Slowing Down the Query-Go-Round

With hundreds of resources online geared towards helping writers make the most of a query/pitch/synopsis, I was surprised there wasn’t much on how to simplify the query-go-round process in general.

But, we all know, there is no really easy way to query …there are only ways to simplify or streamline the process.

Maybe these is common knowledge, but as I began querying again, I’ve devised a methodology that has helped me streamline the almost tedious project into something simple and easy and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Be warned, it takes a minute … but the rewards are worth the effort.  I’ve managed to cut my querying time in HALF, at least, by following the simple stuff below:

1. Create a virtual folder on your desktop, something that is easy to access, that you don’t need to search for.  This is the first part of the long process.

Most agents who ask for samples along with your query will more then likely request one of the following:

  • The first three chapters
  • The first five pages
  • The first 5,000 words
  • The first chapter
  • The first fifty pages
  • The first twenty pages

Before you begin, break the manuscript down into these chunks.  Save them into new files titled : First Fifty, First 5,000 words and so on.  They will be easy to grab if they are clearly identified.

Move a copy of the completed manuscript into this folder as well, on occasion, this is an acceptable submission — but it’s also good to have it at your finger tips for the rare “one-off” request for a not-so-common number of pages, words, or chapter count.

2. Create a singular document for your synopsis and introduction (the copy and paste function is your friend when you start writing the e-mails) … do not include any NAMES or SPECIFICS in this.

Example one : Do not address the bulk document to “Dear Agent” … if you do, inadvertently you’ll probably, at some point, send it as such.  A blank entry will better remind you to ADD the proper greeting addressed specifically to the agent you’re interested in touching base with.

Example two : Do not say “below you’ll find the first twenty pages of my manuscript” … the fine print is often overlooked.  Rather, enter something that is hard to over look like <ADD SPECIFICS> … it’s glaring and will allow you to correct it specifically for each query independently.

3. Your biography.  Ugh, we all love this part!  Write a simple biography.  Brag, just a little.  You’re accomplished.  Agents want to see you believe in yourself — if you’ve read any interviews, you’ll notice that.  So, if you’ve done something super shiny and spectacular, share it.  Things I’ve read they want to see:

  • Education.  Where did you study?  Or what?  It’s okay if you haven’t, but be honest about it.
  • Experience OR what makes you qualified to write this book.  This is particularly important in non-fiction, but in fiction sometimes a little blurb about why you wrote it is nice to include.
  • Writing history OR street ‘cred.  Have you published?  If so, what.  In today’s day and age it’s perfectly fine to say “I’m independently published.”  Heck, chances are you’ll know a lot about the industry and that’s always a good thing.

Create your biography as, again, a separate document.  Write it in a friendly first-person format, different from your professional biography used for websites, Amazon and other promotion.  Be conversational.  This may be the first, last and only chance you have to sell yourself, which is half of the querying process.

Example: In my biography I mentioned that my novel has been previously self-published successfully.  I share my results very honestly.  One agent saw this and e-mailed back shortly after I sent my query, told me my book was “intriguing” and my reviews “impressive” … then, she asked to see more.

4. Research.  Did you know that there are more than 1,500 agents out there “agenting” (my fake word for their very real job) every single day?  Me either.  That’s a lot of potential.  But, resist it!  Research your agents.  Just like authors, doctors and babysitters, all agents aren’t created equal.  And that goes beyond just what they are actively looking for.  It goes to how you feel about them.  That little key is as important as anything else.

Querying is really like a game of tennis … the choices bounce between the two players … and you’re the one serving!

I recommend using a site like 1000agents.com which allows you search by your refinements.  Personally, I don’t pitch to agents who don’t accept e-mail, this allows me to whittled down the list to meet my personal specifications.

Then, I do further research.  I look for interviews they’ve given and I read every word.  I make a list of names of those I’m interested in from there.

4a. Adhere to their guidelines.  You’re out to make a stunning first impression — so follow the rules.  They don’t want to see your creativity, they want to see you be smart and concise.

5. Personalize the letter if you can.  Not every agent does interviews … but if they do, and it was that interview that drove you towards them, mention it.  If you participated in #askagent on Twitter when they were hanging around, mention it.  What’s the harm?  Everyone likes to feel “special” … agents do interviews to inform and educate, let them know that, when it comes to you, they’ve spent their time well — that you’ve become informed and learned and that you respect them so you’re reaching out.  It’s flattery, but it’s also honest.

Example: One of the agents I queried did a very long interview on the books she was drawn to.  She liked “magic” … I mentioned that my book has magic, albeit practical magic (not the otherworldly stuff) … This agent e-mailed me back within 30 minutes asking to see more from me.

6. Query early in the morning or late at night.  This is a bit of a throw back from my time as a hiring manager.  You want to be on their screen first thing in the morning before they launch into their other responsibilities.  Their days are jammed back, you’re just a small part — so you know what they say, the early bird gets the worm.

7. Perfect your pitch/query and synopsis.  Ask someone who is unfamiliar with your book to look it over for you and give you a gut-reaction.   You should probably spend a day looking at it, put it away for a few, and revisit.

So that’s about it … my seven steps to querying that I have found worked for me this time around.

If you’re looking to query and need someone to go over your material, I’m available to give it a once-over, you can e-mail me at ashley (at) ashleymacklerpaternostro (dot) com with Query Draft in the subject line.

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2 thoughts on “Slowing Down the Query-Go-Round

  1. Good tips, Ashley. Keeping handy the documents you know you’re going to need will save lots of precious minutes that add up fast. And adhering to each agent’s given guidelines seems like a given, but in case it’s not, let’s all say it again: *Adhere to each agent’s guidelines, everyone.*

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