Currently, I’m in the happy position of being agented, which means I haven’t had to deal with queries for some time. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a few things about the process, and since our March topic over at Kickbutt Kidlit is queries, I’ve been reflecting on those things and what I would do differently if I were to embark on the journey again.
Here is what I came up with.
If I could hop in a Dolorean, I would advise my younger, querying self:
- To read the positive in rejections (including between the lines). When we get a rejection, I think it’s almost instinct to skip the pleasantries and land straight on Not Good Enough—especially when we’d gotten our hopes up after a full or partial request. But an agent’s time is valuable; they are not likely to waste any on something they don’t see potential in. That means that if you receive anything beyond a form rejection, even just a line or two, the agent is probably 1) recognizing your skill and/or 2) offering feedback on why they passed—which again, is something they probably wouldn’t bother with unless they saw potential in your submission.
- That agents generally do not give detailed feedback in passes (even after requesting). I mention this for two reasons: one, to underscore the positive significance of any feedback an agent does provide in a pass, regardless of how broad or “negative” it might appear. What often looks like “vague reasons I didn’t love your book” is actually “underlying ways I think you can improve this worthy story.” Two, because it is a mistake to expect feedback that will significantly improve your book in the course of querying. You might think that trickling out queries means you’ll get critique you can use to your advantage, but far more likely you will end up waiting 2-3 months for a just few brief sentences (in a pass), if even that. One agent who requested my full MS never even got back to me.
- That the best thing you can do for yourself is to write the best book that you possibly can, and query that. Given that you can’t count on constructive criticism after you hit send, the strongest strategy is to query only when you’ve written a book you really love, and then only when you can’t humanly make it better (ideally after multiple readers have read and critiqued it).
Perhaps the most important lesson of all: to NOT be afraid to keep sending, even when you get rejections and passes. If you have written the absolute strongest book that you can and you’re proud of it (see #3), you have nothing to lose by knocking on more doors. Reasons for passing, whether objective or subjective, are always specific to the passing agent. What holds true for one might not hold true for a dozen others, and you’ll never know if you don’t at least try.
Good luck! *blows past/alter self a kiss*