My motto for querying was: do your research, stay professional, and be kind.
Let's jump right into it.
I queried TWO books before I landed my agent. It's not uncommon to hear of people querying more than one book before shelving and trying again. So, if you're querying your first book or your fifth, don't be discouraged. You always have more books in you.
My first book, YOU'RE NOT THE WORST, was a third-person, dual POV young adult book with a queer cast. I queried over fifty (50) people, received only one (1) full-request, and a rejection on that full-request. I shelved it afterward, realizing that it wasn't the book I wanted it to be.
My second book, JUDE SAVES THE WORLD, is a first-person POV middle grade book with a nonbinary main character and a queer cast. I queried in organized chaos, randomly sending out queries when the mood struck. Within the first week, I had my first full-request from an agent and an editor. I already knew that something was different about this querying process, because more full requests came in. I started querying on the last two days of August 2020, and by December 2020, I had seven (7) full requests, two (2) partials, and a whole lot more hope.
My agent, Andrea Walker, was the second person to request a full manuscript from me in September 2020. I followed up with her after I received an R&R. I had edited an entire character out of the manuscript, and made some other lighter changes. I asked her if she'd want to read the R&R version instead (since it wasn't an exclusive R&R). She said yes. By December 2020, we had The Call and then signed the papers to make it an official partnership!
SUMMARY OF STATS
HOW DID I KNOW I WAS READY TO START QUERYING?
I'm pretty sure I wasn't ready to query when I did. I had written JUDE two months before I queried, had my critique partner go over it, and then I shoved JUDE into the world. Don't do it like this, folks. Sure, it worked out for me, but only because I had a great R&R feedback.
Get a beta reader or six. Have it critiqued thoroughly. Make your edits. Work on it. Don't over-edit. Let it sit for a while. Review it. Tweak it. Polish it. Query it.
THE QUERY LETTER
I'm too embarrassed to show the query letter for my first book. But JUDE's query letter? I'm pretty proud of it. I got lots of feedback on it from entering critique contests from various agents and writing community friends.
Jude might be in over their head.
But they’ll never admit it.
Jude tries to do it all: befriend the ex-popular girl, come out as nonbinary to their grandparents, and create an all-ages queer club at the local library.
When the club becomes an overnight success, friendships crumble, and their grandparents act like they’re stuck in the Stone Age, Jude fights to keep their world from tearing itself apart. But a twelve-year-old can only handle so much.
JUDE SAVES THE WORLD is an #ownvoices contemporary coming of age middle grade novel, complete at approx. 45,000 words. JUDE is #ownvoices for nonbinary, queer, and ADHD representation. It is a stand-alone, with series potential.
I personalized each query when I could, but I didn't stress too much about it. I loved agents who had QM forms to enter in because everything had a spot and I didn't have to stress about what to include/not include.
Not only did I read every "HOW I GOT MY AGENT" post, every article on how to write a query letter, and every piece of advice I could get my hands on, but I took my time to absorb it. With YOU'RE NOT THE WORST, I took almost three months before I sent out my first query letter, hands trembling. With JUDE SAVES THE WORLD, I was a lot more confident.
I poured over all the hints and tips (see below for resources), but when I started querying JUDE, I focused on the agents I queried and why I wanted to query them. I asked myself the following questions:
Your mileage may vary here, depending on what you're looking for. For example, not every agent has a Twitter, but I would look in my research to see if they had a finger on the pulse of publishing, and to make sure that they didn't have any ideas/views that are against my own ideals (i.e. are they a TERF?). Querying as a trans author, these are things I definitely had to consider.
I kept a spreadsheet that I made myself.
It includes the following categories:
STATUS - query sent, query rejected, partial request, full request
AGENT - their name, linked to their personal website
AGENCY - their agency, linked to the agency's website
METHOD - email or form, form linked to their query form
COUNTRY - Canada, US, or UK
REQUIREMENTS - Q for Query, S for Synopsis, # pages
START DATE - the date that I sent the query
END DATE - based on their timeline on their website
DETAILS - if they require other information like comps, for fans of...
RESPONSE - similar to status, just with dates
Here's an example below:
At the time I queried Andrea, she was with Oslwander Literary, and moved to Azantian Literary while she was signing me. But as you can see, I queried her on September 4th, 2020, she originally requested my full on September 14th, 2020, but we didn't have the call until the beginning of December 2020, and signed the papers on December 27th, 2020.
Publishing moves slow, kids.
If you want a copy of this spreadsheet, hit me up on Twitter @mxronnieriley.
If you found this helpful, please feel free to leave me a tip on ko-fi.