- 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!