Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Secrets of Kidlit: Querying . . . again

All of us writers know how awful querying is. You pour your heart into a book, tear it apart and put it back together until it shines, and then you jump into the Query Pool. The Query Pool is a terrifying place filled with jellyfish that sting you over and over and over until you start to wonder why exactly you picked the Query Pool over something way less painful, like a Knitting Stream or a Bathtub Full of Puppies. But then magic happens and the jellyfish go away and there – finally! – is your mermaid, the one agent who loves you and your book. You sign with the agent and together you dance off into the sunset forever and ever.

Until you don't anymore.

First, don't worry – you are definitely not alone! This happens so much more often than you'd ever thought. Writers and agents split all the time, for so many different reasons. So whatever your reason is, you've got plenty of company! In fact, I was just in your spot just last month. After I stopped hyperventilating, I dug up my old agent spreadsheet from my Scary Query Pool days, and went to work. And here's what I learned about querying the second (or third or fourth or whatever) time around . . .

  1. Yes, you can query on a proposal, if – and only if – you're already published and your editor is open to considering proposals from you. If that's your situation, be sure to mention it in your query letter to agents. Then attach the number of pages or whatever it is the agent wants to see, per the agent's guidelines. 
  2. Research, research, research. Of course, you know this from before, but I'd go so far as to say that it's more important this time around. You've had an agent. You know what you liked about your agent and what you didn't. You might have certain houses you'd like to target, and you want an agent who'll get you there. And you've been immersed in this business now, so you have writer friends, and we all know writer friends talk. Which brings us to . . . 
  3. Ask about agents before you query them, and not after. Yup, this is probably the opposite of what you did the first time. But here's the thing – you really know what you want now, and you know the people to ask. Asking around (nicely and professionally) about agents helps you narrow your list. After all, isn't it better to find out that Agent Pumpkin E. Pie takes twelve months to read client manuscripts before you actually query that agent? So, don't be shy about asking your agented friends about their agents. Scroll through an agent's list of clients and find that person you met once at a writing retreat last year, or that writer you chat with sometimes on Twitter, or that writer your friend knows, and send them a message. You'll be surprised how willing we all are to help each other out, because we've all been there before. (The key here, of course, is a connection of some sort. I'm definitely not suggesting you randomly email Suzanne Collins and ask her how she likes her agent.) 
  4. Pay that $25 for a month of Publisher's Marketplace and research sales. Even though all sales aren't reported, this will tell you a lot about an agent's connections with specific editors and publishing houses. 
  5. Work backwards. This can work two ways. First, if you're published, ask your editor which agents he or she might recommend. Also, check out the agents of other authors with your imprint, particularly the ones who write books similar to yours. Second, if you aren't published, go back through your sub list and see which editors seemed to respond best to your work. Then check out which other authors are with that imprint, find the ones that write books similar to yours, and then research their agents. 
  6. Finally, your query letter will look much different than before. If you're published, it'll be more business than story – titles, publishers, editor connections, high sales and awards if you have them, whether you had anything on sub, whether you're hoping to remain with your current house or need to look elsewhere, and of course, your work-in-progress. If you're not published, you'll still need to address whether the manuscript you're querying has been on sub (and if so, note whether a sub list is available). 
Then, take a deep breath and jump back into the Query Pool! Yeah, it's just as terrifying as it was the first time, but you've done it before and you can do it again. There are still jellyfish, but there are mermaids too. Happy swimming!


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