- A couple of people have asked how I got the attention of my truly awesome agent, Jennifer Laughran. Nothing written below is shocking or unheard of, but maybe the lessons I learned will help someone else on their journey. Here are my tips:
- Make sure your manuscript is READY. My ms started with a prologue and ended with an epilogue. Seven revisions later, SAW IT COMING (SIC) had gone through three new openings, two different villains, and a completely different ending. Besides revisions I also: had five beta readers (two of which were agented authors…we’ll talk about why I think that was important later), searched for passive verbs and useless words, and read the whole thing aloud three times. Every time I opened the document I found something else that could be improved. When I started debating on adjectives and making other nonsensical changes, I figured it was ready to send.
- Put your query letter through the ringer. Not only did I use my regular crit partners to edit and revise my query, I posted it in three different forums. Surprisingly, the version that got the most attention from agents was pretty close to my original query. I will post the two different versions I used below.
- Do your research. I used QueryTracker to produce an initial list of agents who rep YA. Then I spent hours (like 36…not kidding) visiting agency and agent blogs, repped writer’s blogs, industry websites (like Preditors and Editors and PublishersMarketplace), and used the tools provided by QueryTracker to identify which agents were the best fit for my ms.
- Divide and conquer. Once I determined who I wanted on my list, I divided it into tiers. Only you can determine how you want to rank your agents, but here’s the method I used: A) Low-hanging fruit: These were the agents I already had a connection with (ie personal contact with someone they rep, newbie agents looking to grow their clientele). I had ten on my list…they were sort of my test case. B) Agents I’d Like to Work With Who Had Quick Response Times: I used the Query Tracker stats to create this list. C) Agents I’d Die to Work with: After doing all the research in Step 3, I had a pretty good idea of who I considered the rockstars.
- Test the waters. I used three different query letters. Two of them were pretty successful. I sent out ten queries and waited two weeks for a response. After the first round, I had two requests for partials and eight rejections. I guess those are pretty good stats, but I thought it could be better. I sent out five more queries with a different letter and got zero requests. Then I sent out five more with a new query letter, and had three requests. That gave me the guts to query my Dream Agent List. Of the ten I sent out, I had four requests. I also sent out some random queries when I came across agent interviews on blogs or contests that allowed you to query ‘closed’ agents. In all, I sent out 36 query letters.
- Personalize your letters. I know QueryShark says to jump right into the synopsis, but every letter I didn’t personalize got rejected. Every single one (like 15 or so). I’d already done all the research and made notes, so it wasn’t hard to think of something positive to say about why I wanted to query that particular agent.
- Be patient. Don’t query everyone at one time. Test your letters, wait for responses, try again.
- Start a new project. Even though I checked my email a minimum of 700 times each day, I tried not to dwell on what was in my inbox. During my eight weeks in query hell, I managed to write nearly 30,000 words in an unrelated WIP. It helped. A new cast of characters, a twisted plot, a completely different world, gave me something besides requests and rejections to focus on. I also did a lot of beta reading. If the ms you’re querying with never gets picked up, at least you have something else in the hopper!
- Research what you SHOULD do if you get an offer. This is a whole post in itself. But there are a lot of questions to ask, contract details to review, revision suggestions to consider. Figure it out before it happens.
As promised, here are the two query letters I used:
Query Letter #1
Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,
XXX author raves about you, your insight and your helpful suggestions on her blog. You sound like a delightful person to work with, and I hope you will consider my manuscript, SAW IT COMING, for your list.
Sam Oliveira can barely make it through a day without gut-wrenching visions. But he accepts that no seventeen-year-old can stop the natural disasters and terrorist attacks he sees before they happen.
When his latest vision reveals the death of his crush, Gabby Wilkins, at the hands of a stalker, Sam knows he can’t ignore it. Problem is, Sam’s only getting flashes—wild images of her being beaten, broken, submerged in water. If he could learn to control his precognition, he might be able to protect her.
The two people who can help Sam—an uncle with a murderous agenda of his own and a drug lord who wants Sam’s gifts for his business—are unappealing options but time is slipping away and Sam is desperate.
SAW IT COMING is a YA Paranormal Romance complete at 63,000 words.
Per the submission guidelines on your website, I’ve pasted the first two chapters below. The remainder is available at your request.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
As I said, this query resulted in two requests…but my crit partners felt that it needed more meat, and given the stats of the other letter, they were right!
Query Letter No. 2
Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,
I’ve read your interviews and profiles on several blogs, and the positive buzz is overwhelming! You sound like a lovely person, and I’d be delighted if you’d consider my manuscript, SAW IT COMING, for your list.
