Querying


It’s fun to complain, isn’t it? Let’s complain about querying!

Querying is complicated! Querying is messy! And every time I query, I am simultaneously delighted that I seem to be doing OK and terrified that I’m doing everything wrong. And both might be true!

Nothing makes sense. Everything is anxiety-inducing. This post has no point!

Let’s get to it anyway!

Response rates are super important!

Everyone loves response rates. Heck, QueryTracker only tracks two statistics on your “Queries > My Stats” tab, and response rate’s one of ’em. It is:

Total Number of Agents Who Asked for Any Material / The Total Number of Agents You Queried

Multiply that by 100, slap a percent sign on it, and bam! You’ve got a response rate!

And what’s a “good” request rate? Answers vary! A common piece of advice is to start your querying journey by sending out 10 queries and waiting to see if you get at least one response before querying more–because 10% is a good request rate, and if you have at least that, your query is probably OK.

And is it a useful statistic? Yes! Kind of! Sometimes! With caveats!

Because if you’re getting requests, but you’re not around 10%, it’s nearly impossible to tell what that means.

  • Something may be wrong. Maybe you need to strengthen your query or your first chapter.
  • Or maybe you’re approaching the wrong agents?
  • Or maybe it’s OK! Honestly, if you’re getting requests, you’re doing OK. If you’re getting enough (which is subjective) and some of them seem to be branching into full requests, then sitting there going “Oh god, is 7% high enough? Am I doing everything wrong?!” is probably counterproductive.

(That might or might not be where I am right now. Cough.)

Request rates are only completely clear-cut in one situation: if you get no requests after many queries. If you can go 10 or 20 queries without a single peep of any sort… Yeah, it’s probably worth looking at your query letter.

Otherwise, everything is fuzzy. Especially since…

Agents make decisions based on personal sales and client information that you can’t possibly know!

Of course, if you go by the theory that a good request rate means you have a good book, you’re assuming that if your book is good–truly, unambiguously good–then every agent will want it.

And yet agents often make choices based on things you have absolutely no control over: what books their clients are working on. What sales they just made. What sales the editors they worked with just made. What seems to be in vogue right now (which is based on books that were sold and published a few years ago.) What seems to be on the horizon. You don’t have any power over that.

And they have quirks! Have you checked out the Manuscript Wishlist at #MSWL? The glut of authors and books out there means that agents can have really, really specific requests!

So maybe you have a remarkable book that’s topical, marketable, and interesting. That should get you some requests. And yet, somehow, you can also truly be all these things and not have a really amazingly high request rate. Because of luck. Because the topic isn’t quite what they have in mind, or they’re selling too much of this, or it’s too similar to something else they’re representing, or…

But it only takes one to say “yes”!

In the end, it really only takes one agent to say “yes.” You could send out 90 queries, have an abysmal request rate, and… if you get one request from one agent who falls in love with your story, then it doesn’t matter. You still get an agent. You still did it. It could happen, even if your request rate isn’t mind-blowingly high.

So you don’t need a lot of requests. It helps, and it’s a good sign, of course. And it’s much better to be getting lots of requests, lots of interest, and lots of potential leads–because goodness knows you can get a lot of full requests and still get absolutely no offers of representation.

Ultimately, querying is hard and you will never know anything.

Nothing means anything! Good numbers are good! Bad numbers may be bad! Middling numbers might mean anything! Anything short of unambigous and immediate success is impossible to gauge!

If you have a high request rate, you can safely say that you  have a great idea, a great query, and a powerful first chapter. Go you!

But if you have an okayish one, it’s… easy to beat yourself up. It might be OK but not amazing, and it may be getting requests, but maybe not enough… And maybe your query could be better, and maybe it’s OK, and maybe you just have to keep trying. Because who knows?

Even if, ironically, querying lots of agents means your request rate lowers. At least until you get more requests. Sigh.

In short, querying is a roller coaster and I never know if I’m doing an abysmal job or an OK one.

Fun times!

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QueryTracker logo.As I mentioned in my last post, I’m back in the query trenches. And that means I’m spending way too much time thinking about querying.

So let’s talk about one of my favorite QueryTracker tools: the Data Explorer!

What is the Data Explorer?

