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Querying Sucks (& Other Lies the Internet Told Me)

I've been querying my latest novel since March - so going on six months now. If you can believe all the writer's community tweets, blogs, and chat forums, this should be hell. Like sunscreen-in-your-eye, eating-buffalo-wings-with-a-papercut, pulling-a-dingleberry-off-your dog's-hairy-butt hell .

But... I enjoy it. I'm a little hesitant to write that because I've never heard anyone else say this and I wonder what it says about me. Also, I'm afraid of jinxing myself. Yes, I'm one of those annoying people who fake laughs after they say "knock on wood" to make it sound like they're just joking but deep inside is seriously concerned they just ruined everything and frantically looking around the room for a real piece of wood to knock on, but everything's made out of that crap wood laminate stuff these days.

Haha, anyway... I like to think of querying as a rite of passage in a writer's journey. Although I'm very anxious to be agented and published, if I didn't have to really work for it, I'm not sure it would hold the same magic once it finally happens. (That being said, if any agents are reading this, I think I've put in my time at this point.)

Querying is exciting - in a performance jitters, new love sort of way. There's this agent you want to rep you, right? You know a lot about her because you've heard things and read things and she sounds amazing and you and your book would have such an amazing life with her if only she would notice you. So you make this grand gesture and you pour your heart and soul into a letter and you send it off and it's such a rush to click send. Then you wait and wait. And there's a good chance she'll say no because she has so many options. Everyone else knows how awesome she is, too, and so everyone is asking her out and even though you're awesome and your book is awesome, who knows what she's looking for, right? Maybe she doesn't like dark and twisty as much as she claims on her profile. Maybe she's secretly a flowers and happy endings kind of girl, and that's so not you. And it's kind of painful waiting but it's also so exciting because who knows? This could be it. She could be the one. Until she replies back with her form rejection (you're just not right for her at this time, she likes you but she doesn't love you), you have that beautiful, magical thing that makes the world go round: Hope. And just like earth, your hope can spin to its obsessive little heart's desire because there are no forces acting on it to stop it.

So the old myth that querying sucks is officially debunked because at least one person has stepped forward to say they actually like it and maybe even love it a little bit. This got me rethinking everything I've read about querying. Okay, not everything. Almost every query advice article out there offers the same (but valuable, legitimate) tips. That said, there's a few I would tack an asterisk next to:

Don't obsessively check your email responses. To this I say: or what? The people who say this are the same people who will tell you not to itch your mosquito bites or not to worry while you wait for your test results to come back. Just keep busy, do something to take your mind off it, focus on your next book. I will do all that, sir. And I will continue to obsessively refresh my inbox because making this book happen is my fricking Biggest Life Dream! Besides, it's not like there's a database where agents can go and see how many times you lovingly reread your query letter or overanalyzed their Query Tracker stats or checked their recent tweets for something along the lines of "OMG! Just received the best query ever! Can't wait to read this MS and offer representation to this AMAZING author!" Freaking out over my email may be unhealthy, but so are Twinkies and 91 years later we still haven't pulled those off the shelves.

Don't be weird. In general, yes, don't be a creep. If you're querying something academic or a traditional historical romance novel, now's not the time to get cute. And they probably aren't looking for weirdos in the kid lit space, either. But, if your manuscript revels in the weird, if that's part of it's charm, then I say you almost have to put a touch of wow, that got a little weird in your query letter. If your thriller query doesn't sound a little dark or your humor query isn't funny or your fantasy query isn't... fantastical, how is the agent supposed to know you can deliver on the promise of your genre? This can be really difficult to execute, though, so I suggest getting a professional critique from someone in your genre and trying different things here and there to see what works (rather than going all in on one tactic with your entire list of first pick dream agents).

There's a magic time to query. You've got enough to worry about and research without trying to figure out this mythical beast. If the agent is open to queries and my manuscript is ready, I go for it. I've gotten immediate replies on Friday nights, weekends, and national holidays. You will never figure out an individual agent's best time to query because you cannot know what they're going through at the exact moment they open your query. She could be really pissed at her husband Steve because he machine dried her air-dry-only pants on hot again and if your name is Steve, then guess what, buddy? Besides, just because you send your query at the optimal time doesn't mean the agent will read it at that optimal time - it could take her days, weeks or months to get to it. Besides, if you are querying at the same time everyone else thinks is the "perfect" time to query, think of all the extra competition you have. I really think this is one thing you should not worry about.

You have to personalize your query. Hear me out on this one because it's not black and white. You absolutely should find out what you can to ensure the agent you're querying represents your genre and definitely take the extra 3 seconds to replace [Dear Agent] with their real name and most definitely take another 3 seconds to make sure you spelled their name right. And if you've got a compelling reason for wanting to work with this agent, by all means say so! Whenever possible, I do try to express the specific reason I am soliciting a certain agent. But some agents don't have a lot of info out there - no recent interviews or a MSWL or a Publisher's Marketplace member page. In those instances, maybe all you have to go on is that they look legit, they're open to your genre, and you get good vibes from their headshot. In that case, don't force a tenuous connection. Just leave well enough alone and let the book speak for itself. If your pitch sounds really exciting to the agent, she's not going to sniff at it because you didn't tell her you totally related to her tweet about putting ketchup on hotdogs. I've queried agents sans personalization (beyond addressing them by their correctly spelled name, of course) who've gone on to request fulls. (And if an agent doesn't have a lot of insights out there on the www, she's probably used to - and maybe even prefers - a little less chit chat.)

Those are my myth busters. I hope they made you even more stressed about getting your query just right. No, no, no. That's not the point of this post. This isn't another List of Things You Must Remember When Querying Agents. By all means, read as much as you can about querying. I did and it helped me figure out the basics of what agents expect (and hope for). That combined with experimentation, refinement, and personal observations about what seems to be working (generating manuscript requests) and what's not (form rejections or no rejections) has greatly improved my response rate over time.

I hope your big takeaway is that with querying, like writing a book, there's more than one way to do it and do it well. Follow your gut, be true to your style, fix what isn't working, and throw in a dash of common sense and you will be alright. And don't forget to check your email as often as you damn well please.

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