Ack! Queries! Part 3 – Query Submission Strategies

queriespart3

Last week we covered Part 2 – Elements of a Successful Query, and the week before Part 1 – Purpose and When to Start. For today, we’ll cover: Query Submission Strategies.

Query Submission Strategies

My advice would be to send queries in blocks of 5 agents at a time; 7-8 at the most.

Why? You want to be able to adjust strategy by response.

To better illustrate my case, here’s how my query process played out back in 2012:

  • On my first round, I submitted to 15 agents (actually 18, but the other 3 were live pitches) and I had 3 requests, which was a 20% success rate, which is pretty good. When those 3, and the 3 pitch agents rejected it, I knew not to continue querying, though I DID know my query worked. I did another Beta round and polished, polished, polished my manuscript.
  • Second and successful round, blow-by-blow:
    • Day 2: 8 queried, 2 requests
    • Day 9: 42 queried, 3 requests, 7 query rejections, 2 MS rejections, and 1 partial converted to a full
    • Day 10: 3 more queried, 1 request, and first offer! (ended with 3)
    • Summary up to First Offer: 53 queried, 6 requests, 7 query rejections=46% success rate

So as you can see, there was a different energy to my second round. I could feel it, that my query was working big time and I was getting requests a lot faster. By this point I was also sick of the MS and so mentally I felt like this was it, if it didn’t work, I was moving onto my next book and would try again, that I’d done everything I knew at that point to make my MS as strong as it could be. Hence, when I saw my query getting a hotter response, I opened the floodgates and queried the rest of my list.

I’m also glad I came late to writing, as I was able to do all of this electronically, with no costs for postage and paper, etc. Can you imagine how expensive it was in the past? Hopefully even more agents accept electronic queries than in 2012, because at that time some good ones still only accepted by snail mail.

Once you have an offer

First, yay!!! After the squeeing has died down, you still have some work to do.

If it’s from your dream agent and you absolutely, positively know you don’t want another agent, you need to send out letters to all the ones you queried and who also have your partials and fulls to let them know you had an offer and are accepting it.  Here’s how I worded it:

Thank you for your interest! Unfortunately I’m going to pull this from consideration as I’ve already had two offers of representation and a third who wants to talk on Monday. With that in mind, I don’t want to ask you to take time to read it as I know you are extremely busy.
Thank you,

If you don’t have a dream agent, but rather a Top 3 or Top 5 list, then you need to go about it a little differently. Send out the emails to the ones you know you wouldn’t want over the one who offered. But for the rest, send them an email to let them know you have an offer (even the ones you’ve only queried but haven’t heard a response from yet) and that you’ve given the first agent a deadline for when you’ll get back to them (typically two weeks) so that the other agents have time to read your MS and respond. This is what happened to me, and it’s why I ended up with three offers, a great place to be!

Here’s how I worded that email. The first offering agent was putting the screws to me and was a little miffed I wanted time to decide and so I had a shorter window, but it’s absolutely all right to ask for two weeks, I just panicked is all :)

I wanted to let you that an agent has made offer of representation for MUST LOVE BREECHES. The offering agent wants my decision by the middle of next week so she can pitch to editors in October, but I also want to give you a chance to read the partial I sent and see if you’re still interested.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing from you,

Resources

To close out this series, here are some resources to help you!

Pre-query
Query Process
  • QueryTracker - an extremely helpful database of agents and editors that will help you keep track of who you submit to, their response, your response, etc. It’s the only reason I was even able to pull the statistics above, because I had it all in there. There’s also a forum where you
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – not free, but worth the cost during this phase at it shows you which agents are selling and which aren’t, what’s selling genre-wise, etc. It’s a great way to get your finger on the pulse, to use a cliché.

What about you? Are you querying yet? What strategies would you add? What trouble are you having with your query or the process?

Boiling down a plot into one sentence – argh!

I know why I’ve been procrastinating lately. I’d purposely chosen to not participate in NaNoWriMo in order to concentrate on the final stage of my current WIP: querying agents.

But, Holy Swiss Cheese On A Stick With Sprinkles, no wonder so many writers are opting to go indie! Researching this phase over the weekend (because I finally made myself get off my tuckis– and is that how you even spell that word?) was enough to make me want to go curl up in a dark corner and rock back and forth.

I started last night and found the very helpful PDF created by YA author Elana Johnson.  Other helpful links I’ve found in this vein are Crafting a 25-Word Pitch, Kristen Lamb’s Structure Part 5–Keeping Focused & Nailing the Pitch–Understand Your “Seed Idea” and agent Kristin Nelson’s series on query pitches, starting with Pitching And All That Jazz (look on right-hand sidebar for the rest in that series). This is when the ‘flight response’ triggered.

After twiddling around since early this morning on the interwebs, I finally put on my big girl panties and tackled it in earnest. The way I figure, if I’m scared and daunted, so must a lot of other writers. Perhaps many won’t go further, so if I push forward I will be part of a smaller crowd. Maybe? Anyway, that’s the positive spin I’m going with – picturing another fearsome black gate to pass through and many folks milling around outside.

So, I’m going to tackle this a step at a time. First, the hook. In one sentence, preferably in 40 words or less, I need to encapsulate my story in such a way that an agent will want to keep reading my query letter. It needs to also be done in the style of the novel.

Here’s the back cover copy I came up with a couple of months ago:

Isabelle Rochon is an American museum curator working for the British Museum. When she finds a mysterious silver card-case, she thinks it a perfect accessory for a reenactment ball. But what she thought would be an exciting lark, fulfilling her desire to “live a little history”, becomes more than she bargained for when she realizes that the attendees are a little too realistic: she is truly in 1834 London, England. There she meets Lord Montagu, who’s so hot he curls her toes. A thief steals her silver case, stranding a feisty, modern American in a stiffly polite London on the verge of the Victorian age. She finds it hard to resist her growing attraction for Lord Montagu, known even to his relatives as the Vicious Viscount.

Can their love overcome the biggest barrier of all – time? And what difference will a working model of the Analytical Engine make to the next two centuries?

Hooks, however, need to be short. Elana Johnson gave an example of one of hers:

Jonathan Clarke has everything a seventeen-year-old boy could want—except for a beating heart.

That would definitely make me want to keep reading! Michelle Maclean, in her helpful post How To Write A Hook Line Or Logline, says that it needs to contain characters, conflict, setting, distinction, and action. She cites several movies’ loglines as examples, like:

When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)

But she cautions that it should set the right tone, and shows how that can be so different for the same piece:

  • After a twister transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.
  • Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.

So, with that in mind, I took a stab at it. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

A modern American girl is stranded in 1834 London and must find her way back to her own time – and, oh, she meets a hunky lord – talk about a long distance relationship.

Would that grab you? Does it have the elements needed? This is in the tone of the novel and I’m pulling a little bit from a line in the novel, when Isabelle, the heroine reflects on Lord Montagu:

Man, talk about a Long-Distance Relationship; chronologically rather than geographically undesirable.

Anyone else struggling with their hook? Put yours in the comments too!