The Data Explorer shows every time a QueryTracker user has submitted a query to a specific agent. It shows you their anonymized data: the genre of the book, its approximate length, how it was submitted, when it was submitted, what their response was, and how long it took to get it. And a whole lot of people use QueryTracker. And that means that, while the Data Explorer doesn’t show you every query an agent is getting, you can still see how that agent has responded to hundreds of other queries–in real time!

First thing’s first: this is, unfortunately, a feature you can only use if you have a paid QueryTracker membership. And while it’s not a feature I’d necessarily get a paid membership for, it’s super useful once you’ve made the jump.

So, with that in mind, you can get to the Data Explorer from your Query list. First, add some agents to your query list. Query people, and log those queries! Add agents to your to-query list! I explained how to do some of this in my last post. Once you’ve done that:

  1. Go to “Queries” in the top navigation.
  2. You can choose what agents to show here–the agents you haven’t queried yet? The ones you have? Choose whatever you want to see under “Advanced Search Filters.”
  3. Click this button:

QueryTracker Data Explorer - 3

The thing that looks like a stack of pancakes? That’s the Data Explorer. (The arrow beneath it goes to the Query Timeline, which uses the same data as the Explorer. The Explorer is a spreadsheet and the timeline is a graphical, er, timeline.)

Both are cool, but we’re going to click on the pancakes.

What does the Data Explorer look like?

Behold!

QueryTracker Data Explorer

I can see every single submission that has been logged in QueryTracker. And this is useful data! If I were about to query this particular agent, I could glean a few details:

  • She responds really quickly! Most of those rejections come in in under 20 days.
  • She might in a few days if she wants to request materials. (But not always! Don’t give up hope, me!)
  • She’s apparently  been busy, because she hasn’t responded to any queries at all since May 8. (Again! Don’t give up hope!)

But you know what? I’ve already queried her! Here I am~

Spreadsheet of manuscript submissions and

See that highlighted submission? That’s me. And that’s what makes this extra fun. I can now sign in to QueryTracker, check the explorer, and watch the people who submitted to her before me log their responses. And that means:

  • I can (roughly) tell when she starts responding to queries again. (I took that screenshot last week, for example, and she still hasn’t responded to anyone. So we’re still waiting!)
  • If she goes through her inbox in order (which isn’t a given), I can watch the people ahead of me log their responses.
  • Based on that, I can roughly guess when she might respond to my query.

And if I triangulate that with her agency’s website, that says she tries to respond to all queries, and usually does so within 4 weeks, I can say… Errrr, I probably should anticipate an answer around early June. So I’ve still got several weeks to go.

So… yes. This can make you obsess a little.

The Data Explorer does have some limitations, though.

The biggest drawback to the Explorer is that it’s self-reported data from the people using QueryTracker. It has some limitations:

  • People often forget to choose their book genre, leading to book submissions listed as “Not Specified.” That makes it harder to tell what an agent is requesting.
  • QueryTracker tracks Middle Grade and Young Adult books as their own genre, and you can only categorize your book as one thing. I write YA fantasy, so I have to choose: YA or fantasy? And since everyone else has to choose, I have no idea what an agent is actually requesting. They’re requesting YA! But what genre?! They’re requesting fantasy! But is that adult or YA?! I have no idea!
  • And, of course, people don’t always record their submissions right. People forget to report when they got a rejection. They forget to close out responses for “no response = no” agents. So sometimes you’ll see weird and likely inaccurate results.

So the data isn’t perfect. But it still gives you a general idea of what that agent’s doing.

This isn’t the only data you can get in QueryTracker, mind you.

If you want to get really number-crunchy, the Data Explorer isn’t actually the most useful tool in QueryTracker. There’s a whole other feature in QueryTracker called “Reports” that does stuff like, telling you an agent’s average response rate, or what genres they’re requesting, or whatever. But that’s a separate feature, and something I should talk about another day.

So, yeah. You don’t have to export the Data Explorer data into Excel and do your own number crunching (unless you really want to). But it’s fun for at-a-glance and real-time information.

In conclusion, this is an awesome way to obsess constantly over your queries.

Querying is slooooooooow. But if you have something like the Data Explorer, you can at least get a rough estimate for how long you might have to wait. Watch the responses to other people trickle in! Watch your submission slowwwwwwly creep down the queue! It’s still going to be a multi-month wait, but at least you know where you are in the queue. Kind of. Maybe. Sort of.

Or you can just be obsessive. That’s fun, too.

