This topic overlaps with Step Four, in which I started to talk about the query but was sidetracked onto agents...those who you will send your query letter to! You can agents who you think will be interested in your book by researching book agencies. Each agency may give you a clue as to what books they are looking for- for example one whole agency may be for romance only or young adult books. However, most agencies seek a wide range of novels and have different agents who specialize in different areas.
Therefore, you must sift through numerous agencies and then through numerous agents at each agency to find the ones who say they are accepting queries for your type of novel. Each agent will give you a little blurb about themselves and what they are seeking, what interests they have, and often what books they have had success in publishing so that you can try to match with the right person. It can be daunting to try to choose the right person at an agency... most agencies insist that you only query to one agent and if they pass, it is considered a pass for the whole group.
I used QueryTracker to help me sift through the many agents out there and found it to be very helpful. After signing up with a username and password, I put in what genres my novel fit (for me, I used contemporary womens fiction, romance, new adult) and the tracker gave me a nice, long list of agents who were seeking these types of books. I could click on each link to read more about the agent and their agency and decide if they were a good fit.
Why not just send to each and every agent out there that remotely seems interested in your type of book? First, it is very time consuming. Second, if your query letter is not up to snuff and is getting passed on each time, it is best not to have sent it to every choice you have. You can see how your response is from the first 5 agents and perhaps you need a rewrite before you send it to more. Also, if you send it out to twenty agents but your top 3 are slower getting back to you...but you've heard something positive from number 20...now what? Do you go with that agent that was not at the top of your list or put them off while you wait to hear from the one you really want?
Why did I say it was time consuming? Isn't the query the same form letter that you send to each agent that tells a bit about your book and about you? In theory, you write your query letter about your novel, but the problem is that on each agent's website, they also tell you what things they want you to include in your query. Some are very specific and you wind up rewriting the whole thing! Some insist that it be only 3 paragraphs after you have mastered a 5 paragraph letter that another agency had recommended. Some limit the word count. Some have you fill it out online via Submittable, which makes you start all over. You must also address it to each person and tell them why you chose to send it to them, hopefully with convincing reasons. The agents want to know why you chose them and that you did not just send out a form letter 'to whom it may concern' to fifty agents.
I looked up advice on writing the query and there are many options there as well. Some experts say to start with information about you and then talk about your book. Others say you only have two seconds to grab their attention so you better start talking about your tagline right away. They want you to be creative and show your novel off but not to be cliche. It is a fine line, my friends. I even took my query letter to a writing conference to get feedback from actual agents. Three agents looked at it and all gave me different advice... It can be downright maddening. Your hopes and dreams of having your book published hinge on an agent taking the time to read your one brief letter that you have to pray is set up the way they like it and grabs their attention. If I were to fix the letter the way one person preferred, the other 2 would not like it and vice versa.
Now you can see why I said this was the hardest part of the process. Imagine completing a novel and all the editing... but what good is it, if you can't get the novel in front of any agents due to an imperfect query letter. And there does not seem to be a way to write a perfect query letter because the varying opinions from the professionals.
I did manage to get some responses to my query letters! In the next entry I'll move past the dreaded querying and into the next phase of the writing process.