Publishing Advice

The Difference Between Querying in 2019 and 2022, and Why Your Well-Intentioned Advice May Be Doing More Harm Than Good.

When I signed with my first agent, it was 2019. I’d queried two manuscripts by then between 2017-2019. In 2021, my agent left the industry. I took some time off, then wrote the book of my heart, and now I’m back in the query trenches for the first time in three years. As an author with books under my belt and previous querying experiences, I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning authors posting querying tips for those currently looking for representation. But you know the saying. 

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. 

Okay, so that may be a little harsh, but I mean it when I say that times have changed. Advice that previously used to be sound is no longer relevant or an accurate depiction of what’s going on in the trenches and publishing industry in general. 

For one, in 2019 turnaround times were typically 2-3 weeks, and I’d often hear back way before that. In 2022? Turnaround times are staggeringly different. Yes, there are some that still get back within the 2-3 week timeframe, but for the most part, I am seeing 6-10 weeks as the norm. In addition, there are a lot more agents saying “no response means no,” so getting closure isn’t even a guarantee. (Did I mention that so many more agencies have adapted a “no” from one is a “no from all” policy?) No shade here, of course. I understand how busy everyone is. But this certainly makes querying via rounds a lot more time-consuming for writers. You used to be able to send out queries knowing that you’d get an answer within a month or so, and then you could readjust for a second round. Not so much in 2022. Not only are response times longer than ever before, but feedback (even on full manuscript requests) is rarer, too. That makes the “query in rounds” advice a little moot. I still recommend it, of course! Just not for the same reasons as I have in the past. This time around, I’d recommend it for sanity reasons. Too much at once can be overwhelming for anyone. I also stand by the fact that you should be getting some requests on your query. Just not as many as before. 

In the past, for instance, some folks would say you should have a 75% – if not higher – request rate. That sort of statistic is just unheard of right now. Granted, it’s hard to discern the actual stats from anecdotes I’ve read online and heard from friends, but the trends I’m seeing are a lot less than 75%. Lots of folks on Twitter today have been sharing that a 10% request rate is good right now. (You can also see trends on Premium Query Tracker.) 

Full disclosure: At the time of writing this, I’ve sent out 10 queries. I’ve been lucky enough to get 4 full requests right out of the gate. 3 of my other queries got denied, but 2 of those were personalized and encouraging (a wrong-fit scenario). The other 3 are still pending and won’t get a response for another 3 weeks. I definitely know I’m the exception. 

So what is my advice for querying right now?

It’s more important than ever to have a great query letter. More so, a fantastic one-line pitch. Even if you feel like you are a seasoned writer with seasoned beta readers, I encourage you to branch out and try to get feedback from a new source. Even better if it’s someone who has secured rep recently. Other than that, I recommend keeping your query as short as possible. (Everyone’s swamped, right?) I, personally, put my pitch and all my meta data at the top (comps, word count, genre, age category). I also add in personalization if applicable. (We met at a conference, you told me to send you more of my work in the past, MSWL fits, etc.) That way, an agent can see right away if they’re interested before diving into the long part of the query. My bio is at the bottom. Once I start querying, I keep track of when I’m supposed to hear back, and if the agent isn’t a “no response means no” agent, then I send a polite one-sentence nudge. Don’t be afraid to nudge! One of my full requests happened because of a nudge. If you can get referrals, great! If you can attend conferences to meet agents, wonderful! But don’t feel like you must spend money to up your odds. If you query in rounds, check out the agents’ response times via Query Tracker, and try to pick a few that have faster turnaround times. That way, you can more easily discern when you want to do a second round. (Remember: Publishing is not a race. It’s better to query well than fast.) Prior to querying, I’ve also asked myself these tough publishing questions to make sure my book has a place in a competitive market. This has worked for me. 

Does that mean I’ll secure rep? Nope, not necessarily. 