 

I’m officially back in the query trenches! I’ve got a brand-spanking-new YA fantasy ready to go, and I’d dearly like to get a literary agent for it.

It’s harrowing! It’s nerve-wracking! I’m anxious!

And, well, that’s a lot of emotional energy. I just sent out my first batch, and… hey, it looks like most could respond any time between now and August. And since that’s a long time to be anxious, it’s time to distract myself!

…By writing a post about querying. This might not be the best plan. But screw it, let’s talk about how I find agents to query.

Step #1: QueryTracker is life.

QueryTracker logo.I’ve looked for agents a ton of ways–I’ve used Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and their website, gone to a ton of websites, searched through forums… But my absolute favorite tool, and the one I use almost exclusively these days, is the QueryTracker website.

It’s glorious. With a free account, you can find agents, track who you’ve applied to, and get basic statistics. (With a paid account, you can track multiple books and get access to the really awesome statistics–like the absolutely glorious data tracker.)

And it’s simple to find agents:

  1. Go to Agents > Search for Agents.
  2. In the right column, under “Advanced Search Features,” find the “Select A Genre” drop-down menu.
  3. Select your genre.
  4. Click “Hide agents who are closed to queries.” (This will be above the Advanced Search area.)

That’s it! A list of agents in your genre will appear on the page.

Step #2: Sorting through the QueryTracker results.

Now, don’t get too excited: you can’t query all of these people.

What are we looking at, and why can’t we query all these people?

You now have a list of agents who might represent your genre. Might. Maybe. But even if they’re all viable agents in your genre, you can only query a subset of them.

First off, an agency may have multiple agents in your genre. This is tricky! Some agencies let you query all their agents (as long as you let each agent reject you before going to the next) and some have a strict policy of “A no from one of us is a no from all of us.” So you’re going to have to choose one person per agency, at least to start–and possibly one person per agency, period.

And that’s assuming that you could query any of the people in that agency. You see, even though QueryTracker gave you a shiny list of potential agents, they still might not be appropriate for your book. An agent might represent fantasy, but they might only be looking for urban fantasy. And if an agent represents multiple age ranges, they might not represent your genre at all–I’ve seen a few agents that are listed under young adult and fantasy, but who only want contemporary young adult and adult fantasy.

So how do you deal with all this?

Research every agency.

Let’s say that you’re looking for YA and your QueryTracker search results include a boatload of agents from Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You now know you have to start with one of them. But who?

  1. In QueryTracker, click on any agent’s name from that agency. It doesn’t matter who.
  2. You’ll end up on that agent’s page. In the far left column you’ll find that agent’s email (if known), the agency’s website link, and some other information.
  3. Click on the agency’s link.
  4. Now you should be at the agency’s website. Every agency website will include a page about the agents and a page about their submission process. Start by finding their list of agents. (For the above-mentioned Andrea Brown Literary Agency, that page is here.)
  5. Read every agent’s bio. What are they interested in? Do any of them actually seem appropriate for your book? Out of all of these agents, who seems like the best fit for you?
    1. Optional: This is also a good time to check out #MSWL, a promising agent’s Twitter account, or your good ol’ friend Google. These might help you learn whether your story is a good fit for them.
  6. Write down the agents who seem most appropriate. But do you have to choose one or can you query one, wait for a rejection, and query the other? Let’s find out!
  7. Read the agency’s submission guidelines. You’ll have to dig for that page, too, but you can usually just look for a “Submissions” button. Here’s Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s submission guidelines.
  8. Now you have decided which agent to query first. You also know how to query them! Return to QueryTracker.
  9. Go back to Agents > Search for Agents. Find the agent you decided on.
  10. To the left of their name (and left of the “Query Status” column), there will be a single, unmarked checkbox. Check that!
  11. This will add this agent to your “My Query List,” which you can view by clicking “Queries” in the top navigation.

Phew! Now you have this agent on your to-query list.

Now do that again. And again. And again.

Step #3: Keep track of your submission guidelines.

Before you actually query someone, it can be helpful to know what to prepare. Submission guidelines are tricky. What do they want? A query? A query and 5 pages? A query and 10 pages? A query, a 2-page synopsis, and the first chapter? A query, a 1-page synopsis, a biography, and… OK, you get the point. It varies.

And if you want to make querying as easy as possible, you probably want to know who wants what ahead of time. There are a few ways to do this.

