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.

How I Got My Literary Agent

A look into my writing, revising, and querying journey from a draft one to dream agent

If you’d told me even two years ago that I’d be writing this post, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Back then, I had gone years without writing a single page. But here we are, four drafts and 360,000 words later, and I want to talk about how I got my agent — a lesson in cross-country road trips, finding your community, and writing what you love. 

Step one: I wrote a book 

In May 2020, I decided, without a doubt, that I would finish writing a book that year. I had a story in mind — danger! romance! drama! — and then, when I started drafting, it fizzled out in no time flat. I hadn’t even hit 10,000 words before it was dead in the water. But there was something in there that stuck. 

A boy out of place. 

So, I plotted a new story around this love interest. Who would be the least likely person to love him? How would they find each other? I tossed in everything I wanted from a book, things I felt like I couldn’t find on the shelves. An ivy-strewn college. The haunted stacks of a dusty library. The first shaky steps of life on your own. The grief you didn’t know how to bury. 

I wrote the book I wanted to read. I wrote the book I needed. 

The first chapter began in the dining room of a hundred-year-old house in the hills of Pasadena. It was early on July 1, 2020, the sun’s first rays creeping past the cypress trees in the backyard, and I couldn’t sleep, wide awake with new-draft jitters. For the first time in so long, the words came easily. 

Some important things happened along the way. I learned to say yes when drafting instead of overthinking every detail. I made friends online who were also pursuing publishing, friends to celebrate with and friends to cry with.

By October, I had written a book. 

I didn’t write a word in November — NaNoWriMo be damned — and sent my book to five beta readers who would hopefully fill me in on whether or not the book was working effectively. When their notes came in, I cut scenes and added new ones, found out the only way I knew how to describe emotion was by clenching fists and rolling eyes, and felt the unnerving rush of email notifications of new comments. 

The notes I received from my beta readers were pivotal. Revising would take weeks, but I had a deadline. Author Mentor Match applications were opening soon. 

Step two: I wrote the book I meant to write the first time

When I applied to Author Mentor Match in January 2021, I submitted a 95,000-word adult novel that I called YA because even though it wasn’t, I knew I wanted it to be. In my application query letter, I dubbed it contemporary fantasy, but on Twitter, I talked about it like it was a paranormal rom-com — it had a few funny one-liners, and the main characters kissed, so I figured I’d done the job. 

I had not. 

I was selected as an AMM Round 8 mentee by Jo Fenning and Serena Kaylor, and I quickly discovered the gut-wrenching fear of a seven-page edit letter and the words, this is not a rom-com, but you can make it one. I didn’t need to tear the book down to its studs — I needed to demolish it. I’d use the pieces like broken glass in a mosaic. The genre, the plot, the setting, the magic system, the cast. I needed to rebuild the story brick by brick if I wanted to tell it right. 

I read Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes, made a list of all my favorite early-2000s rom-coms, and drafted up a pitch deck to send to my mentors for a quick vibe check — spoiler: it passed. 

It took four months. Between early mornings and late nights rediscovering my story, I started a new job, moved 1,800 miles across the country, and had my fair share of meltdowns. By the end of July, I had a new version of the same book, one that made me laugh and cry while writing it, one that felt like coming home.

With notes from my mentors and a few of my favorite people, I polished the manuscript, somehow managed to add more puns, and then it was time.

Step three: I queried a book

I must’ve sent twenty what if I just threw a query out into the void for science texts during my last pass revisions, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Because when I finished, I knew I was ready. 

The pages were solid. The query letter had been revised about a trillion times. The synopsis… existed. In the wise words of Shania Twain, let’s go girls.

I sent my first query at the kitchen table in my robe before work on a Monday. The next day, I received a form rejection and a full request because that’s just the way that querying goes. A little bold, I chucked out a few more queries and then a few more, and the next week, I participated in September’s PitMad. It felt like all I did was refresh my email and QueryTracker. 

Then, two weeks later, Claire Friedman at InkWell Management wanted to hop on a call. 

We scheduled it for the next day, and I don’t think I slept a wink that night. There’s always that tiny seed of doubt in the back of your mind, the doubt sprouting about an agent asking you to revise and resubmit, but when she said she’d like to offer representation, I’m certain I let out a breath I knew I’d been holding. The minute the call started, I was blown away by Claire’s enthusiasm for my book and my future. Working with her had been a dream I clung to as I started querying, and I couldn’t believe it was going to come true. 

I had the absolute delight of speaking with two other agents during the two-week decision period, both of whom I’m certain are tireless advocates for their clients but weren’t exactly the right fit for me and the shape of the career I’m trying to mold. Accepting Claire’s offer of representation included a bottle of champagne on the balcony, a massive bowl of TikTok pasta, and snapping one last Polaroid to commemorate this season of life. 

Step four: !!!!!!! 

I’ve felt more like myself in the last year than I have for a long time. Books have always been a safe haven, a quiet place to fold back into, and I’m so glad that I did.

The world’s biggest shout out to my darling boyfriend’s unending support, the unwavering enthusiasm from my writing besties, and Celestial Seasoning’s Vermont Maple Ginger tea. This book quite literally wouldn’t exist without any of them.

At the end of the day, everybody’s querying journey looks and feels different. For me, it looked like this: 

QUERYING STATISTICS

Books Written: 1

Books Queried: 1

Time Querying: 28 days 

Total Queries: 23 

PitMad Requests: 14

Full or Partial Requests: 6

Offers: 3