WITS Throwdown: Query Strategy-Narrow Focus vs Scattergun?

by Fae Rowen

Well, Laura Drake, AKA The Queen of Querying, finally helped me into the big scary world of querying. With both feet. On the first  Sunday in December she helped me send out eleven queries.

Those of you who love to query will think , “Eleven queries? Big deal.” But this is the first time I’ve ever sent out “cold” queries. I’ve always had a request when I sent out proposals before.

Why stop at eleven? Well, they were the eleven people I most wanted to represent me. I would be delirious to “get the call” from any one of them. They also were the first eleven people to make it onto my agent spreadsheet list. And after sending out those eleven queries I was whipped, so I stopped. I had no more names on my list.

What if I sent out fifty queries and got a response from someone that wasn’t one of my first choices? Of course, I’d freak. And I’d turn into a crazy woman waiting for a response from one of my dream agents. Yes, I know I can ask someone to wait while  I consider another offer, but how long is it polite to keep someone on the line? Just waiting, hoping some else asks for a full then likes it enough to represent me? We know how long that can take.

I know the argument: You just want an agent; send out a wave of queries and respond to those who want to see more. It’s a numbers game and the more you send out the better your chances. Kind of like buying lotto tickets.

Except for not all agents are equal.  In a lottery, the jackpot is the jackpot. You win, you take it all. In the  agent lottery, not all agents are equal. Some are good, some are amazing, and some, well, some may not be right for me. So I researched and developed a sort of “draft” system for my queries.

Does that mean I won’t be thrilled with an agent I query later? Absolutely not. I’ll be thrilled with any agent from my list.  Why? Because I critique my agents like I critique chapters from Laura, Jenny, Sharla, and Orly. I read their blogs, who they represent, what they’ve sold recently. And I’m picky. Heck, my first round got narrowed down to only eleven names.

Yes, my method is possibly slower as far as results go. Might I change my mind if I query for a year and need to keep querying? Sure, it won’t be the first time I’ve changed my mind about something important. But, for now, I want to hold the reins a little tighter with a smaller net. My husband’s a fisherman, so I know about casting a wide net. And  I also know that many of the fish you catch in that wide net are not fish you want to keep. Especially in the first days of a long fishing trip.

So, in a couple of weeks I’ll sit  down and send out my Round Two queries to the next set of people I really want to represent me. People that I’ve learned about in the month since I sent out the first queries. Like my first round, it will include new agents, experienced agents and, hopefully, a couple of dream agents. There are not a lot of agents who represent science fiction romance, and I know that if someone doesn’t enjoy reading the genre, they shouldn’t represent me.

Next Wednesday Orly Konig Lopez will argue for the other half of this throwdown. I must admit, she’s having great success with her method. But I could never survive the insanity I would cause for myself with that approach. Maybe it’s my control issues, maybe it’s my “newness” to the whole query business. Whatever it is, for now, my system works for me. If I’m still looking for an agent this time next year, I’ll probably have a different approach.

Don’t worry; you’ll be the first to know when one of my queries hits the  jackpot! There will be screaming and shouting and happy dancing for all.

Have you been reluctant to query? Are you waiting on queries–on a lot of queries? How do you handle the query process  and maintain your sanity?

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39 Responses to WITS Throwdown: Query Strategy-Narrow Focus vs Scattergun?

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Fae, you know I’m on the other side of the fence. I saw a blog by an agent who analyzed her stats for 2012. I did the math. She signed ONE writer out of 7,000 queries she received! But you ARE right too, in that not all queries are equal. My queries for my first book (or the book itself, for that matter) weren’t as good in the beginning.

    Whichever method you choose, I wish all our readers GREAT success in 2013!
    Go get ’em, troops!

  2. Despite my unpublished status, I have experience in the *gulp* query process.

    I like the narrow net approach. Something is out there working for me while I work on the next project and await the hoped for request for a full.

    “What if I Studly-Do-Right asks me to the prom after I’ve accepted an invitation from Snidely?”

    Requests for fulls came on both manuscripts. Both resulted in “I just couldn’t get into…” responses.

