It was 2007 when I first set out to understand the query process with a manuscript much lighter than what I write now. I looked online for advice, and found mostly angry blogs and chat groups convinced no one read the slush pile. It was all very what’s the point in trying if your mom isn’t Judy Blume?
Then I discovered a blog called Miss Snark. Miss Snark was a respected agent blogging anonymously, guiding writers through the query process, sometimes rather ruthlessly. It was love at first sight. The whole of my “query education” was derived from this blog. Though she stopped writing in 2007, having covered the topic from every angle, the blog is still preserved and searchable here. Below is an attempt to distill her wisdom:
- Query the right agents [for your work], not a lot of agents. This takes research.
- Follow each agent’s submission guidelines to the letter; use time and care.
- Queries are read, so if you’re only getting form rejections you have more work to do on your product or your pitch.
- Agents don’t make money until they’ve made you money, so you’re essentially a charity project until then.
With an understanding of where I was on the totem pole, I got to work. (The numbers I’m sharing here are rough; this was eight years, two kids, and a high tech career ago.) I sent out about 20-30 queries and, sprinkled over three months, got requests for chapters from half (form rejections from the others; not because they didn’t read it, but because they weren’t interested). Of the remaining half, I received several detailed rejections, which made me cry a little but proved helpful, and request for fulls from 6. Again sprinkled over three months, I received detailed rejections until one Saturday my phone rang with a 212 number. It was my first choice!
From here my agent backstory gets complicated, but I’ll share a truncated version: By the time the manuscript was pitched to editors it was 2008 and the publishing industry was hurting because homeowners were hurting. My project was chick-litty and that genre was oversaturated. Blah, blah, blah; the point is, it never sold. I went back to selling hardware and software.
Fast forward five years. I wrote another manuscript, this time upmarket, and sent it to my agent, who gently conveyed she was passing. In other words, I was rejected by my own agent. A new low. I was devastated, but determined. I believed in I LIKED MY LIFE. I queried 10 agents and received requests for fulls from 6. This time around I got a say in who I selected.
I went with Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein and her team at McIntosh & Otis because of her engagement on the editorial side. Having no formal writing education, I needed the deep dive support Elizabeth is known for. It took over a year of effort, but she pushed I LIKED MY LIFE to the next level. And guess what? The novel that was rejected by my first agent went to auction with four houses and landed a two-book hardcover deal with St. Martin’s Press, so keep in mind that rejections are subjective. No one is rejecting you or even your work, they’re rejecting a project as it relates to their current interest.
Everyone’s path is different, but I’ll say this:
- I’m a nobody in this industry and agents got back to me both times I queried, so the slush pile is actively followed up on. Stay positive.
- When Agent #1 passed on my second manuscript, I thought it was the end when really it was the beginning. So there again, stay positive.
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