’t fret! Querying is a constant learning process. Agents will pass on a manuscript for a variety of reasons, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the manuscript itself is bad. Want to hear a secret? The first agent I queried compared the style of my manuscript to Stephen King. They went on to say that the project “wasn’t something they were looking for right now,” and you know what? That’s okay! Just like my project wasn’t for them, your manuscript isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Be patient, keep at it, and try not to take rejections personally. Take a deep breath and keep looking until you find the agent who is truly as excited about your story as you were to write it.

Your novel is someone else’s new favorite story waiting to be read. Preparing yourself for the querying process can ensure that you find the right agent to help you turn that dream into a reality.

Kayla Hoyet is an assistant at Holloway Literary. Follow Kayla on Twitter @kayhoyet.