Tips for Querying Literary Agents Every Writer Must Know: Part Two
Welcome to the second of my two-part series of tips for querying literary agents! If you haven’t read the first part, take a gander (so we’re all on the same page): Tips for Querying Literary Agents (Part 1).
For debut writers looking to be traditionally published, querying literary agents is a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute you can feel on top of the world and the next could be crushing devastation. My first five tips, Embrace Being a Newbie, Be 100% Certain You’re Ready to Query, Celebrate Rejections, Do Not Give Up, and Be Professional all dealt with the process itself. The final five tips, however, really focus on self-reflection. After all, writing can be a very lonely process and it’s important to know yourself and what you want out of your career before taking this next step!
1. Hire a Professional.
As a writer, it’s important to invest in yourself and your craft—whether you attend writing conferences, buy a new computer, or hire editors. Critique partners, friends, and family members can be good resources for vetting first drafts to nail down clarity and flow, but professional editors know what agents are looking for and can really give you an edge in the slush pile.
As queries, synopses, and pages are all wildly different pieces of writing, services like Scribbler Editorial’s Agent Package are the perfect way to gauge where you’re nailing it and what opportunities you have to grow. In addition to Scribbler’s expansive editorial services, you can also find great freelance editors.
Hiring an editor for my submission (sub) package was the best decision I made in my five months of querying. After receiving their feedback, I entered PitchWars and got two full requests—something I’m confident would not have happened without my editor. In addition, the agent rejections I received from my revised sub package got much better feedback than the prior ones. I kicked myself in the butt for weeks because, even though I couldn’t admit it to myself at the time, I really wasn’t ready to query (*cough cough* Tip #2, anyone? *cough cough*).
2. Decide if traditional publishing is for you.
The age-old question of those who want to publish a book seems to be “What’s better, traditional publishing or self-publishing?”
I think that’s the wrong question, though. I believe writers should ask, “What’s better for me, traditional publishing or self-publishing?”
There are pros and cons to each and no one can tell you which route to take but yourself. Neither guarantees an author’s success and each one requires hard work.
One of the best parts about self-publishing is the control over your own work; essentially, almost every decision to make about the publishing process is yours. Another is the royalties—you keep much more if you self-publish over traditional publishing. However, self-publishing also demands you do everything, from editing, to cover art, to formatting and more. Though you keep a much larger percentage of the profits, the reach of your book can be much smaller.
The biggest draw to traditional publishing lies in the market share. Publishing houses maintain a majority of the market share and can place books easier than an independent fiction author can do on their own. Traditionally-published authors can also leave the publishing process to the editors. Once pass pages are approved, the author can invest time and money into marketing themselves but don’t have to worry about cover design, formatting, and actually publishing the manuscript.
There are pros and cons to each avenue, so I recommend doing more research to decide what fits best for your writing journey.
3. Practice Patience… Like, A Lot.
Whether you’re waiting for beta reader feedback, giving your brain a break from your current manuscript, or waiting on an agent to get back to you on a query/partial/full request, patience is your best friend. Rather… a cocktail of patience + distractions is.
I know a ton of writers who throw themselves into another manuscript while waiting but that almost never works for me. I use my time off in a variety of ways—from being outside, to crafting, to cooking, to tackling my never-ending TBR pile. I’ll be the first to admit I struggle to keep myself distracted and, in an industry that’s infamously slow like publishing, that’s a skill I’m still trying to master!
Joining forums and writing groups are a great way to stay distracted. Finding like-minded people going through the same situation as you can be comforting and help you process emotions (for instance, you can commiserate about rejections while eating pizza and ice cream over a Zoom call).
If you’re looking for a writing community to join but don’t know where to start, I suggest Scribbler’s Facebook group.
4. Prioritize Self Care.
One of the most fundamental lessons I learned while querying was prioritizing self care.
