The Soul-Destroying Process of Querying Agents & Publishers
At this point on my writer’s journey, I had written my book, I had been through several rounds of edits, I had beta readers provide feedback, and I had decided that I wanted to pursue the traditional publishing path after weighing up the options. With that decision made, the next step was clear: I had to start querying agents and publishers.
As always, I started by reading up on the topic and quickly learned it's not as simple as sending an email and attaching your book. It turns out, there are rules you have to follow.
One quick comment before I dive into those; Most large publishing companies do not accept queries directly from authors. You have to find an agent first who will then represent you and pitch your book. Some smaller publishing companies do accept direct queries from authors. You can usually find out on their website if you can query a publisher directly. If a publisher does not specifically say on their website that they accept queries directly from writers, you're probably wasting your time reaching out to them.
I decided to give both a go and sent out queries to both agents and publishers.
With that out of the way, here are some of the 'rules' I learned about.
1. You have to do your homework
The first thing I learned is that writing great query letters and proposals is an art form. You have to invest time to learn how to do it. It's surprisingly technical, and there are a number of specific rules to follow. There is a big difference between fiction and non-fiction, and even within the different sub-categories, there are different standards and methodologies to follow. You have to invest time to learn about this for your specific genre. I found the Project Publish course by Helen Zimmermann very valuable (http://project-publish.com), but there are countless other courses and resources available online.
I don't think I would have received a positive response to one of my queries if I hadn't invested the time to learn about the querying processes. There is so much more to it than sending an email. I think any writer will have a hard time getting a positive response without investing time into understanding how it works.
2. You have to do your research and query the right agents and publishers
This sounds simple and logical in theory but turns out it was easier said than done. The general recommendation is to find agents and publishers who are specifically interested in your genre. I did a lot of Google searching to find agents and publishers in my genre. In addition, these three websites also were very helpful in finding agents:
Query Tracker: https://querytracker.net/
Agent Query: https://agentquery.com
Publishers Marketplace: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
I write non-fiction, self-help and it was relatively easy to find agents and publishers who said they are interested in books in this genre. What was disappointing was the number of rejections I got that said it's because they are currently not interested in this type of book. This clearly showed a shortcoming of these online databases. It is really hard (probably impossible) to keep them up-to-date, and agents often change what types of books they are interested in at different times.
So while I agree, it’s important to do your research and find agents and publishers who are likely to be a good fit for your book, be aware that it doesn’t mean they are looking for books in your genre at the specific point in time you’re querying them.
3. You have to personalise your query
The next thing I learned very quickly is that you cannot send the same query letter to a list of 30 agents/publishers and then hope for the best. You have to tailor each query to the specific person you’re sending it to. That also means, if you’re querying a business with several agents or publishers, you have to identify the person most suited to your project and address your query to them personally. There are two main reasons why this is so important:
Most agents/publishers get a lot of queries. You have to make yours relevant to them personally. In other words, you have to give them a reason to keep reading.
Many agencies and publishers have specific guidelines on how to query them. These guidelines can usually be found on their website and specify how to contact them, what to send (and what not to) and how to give you query the best chances of success. You have to follow these guidelines. Otherwise, chances are your query will be dismissed right away.
4. You have to be patient
The first time I heard that it takes most agents/publishers on average 3-6 months to respond to queries I thought it was a joke. Coming from the fast-moving tech startup world, I didn't believe anyone can be successful in business when it takes them that long to respond to an email. But, believe it or not, that is the reality.
5. You need thick skin
Whenever you read anything about querying agents and publishers, it usually mentions how low the chances of success are and how even most successful authors had to deal with countless rejections before they got the one yes. I sent out about 45 queries which means I got about 44 rejections and one positive response. I was prepared for that, so even though it was hard, I copped with it relatively well. The thing I found the hardest was the number of agents/publishers that never sent a response at all. I know they must be incredibly busy people who receive thousands of queries, but it's still disappointing how many of them didn't even take the time to send a rejection. So be prepared for that.
In short, as the title suggests, I found the whole query process kind of soul-destroying. Up until this point, almost anything about my book had been a positive experience. Sure, there had been tough days where the inspiration wouldn't flow, but on the whole, I had always enjoyed it. The months I spent querying agents/publishers were hard. Initially, I was excited and motivated, and I enjoyed learning about a new aspect of being a writer. But after weeks without responses with the odd rejections thrown in, it was hard to stay positive.
However, the reality is, if you want to be a traditionally published author, you most likely have to work your way through it.
For me, it was just when I was about ready to give us and give self-publishing a go, that I got the one positive response I needed. Something I will write more about in my next post.
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