Thursday, 2 April 2015

Becky's Excellent Guide to Querying

So you've, like, totally written an awesome book, right? And now you want an agent to represent you, to go out and get you a six-figure pre-empt and a deal for a movie that will one day star, I don't know, Charlie Hunnam or Phoebe Tonkin or Michael B. Jordan. (Is that just a list of people I have a crush on? Perhaps.)

{oh phoebe, phoebe, phoebe…}

Anyway. I'm going to assume that, because you are all smart people, you have revised and polished your manuscript to within an inch of its precious life. I'm going to assume that you've done your agent research -- you've checked Literary Rambles, Query Tracker, agency sites, agent blogs/tumblrs/twitters,  and you know exactly what you've got to do. Because this post is not about that -- it's just about what to do from the moment you start querying and throughout the process.

I may have been through this process once (or twice, or three times...) before, and these are some things I've found that work really well for me/proved useful in maintaining what sanity I have. So use what you like, kick out what doesn't, and most importantly, go forth and kick querying's ass.

Keeping records is fun!

It's a good idea to keep all pertinent information in one place, and to keep a record of it at all, so that you can keep track of when to follow up or close queries out or who that agent was that just rejected you (honestly, I have queried a lot of people with the same name over the years and it can get weird up in the ol' inbox).

What you want to do is make yourself one great spreadsheet. What? Even I think spreadsheets are cool, and I don't actually know how to work Excel other than its most basic functions. (I can make, like, really pretty graphs.)

In your spreadsheet, you should make yourself columns for:

  • Agency name
  • Agent name
  • What materials they require
  • Their submission email
  • Date of query
  • Date of their response
  • How they responded
You could also add a column for any notes you want to keep for that all-important/utterly pointless (depending on your view) personalisation at the beginning of the query.

(Okay, you may be thinking, I can keep track of everything on Query Tracker! Yeah, that's true. But there's something special about a spreadsheet, no? And you can colour code things, and make it pretty, and most importantly, it's yours. Belongs to you only. I like that.)

Submission materials!

So you have your query, and you have your MS. What else could you possibly need, right?

Let me tell you:

  • A synopsis. Yes, they are the most evil creations in the entire goddamn galaxy. Yes, you need to write one. Trust me, even if someone doesn't ask for it along with the query, one day an agent is going to request a partial and a synopsis along with it, and if you don't have one already it's going to be a kick in the left ovary having to write one right then.
  • Saved versions of: First 50 pages; First 3 Chapters; First 100 Pages; First 5 Chapters; and so on, and so on…Save them as a .doc. Save them as a PDF. Shit, save them in RTF format, too -- just think how prepared you'll be! You might think this is random, but when  (when, not if) you get requests, you're going to be asked for these chunks of your MS and why not get ahead of the curve?

Things that will make agents not pull their hair out in frustration!

Have you ever seen an agent talking about a weird query they've received -- in all caps and calling the agent the wrong name; stating "I have the next BILLION SELLER and you should READ now or BATHE in REGRET FOREVER"; a single line and a link to purchase their self pubbed novel; three rambling paragraphs about how much their mother/neighbour/cat loved the MS and nothing about the ACTUAL STORY -- and thought, "Are these people out of their everloving minds?" Here are two ways to be the complete opposite of those people.

1. Save your documents as follows: <YOUR NAME><TITLE><CONTENTS> 

Example: Rebecca Barrow -- BEST FUCKING BOOK EVER -- First 50 Pages

Why do that? Well, imagine how annoying it would be to receive twenty different documents titled only "First 50 Pages". And you're trying to find that one by the one person but they're all called the same thing and you have to keep opening and reading them until you find the one you think you really wanted, but who knows?

Now imagine you are such a genius that you have saved your document with identifying information in the name and the agent easily finds what they want and everyone is smiling like an angel. Ahh.

2. Put your query on the first page of your documents. 

That way, any agent reading that document who might not quite remember the premise or is vague on what this MS is (it happens: agents request a lot, manuscripts have similar titles, brains get tired) can first of all see the query they requested from, and then go, "Oh, yeah, that sounded like the best fucking book ever!"

And the most important thing in this whole goddamn stupid terrifying exciting exhilarating process!

Find the thing that keeps you from losing your mind. Meditation. New lipstick. Wine (copious amounts of). Chocolate (copious amounts of). Killing video game monsters. Whatever it is, find it and do it whenever you feel that querying is going to push you over the edge. It's hard, it really is. But keep trying. I think we'll all get there, one day.

Hopefully with sanity still intact.