So, you've written your novel. Now what? For this #WritingWednesday, we're going to talk about one of the options authors have -- querying. This is where you seek representation by an agent, who will then help you get your novel in front of editors at large publishing houses that don't accept 'unsolicited' manuscripts. Querying is a long journey for most, despite the overnight success stories we often see on the web and is taken in a few steps. Those steps, along with some tips on making them less stressful are what we are going to talk about today.
You've polished your novel. It shines like a diamond, and now you just need to find the right person to represent you. Not only do agents often only represent certain genres, they often have different requirements for what they would like you to send. The best tool I've found for not only finding agents, but tracking them and keeping everything nice and organized is querytracker.net This website gives you easy to use tools to make the research process less stressful, and the best part is, it's free! There is a premium option, which I highly recommend (and no, I'm not associated with them in any way other than I use the website). It's affordable at just $25.00 a month and comes with some seriously amazing features like advanced search tools, sorting of your queries, the ability to have multiple projects and prioritizing of agents, along with the ability to add notes. The notes are one of my favorite tools because all agents want something different -- and this is where I notate what I need to send them when I'm doing my research. One thing I've found is that I only end of querying about 15% of the agents I research. When I do my research I search for agents based on genre and then look at the following:
- Response Rate
- Their website to get a feel for their agency
- What their biography says
- If I like them: what they are looking for in a query (i.e., query in the body of an email, with synopsis and first 3 chapters, etc.)
2. Writing the Query
You have an awesome novel, and a list of agents you want to submit to. Now you need something to submit. Undoubtedly, they will all be looking for a query letter. So what does that look like? It really depends on your style, but they all end up having three major components:
Blurb - This is basically what you'd read on the back of a book jacket. It's an enticing overview of the book. Always, always, start with a hook. This is something that will immediately grab the agent and keep their attention.
Elevator pitch - This includes your word count, genre, and comps. You can also include a few descriptive words that cover the novel (Novel about first-love, overcoming bullying and finding yourself).
Biography - Talk about any publishing credentials you have, your social media presence and anything else that would be important for the agent to know.
You may also have a fourth component that is a 'warm greeting.' I don't typically do this, but instead dive right into the blurb, you could also start with your elevator pitch. You might want to include a warm greeting in the case that you found the agent through a Twitter contest, like #PitMad or you met them at a conference. Keep in mind the three B's of any good proposal: Be Bright; Be Brief; Be Gone. A query is typically between 150-200 words and shouldn't exceed a page.
Ah, the 'dreaded synopsis.' While not all agents require one, a good amount will. This certainly varies widely by genre, but from what I've seen agents are typically looking for a one-page synopsis. Ouch, they want you to distill your 70k novel into one page?
Yes, yes they do. For writers who are #plotters and do an outline, this will be easier than those that are #pantsers. You can use your outline to highlight the key points you need to include in your synopsis and then go from there. One of the best tools I've found is this article by Susan Dennard. She follows the idea of the 'hero's journey' and then narrows it down to fit into a synopsis. I'm one who does better with examples, and thankfully, Sooz provides one with Star Wars. While I'm not a Star Wars fan, you get a good idea of how you can distill a lot of information into one page.
You may be wondering how much time this whole process takes, and the answer is that it really depends. For me, the longest and hardest part is the research. I look through hundreds of agents just to find a handful who fit my needs. Maybe, I'm too picky, but to me, that's the hardest part.
As for the query letter, I typically write the 'blurb' before I even write the book, so a first draft usually comes to shape within 45 minutes or so. It's the revising that takes longer.
And finally, the synopsis, since I outline (very loosely, mind you), this takes about 30 minutes. The revisions are, again, what takes the most time.
Speaking of revisions, I highly recommend engaging a critique partner whose read the book, and one that hasn't. The one who has will be able to tell you if you've missed essential pieces and if it's engaging, while the one who hasn't will be able to tell you if your hook is, well, hooky enough.