Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Query Strategy

For me, writing the query is the easy part of querying, even if my latest query did go through several revisions. I don't agonize over the process of query writing, I just agonize over the individual words. Evil Editor, his minions and my critique partners were all invaluable in helping me hone my query for Sector C. My thanks to everyone who offered advice. I listened and have a better letter for it.

What's been hard has been deciding HOW to query. What's the best strategy for approaching agents at a time when the economy is poor, competition is stiff and agents have become a lot more selective? Do you pour the powder in your musket, drop a ball in and tamp it all down before taking careful aim and pulling the trigger? Or do you slide an ammo belt into your machine gun and spray your bullets hoping at least one of them hits the mark? (And why do I think firearms and bullets are appropriate analogies?)

Aside from not querying agents who don't represent your genre, is there an etiquette to follow or an approach that works best? What do you think?

There are a lot of agents who represent the genre I'm querying. To go through them all at just 10 or 20 at a time would take several months. For this approach, the possibility of feedback that could be used to make the next submission stronger is probably the biggest incentive. As I look back over my spreadsheets, I'm finding that at the query stage, it's either a form rejection, no rejection or a request. I'm confident in my query, my story idea and the first few pages, so I'm not really looking for feedback at the query stage (except, of course, in the form of requests). Feedback on the partials and the fulls, however, would be great, assuming an offer of representation isn't extended. If there's a fatal flaw, better to know it quickly and deal with it, right?

And yet the process is slow. Agents are busy and backlogged. One kind agent requested a partial along with a plea for patience as they're 90 days behind in their reading. Some agents mention on their blogs they're even further behind than that. And even after the wait, there's no guarantee of feedback.

So what to do?

In the end, I compromised and pulled out the semi-automatic.

Querying a number of agents at once is time-consuming when done properly. I'm checking every website, cross-referencing Publishers Weekly, and reading blog posts and articles and guest blogs where available, then making sure I conform to guidelines. I queried a number of agents in my first round because I felt a connection through social media or else knew them as heavy hitters. I took a breather, then started going systematically through QueryTracker and AgentQuery. I'm still identifying more agents to submit to and will likely still be submitting for the next 3-4 weeks unless I get "The Call" from one of the agents currently considering (I'm lucky -- I'd be thrilled to work with any of them).

Agents dive into their slush looking for the rare gem, the perfect ms that connects with them. I submit to the slush, looking for the perfect agent who connects with my work. We're all looking for the perfect storm where everything connects. It's an art and a business. I want to make each agent feel special and I don't want to take up time with work "not right for them", but I also want to give myself the best chance out there and to not miss someone who I may not yet know is the best person to represent my work. And, whatever the decision, I want to keep moving on and forward, not allow this process to drag out longer than necessary.

So what is your strategy? Do you have a dream agent? Or are you hoping to find that perfect someone in a place most unexpected? Could the agent of your dreams be reading the 218th query you sent out? Or do you plan to get your agent after only a handful of queries?


Chris Eldin said...

To continue with your analogy, I plan to query and requery every single agent until the entire battlefield has collapsed from exhaustion. Then I will pick from the remains the one who is still gasping for breath. That is the agent with staying power.

sylvia said...

I queried in stages (10 queries a month) but I felt very insecure about my query letter and I didn't have a strong synopsis. I couldn't see how to go forward so I started gently querying and watching the results.

I received a number of personal responses and the issues raised were with the length/genre/other issues but not anything that would point to the query letter being wrong. I think I could have sent a lot more out at the start without an issue but oh well.

I love my synopsis now (and thank you for your help) and am actively looking at agents who want a synopsis rather than just a query letter.

I have promised myself that I won't stop sending out until I reach 100.

Phoenix said...

That's a battle worth fighting, Chris :o)

Sylvia, does that pledge hold even if you get an offer of rep before you hit 100?

_*rachel*_ said...

I'm currently working on short stories, so the question is moot.

I still have an opinion.

Query widely. (That's what Janet Reid says.) Better to be rejected by an extra 20 agents than miss the one who would have been perfect for you.

