A How-To Guide for Querying:
Step 1: Polish your work. Once you finish your work, do not immediately submit to agents! Find a critique partner (CP) or critique group to give constructive criticism. Some CPs/groups will swap a chapter (or around ten pages) at a time. Others may swap the entire work in progress (WIP). After this stage, find beta readers for your WIP. If affordable, you can also hire an editor.
Twitter: Find online CPs or beta readers on hashtags like #CPmatch and #betashub.
Contests: Meet other writers through annual contests like Pitch Wars or National Novel Writers Month.
Organizations: Join a writer’s organization for your genre or age category. Many will assist you in locating local critique groups.
Step 2: Research query letters. Read as many query letter examples as possible before writing your own. You will start to get a feel for the format. One of the best sites for this is the QueryShark blog. The advice is straight to the point yet kind. Read every post. Yes, every post.
Step 3: Write the query letter. Start with your main character (MC). Who are they? What do they want (goals)? What inciting incident happens to them that starts the story? What is their main conflict? Who or what is trying to stop them and how (antagonist)? What must your MC do to win? What will happen if they lose (stakes)? Your query letter should be around 250-350 words long, give or take.
Opening paragraph: Two options for this. Option A: You can start with your info paragraph with your title, genre, age category, and word count. Some agents prefer this so they quickly determine if your work is something they represent. Option B: Start with your hook to grab the reader’s interest.
Hook paragraph: Hook, MC introduction, and inciting incident.
Next 1-2 paragraphs: Conflict and stakes (and don’t give away the ending!)
(Info paragraph would go here if using option B).
Bio paragraph (optional): Writing credentials (published works, degrees, memberships, etc). Or a brief line about yourself. Remember the majority of the query should be about your work, not yourself.
Step 4: Write a synopsis. A brief overview of your entire book (including the ending) featuring your main character and plot. Usually about 1-2 pages. Some agents request one at submission and some don’t, but you will need one eventually. Again, helps to research multiple synopsis examples before you being. My favorite one is the “How to Write a A-1 Page Synopsis” guide. It does a fantastic job of breaking the process down into easy steps.
Step 4: Find an agent. More research! Important: Take your time with this. Find an agent that represents your genre and age category. Check out their website and social media. Look up their clients and recent book deals.
Association of Author Representatives Make sure the agent is listed here!
Manuscript Wishlist #MSWL Agents and editors list what they are looking for here.
Query Tracker Great tool for tracking queries and includes average response times.
Step 6: Submit to an agent. Find their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. This is very important! If they ask for five sample pages, send five, not twenty. If you can’t follow their initial instructions, this sends up a red flag. It also helps to personalize your query. Include why you are submitting to that particular agent, whether you met at a writer’s conference, their #MSWL tweet described your work, or they present books similar to yours. Tip: Double check that you spelled their name correctly!
Step 7: Track your queries. For every submission sent, document the agent, agency, date sent, reply date, and response. It’s good practice to track the agencies as well as the agents. Some agencies only allow one submission to one agent at a time. Or sometimes a “no” from one agent means a “no” from all agents at that agency. Also, only send a small batch of queries at a time, no more than ten. If you aren’t getting any partial or full requests, you may need to take a second look at your query and sample pages.
Step 8: Wait. But while you are waiting for responses, make the best use of your time. Start a new work. You may have an agent pass on your submission, but they may ask what else you’re working on. Take writing classes or read books on writing. Always keep improving your writing skills. Meet other writers. Writing can be a lonely undertaking. It helps to reach out to the writing community for support and advice.