Option #1: Use QueryTracker

QueryTracker has a few tools to help you track your data.

  1. Go to “Queries” In the top navigation.
  2. You should see a list of all the agents you want to query. (If you don’t, click on the “Advanced Search” tab in the right column and click “Outstanding Queries.”)
  3. You can see who you queried, when you queried, how many days your query has been out, and a ton of other things. For now, find the “Query Details” column.
  4. The second icon in that column (which will be grayed out) is “Add a Note for this Query.” Click on that.

This creates a private note that only you can see. You can track your submission guidelines there (or anything else you want to.)

Option #2: Keep that information on a file on your computer.

I know this is a little low-tech, but I track all my agent research on QueryTracker AND in an Excel file on my computer.

I love my Excel tracker. I write down the agent’s name, what materials they want, and any special notes about what they’re looking for. And since this is Excel, I can see all this information in columns, side-by-side, at a glance.

This is especially fun for keeping track of stuff like “What version of my query I used” and “When the agent should respond by (if ever.)” You can track that stuff in QueryTracker, but only in your private notes. And the stuff in your private notes aren’t visible on your My Queries page, or sortable, and you can’t see them at all unless you open them one at a time. So I use Excel so I can see those extra details without digging.

Step #4: Get your materials ready.

So what do these agents want? You have to make a query letter. But what else? Do you need a synopsis? Do you need a bio? Do you need an ultra-polished, Standard Manuscript Format-formatted version of 5 pages? 10?

Get all that stuff ready.

Step #5: Enjoy querying!

And now you’re good to go. Look at your list, decide who to query in what order (or, hey, go into QueryTracker and assign each agent a Query Priority. It’s under the “Query Details” tab!)

Go back to the submission guidelines for that agent’s agency. Do everything they ask. Send the right materials to the right agent.

Then wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I like to use QueryTracker (or my friendly local Excel file) to track the agency’s estimated response times. Did they say that they respond in 6 weeks, and no response = no? Or  was it “We’ll respond to everything within 3 months”? Write that down.

Then you, too, can settle in for the long haul. And you, too, can write random blog posts to keep your mind–unsuccessfully–off the realization that you’ll be waiting a long time.

So, yes. I guess I’m saying that I’ll probably post a lot more about querying these next few months. You might as well prepare yourself.

Logo for WriteOnCon.

WriteOnCon is coming up! This year, it’s running from February 9 to 11, Friday through Sunday.

Haven’t heard of it before? Check it out. WriteOnCon is a writing convention for children’s book authors, including everything from picture books to New Adult. It’s also completely online, which means you don’t have to go anywhere–just register, sign on, and watch the panels!

It’s only $5 to read all the blog posts, $10 to see all the content, or $15 to see all the content and also have access to it for a month after the conference. So it’s dirt cheap, it’s fun, and it has a lot of seriously good speakers and topics. And Susan Dennard (author of the Something Strange and Deadly and Truthwitch series) is doing the opening keynote! How cool is that?

My experience with WriteOnCon is limited, but it’s something!

I attended WriteOnCon half-assedly in… I’m going to say 2014? It’s hard to compare that experience to now, because the convention was managed by a different team, went down for a while, and now has apparently been revived by a different team.

But that’s not really relevant for this post, because this much is the same: in 2014, I literally only signed up for the forums. I paid no money and didn’t attend any panels. I specifically did the Query Feedback forums, which are exactly what they sound like:  you post your query and you get feedback from the tons and tons of attendees.

Better yet: since agents are participating in the event, they look at the forums, too! And if you get super-super-super-duper lucky, you might get a request!

But chances are you’ll just get a ton of feedback, which is still super useful. You do need to take it with a grain of salt, of course–the attendees range from brand-new writers to honed veterans, and since everyone wants to be fair (if you get feedback, you want to give feedback, too!) you get a lot of feedback. This means you’ll get a mix, some great and some decidedly iffy.

Back in 2014, I was querying Justice Unending, and I got an absolute bucketload of feedback. And while I definitely didn’t use all of it, WriteOnCon did help me forge the query letter I eventually queried with.

Buuuut, I admittedly don’t know what to expect.

That said, I’ve never attended the full event before, so I have no idea what to expect. I’m attending this year, though! I’ll be  listening to all three days of events and participating in the forums. And, hey, it’s $10 and a few days. This isn’t a massive investment.

