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Querying your novel post-2020 - Resource list

Querying, it's the worst! Querying in a post-2020 publishing landscape, especially. Let's get that out of the way up front. However, cold querying remains a good way to find a literary agent. I connected with my wonderful agent Carleen Geisler at ArtHouse Literary through cold querying in July 2023, after querying 2 novels over 1 1/2 years.

Rather than writing a post about my querying journey, or reinventing the wheel by explaining the querying process when many excellent minds have already done so, I thought I would post a collection of the resources I found most helpful while querying. I hope these are useful to you too.

I've organised the info under headings so feel free to skip around depending on where you're at.

Caveats: If you’re reading success stories and advice more than a few years old, please do take that advice with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to stats, "good" and "bad" request rates (IMHO, any full requests is a good request rate), word counts (I'd suggest sticking to the lower end of the typical word count for your genre for a debut author now), and query tactics. Also be conscious of “survivorship bias” in advice, even mine, especially if agented or published authors tell you that if you do exactly what they did, you’ll get xyz outcome, too—sadly, publishing is not a meritocracy, and while doing the work and putting yourself out there is a prerequisite, there is an element of luck, personal taste, etc. And as always, everything here is based on my personal experience, so YMMV.

The publishing industry

Querying basics

An introduction to querying by Sunyi Dean:

Writing a query letter

Jane Friedman on writing query letters:

QueryShark: How To Write Query Letters ... Or, Really, How to Revise Query Letters So They Actually Work (run by literary agent Janet Reid) has an amazing blog where she revises query letters sent in by querying authors, and walks you through her process in the posts:

Eric Smith on querying:

A useful compilation of successful query letter examples, by genre:

I also read back-cover blurbs on comp titles (books which were similar to mine, recent, debuts, in the same genre) and modelled the pitch in my query letter after those.

Writing a synopsis

The best resource on writing a synopsis I've found, by Susan Dennard:

I'm such a convert that I now write a pretend query letter, short pitch and synopsis as a way to plan before I start drafting a new project.

Revising your novel and query package prior to querying

Seek out beta readers, critique groups, and apply to mentorship programs. Ask more people to exchange feedback with you than you think you'll actually need, as life happens and not all of them will end up being able to read your work. It's also worth asking 1-2 readers who have NOT read your novel to read over your query, synopsis, and short pitch.

I live in Canberra, Australia, and I met my beta readers and critique group through:

  • NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)—attended local meetups and kept in touch with other writers

  • The Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild novel critique group—a formal group you’ll need to pay a membership fee to join, but worth its weight in gold

  • Conflux Speculative Fiction Convention—I attend this convention annually and ended up meeting awesome writer friends and exchanging work/beta reading with them

  • Social media, mainly Twitter/X—ditto

  • Mentorships—I had great experiences revising different novels with the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) mentorship program in 2022 and Publishable in 2023

My wonderful partner made me this motivational meme. Sadly I did not get buff

Query tactics + researching agents

Querytracker, the single most useful tool for researching agents and tracking your queries (free, with paid option for extra features, worth it IMHO):

Publisher's Marketplace (paid):

Manuscript Wishlist (free):

Caveat that the information on Manuscript Wishlist can be out of date, and I’d always defer to the info on the agency’s website in the event of any discrepancy.

Following agents and the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter/X can be helpful, but perhaps less so now social media is more fragmented

Writer Beware is a valuable resource, maintaining a thumbs down list of schmagents (shady agents), vanity presses, and other publishing scams to avoid, although be aware someone could still be a bad actor but not appear on this list yet. You can also email the wonderful Victoria Strauss if you have a question about a specific agency/publisher not covered publicly:

General querying and publishing advice

Michelle Schusterman's YouTube channel:

Janet Reid's blog:

BookEnds Literary's YouTube channel:

BookEnds Literary also have a blog if you prefer to read rather than watch:

Can you revise and resend a query?

Kate McKean's advice:

Do you need to know someone, or ask an author to refer you to their agent?

