Today marks three years since I seriously started querying my work. As a frame of reference, I’ve queried three manuscripts during that time. All of them started out middle grade, but one of them I aged up to young adult after a revise and resubmit request from an agent. I’m currently getting a fourth manuscript ready to query–this time a young adult contemporary.
Unlike the past two years, I didn’t sit down to write this post this week. Rather, I’ve been adding to it since about a month after I wrote the two-year post, jotting down thoughts as they occurred to me throughout the year, anticipating that I would have to write another one. (You can also check out my one-year post.) Sure, I hoped it would turn into a “What I Learned in Two-and-a-Half Years of Querying” or some other partial part of the year, but it didn’t, so here we are. And you know what? I’m ok with that. Because of the first thing I’ve learned:
Patience. Yeah. I’ve finally learned how to be patient, and I’m not talking about waiting for responses from agents because that’s still excruciating. I’m talking about being patient with myself. I’ve blogged about my tendency to rush, rush, rush before, but I’ve finally found the strength to force myself to slow down with my current work-in-progress. Honestly? I finished the first draft in late 2013 and thought I’d already be in the querying trenches by now. Instead, I have it out with a fourth round of readers, and I’m 100 percent ok with that. Some of my second-round readers would be astonished with what I’ve done with it since they saw it. Heck, I’m astonished with what I’ve done with it. That’s the beauty of giving it time and having PATIENCE. If only I’d learned that three years ago. Oh well. I’m not one to dwell on things I can’t go back and change. Moving on. I refuse to send this manuscript out to agents before it’s ready. Been there, done that, had my heart broken before. There may not be some magic formula, but I will not let my own impatience be my downfall this time!
Just because you have a great request rate on one manuscript doesn’t mean you’ll have a great request rate on your next one. There was a huge difference in the number of requests I got for DEXELON versus DUET. And I have to say, it was quite discouraging to go from getting tons of requests to eking them out, even though I knew my skills as a writer had improved. There are so many factors beyond your actual writing involved in how your work will be received–the concept, the current market. I don’t know for sure, but I think magical realism was hot when I queried DUET and science fiction was not when I queried DEXELON. Oh well. Onward.
The longer you query, the less query rejections hurt. Let me clarify that I’m only talking about the query rejections. I’ve gotten to the point where I just shrug when a query gets rejected. I think this comes from a better understanding of how different agents’ tastes are, and if my premise doesn’t appeal to them, of course I don’t want them as my agent. Maybe there’s a slight twinge if they’ve requested from me before, but I still shrug it off. Submission rejections still sting, though, because they’ve shown interest and I get my hopes up.
The longer you query, the pickier you get about which agents to query. I used to send queries to any agent I thought was a remote possibility of a match. I’ve gotten much more selective as I’ve watched writers change agents or have bad experiences with an agent who wasn’t the right fit. I tend to shy away from agents who are vocal online with opinions I don’t agree with, thinking we might not work together well. I’m also not as willing to trust my work with new agents who aren’t at established agencies–unless they have documented sales. I used to think it didn’t hurt to go ahead and query them, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want to waste either of our time if I don’t think I’d actually sign with them.
The more times you query an agent, the trickier personalization gets. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things, but I always err on the side of assuming an agent will remember me. That’s probably because I have an excellent memory for my interactions with people, but then I’m a detail person. When I queried my first novel, I personalized wherever possible, mentioning clients’ books I’d read, things they’d mentioned in interviews or on Twitter, thanked them for sharing their knowledge with writers. But by the time I queried that same agent a second and then a third time, it just seemed awkward. In some cases, I barely personalized at all because I didn’t have anything new to say, and what if they remembered I’d already said that before? As I said, I’m probably over-thinking it, but that’s what I do :). Also, if an agent has requested more than one project, it gets awkward saying, “You requested my previous projects, THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES, AND BILLIONAIRES, DUET WITH THE DEVIL’S VIOLIN, and THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT … ” Kind of a mouthful, right? And yet I want to remind them we’ve interacted before in case they don’t see my name and immediately recall the titles. If I were an agent, that’s one area I’d have to go look up.
The longer you query, the easier it is to let go of a project you love. Each time I’m querying something new, I think, “This is it!” If I didn’t think that, I shouldn’t be querying it. And yet, the more rejections pile up, whether I’m getting requests or not, the more I start to think maybe it won’t be. I still push through because I know all it takes is one “yes,” but I’m less attached to each individual project and more confident that it’s my writing, not a particular story, that will eventually advance me to the next level.
Just because an agent replied the last time doesn’t mean he/she will now. I’ve noticed that agents who responded to queries two manuscripts ago aren’t replying anymore. I don’t know if the volume has increased too much or if other responsibilities are taking more of agents’ time, but fewer and fewer agents are replying to all queries. Unfortunately, not all of those agents have updated their submission guidelines to reflect the change, so you can end up waiting months to figure out you’re not going to get a response. I’m ok with a no-response-means-no policy, but I do wish they’d list it on their submission guidelines if they’ve switched.
The more manuscripts you write, the harder it is to find an agent who will rep it all. Let me clarify this–I’m not saying I expect an agent to represent everything I’ve ever written. It’s more that if I’ve written sci-fi in the past, I might have another sci-fi idea in the future. So it’s not in my best interest to query an agent who will rep my contemporary young adult but has no interest in sci-fi. And let me tell you, this is hard to swallow. There are agents I interacted with on my first manuscript who I loved but I couldn’t query with a subsequent manuscript due to tastes. Who knows? Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to find the right agent fit–because I might have signed too early with an agent who would have turned out to be a bad fit later. I’m always looking for the positive spin on things :).
Looking back at what I learned in the first two years of querying, I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown, and as fantastic as it would be to be further along on this writing journey, I’m satisfied with where I am right now. Do I want to move on? Absolutely! But I have faith that everything will happen when the timing is right. And I’m sure I have much more to learn!