We all make mistakes, and just like while pursuing anything else worthwhile, we’re bound to make mistakes while querying. In fact, I’ve found querying has QUITE a learning curve.
Here are 5 mistakes I’ve personally made and had to learn from while querying:
1. Don’t query too soon. The trouble is if you’ve started querying your manuscript, you obviously thought it was ready. At the beginning it probably wasn’t. I sent out my manuscript WAY too early. I had written and edited my manuscript and had another set of eyes on it. BUT I had SO much more to learn. At first I had a low word count and the story wasn’t where it needed to be. It wasn’t after several more revisions, a few more critique partners and a couple of contests when I started feeling confident it was in decent condition, AND I’m sure it will still have many more changes to come! It’s always a work in progress!
2. Your first query will likely be your worst query. I sent out pretty horrid query letters originally. I’m truly embarrassed at the quality of the first sets of query letters. I started by simply doing online research on how to write a query letter and followed submission guidelines, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in the writing community that I realized what a truly terrible query I had. Again, this took contests, critique partners and I even enlisted the help of a freelance editor for my more character driven manuscript. As writers we know our manuscripts too well so we think everything is important. We need help from others to narrow down our ideas and help them shine. Writing query letters is an art form all on its own and it’s so different than writing a manuscript. It took critiquing other people’s queries before I truly started to get the hang of it. Between the two of us…I’m still not a query master even after all of that.
3. Research thoroughly before targeting agents. Originally I thought I was doing enough research by reading an agent’s bio and the genres they represented. I found over time that wasn’t exactly targeting. Suppose agent x and y at the same agency rep some of the same genres. How did I choose between them before? I honestly didn’t know. I simply chose. Over time I learned that I needed to research more thoroughly. I began reading their Publisher’s Marketplace and Writer’s Digest interviews. Sometimes they were interviewed on writers’ blogs. I checked #MSWL and manuscriptwishlist.com to see what they are looking for, not just what they represent. I’ve found by taking the time to do these extra steps, I’ve had a much better response rate. It helps me to hone in on their likes and dislikes and know if my manuscript is not going to be a good fit.
4. Send queries in small batches. Trust me when I say I could kick myself for the large batches in which I sent my initial terrible queries and not-ready first pages. Querying works differently for different people, but I found that I was constantly revising my query and first pages. If I had sent out queries to 100 agents from the start I would have undoubtedly received 100 rejections. Small batches allow your querying skills to improve and allow you to fine tune your opening pages.
5. Don’t burn yourself out. Querying comes with rejection. A lot of it. Publishing’s a slow-paced business and when you’re trying to find an agent you have all the time in the world. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be afraid to take your time and take care of yourself emotionally. Sometimes you might have certain things going on in your life, and dealing with one more negative response might be too much because everything feels like it’s crashing down around you. If I was to tell my past self anything, I would say, “It’s okay to take breaks. Agents are still going to be there down the road. Take care of your emotional well-being and you will find bursts of energy when you’re ready to brace yourself to do it again.” There isn’t a time limit so take your time.
If you are in the querying trenches (and there is a reason they are referred to as the trenches) maybe you’ve learned a thing or two along the way. What have you learned?