Ah, querying strategy. There’s no right way to do this, as I’ve written about once before. I’ve had a couple of people comment on the fact that I have 25 columns in my spreadsheet. Well, I didn’t originally have so many columns at the front of the spreadsheet. I added more columns with successive manuscripts as I learned that there were more factors to consider as I was deciding who to query when. I alluded to some of these considerations in last week’s post, but I wanted to spend more time on each of them and also put forward some of the different ways you can approach ordering agents into querying rounds. But maybe I should start with a basic question:
How many agents should be in a round?
It partially depends on how confident you are in your materials. If it’s your first manuscript, I’d start out with smaller rounds to test the waters–perhaps somewhere around seven queries at a time. So, that means you would organize the agents into groups of seven. If you’ve queried multiple manuscripts and know your materials are ready, you might want to do larger rounds of ten or fifteen. I’ve seen writers who do even more. Once you’ve decided the number, you can go back to the main question …
Who should you query first?
The million-dollar question! Here are some possibilities, along with pros and cons:
- Your top-ranked agents
- Pro: You’ll know right away if your favorites are a match.
- Con: If your materials aren’t ready, you’ve lost your chance at your top picks. And I’m going to be brutally honest here: for 90 percent of first-time queriers, you’re not ready when you start querying. I wasn’t. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. This post on why it’s so hard to get your first novel published remains one of my most popular for a reason. But hey, maybe you’ll be in that lucky 10 percent. I hope so!
- Other consideration: Keep in mind there’s no such thing as a dream agent. You might think someone’s a perfect fit based on what you read online, but you won’t know for sure until you have The Call and hear his/her vision for your book, so don’t let it get you down too much if that one agent you think is perfect rejects your query.
- Agents with the most requests
- Pro: They may be more likely to request yours as well. Even if they do eventually reject, perhaps they’ll give you valuable feedback.
- Con: You might feel worse if they don’t request yours. BUT, always remember subjectivity.
- Agents who respond
- Pro: You will get an answer.
- Con: None. This one’s a no-brainer for your first round in my opinion unless you feel super-confident and there’s a no-response agent you just have to query right away.
- Agents who respond quickly
- Pro: You’ll know quickly what’s working.
- Con: Faster rejection.
- Agents who want a query only
- Pro: This can tell you that your query’s effective. (You should do this with other writers before querying agents to make sure the query is clear, but agents still react differently than writers since they’re looking at the market as well, so it can be an effective strategy.)
- Con: You can’t rely too heavily on this as tastes are still subjective. You may still get rejections that have nothing to do with your query needing work. (See my post on what I learned in a year of querying. I have a section on this.) My best advice here is that if you send out a round that is entirely query-only and they all reject, it’s probably your query. If you get at least a couple of requests, the other rejections may be due to tastes.
- Agents with whom you’ve had contact (met at a conference, requested from you before, etc.)
- Pro: Having a previous relationship with an agent can get you in the door, although it still comes down to the right fit.
- Con: It might hurt more if they reject you. Plus, having a previous relationship with an agent could blind you to another agent at the same agency who could be a better fit. Even if an agent has requested from you before, they might not again, as I’ve commented on before.
So, basically, you could go with any of these or a combination. It all comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and that’s different for everyone. I can’t give you a magic formula. I wish I had one myself!
How do you sort them into rounds?
Once you’ve figured out that all-important factor of how you want to organize your first round, you can sort the spreadsheet in a variety of different ways to plan out the rest of your rounds. Sort by Rank to go with your top-ranked agents first, by [genre/category] requests? in descending order to go with the agents with the most requests first, by Sub note to test a particular submission material, or by Responds? to go with only agents who respond. Generally I don’t sort by that last one–I just scan for it as I’m looking at the other fields. (As a side note, I’ve generally accounted for the Looking for column in my Rank, so any agents who were specifically looking for something that matches my manuscript have a higher rank and would come up there, but I still scan through that column to see if I want to move any agents up to a higher round.)
Once you’ve sorted, just put the round number (1, 2, 3, etc.) and repeat it the number of queries you plan to do in each round (7, 10, 15) until you get through all the agents you plan to query. And, voila, you have your agents set to query! Although nothing has to be set in stone. My list is always flexible. I modify it as contests crop up or if I see an agent tweet about something relevant they’re looking for.
Ok, we’re down to only one post left in this series, and that one will include the actual querying fields. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but I do have one other fun QueryTracker report I use that I add to one of these up-front fields once I’ve started querying, so I’ll include it in that post. I hope these are helpful!
Other posts in this series: