WITS Throwdown – Query Strategy: Narrow Focus or Scattergun? Part 2 (or the correct way)

by Orly Konig-Lopez

Last week you heard Fae explain her query technique. While she takes a conservative approach, I have a slightly – okay, drastically – different method.

For me, it’s a numbers game.

spaghettiNow that doesn’t mean toss an entire package of spaghetti in the air and hope something sticks. I have a very targeted, thoroughly researched list that, like Fae’s, is broken into “rounds.”

The difference with my method is in the quantity (sense where I’m going with this?)

As I get close to query time, I update my Excel sheet:

  • Submission guidelines: they may have changed since the last time I queried, from query only, to query and sample pages.
  • Genres they’re looking for: an agent I’ve been “eyeing” may have decided to focus on YA or NA instead of women’s fiction, for example.
  • Is there someone in the agency who would be a better fit: perhaps someone new joined the agency since the last time I researched, and they are actively looking for women’s fiction.
  • New agencies: the first thing I do whenever I pick up a book, especially if the style of writing is similar to mine, is look at the acknowledgements page and jot down the author’s agent.

Armed with my new and improved list, I get my query ready. When I think it’s as good as it can be, and my critique partners have stopped shredding it, I send it out to the first group of agents — usually around 10. If the majority of those come back as rejections then I know I need to work on my query letter. And that way, I haven’t blown my chances with my entire list.

If the query gets requests then I send out another batch. For every rejection that comes in, I send out another query (or, um, three.)

Why? In almost every rejection you receive, you’ll find some form of “this just isn’t right for me.” We all know that reading is subjective. All you need is to find that one agent who will read your manuscript and think, This is fabulous.

For every few declines, I’ll get a request. The more you send, the better chance you have of catching the eye of someone who will sit up straight and think, I have to read that.

Now that doesn’t mean I send my query to every possible agent who represents even the most remotely similar type of work. It’s not just about the numbers. I only query those agents where I honestly feel there might be a match. It doesn’t mean they’ll love my work. But if I don’t send it to them, I’ll never know.

Of course the more queries are out, the jumpier I get every time my inbox pings with a new email. But hey, one of these days, one of those incoming emails will say, “I love this.” And then my numbers game will have paid off.

What’s your query strategy? Do you go for the ‘select few’ approach or the ‘more the better’ approach? A few at a time or all at once?

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22 Responses to WITS Throwdown – Query Strategy: Narrow Focus or Scattergun? Part 2 (or the correct way)

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Anyone who reads WITS can guess which side I fall on! 150 queries per book X 3 books. A little obsessive? Nah, not me.

    Rooting for you, Orly, that this book is the LAST queries you send out!

  2. Yes, Orly … from Laura’s lips to Agent God’s ears. Good luck with whatever method you use. Okay, now the big, bad NYC gal has to jump on the the last car of this train as she pulls out of the station for 2013. After averting my last nightmare, I decided that nothing worse could possibly happen (career wise that is) and soooooooooo … I’ll grab my ticket and ride the rails until the day comes that I arrive at the right location. Shelley Freydont inspired me this morning with her note about trains … so “all aboard” … we have places to go🙂

  3. Sharlarae says:

    I’m bad. I do write queries but doing the research and actually sending them is where I bog down. It’s like — do I really want to submit myself to this misery? Mine is a once burnt-twice shy sort of thing though. I have trust issues. I think that’s why I’m an advocate for the narrow focus.

  4. Trish Loye Elliott says:

    On my last manuscript I sent out about 30 queries. I’ve stopped at that point because it seemed like I was running out of agents who would ‘fit’ (and maybe out of hope too). 😔
    Well, I’m off and writing my next novel and my hope is renewed.
    Good luck with the query process! If nothing else it proves you’re a courageous and determined person. Go you!

  5. I got nothing on my first book. It took going to a conference to discover I had a query problem. With the second I sent out 40 queries and got two offers before I heard from all of them. More than one agent told me she had too many Regencies already, but maybe later. Well, later I was taken.

  6. I sent out an initial round of ten query letters with my first novel and one agent asked for the full manuscript. She gave great feedback, so now I have the dilemma of redrafting as per her advice and sending it back, or trying my second round…

  7. “If the majority of those come back as rejections then I know I need to work on my query letter. ”

    In this sentence, what’s the opposite of rejection? I’d assume it’s not acceptance, or, y’know, you’d be done. If the majority were rejections, what were the rest?

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