Let me tell you, querying a novel is more work than writing the darn thing! I’m only a month in to queries, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Learn the Elements
Learn how to craft a query letter. Information in books, on line, and through videos are readily available. Write the best possible query letter you can manage, then have someone look it over for you. Revise and personalize as needed. Learn how to write a synopsis. If you’ve never done one, it can be daunting, but it’s a skill you must master for at least a third of the agents out there. Learn how to maintain professionalism in the process if you are inexperienced. Don’t set yourself up for failure by not learning all you can about the process and the industry. However, don’t spend so much time learning that you don’t get to the querying.
Make your List
It’s not unreasonable to make a list of 50 agents. I’ve heard experts say to only query ten and if one in ten isn’t interested, your book isn’t marketable, but while I think that might work for non-fiction, fiction’s beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Do Your Research
I hate to think of myself as a cyber-stalker, but it’s realistic to find interviews, Twitter feeds and anything else available on the agents you hope to query. First, you want to be sure they seem like someone you can work with. Second, you want to make sure they represent what you are hoping to sell. Third, you want to give them a reason to want to work with you. A quote from an article or a blog post or an interview can be a nice personal touch if you aren’t enamored by one of their authors or something they’ve represented and sold recently. Do not ignore the agent’s submission guidelines.
Create a System
File cards, spreadsheet, whatever you like, get that agent information in a secure, accessible place so you can easily note when you sent a query, what you included in your query package, if/when you received a response, and the result.
Create a Plan
I sent my first five queries on the same day. Afterward, I realized it worked better for my schedule to query two a week. Once a request for partial comes in, I can slow that down to give the agent time. It’s drudgery in some ways, so pace yourself if you’re that kind of person or batch them if it works better for you.
Don’t Give Up
Give the process a chance. Update your system and plan if needed and as you go along. Refine and revise your query letter every so often if you aren’t getting any bites.
One last note. The first thirty pages of your novel need to shine. Make sure you have a good hook in your opening paragraph and the inciting incident within the first thirty pages. About half of the agents on my list want the first 5, 10 or 30 pages, so be prepared.