    I must write a helluva compelling 50 first pages and synopsis. Before I took time out to study the craft, I took a long, painful journey through rewrite hell using the oh-so-effective crystal ball method for understanding where I failed.

    When this book is ready to query, I plan to take the same approach. Yes. I know the stats. It’s a crap-shoot at best. But, I’d rather keep eleven specific agent bio’s in my noggin than fifty.

    I took mumble-mumble months years to write this darling. A couple of weeks waiting? Chump change.

  3. When I started querying I only sent to a few agents. That was before I knew what I was doing. Then I attended a conference and learned I had a query problem with my first book. But, not being the patient type, I decided to query my second book. This time I go help from the fabulous Delilah Marvelle. I joined QueryTracker, researched agents and send out 40 queries. I received several requests for partials and two requests for fulls, one from a fairly new agent and one from an agent whoes been around for a long time and is highly regarded. She is the one I ended up with. Now I have a 3 book deal with Kensington.

  4. Obviously I’ll state my side next week but I think this is a great post.🙂

  5. Diana Beebe says:

    It is terrifying and exhilerating at the same time, isn’t it? I’ve sent only a few from conference meetings, but I’m getting myself worked up for some cold queries soon. I wish you all the best with your queries!

  6. I decided to go the other way–self-publishing. I never thought I would, wanting an agent and a publisher to represent me and my work. I thought that would be more legitimate and less work for me. But then I educated myself on the industry and realized how the publishing industry has changed. They are more selective, take a bigger piece of your pie, and now they want the author to do most of the promoting for the book. I figured if I have to promote my own book, then I should reap the the rewards, not someone else.

    I don’t know where this will lead me, but my book is being released in a few days in ebook format, paperback to follow. Did I make the right move? Who knows. I only know that I worked very hard to make my book look as close to an industry-published book as possible and I paid to have it professionally edited. I don’t have to wait for rejections letters and am in control of my work product. That’s all kind of nice.

    Best of luck to you. I just wanted to share with you the path I decide to take and why…🙂

    • I’m excited for you, Lorna. Self-publishing is hard work. Last night I read some industry stats about the numbers of e-books purchased vs. mass market paperback. Nearing the halfway mark made me step back and think. Best of luck to you.
      -Fae

      • Either way, getting published is hard work. It takes a lot of determination and know-how. I’m learning a lot with this first book. Hopefully I won;t forget it (or things won’t change drastically) for my second book!

        Hope that next letter you open is a an acceptance letter!

        Lorna

        • I’ve found that like most everything, practice and more practice makes me better. So I’m betting that things will indeed change with your second book–you’ll write a better first draft and your edits will be better. Thanks for your support.
          -Fae

  7. Jenny Hansen says:

    Go Fae…Go Fae…Go Fae!!!!

  8. Ro, I’m probably the small net type too. Not many agents looking at American set historicals. I’ve pretty much decided to offer my backlist and my new books as e-books. I’ve lost all patience with the hurry up and wait game. Now if an agent knocked on my door (not going to happen), I’d listen but even then, I’m not sure I’d bother with this kind of stress again.

    ~Sharla

    • Now that I’ve decided to actively try to sell a book, I’m giving querying a year–especially after looking at the statistics on e-book sales last night. I wish I could just write and leave all the selling to someone else, but that’s not the way it works now. So this year while I query, I’ll be positioning myself for the future of promoting my book, no matter how it gets delivered to readers.
      -Fae

  9. Fae, good luck to you. My plans were to follow your method … that was until I got knocked on my a$$ and lost my recent query, my latest drafts and all my documents, got locked out of cyber space and am now struggling with a new windows program and the battle to retrieve my work from my old hard drive. YUCK.

    Have you been reluctant to query? Are you waiting on queries–on a lot of queries? How do you handle the query process and maintain your sanity?

    Have I been reluctant? Can you spell fear ?? Yes and ditto to all of that. I’ll get my short list back when I can find the query to send and then I’ll go to my second short list … AND YES … Laura was a kick in the butt helper in the process with me as well🙂

    Hey, did anyone here notice I have been gone like forever ??