Of course I hope that I will. I have 150% confidence in my book, writing, and platform, and my MG novel-in-verse about the opioid crisis is an important story that needs to get into the hands of kids like me, who lost a parent in such an awful way. But I also recognize that the industry is in a tough place. Agents and editors and writers are swamped. We’re all just trying to do our best out here. Which is also why I think out-of-date tips can be harmful.

Try not to give out old-school querying advice without understanding the current landscape. Take a minute to look around at the agencies and agents, both new and established. Talk to those who’ve secured rep recently. Listen to those who are currently in the trenches. Without doing so, traditional advice could ultimately be more discouraging or even point the writer in the wrong direction. For example, if you tell someone that they should revise their book or opening pages because they don’t have a 75% request rate, you could be causing the writer to make unnecessary revisions.

For my fellow querying writers, if you’ve been thinking about taking a break, do so, especially if it’s for your mental health or general well-being. It never hurts to take a pause, consider your options, refresh the creative well, or just step away for a while. In fact, it might be just what you need. Either way, I recommend taking old-school querying advice with a grain of salt. The basics still stand, absolutely. But don’t get discouraged if you aren’t getting a 75% request rate. Try not to let the old way of doing things get you down. Concentrate on the now instead. Find writer friends that are in the trenches with you, join a querying group, and help each other through the process. Friendship truly can go a long way. So can keeping track of all the encouraging notes you receive. Do yourself a favor, and open a Word doc right now. Title it “Book love for (title)” and start saving every compliment, including the encouragement you may receive in a rejection. An example I received? 

“I do hope you find the right agent as you’re pitching around! Stories like these are so wildly important and needed.” 

It was a rejection from an agent who just wasn’t the right fit. But it means a lot to me to have their support! 

No matter what happens, I know I’m going to keep trying. I’ve already started revising my historical fantasy with the hopes of querying that by the fall, should my novel-in-verse not pan out. I also have two other completed manuscripts and two new ones I’ve started drafting (and so many more I’m dreaming about). It’s always good to be looking ahead (and you’re a lot less likely to be disappointed if you have something new and shiny to focus on). 

I wish all of you the best of luck!  

~SAT

Miscellaneous

#WW How To Get A Literary Agent

How do I get a literary agent? This is a popular question among aspiring writers, and to be honest, signing with a literary agent is a long and complicated process but well worth it for many. That being said, signing with a literary agent isn’t the only way to get published, but today, I’m only covering literary agents since that was what I was asked when I helped host a writer’s group this past month. Okay, now for the answer.

First and foremost, make sure you have a completed, polished manuscript ready to go. You want to be 100% ready. This means you’ve written, edited, listened to beta readers, edited again, and polished. Now that your novel is ready, you are ready to search for an agent.

1. Research Your Book and the Marketplace

Research, research, research. Understand your book’s genre and two-three great comp. titles. (Comp. Titles = Comparison titles = Recently published books that can be compared to your book, and not huge ones like Harry Potter or Twilight) Think: What books would B&N put my book in between on the shelves? If you can’t think of a comp. title, don’t force it, but honestly, that might be a sign you need to read more. There is always a good comp. title out there.

2. Research Agents and Agencies

Once you understand your book, research agents to see what genres they represent and how to submit to them. MSWL (ManuscriptWishList.com) is a great place to start, but you can also look out for “New Agents” via Writer’s Digest, subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (and Publishers Lunch), or follow agents via Twitter by looking in the Acknowledgements sections in similar books (like those comp. titles we just talked about). An important rule to remember is that agents should never charge you for anything. Agents make money through your royalties once they sign your book. AAR is a great place to verify agencies. So is Absolute Writer Water Cooler. Be diligent and careful.

