Step-By-Step Guide To Querying (Chocolate Optional)

Querying agents. It sounds so simple but anyone trying to get their work picked up by an agent for the first time will know those two little words mean so much more.

So here’s my step by step guide to the querying process:

  1. You spend days/weeks/months stalking… I mean, researching… agents via their websites, agent listing sites, Twitter hashtags, book acknowledgements, author advice blogs, online interviews, podcasts… Note: It’s okay to take some time away from it, preferably to curl up in a ball beside the cat. With chocolate.
  2. Collate your research. This is where you become a master at spreadsheets – columns for the agency, location, contact details, agent names, method of contact, preferred synopsis, preferred sample pages, personal likes/dislikes and response time. You’ve got a long road ahead – sticky notes on your computer won’t cut it.
  3. Spend hours deciding on the perfect font for your spreadsheet and then colour code for the different stages of querying. Realise you probably didn’t need to spend hours doing this and it’s really just another form of procrastination.
  4. Put your submission together – this involves various lengths and styles of your synopsis, different length sample pages (5 pages, 10 pages, 25 pages, 50 pages, first chapter, first 3 chapters, first 10K words etc etc), and crying into your coffee mug after there’s a typo in the five page version and you’ve got to go back through all of them to correct it. Also: daydream about a standardised system of querying that would give you a bit of your life back.
  5. Write a personalised query for each agent that sounds professional, dazzles them with your personality and the brilliance of how closely your novel fits what they’re looking for, and fits all their guidelines.
  6. Re-read each query 50 times before you press send because you’re terrified you’ve missed one typo that will make them reject you immediately. Hit send and realise there was a typo. Madly scramble for chocolate to comfort yourself with.
  7. You’re definitely not watching your inbox for responses over the days, weeks and months that follow. You catch up on the spring cleaning even though it’s autumn and you already cleaned everything while procrastinating on researching the agents anyway.
  8. Your inbox starts to receive the ‘thank you, it’s not for me but I wish you all the best’ responses, and you try not to let your heart sink more with each one. You start out letting yourself eat some chocolate as commiseration for each rejection but soon realise if you keep going you’ll need to buy elasticised pants.
  9. Realising eight weeks/three months have passed and that means the other agents you’ve pinned your hopes on have rejected you, too.
  10. Buy those elasticised pants and eat ALL the chocolate.
  11. Go back to step one and repeat.

How do you deal with the rejection emails? My approach to querying is that I’m searching for the agent/publisher who is right for this book – I don’t want an agent who doesn’t totally get it, love it and understand it’s potential, nor someone who defines success purely in monetary terms, for example. So every time I get a rejection, I don’t take it personally or see it as a reflection of the value of the book – it’s about that agent not being right for the book.

Even so, after a while, all those rejections are deflating. Hence the chocolate.

But seriously, be kind to yourself when you’re querying. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Allow yourself to feel whatever arises when you get another rejection email, then pick yourself up, remind yourself why you believe in your work, and move on.

You never know what’s around the corner.


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