Want to know what scares a horror writer? It’s not haunted houses, creepy clowns, or serial killers. It’s querying agents. I’m sure that most writers regardless of their genre are uneasy at the thought of querying agents especially if it’s their first time. And I’m no exception. The process of querying agents seemed daunting to me. There were so many things I had to learn how to do including picking the right agents to query, learning to write a query letter, and how to handle rejection and critique. While I have not signed with an agent yet, I wanted to share my experience with other new writers, so you can learn from my experience and perhaps your querying process will be a little easier because of it.
- Read a lot
It may seem counterintuitive to start off a post about querying agents with a tip about reading but trust me, this is extremely important. Not only will reading help you become a more skilled writer, but you will also have an idea of what novels are out there that are similar to yours. If you are able to identify a number of published novels that have a comparable theme, voice, topic, or niche genre to your manuscript, you can then find out who represents the author of those novels and query them. In some cases, the agent will be mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements. If an agent has already worked with a novelist who writes similarly to you, there is a better chance the agent will be interested in your writing. While it may be sound writing advice to read books that are outside of your genre, I’d recommend that you stick to your genre when you begin to write your manuscript or querying agents as you should only query agents who represent authors in your genre. Plus, it is helpful to compare your work to authors who have already been published in your query letter, so the agent has an idea of what your style is like.
- Ask for help from other writers
Constructing a query letter can seem like a formidable task if you go it alone. Not only should you look for examples of query letters online, but you should also reach out to other writers for help. If you have a good relationship with established or experienced writer, see if he or she would be willing to review your query letter and give you some pointers. I got lucky in this regard as one of my twitter followers volunteered to read my query and give me feedback. I probably would have been stuck rewriting my query over and over again if it wasn’t for him. Even though it can seem a little awkward to ask other writers for help, their input could improve your query letter immensely.
- Dedicate time to researching agents
Don’t just query any agent who happens to be open for submissions. Take the time to look for agents who have worked with authors who write similarly to you. Make sure the agent is currently looking for new manuscripts in your genre. If you are interested in querying agents from another country, look at their website or even send them an email to see if they will accept queries from other countries.
Outside of the agent’s website, you can search for #MSWL on twitter to see what agents are looking for. There are sites like Publishers Marketplace that display what agents are interested in seeing from writers. Also, if you can, find agents who specialize or have expressed interest in representing debut authors. While you shouldn’t be dissuaded from querying an agent who reps big name authors, you may have better luck querying someone who is explicitly looking for new voices to represent. The more you know about the agents you are querying, the easier time you will have.
- Start small
There are many pieces of advice floating around in cyberspace about how many agents you should query in a given period of time. I believe this is less of an exact science and more about luck and the personal preferences of the querying writer. For me, sending out my first round of queries was a tad overwhelming, so I made myself do batches of five agents every few days instead of sending my query to my entire list of prospective agents in one day. There are some writers out there who have no issue sending out query letters by the dozens each day, but you don’t necessarily have to follow their example.
Furthermore, if you notice some aspect of your query isn’t working, you can change it and send it to other agents. You can’t do that if you sent your original query to your entire list of potential agents. When it comes to your first time querying agents, it is more than alright to take small steps forward.
- Know when to follow up
The waiting game is probably the most frustrating part of the querying process and even the entire writing process as a whole. Once you’ve sent your query letter out there, all you can do is wait for that reply. If it has been awhile and you haven’t heard back from an agent, you may want to consider sending a follow-up. However, you must strike a delicate balance when doing this. You don’t want agents to forget about you, but you also don’t want to seem like an overzealous or demanding writer either. The general rule is to wait about four to six weeks to send a follow up email. If the agent has requested more material from you such as a summary, a few chapters, or the whole manuscript, it’s best to give them six to eight weeks before following up. However, if the agent has guidelines on his or her website about following up, stick to those rules instead. In my experience, following up with agents prompted them to give me insightful feedback on my query or manuscript that I wouldn’t have gotten if I neglected to follow up with them.
- Rejoice in small victories
Querying agents is hard work that is full of long waits and rejections. When you make progress, no matter how small, be sure to give yourself a chance to celebrate. If an agent has requested your manuscript or gave you flattering feedback, rejoice! Don’t dwell on the others who ignored or rejected your query. It’s easy to feel like finding an agent or getting your novel published is hopeless but try to keep a positive mindset as a bad attitude won’t do you any good. Rejoice in your accomplishments and keep marching on.
- Learn from your experience
Take the feedback that agents give you seriously. These people know the publishing industry and understand what major publishers and mainstream readers want. While most of the response I got was positive, I was able to make tweaks to my manuscript to address the concerns these agents had about my work. I wouldn’t have been made aware of these details unless I had queried these agents in the first place. Now, I can go about my second round of queries with a much better sense of what agents are looking for. Additionally, some of their feedback gave me inspiration for another novel which I’ve started working on as well. None of these things would have happened if I didn’t do my first round of queries. To the unpublished writers out there, my advice is not to worry if you didn’t find an agent after your first attempt at querying. Learn and grow from the experience and never stop working towards your goal.
V.P. Morris is a thriller and horror writer who resides in the Greater New York City Area. Her most recent short story, Bloodsuckers was published by the Drunken Pen. She is seeking representation for her first novel, Dead Ringer while working on a several short stories as well as her second novel. You can read her blog posts on the writing process and writing for the horror and thriller genres on her website, vpmorris.com. You can also follow her on Instagram.
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