3. The Query Letter and 1-Page Synopsis

Write a query letter and a 1-page synopsis (and probably a 2-page synopsis, too). What’s a query letter? It’s a one-page business letter that includes your book’s title, word count, genre, comp titles, and a small synopsis, along with why you picked that agent and any publishing credentials you might have. A great way to learn about this process is QueryShark. I’d go as far as to say to submit to QueryShark and see if Janet Reid gives you advice, but definitely try to get advice from credited sources before e-mailing. If you follow agents online, they sometimes open competitions where you can win a query critique. Also, read #tenqueries and #querytip on Twitter. Also, #MSWL is the Twitter version of ManuscriptWishList.com, so you can see what agents are looking for. Do NOT query agents via Twitter. Look up their websites, read about them, and query according to their submission guidelines.

Websites for Finding a Literary Agent
Websites for Finding a Literary Agent

4. Now Query

Once you have a list of agents you’re interested in (and all the necessary materials), query a few at a time (3-4) and see if you get any partials or fulls. (Partials is when an agent asks for 50 pages, while fulls are full manuscript requests.) If not, rewrite your query, and then, try a new batch. If you get partials but no fulls, reevaluate your novel. Use QueryTracker to keep track of who you’re talking to and why and what was said. Generally, giving “exclusives” should only happen if the agent gave you specific rewrites they want you to do, but other than that, shy away from them. Querying is a slow, slow process, and most agents understand you’re querying numerous agencies at once. Just don’t spam and make sure you’re genuinely querying them due to his or her interests. If you get a full, congrats! If you get an offer of rep, double congrats, but in the case of getting an offer of rep, you should e-mail all the current agents considering your work and tell them (whether to close out because you signed or because you have a 2-week limit for counter offers). If querying isn’t working, check out my next tip.

5. Don’t Forget Other Opportunities

This includes pitch competitions on Twitter—such as #PitMad and #PitchWars—and conferences. Here’s a Pitch Competition Calendar. If you can travel, conferences are great tool to network and learn. But there are online conferences as well! If you feel stuck in the query trenches, remind yourself it’s a long process many writers go through, and you will get through it to the other side if you work hard. Querying is difficult, but don’t hesitate to ask for help or hire a credited source for a critique. And, of course, don’t forget my last tip.

6. Finally, Keep Writing!

Most writers don’t sell the first piece of work they ever finished. Most writers don’t even sell their second. Keep writing. It will help you stay focused and moving forward, and if you do get that awesome call from an agent, you’ll be able to share numerous projects. Plus, writers love to write. Give yourself time to continue what you love.

Good luck!

Originally posted in the Facebook writer’s group, Twice the Jennifers

~SAT

Today I have 4 giveaways, but first, check out my latest interview with Discover New Authors

Q:  It is said that writers will always put a bit of themeselves into whatever they are writing.  Is that true for you?  Do you relate to any of your characters?

A:  Most definitely!  Serena in particular is a lot like me.  She struggles with memory loss–and so do I–but her determination to keep her friends and family safe is a trait I hold dear to my heart.  That being said, we definitely have differnces.  Serena is liliterate, and writing from a character’s perspective who cannot read when reading is such a huge part of life was extremely difficult.  I also relate to Catelyn’s love for cats and Melody’s playful imagination and Jane’s steady determination, but in the end, all of my characters stand on their own.

Win prizes this Friday on Facebook via CTP’s Sizzling Summer Reads!

You can win a signed Bad Bloods book, Blake’s teddy bear, two skull flower jars, signed swag, and stickers of hearts and snow flakes. Click here to see a photo.

CTP's Sizzling Summer Reads FB Party
CTP’s Sizzling Summer Reads FB Party

Kindle Giveaway
Kindle Giveaway

Clean Teen Publishing also announced their July giveaway, and it’s epic! They are giving away a Kindle Fire‬ and up to $200 in cash!!! Check out the details and yes, this giveaway is open for International contestants. They’re hosting a Goodreads Giveaway for Bad Bloods: November Rain as well. You can also win a Bad Bloods eBook through the Bookie Monster right now. What did they think of November Rain? “This is one of those ‘you can’t put it down’ books. Thompson is a masterful storyteller.”

Pre-Order Bad Bloods

November Rain, Part One, releases July 18, 2016

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November Snow, Part Two, releases July 25, 2016

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