I’ve been watching a lot of Bob the Builder. My son loves anything with wheels. I’m a fan of British accents. The show works for both of us. One thing the show does very well is that it explains the importance of having the right tools for the job you’re doing. It’s common sense, but I still love that they explain the role each machine plays in completing the larger task.
Querying can be that simple too. Learn the process, bring the right tools, do your best work. So without diving too deep into the actual writing of a query, here are ten useful tools that you can consider taking with you on to the job site when querying your manuscript:
- A finished manuscript – I’ve broken this rule myself. Don’t make the same mistake. Have a completed manuscript before you begin the querying process. It makes writing an effective query easier and it’s a requirement for 99% of agents.
- BetaBooks – This is an actual tool for organizing your beta readers that’s growing in popularity (https://betabooks.co). I can’t emphasize how important beta readers, sensitivity readers, and/or a writing group can be to polishing your manuscript.
- An organized list of relevant agents – Key word: relevant. Make sure these agents actually represent your genre—and that they’re still alive? I kept my organized list in Excel and used color coordinated groupings for agents I’d actively queried, been rejected by, or who had engaged with me with requests. Use this however you like, but it’s a great way to keep up with what can become a messy inbox.
- A completed synopsis – Interested agents—and eventually editors—will request this. There are plenty of handy guides out there. My one suggestion is to complete this ahead of time, rather than trying to slug through it after an agent has requested. It relieves the stress of trying to complete the task in a deadline-like fashion.
- Separate Documents for Sample Pages – I had three documents—the first 10 pages, 25 pages, and 50 pages. Saving them as distinct files simplified everything. If an agent made a request, the file was ready. No unnecessary hustling to cut and paste pages every time.
- Twitter – It’s hard to deny the resources that now exist on social media. Agents are tweeting about their favorite books. They’re using #MSWL for specific requests. Pitch contests and industry conversations are unfolding. It’s a very useful tool that can provide temperature checks for you during the process.
- A landing page – Interested agents will check you out. They’ll flip through a Twitter feed or a Facebook page. I’m not saying you need to have an active blog with new posts every single day, but having some kind of landing page that gives a glimpse of you—a potential client—can be beneficial.
- Multiple Editions of Your Query Letter – I’m a big fan of querying in waves. You might have a stunning book paired up with a bad pitch. Why waste your chance with every agent on the same exact letter? For Nyxia, I sent out an initial query to ten agents. That version got zero requests. Clearly it wasn’t working. All I did was remix that first query and take a different angle to the story. The result? 18 full manuscript requests and 8 offers of representation. I’m glad I didn’t keep sending out the first “test” version.
- A list of questions to ask agents – Let’s say the call happens. Again, rather than scrambling to try and come up with questions you should ask your potential agent, go ahead and search before querying. Come up with a solid list of things you should ask and have that document waiting for you when the time comes.
- Chocolate – Because.
Now that you have a few extra tools, I hope you feel comfortable enough to walk into the querying process with confidence. Having the right tools doesn’t mean everything will go exactly as planned. In every episode of Bob the Builder, something breaks or falls or goes missing. I love how the crew always takes a deep breath, remembers what tools are needed to get the job done, and goes back to work.
You can do the same. Good luck!
(Oh, and maybe wait until after the holidays?!)