Author Lori L. Schaefer: “There’s plenty of great advice out there on how to format, write and submit query letters. What I want to discuss in this article are the aspects of querying that I would have liked to have known before I began the process myself – those small but important details that the professionals sometimes neglect to include.”
1. Often, you won’t even receive a response. I am sure there’s a great deal of variation based on the query, the book, the genre, the writer, the agent, and the publisher in question. However, in my experience, roughly half of all agents and publishers never responded to my query at all. When it happens once, you wonder if maybe your email got lost. But by the tenth time, you begin to accept the harsh truth that this is just how it is. If you have your heart set on a particular agent or publisher, then of course you’ll want to follow up with them within their prescribed timeframes. But don’t be surprised if no one contacts you at all.
2. It takes forever to get a response. Or at least, it will feel like forever, especially if the agent or publisher you think is the best fit for your book is the one who takes six months to respond. Seriously, although some did send an answer within a few weeks, and the average among those who did respond was about two months, I had several who took four to six months to reply. Furthermore, while some were very accurate in estimating their time to respond, many others were off by weeks if not months. Double the stated estimates and your expectations will be far more realistic.
3. You could be at it not months, but years. Think about it – if it may take months to receive a response to a single query, then you either have to submit to multiple agents or publishers simultaneously or potentially fritter away the next several years of your life trying to get a single book published. (Unless, of course, you’re fortunate enough to land a deal on your first try, but we won’t talk about those people.) Even worse, some agents and publishers don’t permit simultaneous submissions, so if you have any of those on your A-list, you may find yourself waiting months just to receive a rejection so that you can move forward. And if your query is accepted, what happens then? Then you have to wait for a response to your partial, and maybe again for a response to your full. Even if you’re successful, it could literally take years from query to launch, and if you’re seeking a traditional publisher, it’s important to bear this in mind when you’re planning your career. Of course, not all agents and publishers operate on such daunting timeframes; some, in fact, can be quite efficient in processing queries and manuscripts. But this, to me, seems to be the exception. And those who had planned to take a year off work expecting to complete and publish a novel may find themselves unpleasantly surprised by the length of the process.
4. Everyone’s needs are a little bit different. There’s no such thing as a standard query process. Sure, you can work from a template, but you must be extremely careful in examining the fine print of what your targeted agent or publisher wants. Most want one page, but some want two. Some prefer email, and some only accept letters. Some request a synopsis and the first five or ten pages, and some will be furious if you dare to send them any extra materials along with your query. And forget about writing a single synopsis, because those are all different, too – some want one page, some two to three; even five to seven isn’t uncommon. So you need to make sure that you study the guidelines before even sending a query, because if someone does respond the next day – which I have seen happen – you don’t want to be scrambling to cut your synopsis down to two pages or expand it to five.
Querying isn’t all waiting and heartbreak. When you do get that first request for a partial, the birds will chirp louder, the sun will shine brighter, and all will be right with your world – for a day, maybe two. But don’t be fooled. Getting published is like learning to write – a long and arduous process that sometimes seems to have no end in sight. But, like writing, the only way to succeed is to keep plugging away, to continue patiently striving, word by word, and sentence by sentence – even query by query.
What about you? What has been your experience with sending out queries?
About the Author:
Lori Schafer is a writer of serious prose and humorous erotica and romance. Her short stories, flash fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first book, a memoir entitled On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, was released in November 2014.
You can learn more about Lori by visiting her website at http://lorilschafer.com or visit her Amazon author page: