Monday, March 4, 2013

Agency Lessons: The Query Games part 2

So last week, I let you all see my neurotic side with my agent spreadsheet. This week, I'm sharing my tips for deciding who to query when.

Once I have my master list of agents, it's time to prioritize. Based off their personal preferences, online interactions, and interviews, I group agents into levels. Level one is a small group of agents who make up my "dream team". These are the people I would love, love, love to work with. Now, there is a lot of wonderful advice out there about not getting your heart set on a dream agent. And they are right. But that doesn't mean a girl can't hope.

The largest level of agents are the ones I think would be great to work with. They may not be my dream gal or guy, but I would still be tickled pink to work with them.

The last group are agents that I know represent my genre, but I couldn't find much information out there about them. They could be the best thing since sliced bread. I just don't know that yet.

You'll notice I don't have list of ho-hum agents. If they aren't someone I want to work with or if I'm not really sure they would like my particular brand of writing, I'm not going to query them. Other folks might disagree with this tactic, and that's fine, but I don't want to work with someone I'm not jazzed about.

I like to send queries out in small batches or 8-10 agents. It helps me to keep things organized. It's fine to send more if that's your thing. I would recommend not sending your query to everyone on your list all at once. If you find out the query isn't working for you, you've just burned all your bridges in one shot with no chance to revise. I also advise against sending your queries one at a time. It's not unusual for an agent to take 6-8 weeks to respond. At that rate, sending queries one at a time would take years to query a decent number of agents. Not at all practical.

My first round is sent out to a mix of agents from group two and three. I don't send any group one agents for the first round on purpose. You only get one shot to impress an agent. The first few rounds of queries can quickly let you know if your letter is working. If I didn't get any positive responses from that first round I know that I need to revise my query before sending it out again.

Once I've sent a round or two and have some positive feedback, I know it's time to include my top group in the list. This is the most nerve wracking round. :)

While most of the time, the query process runs super slow, there is always the chance that yours won't. At any time, you need to be prepared to send off query letters to all of your top agents and anyone in the other groups that you are really excited about. If you are receiving lots of full requests, you may not have the benefit of spacing out your letters. It can be a big numbers game. You want to make sure that you've had a chance to query your top choices before you get "The Call". If not, you risk your top agent not having time to get to you before a decision needs to be made. Agents will have patience with you, but they won't want to wait a month or two for you to finish sending query letters.

Even if you've decided my fancy spreadsheet isn't for you, it's crucial to keep track of who you are querying, when you sent it and what the response is. Nothing says disorganized like querying an agent twice because you forgot you already sent them your query. You also need to keep track of who has a partial or full. When you get "The Call" it is standard industry etiquette to let agents reviewing your material know that you have an offer. It's up to you to let them know the material is no longer available for representation, or that they have until a certain date to get back to you. Personally, I'm a fan of color coding my spreadsheet for this, but any method that keeps it all up-to-date will work.

If you've been following along, you now have an organized list of agents to query and a game plan for who you are querying when. Next week I'll finish this series with a post on what to send and how to keep it straight.

22 comments:

  1. I agree that you don't send to your dream agent on the first round. Allow time for revisions and learning what you need to improve on before you use that once shot to query your dream agent.

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    1. Yep, but eventually you have to quit tweaking and just send it. :)

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  2. hmm, I learn something new every time. I started with the ones that accepted e-mail qieries then the ones who wanted partials or the first 5 pages with the query. Did I ever have a dream agent? No. I figured we'd click or not

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    1. I haven't sent any queries to agents that don't accept email. I realize that some of them do it to discourage the casual query sender, but in today's marketplace I just don't think it's practical.

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  3. I don't remember if last time I said that I admired your organizational skills. :) Well, I do. Also, it's always a good idea to mix and match the queries. Most of all to learn what doesn't work. Another great post on this series.

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    1. Too bad those organizational skills don't apply to my kitchen cabinets. :) I know several folks who send different versions at the same time, but it's not something I do. I tend to only change it if I get specific feedback or decide it's not working.

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  4. I love having an agent spreadsheet, too. It's just such a helpful way to stay organized. I honestly hadn't thought about not querying my dream team first -- but that makes a lot of sense. I'm totally going to do that now. Good thing I haven't started querying for my new work yet. Thanks for the wonderful advice!

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    1. Glad it helped. I think querying the dream team is the most nerve-wracking part. I spend half the day convinced I'm about to get a dozen full requests and the other half crying in the corner absolutely sure they are all laughing at me.

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  5. I don't send to "group one" agents in the beginning either. Although I've been querying for months, I still haven't sent to them yet. I keep hoping an offer will come in that will make the query more attractive...
    Great post! :-)

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    1. Once I know the query is as good as I can possibly get it (b/c I'm getting requests and not empty air), I send it to the A team.

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  6. Bookmarked this post to come back to, I've still got my WIP to complete but it's reassuring to know I now have this info at my fingertips. Thanks :)

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    1. Glad you like it. I've got one more post next week covering how I organize all the different submission info.

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  7. I think that fear of your query not being "perfect" is paralyzing. Eventually you're so scared that you don't send anything, then you're upset that nothing is happening in your writing career. You have to start somewhere!

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    1. Agreed. We can tweak something forever, but eventually we have to take a shot of tequila and hit send. :)

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  8. The idea of querying your lists 2 and 3 of agents is interesting. It sure would give an idea of whether your letter was working or not. Good information.

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    1. It's like playing you bench players during the pre-season. You still want to win, but don't want your star player to break an arm before the season even starts. :)

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  9. I like your advice to send in rounds to allow for revision, and to not send it to the 'dream team' first. Sometimes a little feedback goes a long way to polishing that query to perfection!

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    1. Yep, one line can change the whole tone when you're only working with a few hundred words.

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  10. This is how I approached it the first time I queried. This time I queried everyone in one shot. I'd already decided if I didn't get an agent, I'd self publish. But I got an agent.

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    1. Brave lady! And in case I haven't said it enough, Congrats!

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  11. Brilliant! Thank you for the time in writing all this out. The information is invaluable in such a progressive way. It is really a great source for aspiring writers. It has been for me anyway. Many thanks.

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