About one month into querying, I haven’t been able to keep up with the three queries a week scenario I originally anticipated. Various factors have contributed to this, namely 1) Day job duties 2) Fine-tuning the pitch for current query novel  3) Networking with other writers  4) Revising the new manuscript (different from query novel) 5) Prep for upcoming writers’ conferences 6) Blogging, Twittering, etc.

But it’s actually turned out for the better. Starting slowly has allowed me learn from my rookie mistakes and prepare for when/if the slush pile gets smaller. I know of an aspiring writer who’s waiting until spring to query because, apparently, NaNo WriMo participants shop their novels in Jan/Feb, making for a larger slush pile. Note: It would be interesting to hear from an agent as to whether the slush pile actually ever goes down–above theory could be hogwash for all I know.

I can also honestly say that each query took longer than I’d anticipated. When I was applying to library jobs, a full-day’s work would go into each cover letter, updated resume (and updated website), and list of references. And that didn’t include jobs that asked for official transcripts!  Drafting queries is a very similar process, with more steps than one might think, and I can easily knock out 2-4 hours (minimum) on just one.

To help save time, I’ve taken to putting all the necessary submission pieces (query + synopsis + pages, or query + synopsis, depending on what the agency is looking for) into one word document, and copying/pasting it into Notepad, and then email. This has helped some, but if pages from the novel are supposed to be Times New Roman 12pt double-spaced (grr, Gmail), then that means going through the email and and making soft returns on each line. (If anyone has found a short-cut on this, or knows for sure if single-spaced excerpts are permissible, please speak up!).

As a result of the above, time is an ever-shrinking commodity, and I’ve had to re-prioritize a bit. For one, the revisions on the new novel don’t have to happen as quickly as I anticipated (and I can probably knock out more during summer, when life events are less demanding). Two, Twittering/blogging doesn’t always have to be first priority (a very valuable post by Angela Ackerman of the Bookshelf Muse offers good advice on this). Finally, I’m not entering every giveaway, contest, or nugget that comes my way, and being more choosy about what I take part in has saved the most time of all. (For those interested in learning more about time management, I highly recommend this useful video from the late Randy Pausch, of LAST LECTURE fame–the video is a tad long, so feel free to skip around to parts you find useful).

So, here are the steps laid out: 

1. Prioritize
Make sure writing comes first and doesn’t take a backseat to anything else. Below is an example of a graph that’s helped me map out what to focus on and when:

2. Pick
Only pick agents that rep your genre. Eliminating those that don’t will save both you and them time. Also, be sure you’re only following blogs and Twitter feeds that are relevant to you and your writing.

3. Choose
Only choose activities that are most likely to help you grow as a writer. Just because three different writing contests are happening at the same time doesn’t mean you have to participate in them all.

Feel free to comment: What have you learned in the query process? What do you wish you’d done differently? What else can we do to achieve the life balance we all strive for?

3 replies
  1. Angelica R. Jackson
    Angelica R. Jackson says:

    Sarah La Polla had this to say about her inbox in January:

    “In January 2011, I received a total of 442 queries. This is probably the most number of queries I received within a single month all year. January is a big query month. You have everyone who made it their New Year's resolution to get an agent, you have the NaNoWriMo writers who took December to revise, and you have your usual queriers who just felt like querying.

    Contrary to popular belief, January queries are not automatically bad, rushed, or even unwanted. I ended up requesting two manuscripts sent on the same day that month, and that day was January 1. Despite the optimistic start to the year, of those 442 queries, I requested a total of 8 manuscripts. Which means 434 people received a form rejection.”

  2. Eliza Green
    Eliza Green says:

    Since I'm writing Sci Fi and you Fantasy, we have the same problem. Many agents won't read these genres. I'm glad you've decided to focus on agents that specialise in your genre. You will save yourself a lot of hassle and time in the long run.

  3. The Writer Librarian
    The Writer Librarian says:

    @Angelica: Great info! Good to know that although January is a busy querying month, that the rules of the slush pile remain the same.

    @Eliza: I think you're right–sci-fi/fantasy might be a harder sell right now for aspiring writers because paranormal and dystopian are more popular. I think it's also key to make sure the story/characters stand out somehow–to show the agents why this story is different from the sci-fi/fantasy already out there.


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