Welcome writer, this is the first post in our Query Trenches series. We decided to start this particular series because we realized that it wasn't a topic we've touched on much, and yet querying is an essential part to getting published.
Nowadays, the larger publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, MacMillan, and HarperCollins won't accept unsolicited manuscripts. What that means is, they won't accept manuscripts sent to them from just anyone, they want representation. That is where literary agents come into play. Publishers will look at manuscripts sent by literary agencies, who work as a middle man, between the author and the publisher. We wrote a post about literary agents and how they benefit writers in our post How to Find the Right Literary Agent. So, where does that leave you as the writer?
Instead of sending your manuscript (aka finished novel) to a publisher, you are going to send it to a literary agent. Now, that may sound simple but unfortunately there is more to it then just that. Each literary agent has different requirements to submitting and every single one, at the least, requests a query letter. In our later posts we will cover how to craft a query letter, target the right literary agents, and more. In this post, we are going to cover the basics of querying because you can't build up unless you start a foundation first.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is basically your one-page pitch to your story. It consists of a connection to the agent, a hook, the synopsis of your story, and your credentials. I know that sounds like a lot but there is a formula to it which we will further discuss in our next post. Nowadays when agents ask for a query letter, it is in the body of an email attached with other requirement's like the first ten pages of your manuscript or a synopsis. The query letter acts like a selling point to why this agent would be interested in signing your story.
How does a literary agent help you?
A literary agent is your key to getting your book published. They pitch your story to publishers, work with you through contracts, and do what they can to get your story both read and seen. Literary agents are commissioned based, they don't make money unless you do. When a literary agent signs you they are saying that they believe that both you and your story can be successful. They will be there with you every step of the way through getting your book published. Which is why as much as getting signed is important, you want to make sure that the agent is a good fit for you as well. It is like a relationship, if you both don't mesh then it just isn't going to work out.
Why must each query letter be different?
It is important that you write a different query letter for each literary agent that you are querying to because not only is each literary agent different, but it shows that you cared enough to do your research. Remember you are trying to convince this agent that your story is something they will like without them even reading it. Now, I am not saying you have to completely start your query letter from scratch each time, but make sure you are looking up the agent and tailoring your query letter to their specific wants and needs.
Why do you want to query multiple agents?
This is where I am going to introduce you to the term the "query trenches." When you start the querying process anything can happen. You could get signed right away or you could face a long period of time with an inbox full of rejection letters. You don't want to put all of your eggs in one basket. You want to query multiple agents at a time. It is a numbers game. Being chosen by a literary agent is completely subjective. It is important that you don't compare yourself to anyone else and that you don't give up hope. Query to your own comfortable pace. Personally, I only query once a week because that is what works with my schedule without feeling overwhelmed but I know people who query every single day. My next piece of advice is keep on writing. Just because you are in the query trenches doesn't mean you can't keep producing more stuff. It is all about balance which we will further talk about in this blog series.
I hope this post was a helpful overview of the querying process. Each post in this series will further go into detail, so that by the end you are set up for success. If you have any questions at all please feel free to leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.