The Basic Query Process
Pretty much every writer who hopes to be published has to query at some point. A Query letter is an email/letter sent to a publisher or agent, introducing yourself and your work. It may or may not be accompanied by a synopsis or sample pages, based on the requirements of that particular agent or publisher.
I would say that by and large, most authors spend several months or a year (or many years) querying the same project. They send out a few letters, waiting for a response, and after what they decide is a sufficient amount of time (this time varies from author to author) they move on to another project, or decide to revise the current one to make it more saleable.
Why Query Multiple Projects?
For many people, the above works well. But what do you do while you’re waiting on an agent to decide yes, this is the manuscript for me?
Well, you keep writing. And revising.
And before you know it, you have two manuscripts ready to sell. And then three. And four. Because while the query process has certainly sped up since it switched to almost 100% email, it is still slow. It’s not uncommon for an agent to hang on to a partial request for 3-6 months before they get to it, and a full request might take a year. If you’re me, that means you can write three books while you’re waiting for a response on that one request.
Querying multiple books means you can take advantage of your time and maximize your chances of getting a book into the world.
If it sounds daunting, don’t worry. If you’re organized it’s not difficult at all. I do recommend you get some general querying experience under your belt first, however, instead of jumping in with 3-4 projects at the same time.
The first thing I’m going to suggest is that you start a spread sheet. It’s up to you if you want a different spreadsheet for each book, or one for all of your submissions. Personally, I prefer to keep everything together and use a system of color coding to mark the status of various manuscripts.
Create spaces where you can record the agency, agent, date sent, status, response date, and title submitted. I also like to include a list of any support materials sent. I also make a note if I received a form rejection, a request, or an R&R.
Know the Rules
Just like with standard queries, make sure you read the submission guidelines for every agency and each individual agent. As more agencies move to email-only communication for prospective clients, the common inbox is becoming less common. Even within the same agency two agents might require very different things: one might want just a query and synopsis; one might want a query, bio, synopsis, and the first 25 pages while a third doesn’t want any support materials at all, just the query letter.
A few dos and don’ts:
DON’T send simultaneous submissions. This means don’t send the same ms to two different people at the same agency. It’s rude. Most agencies forbid it.
DON’T send 2 books to the same agency at the same time.
DO wait for a response from Agency A on book 1 before you query them for book 2.
DO mention other published work in your bio.
DON’T mention other books you are querying in your bio. Keep the focus on the book you are submitting to the agent at that moment.
DO be polite and follow all standard query practices.
DO your research before submitting.
What to do if you get an offer
This is the point where we diverge from the standard query map.
Say you have 2 manuscripts out. Agent A has MS1, and Agent B has MS2.
Agent A requests a partial, and sits on it for two months. You haven’t heard anything back.
Agent B requests a partial. Then a full. Then makes an offer.
At this point, it is okay to prod Agent A (even though you normally wouldn’t prod an agent before 3 months had passed for a partial). Send a short email, something like this:
Dear Agent A,
I submitted MS1 to you on [date] and have not heard from you. I wanted to know if you have had a chance to read it. Also, I have received an offer of representation on MS2, and would like to know if you want to see it. I need to hear back from you by [date].
Typically, you would prod again after a couple of weeks if you don’t hear back, but if there is an offer of representation on the table, it is up to you to decent if you want to wait for Agent A’s response, or go with Agent B. Most offers of representation come with a deadline for consideration, usually around 2 weeks or so. Make sure to include this when you prod the other agent, and give yourself plenty of time to consider your options. And of course, do your research while you wait.
If you have more questions about the process, feel free to leave a comment below.