So if you write kidlit, give WriteOnCon a look!

Recommended word counts cause so much angst.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, check out this Writer’s Digest post, or this post on children’s fiction. (Unfortunately, they’re both pretty old. Still, you get the point.)

Agents and publishers look for novels with word counts within a certain range. This length varies by genre and the rules aren’t set in stone, but they’re pretty good guidelines for what an “average” book looks like. And that makes sense, right? A cozy romance the size of War and Peace would probably struggle to find a niche, wouldn’t it?

(None of this matters if you self-publish, of course. You may have a hard time finding a lot of readers for a 300,000-word MG epic, but you know what? No one’s going to stop you.)

But when folks go the agent and/or publisher route, this whole “word count” thing causes them no ends of angst. And while too-short novels can be an issue, the real heartache happens at the other end of the spectrum, when someone wants to pitch a much longer-than-average novel.

So let’s talk about it!

Why are word counts important?

If there was a mandatory law that debut authors could never go over 100,000 words, authors might agonize less. But instead, it’s a messy, messy world.

Let’s take YA fantasy as an example. A totally informal, but often-quoted rule of thumb is that a debut novel should be under 100,000 words. That’s fuzzy enough as it is, of course, because sub-genres differ, and contemporary stuff tends to be shorter than high fantasy and SF. But let’s give a huge range: YA fantasy debut novels can be 60,000 to 100,000 words long, with a sweet spot somewhere around 70-80K.

But there are people who have sold much longer books. And you will find lots of novels that are well over this range. So word counts don’t matter, right? Write whatever you want! But that can bite you in the butt.

Here’s why: if you’re querying a YA fantasy and it’s in the normal range, the agent probably won’t bat an eye. That’s a “normal” book. That’s fine.

But if it’s 200,000 words long, that’s going to raise some eyebrows. Like… was that intentional? Is this really the right length for this story? Does the author know much about the market, or read many books in this genre? And did they still submit a story this length, even knowing that most other books aren’t? It’s not the end of the world, but it’s… not a red flag, certainly, but an orange one? A small sign that this might be a difficult, weird, or unedited book?

And in the end, agents look for any reason to say no. If they’re on the fence and they see a potentially weird word count–something that you’d have to justify–they might just pass.

So that’s it. You’re making a difficult job harder. Now that agent won’t just ask themselves “Is this premise killer?” Instead, they’re thinking, “I like the premise, but it’s really long. Do I love it enough to request it anyway…?”

And word counts are exceptionally agonizing to fantasy authors.

Do you like fantasy? I like fantasy. I’ve read tons of high fantasy novels, and man–they are long. That’s the sign of a great one, right? Sprawling epics! Massive scales! Immense detail! ZILLIONS OF WORDS!

And there are lots of novels out there–some of them even debut novels!–that are well over 100K. Heck, you’ll find ones in the 200,000 range. So authors often put two and two together: Fantasy is long. Some people have written very long books and been published. So I shouldn’t worry when I submit my 175,000-word fantasy, right? It’s perfect! The length probably makes it better!

Sadly, every fantasy author thinks they’re the exception.

I know the pain. You want to write an epic. And if you have four POV characters, two countries, a war, and a plague, 100,000 words might seem a little restrictive. And if some people have gotten away with more, then surely you’ll be OK, right?

Except, see above. It bites people in the butt. And an agent isn’t going to waive the word count because you’re a fantasy author. They’ll see a very high word count, raise an eyebrow, and wonder: Is this 175,000 words after it’s been edited into lean, clean, streamlined perfection? Or did the author not know about the market? Or maybe they just didn’t edit themselves, because they thought it’d be fine because it’s fantasy?

It’s a pitfall. It’s tricky. But remember: There are a lot of new and hopeful fantasy authors writing mega-epics, all hoping that theirs will be the one that is so good that an agent picks it up anyway. And you could make your life a little easier by being at least somewhere near the 100,000 limit.

Besides, why does this have to be a bad thing?

Writing within word counts can actually be helpful!

