What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Querying

I really hoped I wouldn’t have to write this post, but here we are. It’s officially been two years since I sent my first round of queries. During that time, I’ve queried two manuscripts, one of which underwent a major revision before restarting the querying process. I posted last year on what I’d learned in one year of querying, so I won’t repeat any of those points. In any case, I have learned many new things the past year.

Just because an agent requested one of your manuscripts doesn’t mean they’ll request the next one. Agents always say it comes down to the writing, so I assumed if they liked my writing once, they’d like it again. But they still have to be interested in the premise, and it seems I write vastly different things. I went from MG adventure with a boy protagonist to MG magical realism with a girl protagonist (later aged up to YA). Only one agent who requested the first MS requested the second one. My current project is MG science fiction with two girl protagonists, although it’s definitely not girly. So even though I’m up to about 30 agents who have requested my work in the past, there’s no guarantee they’ll be interested in this one. Even if they loved my writing before, maybe they don’t like sci-fi. Or aliens. Or girls who do Tae Kwon Do. Or books about twins. Who knows?

Just because an agent takes a long time to respond doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. When you see an agent tweeting about signing a client within a week of submission and that agent has had your manuscript for nearly a year, it’s pretty disheartening. Thoughts like, “They must not be that interested in mine,” go through your head. Or my head. Whatever. But as with everything else, there are a lot of factors involved. Some agents don’t read in order, especially if something they have in their to-read pile has another offer on the table. I assumed an agent who’d had my MS that long wasn’t interested, and I was wrong. The agent upgraded me from a partial to a full after nine months. So a long wait doesn’t necessarily equal a lack of interest.

Getting a lot of requests does not mean you’ll get an agent. This one is tough to accept. I didn’t get many requests for my first manuscript and rightly so. But my second one was different. I had a great request rate, and I thought, “Finally! This is it!” Well, it still could be. I have a couple of submissions still out there. But it wasn’t the speedy success story my early requests made me anticipate.

Neither does a revise and resubmit. I was very hopeful when I received the R&R for DUET. I knew there were no guarantees, but here was an agent who really loved my premise and my writing. Unfortunately, that agent had a life of her own, and her writing career took off in spectacular fashion right around the time she requested the R&R. I waited. And waited. And finally heard confirmation last week that she’d decided to no longer agent. I could be upset that I put in so much effort to change DUET from middle grade to young adult, but I’m not. It was the right thing to do for the story, plus I learned I could write YA. That’s a good thing since my next idea is YA. So thank you to that former agent for challenging me to go beyond what I thought I could do.

There’s a lot more competition for YA than MG. When I aged DUET up to YA, I’d already burned through a good number of agents, but there also were a lot of agents still out there who hadn’t seen it. I updated my agent list with statistics from QueryTracker and was excited to see agents requested a lot more YA than MG. After all, I’d had a great request rate for the MG version, so if agents requested more YA, I’d get even more requests for the YA version. Nope. My request rate was way lower. Now some of that may be because I’d already queried the agents I thought were the best fit for my premise, but I think the bigger factor is that there’s so much YA out there. You see a lot more people querying YA than MG, and I think that’s why individual agents request more YA than MG rather than a preference for YA over MG.

Test out your submission materials as many ways as you can. The query letter and opening pages are so important. When I started querying DUET, I focused mainly on the query letter, and I received a lot of requests from agents whose guidelines called for the query letter only. I had a bit less success with agents who wanted pages as well. I didn’t pay enough attention to that. If I had, it would have clued me in earlier that my character should have been older. But maybe not. Sometimes the feedback you get doesn’t click until later. I’m being more cautious this time. One way I plan to test it all out is by targeting agents who request a partial before a full. Assuming they do request, I can get a feel for how well those early pages are performing. If they ask for more, that’s a good sign!

Trust your gut … but recognize things you might have to change later. I used to be one of those writers who incorporated 99 percent of the suggestions from my critique partners. To be honest, with that first manuscript I probably needed to, and even quite a bit of it on the second one. I’ve gotten to the point where I trust my own writing better than I ever have in the past. My CPs still catch a lot of issues, both major and minor, but I have much more confidence in myself if I don’t agree with a comment. This is particularly important in my current manuscript, as I have some risky elements that a couple of readers have been iffy about. It’s another reason I’m being cautious with querying–so I can feel out whether these risks are going to turn off agents or not.

So that’s where I am after two years. I really hope I won’t have to write a “what I’ve learned in three years of querying post” next year, but if I do, I’m sure I’ll have even more knowledge to impart.

How about you? What have you learned? Anything different from what I’ve experienced?

Responses to “What I’ve Learned in Two Years of Querying”

  1. kiperoo

    Michelle, these are such great tips! I wish so hard that we’ll both hit the first stop toward our destination soon, but I’m so glad to be one of your partners-in-crime on your journey. 🙂

  2. Suzanne

    This all holds up and rings true for me! I just signed my agent (little squee there! lol) but this is exactly what I would have written had I been wise enough to write a post like this two years into it. Best of luck!!!

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Hi, Leslie! Thanks for sharing your post with me, too. It’s a good reminder that even though I’m aiming for this first step of an agent, there are many more steps after that, and they won’t be any easier than this one. But through it all, I have hope. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jamie K. (@Rockets2Writing)

    What a great list! You have some great advice here. I was surprised to see you had better luck with MG than YA. In my experience agents seem to be a lot more critical of MG submissions. I think this is because MG is still a tough sell, and MG voice is very very hard to get right.

    I wish you the best of luck with your continued querying. It sounds like you are on the right track. I have my fingers crossed for you.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      I was surprised by the MG/YA thing, too. Here’s an example: Agent X requested 3 MG manuscripts in 2012 and 11 YA manuscripts in 2012. This was pretty common when I looked at the statistics. It was very rare to see an agent who requested more MG than YA. So, I assumed they were more interested in YA as a whole. But where my MG version got many requests, the YA didn’t. Of course there are other factors involved, but in talking to my CPs who write YA, I got the same feedback on number of requests and the competition out there. At the same time, though, you’re right about it being vital to get the MG voice right. That definitely does affect the lower number of MG requests.

      Thanks for the luck! I’ll take it all!

  4. andreagaszak

    Hi Michelle! I enjoyed reading your post, though it reminds me of how daunting the whole process is. I recently attended an SCBWI meeting and one of the speakers said that female agents tend to want to fall in love with the manuscript – enough to want to read it 80 times in a row, where male agents tend to look at manuscripts with more of a business perspective – is it something they can sell and make money on. I don’t remember where she’d heard this information – if it was some article she’d read, or interviews she conducted or what. Regardless, I thought it was interesting. Good luck to you. You are a talented writer, very organized and a hard worker. It’s only a matter of time before your hard work pays off!

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Thanks, Andrea! I haven’t heard that statistic. When it comes to queries, I suspect they all discard concepts they can’t sell, but that could be right on manuscripts.

  5. Kimberley Griffiths Little

    You said: “Getting a lot of requests does not mean you’ll get an agent” BUT it does mean that what you’re writing is getting more interest and is more publishable and means you’re getting closer! It definitely means that! 🙂


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