Pointers from the Pros: Author Stephanie Feagan on Querying

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.

I spoke at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando, Fla.  Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at the classes I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

The first afternoon of the conference, I attended the PRO Retreat, which was stockpiled with talks by awesome agents, editors, and authors.  *ahem—Donald Maass much?*

Here is author Stephanie Feagan’s advice when it comes to querying and revising.

THE QUERY ITSELF

  • Get feedback on it from writer friends.
  • It doesn’t matter if you win awards. It’s nice, but if the agent doesn’t think she can sell your book, then it having won an award isn’t going to change that.
  • She says to keep track of queries—who you’ve sent them to, what they’ve requested, responses, etc.
    • It’s normal to not hear back from just a query, but it NOT normal not to hear back with partials and fulls.

Nice, but not always necessary.

WHERE TO START WHEN QUERYING

  • Absolute Write Water Cooler
    • This is the first place she went [the forums].
    • It has agents listed, and people write down their experiences with them.
    • You can get a feel for how agents work.
  • AgentQuery
    • Agents have their own accounts and can sign in and update it [in terms of submission guidelines and genre preferences].
  • Agency Web sites
    • Usually, the most up-to-date info for submissions is listed there.
  • Verla Kay’s Blue Boards
    • This is like Absolute Write Water Cooler
  • Literary Rambles
    • [Casey McCormick spotlights agents by compiling interviews/profiles done with them from all over the Web.]
  • Publisher’s Marketplace
    • [Weekly listings of what agents have sold.]
    • [You must pay to use this site.]
  • QueryTracker
    • [A site where you can actually submit your query to an agent and track your experiences with requests/rejections.]
    • [Or, you can just go in there and read the comments of others who’ve done this, to get a feel for agents response times, likes/dislikes, etc.]
  • WeBook
    • [Works like QT:] Put in query letter, and it sends it to the agent you want it to.
    • They charge for it now.
  • AAR [Association of Authors’ Representatives]
    • It lists reputable agents and info about them.
    • [*However, it should be noted that just because an agent is NOT a member of AAR does NOT mean he or she is NOT reputable.]
    • It has a good list of questions to ask agents when you do get “the call,” [as well as many other helpful writer resources.]

DON’Ts

  • Don’t try the “throw-and-see-if-it-sticks approach” when querying.
    • [Where you query agents without researching them and make little changes to your MS, based on whatever feedback you can get your hands on.]
    • This  is desperate.
  • Don’t query multiple projects.
  • Don’t keep tweaking your manuscript.
    • If it’s ready to be out there, you should not keep revising.
    • Also, she says it’s much better just to scrap it rewrite the whole thing—that’s what she did.
      • This way, you don’t have to keep trying to shift around details to make it all “fit”—you’ve got a fresh palette.

Get a fresh start.

Want more? Here’s a post I did on How and Where to Find Literary Agents.

How and Where to Find Literary Agents

I’m not sure if there’s just something in the air besides all the pollen, but in the last week, several folks have asked me about how and where to find literary agents.  While I’ve only been querying a short time and while I’m not represented yet, I’ve had some encouraging results from querying some folks I’ve found using the following resources—and I’m happy to share!

RESOURCE 1: GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS

The first place I go to find an agent is Guide to Literary Agents (F+W Media) or the Guide to Literary Agents’ blog.  The printed publication is a goldmine in terms of all things agent and query-related, as it offers several helpful articles at the beginning and lists just about every agent and agency under the sun, categorizing them in a number of ways.

The blog features “Agent Advice” interviews, which are especially useful in deciding whom to weed out of my query pool and whom to query (and—bonus—some of the interviews are by moi!).  After I indulge in a bit of narcissism, I focus on some of the blog’s other features that offer great insight as far as agents’ preferences of genre and submission guidelines: “How I Got My Agent,” “Successful Queries,” and “New Agency Alerts.”

RESOURCE 2: AGENTQUERY

I also use AgentQuery—it’s a huge database, where you can do basic or advanced searches (by genre, agency, agent, etc.).  The profiles matching your search criteria often list what areas the agents seek, personal preferences, clients of theirs, links to Web sites and interviews featuring the agents, and sometimes even recent sales.

RESOURCES 3 & 4: QUERYTRACKER & ABSOLUTE WRITE WATER COOLER

QueryTracker is another database that does a lot of the same things as AgentQuery; however, it offers something AQ does not: queriers’ comments.

While it’s not perfect information, it gives one a sense of the agent’s response times, which sometimes differ greatly from what their agency Web sites denote.  Of course, when reading these messages, I take them for what they’re worth.  For the most part, though, the comments are informational—it’s not folks griping about being rejected.

For instance, someone will note the date they queried.  Then, they’ll come back and note the date of their rejection, sometimes whether or not it was a form rejection, the date of their requests, etc.

Absolute Write Water Cooler is good for this as well, but not all agents are in there because it’s a forum, not a database.  I don’t use AWWC as much as the AQ and QT, but if someone requests material from me, I like to dig a little deeper.

Ooh - is that my dream agent I see?

RESOURCE 5: AGENCY WEB SITES AND/OR AGENT BLOGS

While AQ and QT offer lots of great information about agents, the trouble with these sites is that the information isn’t always 100% accurate.  I just don’t think every agent updates his profile often enough.  It doesn’t happen frequently, but on occasion when I’ve used an AQ or QT profile for writing agent interview questions, the agent will come back with: “I don’t rep (insert an area of fiction or nonfiction here).”

That’s why, for the most up-to-date information, I rely on an agent’s bio on his agency Web site or posts he’s written on the subject on an industry blog.  It’s true—not all agencies have sites and not all agents blog—but a good number of them do, and it would behoove you to find out before you send that query.

RESOURCE 6: GOOGLE

Sorry, Bing—I’m just not on board yet.  But, be sure to do whatever kind of Internet search floats your boat.

You can find interviews, profiles—all kinds of info to help you craft a query that will connect with a specific agent—through simple name searches.  (It sometimes helps to add “literary agent” after the name.)

 

Research is not that hard, people.

DO I EVER GET TO QUERY?

After I’ve done all that, if I feel like the agent might be interested in what I write, then—yes—I write the query and send it on its merry way.