Word counts don’t have to be an arbitrary cap on your creativity. They can be very useful things:

  • An average-length book will be easier to sell and market.
  • Writing with a word count limit can help you with pacing and plotting. If you want your book to be around 80,000 words long, for example, you’ll know that you’re in trouble if nothing has happened by word 50,000, or if your climax hasn’t ramped up by the 70,000 mark.
  • It makes the querying process easier, as it removes one reason to say “no.”
  • It makes it easier to find publishers, because your book will most likely fall within their requested range.
  • If you do happen to have a huge book, intentionally capping it at a certain point gives you a good idea how much you can “fit” in one book–and gives you content for sequels.
  • If you can get yourself established with an agent or publisher with a “normal” book, you can always use your early success to justify taking risks on much longer-than-normal books later.

Does every book have to be exactly the same? Of course not. Are there books that need to be long to tell their stories? Absolutely!

But if you’re a debut author, you don’t have a lot of clout. These people don’t know you. No one knows how popular your works will be. So it’ll be extra-difficult to convince someone that you shouldn’t just be the one rare soul they choose to work with–but that they should do so, even if your story is longer than what they’re looking for.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to take that gamble, of course! Lots of people win out. But it’s always good to know the potential pitfalls before you start.

Sometimes people get a little obsessed with their rejection letters.

Thanks to the internet, you can find examples of how agents and publishers have responded to other people. And that means you can compare yourselves. Did you get a form letter? Did it include a sentence that sounded a little like they read it? Did other people get feedback like that? Maybe, if you just dissect every single word, you can figure out how much they liked your story and how close you were to getting a “yes!”

This road leads to madness. Avoid it at all costs.

A rejection is a rejection is a rejection.

A form rejection and a personalized rejection mean the same thing: the publisher or agent is passing. They don’t want to see revisions. That door is closed.

And even a personalized rejection isn’t oh my gosh so very close, because if an organization really loved your piece, they could have asked for a Revise and Resubmit (or R&R). Not everyone asks for R&Rs, but it’s as close to a “I would totally buy this if you made some changes” as you can get.

So a rejection is a rejection. And at that point, the difference between a near hit and a swing and a miss is a pretty fine distinction.

People pass for a lot of reasons, and you’ll probably never know why they passed on you.

Sadly, you’ll probably never know that much about an organization’s editorial process. They aren’t going to tell you, “Hey, I might have bought this if I hadn’t signed a contract for 3 exceptional pieces this month and you had tightened up the ending.” They wont tell you that your piece was in the “maybe” pile for a while. They definitely won’t tell you that they hated your piece, thought the premise was ridiculous, and stopped reading at the end of the first page.

So people guess. They lay out the 2 or 3 sentences of their rejection and read it like a pile of tea leaves. This agent said I should submit other works to them! Did they add that sentence because my submission was unusually good?! This publisher says they got so many good stories this month that they have to pass on a lot of excellent ones! Did they add that to my rejection letter so I’d know they still liked my work?!

(By the way, the answer is usually “no.” Those turn up regularly in rejections. Rejection emails can actually be really encouraging!)

But hey, even getting a personalized rejection doesn’t mean that you were one tiny detail away from victory. It can be helpful, and it’s usually a sign you did something right (particularly if you’re submitting to agents, who rarely give any feedback at all.) But on the other hand, getting a form rejection doesn’t mean your submission was terrible.

It’s like a job application. You never know why they’re turning you down. You can guess, and you can try to be better, but you’ll never know for sure.

Let’s be serious. Does any of this help you feel better?

It takes a lot of emotional energy to dissect a rejection letter.

And everyone’s different, so maybe this isn’t the case for you. But when I see someone asking a lot of questions about a rejection, I see someone who wants to know if they should feel completely crushed or tentatively encouraged. They want to know if someone was saying “I don’t want this story at all, ever” or “I didn’t want it, but it was really very good and I think it has a lot of merit.”

That doesn’t seem like an exercise that’ll leave you feeling happy and empowered.

So let it go. Resubmit. If you get a rejection that inspires you to make edits, do so. If not, then don’t worry. Rejections are a fact of life. File the rejection and keep going.

I’ve been querying my YA fantasy novel since September 2014, and oh man, it’s been a journey. I’m not quite done, so I can’t talk about stats yet, but I can definitely talk about the random things I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: I hate competitions.

I really, really, really hate competitions.

I’ve participated in PitMad, Pitch Wars, WriteOnCon, and Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent. They’re great resources, but I don’t know if I like them.

And really: It’s me, not them. Contests consume me. I find myself hovering over the computer at all hours of the day, stalking the most successful entries and trying, desperately, to figure out what they’re doing right and I’m doing wrong. I get super competitive, I stay up late, I obsess until I have to force myself away from the computer, and then… well, I crash. Because that’s not sustainable. I almost always came away feeling miserable and spent.

These are wonderful resources. But they’re also crazy-stupid stressful. I’ll probably participate in more in the future, but I’ve got to be super careful. I have a lot more success in quieter, more private, less competitive situations… Like, you know, just querying agents directly.

Lesson #2: Fantasizing about success is poison.

When I first started querying, I got super into it. Every time I sent a query I spent hours pouring through the agents’ backlists and dreaming about what would happen if they liked my novel. That giddiness kept me going even when I didn’t feel up to querying.

But every time my emotions went up, they had to come down.

This also might just be me: If I get excited about something, there are only two options left for me. I either maintain that excitement (because all my dreams came true!) or I’m disappointed. And the more excited I am, the more disappointed I have to be.

And if it’s already hard to query, you can darn well bet it isn’t easier for me to depress myself first.

This was especially true whenever I got a full manuscript request. It was tempting to keep myself up at night going, “OMGGGG, I’m one step away from an offer! Most people don’t get this far!” Nope, that sucks, too.

Enthusiasm is poison to me. The best I can manage is a business-like professionalism. “Ah, a full request. Great. Let’s see how it pans out.” That’s a level of emotional involvement I can keep up forever.

Lesson #3: I probably was a little too cautious about querying.

For several months, I queried 10 agents at a time and waited for (almost) all of them to respond before I tried again. I was following some commonly heard advice: Send 10 queries, see how it goes, and then use your response rate to measure whether you’re doing OK or not. So I did that. Forever.

The problem was, this made me read too much into my response rate. I got two full requests in my first 14 queries. That’s really good, right? Then I got nothing for the next 34! That’s nearly 40 queries without even a personalized rejection! That’s awful, right? That’s “There’s something super wrong with your query” levels of bad, right?

Or, er, is it?

Really, numbers don’t mean anything. Queries are random. Some people like stuff, some people don’t. You can’t literally crunch your numbers, calculate a “success rate” and determine the numerical strength of your novel.

I had gotten some requests, so my novel had potential. Eventually I just sucked it up and blew through the rest of my agent list. But by the time I had done so, I had taken already slow process and drawn it out to almost a year.

Lesson #4: Don’t let the querying process keep you away from writing.

It’s really tempting to get deeply, deeply involved in the querying process–to spend hours and hours pouring over your query and triple-quadruple-quintuple checking your first few chapters and getting feedback, feedback, and more feedback! There are contests! (See above.) There’s #MSWL!

And QueryTracker! QueryTracker has stats! You could spend hours pouring over each and every agent you’ve queried, trying to guess where they are in their inbox. Oooooh, they’ve rejected all the queries ahead of mine! Maybe I’ll get an answer soon! Oh, this one’s rejected queries before and after mine! Am I in the “maybe” pile?

And… yeah, that’s just another form of getting my hopes up, isn’t it?

So yeah. If lesson #1 is to be zen about querying, lesson #2 is to query and forget about it. I remind myself to check in 3-4 months if I get a manuscript request, but that’s it. Queries go in the memory drawer, where I don’t have to think about them unless the agent responds one way or another. I have to go back to writing, focus on a new project, and let life go on. Otherwise I will literally lose hours of writing time.

Lesson #5: Querying is how you learn about querying. Do it sooner rather than later.

I waited until I had the best story I had ever written to query. I had kinda-sorta queried agents before, but… not really. I tried once. With one novel. I sent it to 10 agents, shelved it, and never tried again. I wasn’t really trying, because I knew the book wasn’t that good and I wanted to write a better one.

And while that’s not bad–good on me for recognizing that I had a lot to learn!–I also missed out on a chance to learn about querying.

Query letters, synopses, how to find agents, how agents work, what to do when you get a request… These are all things you learn by querying agents. And it’s stressful. And emotional. And often upsetting.

It also gets easier with time.

It’s like all sorts of things: You start out clumsy and confused, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing, and it’s stressful. But by the time I had sent out all my queries, I felt good. I was a pro at this. I knew what to do, what worked, and what didn’t. I hadn’t sold a book, but I had a pretty darn good run.

And I should have queried sooner. Because then I could have learned this all sooner, gotten it out of my system, and had a way easier time with this one.