Oh, and I'd add another step to the process: checking everything through Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware.

I can't really query in batches at the moment; too many places want exclusives. Bah.

So, my ideal (but not actual) strategy is the Death Star Strategy: get 'em all at once.

Yamile said...

My dream agent is Nathan Bransford. I'm currently working on my query, super excited about the query workshop at the next writers' conference I'm attending. After the feedback from that conference, I'll be able to start querying.

sylvia said...

Good question and no, that's presuming no offer.

My initial queries have been based on agents that I would say YESYESYES on the spot if they accepted me. As I cast the net wider, this will be something I need to think about.

(I'm not sulking, I'm looking stern!)

Whirlochre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whirlochre said...

On my hit list there's a Hot List and a Probably Not list, but as I delve deeper, the two will possibly overlap.

What matters is that I get the killer representation I crave, and this may not be in my grasp just yet, however many lists I spawn.

Writing the outstanding few paras on my WIP would also help — as would wings, but that's on another list.

Matt Heppe said...

Following along in your shooting analogy...

I'll be "firing" in 10 round bursts with 2-4 weeks between bursts. I'm aiming at high priority targets first (big names or big in genre) and then moving down the list.

I don't want to fire off an entire belt of ammo all at one time. I want some time to register some feedback as I go along.

Phoenix said...

I love the Death Star metaphor, Rachel. And I've been noticing more exclusives for short stories being requested. Bleh!

Hi Yamile! Yeah, Nathan is da bomb. I passed the query test with him a couple of years ago with my MG, but he passed on the partial. Which writer's conference are you attending?

Sylvia: looking stern, eh? Well, kiss my blog!

Wings would help us all, Whirl. As would a string of outstanding paragraphs.

Hi Matt! Taking time to wait for that feedback is likely smart. Assuming, of course, all your A list guys don't have a "no interest, no response" policy. Kind of a catch-22. Unless you sang someone right out the gate. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Pheonix, tried to post to your farm section - all came up in Thai for heavens's sake.
So Spring is almost here. Mares will start to cycle, stalions will look hopeful. Time to get ready, clean your leather, get out the shedding blade, call the farrier and get your pocket book ready for the vet. A four way shot, flu shot, West Nile vaccination and worming is in order. Big bucks. Horses that drop feed when eating need to have their teeth floated. That means ground down. Wolf teeth need to come out, babies need to be handled and don't colic your sweeties. When it is cold horses neeed extra hat - forget oats. The gut needs hay to keep warm and healthy. Scrub out your buckets, with bleach and a new toiet brush, start handling the critters daily and training those youngsters. You'll have horses in great condition if you worm every six weeks. Get ready here comes Spring.
Miniature horses require one flake a day of good hay. If your hay is dusty, water it down well and never give a horse mouldy hay. Asking for colic.
Hope you can find a place on your blog for this,

Anonymous said...

Reducing the parasite load on your horses is very important. If you want strong healthy horses start now. A shiny coat and a well conditioned horse (learn how to score this) will ensure your feed is going to horse and not the parasites. Strongyles, blood worms, tape worms, you name it horses get them. They eat hay and all hay contains larvae which hatches. If you are on a small acreage pick up the droppings every day. If you are on a large acreage use your Gator or truck or tractor to break up the manure. The sun will bake it and by by worm larvae. If your horses are in fenced areas, rotate the areas. Can you sell manure to green houses? Can you give it away for free? Green manure (fresh) can be put in a heap and rotted. Rotted manure is pure gold.
Time to think of fly management. Summer is coming you don't want a bunch of flies harrassing you or your horses.
Pheonix, if you can use/post my tips on running a horse facility, please do.

Anonymous said...

All horses need is good clean hay. Alfafa is very easily digetisble so it tends to leave them hungry so they may chew down your wood fences and sheds. Timothy is perfect. A mixture of alfafa timothy is terrific with more timothy than alfafa. Fresh clean water is necessary, water is a conditioner as well as a thirst quencher. Sweet feed, oats and processed food are great if you are wealthy. If not stick to hay. Donkeys do very well on poor grazing = rich grazing will founder them in a blink. Any horse can founder on rich new Spring grass especially minis, the mature horse or those not working. Limit grazing on new grass or you'll have a horse needing orthopedic treatment. Expensive for you and very painful for the horse.
Even a hard working mare in foal only needs an extra cup or two of oats during her 11 month long pregnancy. Save your money, feed good quality hay. Bibi

Anonymous said...