No! Cold query away. Feel free to mention in your query letter that you have a mutual friend in one of their authors as a way to personalise your query, if that's the case, but I've always found the idea of asking for a referral too awkward (what if this person thinks I just befriended them to play an extremely long game of asking for a referral?!), and I honestly believe just personalising your query letter, if you can, has a similar effect. As someone living outside the US who hasn't yet travelled for a convention, it's less likely we'll have those connections anyway, so it wasn't something I worried about.

Pitch events, social media, and live pitching—is it worth it?

I didn’t do well out of Twitter pitch events in terms of getting an agent, but I did learn to write short pitches within the Twitter character limit, learn how to make a moodboard for MoodPitch, and meet other querying writers with interesting projects who I could exchange beta reading with and share information about agents to query. I got a lot of value out of this side of things indirectly. But in terms of direct value (will I get an agent by participating in social media pitching?) I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re better off just spending your time querying agents directly, because all a Twitter "like" in a pitch contest gets you is an invitation to query directly. This is perhaps a moot point as social media becomes more fragmented.

However, if you get any interest from an agent who is closed to queries, in-person or online, this is a valuable invitation to query them anyway rather than waiting (which I didn’t realise or take advantage of, but you can!).

So you have an offer—congrats! What now?

BookEnds Literary—Step-by-Step: Handling an Offer of Representation

Alexa Donne gives great advice for writers on her YouTube channel, and fantastic letter templates here, too—not only for the query letter itself, but also for other aspects of querying, like nudging an agent to let them know you have an offer:

Mental health, setting goals, and maintaining your confidence in your work while querying/submitting

Don't self-reject—shoot your shot


Final thoughts

Apparently I lied, I am going to talk about my own process a little bit.

My querying tactics were at odds with some advice to query slowly, in small batches. I found querying fast and then moving onto the next project was a real sanity-saver. I'd recommend using QueryTracker (paid version) to pick 20 agents who are a good fit and who have a high response rate, and a relatively fast response rate. Query those. If you get nothing but form rejections or silence in the first 20 test batch, then revise and send another test batch. If you get 1 or more full request from that batch, obviously something is working, so just send out all the rest as fast as you can, and move on to the next project while you wait for responses to come in.

Concentrate on what you can control in the process. Write the best book, query and synopsis you can, revising with beta readers/a critique group. Then write the next book. It’s hard, and I fully acknowledge that querying can not only be brutal but take up so much time, you may not be able to start writing the next project for a few months until you’ve sent out all your queries (if you write for an hour a day, you're going to be spending that time sending 2–3 queries instead of writing—it took me six months to wade through the bulk of the admin and get onto drafting a new project, in my case).

However, writing the next book is also the single best thing you can do for you as a writer—for your career, for yourself, and for your sense of control. It even makes those rejections on book one sting less when you know you have another book in the works, especially as you begin to fall in love with that next project.

Plus, because everything happens so slowly in publishing, you may actually have the opportunity to reach out to agents who still have the full of your first book when you have an offer on your second book, as well as agents considering your second book (replace “first” and “second” with the number of whichever books you happen to be working on, as applicable). This happened to me, and resulted in more opportunities, although after deliberating I ended up going with the initial agent who offered on my second book.

I almost shot myself in the foot by not querying novel two while I still had fulls out on novel one, worried it was a faux pas and disrespectful towards agents considering novel one. Sometimes agents will never respond to fulls, so I could have been waiting forever!

Literary agent Janet Reid (aka QueryShark, who I’ve linked to previously) has excellent, no-nonsense advice on her blog that delivered the swift kick up the bum I needed when I was overthinking, hesitating about querying my second novel in my keenness not to break any querying “rules”… specifically, querying my new novel while the old novel was still under consideration. I didn’t write the question (it’s an old blog from 2015) but I might as well have, as it’s the exact same issue I was grappling with! This is one of my favourite posts, but you can’t go wrong with the advice on either of Janet Reid’s blogs.

I hope this is useful. Thank you for taking the time to stop by!

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