Top 6 Querying Dos and Don’ts

Must-read tips for authors hoping to survive — and thrive! — in the query trenches

So, you’ve written a book, and you want to find a literary agent. What’s next? Querying! 

Often referred to as the “query trenches,” querying literary agents can sometimes sound — and feel — like a big, bottomless abyss that you’re being asked to navigate without a headlight. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. 

These tips for what to do (and what not to do) when querying will  help make your process as seamless as possible. 

3 tips for tackling the query trenches

1. Create a querying plan

This advice is tired and true: do your research. Making a plan allows you to make thoughtful, conscientious decisions about how and when you enter the query trenches. A few things I found helpful include:

  • Agent name and literary agency
  • Query method (email, QueryManager, etc.)
  • Query materials
  • Open or closed to unsolicited queries
  • Average response times
  • Notable clients and sales
  • Manuscript wishlist (MSWL) highlights

Most information can be gleaned from resources like Publisher’s Marketplace, QueryTracker, Manuscript Wishlist, the agency’s site, or the agent’s personal site.

2. Think about what you want from your agent

Sometimes the desire to sign with “an agent” can overwhelm the importance of signing with “the right agent.” Consider whether you’re looking for an agent that will stick by your side throughout your career or one who will represent a single book. If you’re searching for someone who will be around for the long run, consider all the types of books you’d like to write in addition to the one you’re currently querying. Signing with an agent who only represents adult books when you’ve got a middle grade homerun in your back pocket might not be the right move.

Additionally, it’s helpful to be cognizant of the communication style you prefer, what agency perks you’re interested in, and what you want your agent relationship to look like. Do you want to work with an agent who is also an author? Do you want to sign to an agency with an in-house editor? What publishers and media are you interested in making sales in?

Being mindful of these things up front — and truthful with yourself about what your goals are — allows you to craft a querying plan specific to your circumstances and desires. 

3. Only query agents you’d actually want to sign with

It seems obvious, but my recommendation is to only query agents you’d like to represent you and your books. Sometimes, you can’t know with certainty if an agent will be a great fit until you have the opportunity to hop on a call with them, and that’s okay! You can always decide you’d rather pursue other options. But if you query someone as a tester, you might end up in a pickle if they offer representation. I’m a big believer in assuming success rather than fearing the worst. So, you when you compile that list of agents, make sure they’ll be strong advocates for your books.

Don’t make these 3 querying mistakes 

1. Don’t query slow responders first 

When you’re ready to send your first query, it’s normal to want to immediately throw your query package toward your dream agent — or agents. But what if that agent is a notoriously slow responder? You might send your query package and be stuck in limbo, unsure whether or not your pages are effective.

To test the waters, see if your query package is working, and get a taste of the query trenches, do yourself a favor, and carefully select agents from your list who will respond to you sooner than two to six business months. My recommendation is to query agents who typically respond between one and fourteen days. 

There is nothing wrong with agents who take longer to read — hello, agents have lives — but if you’re wondering whether or not your query package is effective, you’ll want to start with people who can thumbs-up or thumbs-down a la Roman Emperor in the Coliseum before the earth takes a full revolution around the sun. Save the slower responders until after your first full request, and you’ll save yourself from frantically wondering if your query letter works or your first ten pages are snappy enough. 

2. Don’t keep revising while you’re querying

Once you’re officially #amquerying, it’s time to close the word processor. Your manuscript is in the hands of literary agents, and if you keep tinkering with it, suddenly you’re going to end up with a million contradictory file names like Final_FINAL_Book_For_Real.docx. Not only will it stress you out, but continuing to revise while you’re querying is indicative that the book you’ve just shipped off to dream agent inbox purgatory… isn’t ready yet. 

One of the best things you can do for your querying journey is to wait. Don’t send that first query until you’re confident that your book is as polished as you can make it on your own. That’s your end of the bargain as a writer.

While you’ll certainly receive feedback while querying — too this, not enough that — this is not the time to put that feedback into motion while other agents are still reading. I won’t lie. It can be tough to hear! But you won’t have the same vision for your book as every single agent, and you aren’t expected to. Hearing the varied feedback (and it will be varied) from agents and trying to address all of it while actively querying has the potential to create a vicious, endless cycle of ineffective revising that could hurt your prospects at finding the right fit and tank your self-confidence in the process. 

Once you’ve signed an agency agreement, you and your new agent will collaborate on revisions that align with your vision for your book, your career path, and the marketability of the manuscript. 

3. Don’t only rely on batch querying

Batch querying is a tactic that involves sending queries in batches of five to ten to agents to gauge response. It’s often recommended, but it isn’t the only way to query! If you’re seeing a positive response on your query package (as in, agents are requesting partial or full manuscript submissions), you shouldn’t feel obligated to wait until the current batch has run its course in order to send more queries. After all, one of those full requests could offer representation tomorrow! Once you’ve seen a positive response from your query package, consider sending more queries to make sure everyone on your list has the opportunity to read your incredible words. 

Are you ready to start querying your book? 

Querying doesn’t have to be panic inducing, and your journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. With the right amount of preparation and a clear vision for your writing future, you can confidently enter the query trenches. Want to hear more about my querying journey? See how I got my literary agent.

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