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Query Woes

Caged Maiden

Article Team
I just wanted to share my thoughts, in case any other scribes are in the same position.

I've submitted my novel I don't know, probably five times? Twice a year ago, once a few months ago, and now twice this week. *sigh* It isn't that I'm expecting an immediate response, some sort of email to barrel its way into my inbox with an appropriately obnoxious fanfare...but waiting is hard.

The agency I queried today say they should get to responding within three months. See...I'm not sure whether I should be waiting patiently or what. Part of me wants to cover as much ground as possible in the least amount of time, but I'm just not a terribly organized person and I worry I'll get people confused and forget who I queried and why. Is that even a legitimate fear? Right now, I know who I queried, how I tailored each submission, why I thought they were a great representative for my book, etc. But that's just an element of my desired professionalism (as in, I used to be a recruiter and in two years, I conducted something like 450 interviews. I'd see people and not know their names, and I KNEW I'd hired them, but it was embarrassing that I no longer remembered them as people). I vowed never to repeat that issue and often re-ask folks their names when meeting them now, just to make sure I've actually heard it and had it register... I've gotten off track. I guess my point is...how should a writer pace their submissions so they aren't maintaining a snail's pace of infrequent, one-at-a-time queries, but also not turn into a query slut?

Is it reasonable to rotate three queries at the same time, never having more than two or three unanswered at a time? Or is it just better to pick your lovers carefully and focus your attention on the best prospects without regard for frequency but more concerned about quality?
When I was querying my first novel (ultimately unsuccessfully, though a great learning experience), I sent them out in batches of about six, and waited until I had three responses - whether positive or negative - before I sent out the next batch. This gave me an opportunity to assess whether my query was presenting well, and perhaps give it an overhaul.

Overall, I sent out 34 queries, which resulted in 6 requests for partial or full manuscripts. At 17.6% success, I was actually well ahead of the average QueryTracker user, who has a 10% success rate. I'd also estimate that about half of my unsuccessful responses were actually non-responses - as in, I just never heard anything back from the agent. A lot of them have "no response means no" policies, because they just can't respond to everything. Others just take soooo looong that you've given up long before a response comes through. (I got one full request five months after I queried.)

Because of all of these things, agents don't expect you to only query one, or even only a few. As long as you're researching the agents to make sure they'd be a good fit for you and the manuscript, and as long as you're sending individual emails, then I think you're going to be fine. The only time things start getting more pointed is if (when!) you get an offer of representation. At that point, it's considered polite to let everyone else who has the manuscript know that you've had an offer, and give them a reasonable period (one or two weeks, usually) to either chip in or bow out.

I do highly recommend QueryTracker, if you aren't already using it. If nothing else, it gives you an excellent idea of what to expect in terms of reply/no-reply, and indicative timeframes. (Some agents are super quick - one of my dream agents almost always responds within three days - and others make twitter updates of where they're up to in their queries. Discussion on the agents' listings can be handy for all these things.) QT can also be a great way to find newer agents who are actively building their lists and therefore more likely to be quick responders and to be more open to new authors. For me, all of that makes up for the annoying fact that even agents who only rep paranormal romance are listed under "fantasy". That's where making sure you do your research comes in, I guess. :)

(P.S. I'm particularly paying attention to all of this stuff at the moment because I'm gearing up to start querying my next novel. I have about 45 agents on my "to query" list, ranked at varying levels of would-dearly-love-to-work-with.)
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