Phenix - Tell me ease up and I will on the horse content.
All horses need a salt lick, you can get a lick with selenium in it if you are in a selenium poor area.
You should also put out a mineral lick. Horses will devour a salt lick trying to get minerals if you dont offer the mineral lick. The licks are not expensive and you may attract other wildlife by offering both. An alternative is to feed minerals with feed but that is time consuming and more expensive. You can get small bricks of salt and just toss them in the feed bin in the stall and the horse helps itself. If you do this make sure fresh water is available as the thirst factor will ramp up. I found it cheaper to put out the licks and let them help themselves.

Phoenix said...

Hi Bibi:

This is all great advice! Give me a bit with it. I think I'll put up a new page with animal care and tips. This will be a great start. How would you like me to credit you? Name, link? You can email me directly if you don't want to post publicly:
phoenixsullivan @
(don't forget to close up the spaces)

Anonymous said...

Well, Divine Miss Pheonix, I'm delighted to contribute to critter pitter patter. Sent you an email and what works best for you will work fine for me.

I was workshopped at Evil's, I think I'm close to a respectable query. According to my read on E's site, I can send the re-write of the revision of my query direct to your site. Is that correct? It was facelift 740. If I've got the gist right, should anyone sending in a re-write quote the facelift number or just fire it in?


Phoenix said...

Hi Bibi:

EE actually sent me your revision already. It should be up later today :o)

Anonymous said...

Hi, sent you an email - returned. So here it is:Notification. Delivery to the following recipients failed.

--Forwarded Message Attachment--
Subject: RE It's Bibi, on criitter pitter patter
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 2010 07:44:11 +0000

Dear Pheonix,

Thank you for offering to post my animal tidbits. Grand! If I send content to you directly, you can edit/delete anything in opposition to your experience before it's put out there. One advantage is you can pace the postings as you see fit. But I don't want to make extra work for you. You've got a full plate to chow down on. What is easiest for you?

I'm looking at starting a blog and get the vapors just thinking about it. Once I do, a link would be great.

I am thrilled at your invitation to post, thank you so much.



I copied and pasted and filled in the blanks - how could I screw that up?

And I think I have a better rewrite of the re-written revision that was revised and re- you know.

Here is the latest -

Dear Agent,

Gillian Heath, QC Inspector for a US food giant in Shenzhen China, spends her days inspecting milk and she spends her nights tossing and turning. Sleep doesn't come easily when you killed your son.

When Gillian finds a construction compound in the milk she has two choices: stop the poisoning of the milk or forget she found it. In China whistleblowers disappear. But melamine kills kids under two if they drink enough milk.

She's after the dirty player in the industry. The architect behind the scheme is making a ton of money by inflating milk volume by adding melanine and water. Gillian frames him and they both end up in custody. He's up up for endangering public health while she's charged with prostitution. Her boss, planning to grease whatever palm he has to to get her out, flies to Shenzhen. He is held as he enters the PRC. The police got lucky grabbing the GM of the company that exposed the Chinese diary industry. He comes to in Gillian's cell minus his cash, plastic, cell phone, and passport. Gillian is amazed at his stupidity.

One man can get them out but he risks political suicide if he gets involved. Prisoner exchanges are tricky, impossible to keep quiet and he's not sure he wants to help. Gillian should have kept their son safe.

The Milky Way; China's Tainted Milk Scandal is 36,000 words, commercial fiction. I worked in China when the milk scandal broke, my rash went away when I switched to black coffee and I wrote the story. I have completed two other novels. I wrote for the media when I worked in advertising. My next ms is set in Sichuan Province where the 2008 eathquake flattened mountains, villages and schools with incredible loss of life.

Thank you for reading my query, I stand at the ready.