Seventeen-year-old Sam Oliveira doesn’t want to join the family business—not that he has a choice. His ability to see the future is an inherited trait, one that makes him a valuable recruit for the drug lord that employs his mother.
Sam’s talent is coveted by cartels and human traffickers who want a definite edge over law enforcement. He’d love to be a normal teenager, but his family is always on the run, changing locations and identities every few months.
When a middle of the night escape lands them in suburban Houston, Sam finally gets the life he always wanted. He wins a starting spot on the baseball team and the heart of his dream girl, Gabby Wilkins.
Everything is perfect until Sam’s gut-wrenching visions return. Instead of focusing on terrorist bombings or rival cartel attacks, they reveal Gabby’s murder at the hands of a faceless stalker. Wild images of her being beaten, broken, and submerged in water have him scrambling to piece together the events leading up to her death.
If Sam could learn to control his precognition, he might be able to save her. Too bad the only people who can help him are on the wrong side of the law.
SAW IT COMING is a YA Paranormal Romance complete at 63,000 words. Per your submission guidelines I’ve pasted the first ten pages below.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
The second letter is longer, more detailed. I think you get a better grip on the story, and that may have been what caught each agent’s attention.
I hope this post is helpful and wish all of you a short journey through query hell!
- I’m not participating in the A-Z Toolbox thing, but I totally have a W for today. I’m tired of WAITING!! This doesn’t have anything (that’s a boldfaced lie) to do with waiting for agents to get back to me (LOL), but all the other things that have my life in a holding pattern. Like:
- a box from my grandma full of See’s Candy. It’s supposed to be here today and I can’t leave until it arrives. I don’t want my precious chocolates to melt!
- my homemade blueberry-struesel muffins to get out of the oven.
- my awesome sister (aka Nanny) to get here. She’s staying ALL summer. WOOT!
- Baby No. 3 to make her arrival. I’m a really bad pregnant lady.
- Spring to really get here.
- my puppy to stop acting like a puppy (that’s only going to take five years)
- that brilliant idea that’s going to move my plot to my next imaginary plot point.
What kind of things are you guys waiting for?
- My grandfather was proud of being a first generation American, but he never let me forget that we were German Americans. We ate German foods, sang German songs, and learned about German art and culture. I think he was afraid that we’d grow up with hard feelings toward the Fatherland because of the Nazis, Hitler, and WWII.
One day we visited a German novelty shop. The entire back wall of the store was covered in cuckoo clocks of all shapes and sizes. Some were huge multi-tiered affairs with dancers that circled at specific times and large birds that popped out of ornately carved doors. Others were tiny, with cuckoos no larger than your thumbnail.
None of the clocks were set at the same time, so every few minutes a clock would chime and showcase that product’s particular beauty.
To me it was very unsettling. I wasn’t old enough to tell time, so I couldn’t tell which clock would be the next to chime. I didn’t know where to look, where to focus. I worried about missing something.
Sometimes I feel like I’m back in that shop. I can hear the clocks ticking, all out of sync. The sound mimics my rapidly pounding heart. I search frantically for the clock that is about to chime, but I’m always a step behind. The cuckoo only appears for an instant, and then the little door slams shut. I don’t get to study its beauty and detail. I don’t enjoy that clocks individuality.
Or worse, I’m standing in front of one clock. My eyes trained on the little door, waiting, praying that the little bird will make its appearance. Other clocks begin to chime, many simultaneously. The sound becomes loud and discordant. But I can’t look away. I want this clock to chime. I need it to chime. The constant tick, tick, tick, is echoed by my mental litany of, “please, please, please, let this be the one.”
The hands on the clock are delicate. If I try to force them to move, they may snap off and then the clock will never chime. It will just continue to tick, tick, tick. The door won’t open and I’ll be stuck waiting for something that will never happen.
Right now, I’m focused on the Query Clock. I’m waiting for the agents to make their appearance, do their little dance, and give me exactly what I’ve been hoping for. There are so many other clocks ticking in the background: the Children’s Clock, the Cleaning Clock, the Baby-Due-In-Seven-Weeks Clock. I can’t ignore those things, but I feel myself being drawn away from them as I stare at the Query Clock (clicking refresh on my email 800 times a day, considering sending out more queries, wondering what those agents think of my full).
It’s hard to keep the clocks from running down or stopping completely. I run myself ragged pulling the strings that wind them up. And there always seems to be one clock that I’ve forgotten about until it starts blaring — its cuckoo hanging out the door chirping at me for attention.
I’ve just got to accept the Query Clock will chime when it’s time. Until then, I can do my best to keep it functioning and go work on my other clocks.
Like right now, there’s a three-year-old who’s begging for a story. She isn’t going to be three forever, so I better enjoy the cuddles and giggles while I can.
But first, I’ll check my email one more time.