Once you’ve started collecting names and information, and organizing it for easy access, you can start getting queries out there. I’m assuming you know how to write a good query (that’s a whole different lesson package, and one I’m probably not the best teacher for).
Every agent or publisher has their own quirks on what they want to see in a query, and how it should be presented. Hopefully, this is clearly described somewhere on their website or another agent listing. Don’t argue with them. They want two chapters, send two. Not three. And always the first chapters–don’t skip around. They want a synopsis, send one. They want it in cuneiform on clay tablets, go with it. I had one agent who wanted the query in big type because she had bad eyes.
Since my first rounds a few years back, things have changed a bit. When I started, most agents didn’t like e-mail queries. Now most of them do. They’ll let you know their preferences. Some agencies now have on-line forms to fill out and submit. This is good news for authors because it makes things easier. There’s a down side too, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Most e-mail queries involve actually putting everything (query, synopsis, sample chapters) into the body of the e-mail. “Attachments” are a no-no, with very few exceptions. It can be difficult to format everything in a single e-mail so it all looks good before you send it. If you’re not sure how it’s going to come out the other end, copy the e-mail and then send it to yourself as a test to see if it goes through okay.
Make folders in your e-mail program to store copies of the query, and any responses you might get.
Once you have a nice e-mail query formatted and edited, you can save it as “boilerplate” template to generate other queries by just copying it into the new e-mail and changing names, addresses, and maybe a few other details that “tune” the query to what you know about the agent.
Be careful when you do this! It’s way too easy to accidentally fire off a query to Agent B with the name or address of Agent A still on it. This will not make a good impression on Agent B. I’ve never actually done this in an e-mail, but I’ve come pretty close. I’m paranoid enough now that I don’t put the destination e-mail address in the “send to” box until I’m sure it’s triple-checked and ready to go. No chance of hitting “send” when I meant to hit “paste” or something.
Some of the above applies to “hard copy” queries, too, which a few agents still ask for. If you have a word processing template you use to print out query letters, be careful with names and addresses. When I send snail mail queries, I put the query and sample pages flat in a nice 9×12 white business envelope (not the manila ones with the little claspy things). I do this even for single-page queries. It makes it easier to drop the self-addressed stamped envelope inside without having to fold it up in some weird way.
Most agents don’t mind if you query more than one at the same time, but keep the numbers down so you can keep track more easily. Also, this allows some time to get some responses back before your next round. I usually do about five or six at the most in any one shot, then let that simmer for a month. Of course, if I spot some hot prospect in the meantime…
When you’ve sent it all out, then you wait. And wait.
That brings me to that “down side” I brought up earlier. Rejection can be discouraging. Believe me, I know. But worse is never hearing anything back. I mentioned that a lot more agents are willing to take e-mail submissions now. Unfortunately, this seems to be associated with a growing number of “you’ll hear from us if we’re interested” policies instead of an actual rejection note.
Some agents will at least put a specific time limit on it, anywhere from two to eight weeks: “If you don’t hear from us in eight weeks, assume we’re not interested.” But others don’t even do that. You might find a lot of queries on your list just “hanging fire.” Did they pass on it? Or like many agents, are they so loaded that they just can’t get to yours for a while?
I don’t like this. How hard can it be to fire off a form e-mail? All you’ve got to fill in is an address! But what are you going to do, right? For the time being, I’m putting an arbitrary eight weeks as the outside limit if it’s not specified by the agent. Maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise ten weeks out, but I’m not holding my breath.
In all these “advice” posts, remember that I’m no expert. I’ve never even had anything published by a major publisher. I’m just putting down a bit of what I’ve been learning along the way.
Believe me, it’s more entertaining than my writing diary: “1,229 words today. Still trying to fill in that damn plot hole. Found out bears can be nocturnal. Whew. Finished bear scene. Learned about Mouse Fishing.”