You’ve written your query, got it critiqued, edited it and polished it, now it is ready to get sent out to agents or publishers. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s the scary part. What if I *gasp* get rejected? It’s true, it could happen, and I’m sure when it does I will feel low and consume a truckload of chocolate. But maybe, just maybe, someone out there will love my story as much as I love it so it’s worth the risk right? And, as I keep reminding myself, J.K. Rowling was rejected quite a few times before someone picked up Harry Potter. The question is, who do I send my lovely polished query letter to?
Do Your Research
As tempting as it might be to send your query letter to every agent/publisher in the country, in the end this would be a waste of your time (and money spent on postage if you’re mailing your queries) and a waste of time for the agent/publishers you send to. In many cases your query letter will go straight into the shredder, or your query e-mail will get deleted without a second glance. Why? Because you didn’t do your research. Imagine you have written a picture book and query it to a dozen or so agents/publishers who don’t accept picture books. That’s time and effort wasted. Make sure you read submission guidelines before you submit a query to any agent or publisher to ensure they accept the type of book you are querying.
Make a Wishlist
Since I’ve been researching publishers while polishing my query I’ve created a Word document of all the publishers/agents who accept picture books (I also have another document of the ones who accept YA fantasy in preparation for when I start querying my novel). By keeping this list I don’t have to go back and find them all again when it comes time to query, as I have saved all the information. You can set out the list any way you want, but I tend to set it out like this:
- Name of Publisher/Agent
- What types of books they accept
- Are they open to submissions
- Contact information
- Link to website
- Any other important notes
I set my wishlist out so that the ones I intend to query first are at the top of the list and the ones who aren’t open to submissions now, but may be at a later date I put at the bottom to remind me to check back.
Check If They Are Open to Submissions
Some agents/publishers may be closed to submissions at certain times of year, or may be inundated with queries so close submissions until they catch up, so make sure you check and take note of when they’ll be open again if they mention it. I have a colour coding system (because I love colour coding) – On my list where I note if a publisher/agent is or isn’t open for submissions I highlight green if they are open, red if they aren’t currently open for submissions and yellow if they’re currently closed, but will be open again in the near future. Don’t forget to keep checking back.
Keeping Track of Your Queries
I remember a while back a writer on Twitter mentioned keeping track of who she was querying to ensure she wasn’t sending letters to the same publisher/agent twice, and to keep track of who had replied, whether they requested partials or fulls or asked for edits. There’s a good chance when you query you will be querying multiple agents/publishers at the same time, I know I will (imagine sending one at a time and having to wait up to 6 months for each reply! I know agents are much quicker in replying than publishers, but you may still have to wait to hear back.) And then if you query maybe five at a time, you don’t want to accidentally query someone again after they already rejected that story. I’m setting up a spreadsheet in Excel to help me keep track of my queries. When complete it will include:
- Name of publisher/agent
- Date sent
- Estimated response time (most will state their response time on their website)
- Reply received
- Partial/Full sent
- Edits requested
- Edits sent
Do make sure, particularly with publishers, that they don’t mind you querying others at the same time you are querying them, as some ask that you don’t query others while you have a submission with them. Read their submission guidelines carefully and make a note of it.
Be Prepared for Rejection, But Keep Believing in Yourself and Don’t Stop Writing
Even the best have been rejected, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King both had stories rejected, so don’t give up hope. Remember it’s not just about having a great story, but finding the right publisher/agent at the right time who is right for your story. Even while you are waiting to hear back, keep polishing your craft, start some new projects, and if your current story doesn’t find a home, you’ll have something new and better ready.
(*Note: While in the US it is more usual to query agents, rather than directly to publishers, in Australia there are still many publishing houses who accept unsolicited manuscripts and not many literary agents, hence why I keep referring to both agents and publishers in this post.)