Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Yet another query post

And just like that we’re back in the dark.

Among the many things to not like about the return of Daylight Saving Time is that, as I write this, sunrise is still 21 minutes away. Yes, it will not be dark when I start my drive to work. Yes, it will be lighter in the evening when I make my way home from work, but it was still light when most people were driving home, anyway. I can take solace, I guess, from the fact that the sun rises one to two minutes earlier each day, so by the time March is over, it will be light at this time. And I guess the other benefit to Daylight Saving Time is that we don’t have the sun rising at 4:30 in the morning. But if they can do it in Alaska, I guess we could do it here.

Ah, well, I come not to gripe about Daylight Saving Time but to talk once more about queries. After the last two weeks of talking about querying, I’m finally querying. Hurrah! Querying is a funny beast. Right now, I have over 100 agents on my list, a mere drop in the bucket in terms of actual number of agents out there, but a good number to start with. My list includes BIG STAR agents at BIG STAR AGENCIES as well as just starting out people working for themselves and all manner of folks in between. All of them, however, have a track record, actual real clients, and a reputation that is not “Watch out for this scam artist!” or “I signed with them and sent my finished manuscript and heard nothing for two and a half years.”All of them are people that, based on reputation at least, I can see myself working with.

The tough part now is figuring out the query strategy. Carpet bombing the agent world, aside from being exhausting (seriously–I did five yesterday and was shot for the afternoon), can be counterproductive. The simple truth is, though I’ve polished my manuscript, though I’ve vetted my query with people I trust, I really don’t know how good either of them are. If either the query or the opening pages is flawed, what then? If I blast my entire list, I’m sunk (most agents don’t like getting the same project a second time unless they ask for it or it’s really, really revised).

My solution is to try to send out small batches of queries equally divided between agents who like pages included and agents who don’t. I figure if I get requests for pages then the query is pretty solid, and if I get requests for additional pages/fulls from the ones who ask for pages included, then the query and the opening pages are pretty solid.

The only flaw with this plan? Well, two, actually. The first is small sample size. You can argue that three queries in each category is not really enough to draw conclusions from, especially when there are so many other variables involved. Maybe, despite their website, the agent has decided they don’t want what I’m selling right now, or they have another client with a similar project. Or the dog eats their slush pile. Or they closed to queries right before I hit “Send.” There are a lot of things that can skew the results when you’re dealing with small numbers.

The second thing is the wait times. Publishing is a slow game. Odds are good that I won’t hear anything from any of these agents for at least a week. Looking at Query Tracker, most of the agents I queried yesterday have at least a three week wait time between queries and responses. So we’re back to the waiting game.

Hey, look at that, the sun is up! Time to get on with my day. How about you? Any particular strategies for querying that you employ?


4 Responses

  1. You're pretty much doing it the way I did it: in batches. Maybe not as small as you did, but batches all the same. It's the only way you can tell if the query is working. And yeah, trad publishing is a slow game. At least you can spend your time waiting by writing the next book. Heck, you might even have it finished and something to offer if they ask for more!! Wouldn't that be awesome?

  2. Ugh. I feel for you about the querying. I did that in the beginning for the experience. And you're right about publishing being a slow game. Traditional publishing.

    I attended the SuperStars Writing Conference last month. It had both traditional and indie authors and publishers. It was humorous when one indie outlier (he only sold $65,000 worth in January) in a panel about both options said it almost seemed like traditional publishing had become vanity publishing for people who wanted to get into the brick and mortar bookstores. Obviously, it's not quite that, but it made a lot of people laugh.

    Oh, one of the indie outliers in the audience sold $274,000 in January. It blows the mind.

  3. Yeah, I started too small, but will be expanding that very soon. Surprising in a way, because you're basically copy/pasting the same letter, but querying takes time.

    At the rate I write, I sure hope it doesn't take me that long to find an agent!

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