When I wrote about dealing with the trenches, I realised I have a thing to say (or even two thing) about actually querying.
I was excited and dreaded it at the same time. Friends were already in the trenches, and some had been for a while with AMAZING books, like, how did tradpub not fall over itself to acquire those? (Now I know why, but I do not see it or I will cry. 😭)
The first thing you notice when you enter the trenches is that there is no industry standard. There are a lot of people (agents) claiming to tell you the industry standard, but that is just their preferences. There is GUIDELINES which you have learnt by the time you finish. I guess.
I immediately got confused because I am a structured mind that way and wanted to write The Perfect™ query and that is impossible.
I decided to put housekeeping first, agonised of the comp I felt nobody knew (over which I’d agonise again later again because it won a Hugo…) and the comp I felt was way too big. I curated a list of agents and made sure I did not put anybody on there who is on the tea list.
Then the fun began. Because some agents use query manager and some use e-mail and some even have but a general contact form on the agency website for you to paste vaguely specified things into. (I wish I was kidding. 😔)
I tried, I really did. But the line between personal and creepy is difficult to discern for me (nd mess, remember). I quickly settled on the “Dear Firstname Lastname” greeting because pronouns are a thing and not everybody puts them where you can find them.
Then I despaired, because how to personalise with something they don’t know (its on your MSWL!) and not be stalkery (you posted a pic of this on 06.11.1987)?
What I do now is use my template and change it a little. Is it a bad template? Probably. But you get ME within the very first line and if you can’t with that, I think we’re both better off if we don’t. I am also looking for a second comp yet again because nothing is a best second fit. I will go down comping FINNA by Nino Cipri, though. If you not read that yet, read it now.
I started with housekeeping at the top because that’s where it belongs, right? To give the agent the facts and they know what they’re about to get into. Then I went to put housekeeping at the bottom because I am in love with my log line and it makes a great opening. (If you like getting the central internal conflict of the protag shoved into your face with a horrible pun.)
I am now back at housekeeping at the top because I use the log line to log off (so to speak).
So which is the right way?
Hell, if I know. 🤷♀️ Hell, if agents know. 🤷♂️ As a guide I really like this: if the beginning of your blurb is so strong it punches an agent out of their socks, housekeeping at the bottom. If your housekeeping holds something especially catchy for the agent (comp their dream comp or something like that), housekeeping at the top.
Does it help? Hell, if anybody knows.
How to write a blurb? I have no idea.
I have written a felt gazillion of blurbs for Sava. They were all inaccurate. The punchier they got, the less truthful they felt. Though the blurb may not be the right place for nuance, considering the number of words you’re allowed.
Still I feel the blurb should be truthful enough that an agent doesn’t go all frowny-faced when they read the pages and recognise nothing from the blurb that excited them.
There are formulas to help you distil the blurb. I hope they help you better than me.
I agonised over this, too. I am not a very interesting person. I am an enby nd mess. I like bad puns. I have no writing credits. (But Mel, what about this blog? Listen, if an agent finds it on their own, that’s on them.) I am not marketable. 📉
I solved this by being snarky about myself and mentioning the 1.5 mil words I have on AO3. (If an agent finds my stories there, congrats, you found some fucking good fanfic. Enjoy!)
Finally, I had a complete query that followed enough of the rules in a way that made it look query-shaped. I felt ready. (A lie, but you gotta do what you gotta do.) I set out to query the first agent and – synopsis.
Nobody likes writing a synopsis. I was happy when it was over, and all the important events were strung together in a causative way.
The last step was exporting the requested lengths of my manuscript. Which, again no standard, ranged between 5 pages and 50 pages and three chapters and an excerpt. At least that was easy to create.
Querying At Last
I started sending out my e-mail queries. That went okay. I am still unhappy with personalisation. But it gets easier with practice.
But Mel, the personal touch!
Listen, agents get as much of a personal touch as I expect in return.
*cries in form rejection*
I started querying with Query Manager. It is a great idea in theory and often in reality as well. On the other hand, still no industry standard. You may encounter some strange things in QM. The basics are easy and nice. It remembers what you typed in, so I only have to type the first letter and can autofill. That is nice. Keep forgetting my name. (Joking, I’m just lazy.)
Then it gets fun again. Usually there is a field to paste your query. And one for a specified amount of manuscript. The amount may once again vary between one page and everything. BUT now you don’t have the page!pages any longer. Had I known! I could have kept the last two sentences of my chapter after all…
The real fun begins with the extras. You may or may not need a synopsis, or a bio, a pitch, more books like your ms, perfect audience. There may be questions about superheroes, your favourite whatevers.
Overall, I agree that the form is very helpful if you are an nd mess like me.
On the other hand, you can easily turn it into a fresh new hell should you be so inclined. I was asked why I think we’d be a good match, like, bro. How do I know? Starting point is we both love my ms. Then we chat and see if we get along. Is there another way to know?
I mean, I do believe we’re both adults and able to enter a professional relationship with clear communication, mutual respect, and, hopefully, horrible puns. Or at least memes. GIFs? 🥺
I don’t think agents are trying to be mean or something. Sometimes I get the feeling they are not aware of the power imbalance and how questions look from down here.
To most questions I will find a quip or pun or actual answer. Maybe a complete rant if you ask about the Arishok in Dragon Age 2. But the above or similar questions will make me spiral and get all the anxiety.
Simple and seemingly innocent things like: something fun about yourself (Sir, I am a bore!), fave TV show (OFMD, nobody else likes Project Runway, gotta lie!), fave food (do you know how many online Disk Horses end with blood spill about food? 😭).
I know others for who questions my head considers easy are more difficult. Also, do I want an agent who may diss me because I think Marvel and DC are the same company and probably owned by Disney anyway?
Last but not least. I keep seeing agents talking about how they do like their queries. The one time I back-checked with the queries of books the agent then represented – let’s say there was a certain disconnect between the Want and what got accepted.
So, whatever the advice is, take it with a grain of salt. There are only two rules in querying you can trust:
- You can do anything, if you do it well.*
- Agents know what they want when they see it
* “Well” being subject to whatever the individual agent considers to be well.
Querying is a squishy gloop of non-standard piled on top of a skeleton of personal agent preferences. You cannot win. There is no good time to query. All times to query are bad times. You learn as you stumble along, and you won’t get anywhere without an army of shoulders to cry on.
So – if you see me in the trenches, say hi and let’s share a cry.