VERY IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:
Sadly, I don't have an agent, so that makes me unqualified to give advice on the subject of querying them. Yet here I go anyway because I can't seem to stop myself.
Tips For Querying, For the First Time Querier, and without going into much detail about whether this advice comes after learning from my own experiences or not:
1. Finish the book. Reeeeeeeeally finish it. Yeah. Moving on.
Wait, did I say finish the book? I didn't mean get to the end. Or even checking so that it makes sense. The whole revision process is longer than you might think, oh first-time querier (at least, that's what I wish I'd known when *I* first started querying).
There are layers and layers and LAYERS of revision. So... do it! Let the story sit a while, re-read it, have it critiqued, revise some more, when you think it's ready, have beta readers take a look, revise some more. When you think it's FINALLY ready, print it out and read the whole thing again-- and mark it up with a sparkly pink pen (or, um, whatever color. It doesn't *have* to be pink).
2. Okay, so now you're ready! Time to make a list of agents! Yay!!! ::dancing:: Woo hoo!!!
Oh wait, you probably skipped past step one and already did this. You've been following your list of agents on twitter and reading their blogs and you know EVERYTHING about them! The names of their pets and whether they prefer Starbucks or Coffee Bean; their favorite food/books/movies; their disdain for TSA and their take on e-readers. Your agent list grows every day, it seems!
But...all that doesn't necessarily mean those agents that you've been following (stalking, whatever) on blogs and on twitter should make your query list. It merely makes you a fangirl/fanboy of theirs-- which is FINE. They are, along with authors, our rock stars. If they have a social presence, they're probably not averse to being loved and adored by you.
Aside from the social aspect, you need a separate list of agents that you should be targeting for your BOOK. It really shouldn't have a lot to do with their social awesomeness (although social awesomeness can be added to your notes). The List of Agents for Your Book should have more to do with the kinds of books the agents represent. Gathering info from places like Querytracker is a good way to start. You can narrow your search down to specific genres, and check out statistics on wait time and request rates.
Making a list on Querytracker isn't enough! You should investigate the agents on that list FURTHER, by reading the preferences and guidelines on their websites, checking out what places like Publisher's Marketplace and AbsoluteWrite have to say, and adding notes to each accordingly so you don't waste time double researching. If you can find interviews or a writer conference recap, even better!
3. Create a dedicated email address for your queries.
This is a wise move. Not only will it look more professional than pinksparkleberry337, it'll help you! If your query email is never used for anything else, you'll always know that a new email means something agenty... and every time you get a new email in your normal inbox, you won't spaz out.
4. Write the query letter.
Some people say write the query letter first. I'll probably try that with my next book. Whatever the case is, write the query letter and DON'T SEND IT!!! Just like with your book, please don't send off the very first attempt at the very first query letter you've ever written, because then if you receive rejections it might just be your query letter and not your book. Revise it. Have others read it. Have someone who's never read the book read it and ask them if they're confused. And also, after all that tweaking, be sure to triple check the final version. Sending a query with a typo is sooo embarrassing. Moving on.
5. When are you querying? Does timing matter? Shall we query in September? April, June, and November?
I don't know. I'm not the type that makes my querying status public, nor will I share my statistics, but I will say that overall, I don't query around the holidays.** Also, some think the end of summer is best, but really, I say meh. If the book is really ready and brilliant, it's really ready and brilliant. I've seen blog buddies and twitter friends make agent announcements all year round.
A final bit of advice...
- Be prepared, absolutely and unequivocally, for rejection.
- Don't let even the smallest part of your brain expect that you'll be the Lucky One who gets an agent the first time out. It'll only make rejection harder, and if you ARE the Lucky One, you'll be just as shocked and delighted if you hadn't let yourself expect it.
- Try your very hardest to develop selective amnesia. If you can send out queries, let's say in batches of five, and then find the strength inside yourself to move on with life as if you hadn't just sent them out, you'll probably be a bit more productive and less of a wreck than if you obsessively check your email and talk incessantly about the querying process... HOWEVER, seeing as how this is your first time ever querying, that advice is absolutely impossible to follow. So, go ahead and obsessively check your email and talk incessantly about the querying process :D
From what I hear, rejection doesn't end when you get an agent.
And in conclusion, congratulations! You're a step closer to your goals!!! Querying is exciting! You can do it! You'll learn about yourself in the process! And one day you'll have an agent and you'll see everything you've gone through as steps to prepare you for your future as a published author.
**This no-querying-around-the-holidays rule I set on myself should be VERY interesting for me, as I near completion of revisions of my novel right around the holidays. Critiques are coming back in, I'll be sending out beta reads next week... it'll be tempting to just send out my book once I get the beta comments back, but that'll likely be smack in the middle of Decemeber. My advice to myself, let another round of beta readers get to it. Or let it sit for a while, to be re-read again in a week or two. Querying later is always better than querying too soon, right???? And why am I in such a rush, anyway????? (I-don't-KNOW!!!).