Monday, March 9, 2009

Query Land: An Oldie But Goodie

As I'm currently in the querying mode again, I was thinking of Cindy Pon's 121 queries sent out into Query Land. That reminded me of a post I did last summer sometime that dealt with precisely this topic. I went back and re-read it -- and realized that I need to take my own advice. Again.

I'm re-posting it for your reading pleasure. Please tell me what you're currently going through, agent-wise, or what has worked for you in the past.

August 15, 2008
OK: I'm guilty of it myself. I've toiled hours over my query letter. I've perfected it. I've tweaked it. I've buffed it. In fact, my query letter is a work of art, right up there with coffee ice cream.

And then I've sat on it. For six months.

Next step? GUILT. If I'm not out there beating the bushes for an agent, then how will Ceilyn see the light of day? I'm certainly not going to be hit over the head and dragged off by the hair to some publishing cave. So I decide to send out the query letter.

Retrieving the somewhat squished and wrinkled pages is the easy part. Determining the agent is pretty simple, too. Head held high, I mail off my one query letter. I'm still awaiting the results.

So -- if you were wondering -- this is the wrong way to do it. If you've taken even one class in statistics, you'll know why. Elizabeth Lyon, author of The Sell Your Novel Toolkit, pleads with us writers to do it the right way, the kinder, gentler, smarter way, the Lyon way.

The Lyon Way:

1. After you've perfected your query letter, send it out to ten agents.

2. Keep track of how many agents request your manuscript. A successful query letter nets 30%, or three out of ten requests.

3. If "successful," send out individualized letters to scores more agents. Increase your odds.

4a. If your query nets you zero, then your query letter is a failure.

4b. This is the good news: you haven't been rejected; just your query letter.

5. Re-write your query letter. Repeat steps 1-5.

If you have successful query letter stories or even "don't do what I did" stories, please share them! Are there better methods out there? Must-read books on the subject?


Amber Lynn Argyle said...

Wish I'd have known this when I started. I sent out about 80 queries in a week.

Blooming Eventually said...

Great advice. Lately I've also been thinking about how it's okay to ask for editing help with the query in the first place. If writing, not selling, is your strong point, I think it's perfectly fine to get some help.

stu said...

I made the mistake of trying to individualise my query letter by redoing it each time I sent it out. Not my best idea.

Peter said...

I'm with Amber.. I've sent out probably 50-60 letters by now.. and not a lot of response. Interesting that we should expect 30% response from a good query.. clearly mine needs work. But I also like that thought that it's letter being rejected.. not necessarily the story.. thanks!

I'm going to re-write my query now.. :)

Alex Moore said...

@amber: ack! but something worked, didn't it :)

@blooming eventually: welcome to the blog! and you're spot on: asking for editing help is not a bad idea...

@stu: yes, me too. I want the agent to know I've researched him/her and have made an effort, but I don't want to spend an additional hour tweaking it to be too personalized (besides, too personalized is just downright creepy!)

@peter: absolutely right -- only the letter has been rejected :) I did some major rework to my query this weekend and I'm much happier with it. We'll see if it does any good :)

other lisa said...

What worked for me: being totally disgusted with my query letter (which I'd barely sent out), having a couple beers and rewriting it late one night. Sending it out to one agent. Eventually signing with said agent.

I know that's not very helpful, as the whole thing had an element of randomness and luck to it. NOT the way to do it.

other lisa said...

p.s. I think personalizing your query IS a good idea. You can keep the pitch and the bio part the same, but most agents are going to appreciate a little personalization.

Dogtrax said...

I've never even gotten to the point of developing a query letter, so your advice is well-taken. Thought about it, forgot about it, thought about it again ... cue the loop.

cindy said...


great advice listed as well. =)

B J Keltz said...

Thanks for posting this again. I haven't started on mine yet and am soaking up all the advice and tips I can find. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder. I suppose I should spend more time listening to my own advice too.

If nothing else, it's important for us to remember that it's a numbers game. Every rejection puts you one step closer to success.

In other words, if you are fated to be rejected 119 times, then you might as well get out there and get them out of the way. But it you give up at 96...

colbymarshall said...

Hm, my query is about 1/10...maybe needs some tweak.