    • We just thought you were on a wonderful holiday vacation. Glad you’re back breathing the ether.
      It sounds like you and I are in the exact same boat. When Laura and I sent out the eleven queries we said we’d send more in six weeks. A couple of the queries requested pages, but then I got the rejection. I guess part of my problem is that the first request I had from an editor (years ago) resulted in the request for a full, a request for some revisions, then a contract offer. Kind of ruins one for what’s “normal” in the business.
      Again, welcome back. Hope all your data is recoverable!
      -Fae

  10. I’ll keep my thoughts about finding an agent at all out of this, and instead, address the real question🙂

    Desperation is nobody’s friend. Ask for what you really want. I’m not suggesting that a shotgun’s not the right tool, especially if you’re looking for AN agent, not necessarily one particular agent.

    My dad taught me a couple useful lessons. One was that whoever is in the least hurry wins. If you need a car today, you’re going to pay a premium, and probably not get exactly what you wanted.

    He, on the other hand, was the master of waiting. When an accident forced him to switch from a motorcycle to a car, he announced “If I have to drive a car, it’ll be a 65 Sedan de Ville!”

    So, he waited 6 months. Found one with a rebuilt engine and new tires. Paid $100. This was in the late 70s, so the car was not that old, no bigger than a lotta what was on the road, and worth 10 times what he paid for it.

    The danger is not in aiming too high and missing. It’s in aiming too low and hitting.

  11. Karen Duvall says:

    I’ve been through the querying process a number of times at different stages of my writing journey. I now have an agent, but it didn’t come without a lot of blood, sweat, tears and postage. I researched agents to query using Query Tracker because it offered filters for specific criteria that was important to me. I would send out 5 or 6 queries at a time and eventually had 8 full manuscript requests. I was lucky to find the agent right for me, someone who is an awesome negotiator, not well-known but quite successful, and she’s been in business for a long time. She’s sold my books, helps manage my career, is my cheerleader and my coach (who’s pretty good at kicking my ass when I need it). It took 4 months to find her and 2 years for her to sell that first book.

    I think it’s wise to remember, as others have already said, that not just any agent will do because you need to find the one that’s right for you. I strongly recommend QueryTracker.net to help you research and select agents to query.

    • Thanks, Karen. I used QueryTracker.net and other sites to research agents. Once an agent looked like a possibility I checked websites and blogs. I’m happy you found your perfect fit. She sounds fantastic. It’s not about the name or reputation, it’s about a wonderful match with someone who loves your writing and supports you in whatever way you need throughout the process. Thanks for sharing your story–and hope, as I’m on the verge of another set of queries going out.
      -Fae

  12. macswriter says:

    I tend to agree with Fae, and that’s been my approach as well. Though to date my list of preferred agents remains mainly a list of names on my laptop as I polish (again) my mss. I do understand the numbers game, but I also understand the importance of a good fit. I want my agent to believe in me and love me as much as I believe in them and love them. Am I crazy? Maybe, but I’m willing to wait a little longer to get it juuuuust right. Is my perfect agent somewhere out there and I just haven’t stumbled upon them yet? Maybe. As someone once said, and I love to paraphrase: Know your gifts and just keep giving. The universe will provide. Am I curious to see if Orly can change my mind? Yup.

    • Maybe when you finish this round of polishing, you’ll be willing to query. It’s taken me a long time because when I started writing I never intended to publish. I wrote just for me. But now I’m ready to share my stories. Timing is everything.
      -Fae

  13. Congrats on getting those queries out Fae, and on the courage it takes to put yourself out there. You have to cast out bait to catch a fish, er agent. Like Laura, I liked sending out several queries at a time. It made me feel I had done something proactive and offered more chances. As a pass came in, and yes there were …cough… a few, for survival sake, I’d make myself send more out. Sort of –I won’t go down without a fight–mantra. Then if you get a bite/offer, you can go back to those others you are interested in and mention you have an offer. Amazing how this can speed up the process and perk interest! It took me a long time but I found my fit. You will too! Pulling for you, Fae!

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  16. C. K. Crouch says:

    Great post I have decided if my proposal doesn’t grab the staff at Harlequin Intrigue where I’m submitting the requested proposal/partial then I shall start the hunt for an agent and go from there.

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