Resources for the Querying Writer
Querying Literary Agents is a terrifying part of the traditional publishing process–or at least it is for me. As of writing this, I am still in and out of the trenches, but I know a lot more about the querying world than I had at the beginning of this year.
To help someone who may just be starting out, or who is just in need of some direction, I wanted to share some websites that have been helpful to me. These links would have really saved me from weeks spent stumbling around the internet looking for guidance.
Understanding/Refining the Query Letter
This is an amazing resource because you get to read what works and what doesn’t from the perspective of an actual Literary Agent–Janet Reid. I am not exaggerating when I say I read through every Query Shark post and tried my best to apply the feedback to my own query. In reading Janet Reid‘s feedback, you really begin to understand the job of a query letter, and why some are stronger than others.
Agent Query Connect is a great networking community for those looking to get into the publishing industry. There are a bunch of discussions to check out, but where I found the most value, was in the Query Critiques Forum.
I really needed to don a thick skin for this one, but it was a great way to get blunt opinions on my letter. The forum is straightforward. You start a thread and post your query for other members to critique. Note, you don’t necessarily sit back and wait to be ripped to threads. Because it really is a community, it’s expected that you actively critique other member’s queries. In doing so, you’re more likely to see reciprocation, and you also get to exercise your query critiquing muscles–muscles that you can turn around and use to face your own writing.
Keep in mind that most of those offering critiques are not experts. They are often in the same boat, seeking feedback on their own query letters–but that doesn’t mean their insight isn’t valuable. My advice is to take all feedback and hold it against your work. If it fits, make changes accordingly. If it doesn’t, move on. My initial mistake had been trying to mold my query to every specific bit of feedback–this became especially problematic when I ended up with conflicting critiques, I found myself in a rut.
Hopefully, if you’ve looked into the querying process, you know not to send out your query to every literary agent on the planet. It’s important to take the time to research agents, see if they represent your genre, and that what you write is consistent with what they are looking for.
Proper access to Publishers Marketplace requires registration and a monthly fee of $25. If you join, you’ll have your finger on the pulse of industry news. You’ll know who’s representing who, what is selling, and what deals are being made. It’s a great one stop shop to get a lot of research done.
For those who don’t have the extra cash to spare, Publishers Marketplace can still be a great resource. Many agents have a publicly visible Agent Page you can check out. There, you’ll usually find their most recent sales, what they are looking for, and how they prefer to be queried.
Within the genres they represent, agents often have Manuscript Wishlists (or #MSWL as you’ll often see on Twitter). Sometimes these wishlists are broad (e.g. Pirate stories), sometimes they are specific (e.g. Female Pirate Best friends who save the world). Either way, this site helps you target agents who are looking for your story.
Tracking your Queries
This honestly could have been mixed with the “Finding Agents” section, but I really wanted to highlight what was so special about this site.
When I first started querying. I had made myself a giant Excel file. It had a ton of columns. One for the name of the agent, one for their agency, one for the date I queried them, plus about ten other fields. As I submitted, I’d colour code the agent’s names. I’d then change the colour to various shades of red depending on the response.
NO ONE TOLD ME THERE WAS A WHOLE WEBSITE TO STREAMLINE THIS. I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon Querytracker.net, but I’m so glad I had. You can make an account that tracks everything for you.
In addition to tracking your queries, you can search agents, research their response timelines, and anticipate when you’ll hear back from them–or if you’ll hear back from them. There’s a lot of useful data gathered on query tracker, so I definitely recommend you check it out. And the more people who register and update their query submission stats, the more useful it is to the community.
I’m working on a post that outlines the benefits of being connected to Twitter’s writing community, but until it’s done, here’s my advice:
GET ON TWITTER. Start by following agents, and keep tabs on some hashtags. Start with #tenqueries, #MSWL and #Querytip, and follow those with interesting things to say. Don’t be afraid to engage; retweet, comment, ask questions! Before you know it, you’ll be a part of the community, and have a lot more knowledge than you had going in.
Resource Recommendations from Readers
This page gives a great overview for anyone looking to have a career in writing, whether young or old. It gives a breakdown of the different options, regardless of if you’re pursuing indie or traditional publishing.
(Thanks, Amelia, for the recommendation!)
This list is by no means extensive, so let’s help each other out! Share your favourite resources below in the comments.