In the first part of this series, I stated I was much too confident (read: arrogant) going into querying and I had no plan when rejections started rolling in.
I didn’t know how to handle them.
It took a few months and a dozen rejections for me to realize until this point in my life, I never cared about anything as much as I cared about sharing my stories (therefore, finding an agent) and these rejections were roadblocks I not only didn’t expect, but also didn’t know how to overcome. Over a year later, I urge every writer I talk to to create a self-care routine before querying.
Here are some of the ways I practice self-care while querying:
Turn off email notifications.
I have an email address I only use for queries and limit myself to checking it a few times a day. Not only has it helped me disengage from obsessively stalking my inbox, but it’s bled into turning off most notifications from social platforms on my phone so I can be more present with family and friends.
Surround yourself with a great support system.
My support system is my rock. I truly don’t know what I’d do without my husband—he has, is, and always will be my #1 supporter. My critique partners and beta readers (who have turned into very close friends) are incredible too; they understand writing, querying, and rejection because they’ve been through it. Shared hardships forge close bonds—which is another reason to join a writing group.
Understand your own needs.
How well do you take rejection/criticism? Are you a wallow-er or someone who likes to forget things and soldier on? I’m getting better at handling rejections (in this industry, it’s kind of a must) but I know I like to wallow. To compromise my needs with what is healthy and productive, I allow myself ten minutes of feeling upset after a rejection before moving on. It’s important to let yourself feel, but dwelling on the sadness—letting yourself stew in it—is toxic and doesn’t make you a better writer. It just makes you more sad.
Create a Rejection Routine.
Do you have a favorite comfort food? Maybe you really enjoy doing mud masks or taking long drives listening to a certain band. Proactively prepare a few things to cheer yourself up or remind yourself why you’re querying in the first place. I made myself Milestone Envelopes with a special reward in each one and a motivational letter to myself. I also have saved several of the treats I’ve gotten in my Scribbler boxes to indulge in after a particularly disappointing rejection or to celebrate with when I reach a milestone.
5. Believe In Yourself.
If you forget the nine other lessons, that’s fine. Just remember this one because it’s the most important.
Believe. In. Yourself.
Believe in your writing. Believe in the themes you’re telling. Believe in the characters you’ve created, the world you wove in your mind, and the story you’ve spun from scratch. I promise, if you don’t, no one else will. Readers, agents, and editors can tell if you’re passionate about an idea or not.
Don’t believe me? Then you should read NYT bestselling author Bridgid Kemmerer’s blog article. You are your first and most important cheerleader. It won’t always be easy (which is why self care is so important) but it will be worth it. Continue to push yourself toward your goals and you’ll get there, one step at a time.
Get To Querying!
I hope these ten tips have helped you, or at least given you some motivation as you leap into the query trenches! Let’s look at all ten tips again:
- Embrace Being a Newbie
- Be 100% Certain You’re Ready to Query
- Celebrate Rejections
- Do. Not. Give. Up.
- Be Professional
- Hire a Professional
- Decide If Traditional Publishing Is For You
- Practice Patience… Like, A Lot
- Prioritize Self-Care
- Believe In Yourself
Whether it’s your first or fifth time querying, you’re part of an enormously supportive community of writers ready to cheer you on (I call shotgun!). You never have to be alone on your writing journey—in fact, I just jumped back into the #querytrenches so I’m right there with you!
If you have more questions about querying, dealing with rejection, or just want to talk about Disney, DM me on Instagram; I’d love to meet you! Thank you for tuning into this two-part series. I look forward to sharing more writing advice with you soon.
Good luck, future bestseller! You’ve got this.
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Written by Katarina Betterton
Katarina Betterton is an aspiring adult fiction author. She works for an editorial content agency and specializes in SEO outlining writing and editing. She's also a part of Scribbler's editorial team. When not reading or writing her hobbies include cooking learning new languages and crafting. Follow her writing journey at @iamgirlofwords on Instagram.