Querying: An Intro Into the Hellscape Before You
Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Firstly—let’s get this out of the way— I am by no stretch of the imagination an incredible querier. I queried for over ten years before signing with an agent. Read that again. That’s right. OVER TEN YEARS!
Now, I know some of you have me beat. I know writers who’ve queried for 15+ years and are still going strong! (Shoutout to you BADASSES! Do it!) But as the Type A, goal-orientated person I am, by age eleven I'd decided I was destined for the New York Times Best Seller list, and I fully expected to be published by eighteen.
Yes, I know. Shall we all laugh together?
Hahaha! Oh sweet, summer child… I knew not what was in store for me. I had not a clue of the journey I was doomed to take. None whatsoever.
Over ten years later, I STILL do not understand the journey.
I’ve written manuscripts, rewritten manuscripts, questioned my sanity, cursed my dreams, and altogether just hated that I don’t seem to know just when to give the fuck up. (Never, guys. That’s when!)
So, I thought my years of tears, failures, research, and small victories could possibly help another writer out there on this dumpster fire we call Earth during their own writing journey through this publishing hellscape. Granted—my advice is just that—advice.
Like everything out there, take it with a grain of salt. Pick out the pieces you feel could work for you and toss the rest. I am in no way, shape, or form an expert, and I honestly question those who call themselves such. Can any of us truly ever be an expert of a craft that is so subjective and continuously evolving? (…Probably, but there are few and far between, so proceed with caution when you meet persons claiming such.)
Without further ado, let’s get this train wreck on the tracks!
It is Query Time, Motherfuckers!
Alright, so you have written the most spectacular manuscript there has been since Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina! Your book makes Jay Gatsby look like thrift shop leftovers. Shakespeare himself gives it two thumbs up from the grave. Great! I can’t wait to read it!
Now, what's next?
Well, my cherub, you have two options. Self-publish or Traditional Publishing (& subsequently querying).
If you decide to self-publish—Congratulations! That is spectacular! Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Your journey will be vastly different from the traditional publication route. You’ll hire an editor. Trust me, you need it. We all bo. (See what I did there? Get an editor!) Design a cover with a graphic artist or wizard or whichever is within your budget. And you’ll do a shit load of other stuff I won’t get into here, because this is not about self-publishing. Though, lucky for you, I self-published once (ages ago) and will recount that experience at a later time.
Back to the main star! Querying
1. What is querying? Glad you asked! In the most layman of terms, querying is a way to introduce yourself and your work to a perspective literary agent.
But Brandy, why do I need to introduce myself to a perspective literary agent? I am a go getter. Can’t I find a publisher on my own?
2. Why do you need a literary agent? Look, nothing is impossible, but the vast majority of publishers do not and will not take unsolicited manuscripts from novice authors. That is simply the way it is. Like everything else, there are steps and procedures we must adhere to. This is a part of that.
There are millions of writers in the world, and we are all at varying levels of our craft. Some of us are good, some us are great, some of us are hot dumpster fires on the eve of a glorious rain!
Editors at publishing houses must find a way to read as much quality work as possible without digging through those dumpster fires to get to the gold.
Literary agents are one of the ways they do that. Literary agents spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years of their lives digging through dumpster fires in search for gold. If you hope to publish traditionally, you will need a literary agent. Otherwise, it's unlikely that an editor from a major publishing house will even bat an eyelash at you, because your manuscript has not even been vetted.
3. Why should you want a literary agent—they have your best interest at heart.
Personally, I would sell my soul for a $10 publishing contract, .02% royalties, and a vegan bag of M&Ms.
That’s just the way it is. My agent is well aware of this fact and has told me time and again that we aren’t doing that.
“No one is selling their soul, Brandy!
At least not for that amount.”
She understands the business of publishing, and she understands what a manuscript is worth. While my only standard is to simply weep over the tangible pages of a hardback with my name on it, her standards are much higher. She has a plan for success, and it’s my job to trust that.
4. Why you should trust your agent and trust the process of finding the right agent? Not all fits are good fits. Sometimes the journey can be a shitshow from beginning to end. Trust the process. You want to find the right fit, because you and this person will be developing a relationship that will (hopefully) last for years. Once you find that perfect fit, trust that they know what they are doing.
Your success is their success.
They want a contract and a bestseller just as badly as you do, and your agent will go to the ends of the earth to make that happen for you.
Which leads me to—How does one go about catching said agent?
Coffee, treats, promises of eternal glory?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Though eternal glory does sound nice, the answer is much simpler. (Or at least it sounds that way.) You write a dazzling query letter that catches their eye, quickens their pulse, and makes them salivate over the prospect of working with you.
(Yes, that was a touch dramatic, but you get my drift.)
Together, we are going to dive deep into the world of query letters. I intend on addressing every point—from writing the dreaded synopsis, to preferred pronouns, to "how the fuck to close this bitch without sounding too formal/informal"—so that when you come face to face with this villainous monster/query, you can take that bitch down like it is Daenerys Targaryen post sanity! (R.I.P.)
As I've mentioned, I queried different projects unsuccessfully for over ten years. Things didn't get going for me until this last manuscript. I had eight full manuscript requests and two sperate offers of representation. How did I manage that after years of shitty queries?
But really, the ensuing post is my step-by-step breakdown on How to Craft a Bitching Query Letter.