How Many Queries Should I Send?
5? 25? 500?
So, I have a lot of unsent drafts in this old CMS, and they’re pretty salty—about shenanigans I see in query letters, big mistakes in book proposals, etc. I am going to save the salty, probably-too-frank newsletters for subscribers, so if that’s your kind of thing, hit the button below. $5/mo, $50/yr.
I wanted to get back to some real nuts and bolts information on how you actually send query letters, and a little bit about how to know when to quit. If you’re not querying, maybe this will help you figure out when to stop pitching freelance articles or some other task that doesn’t seem to have an finish line. Just think of it as one long metaphor.
First, go read this interview with the ever-charming Erin Hahn, author of You’d Be Mine, a country music focused YA contemporary novel that you will fall madly in love with. Read it ASAP. Past the part where she calls me an “utter badass” <blushes>, you’ll see her query strategy.
It wasn’t very complicated. She basically just kept a notebook and had a plan to keep track of things. This is great, but not necessarily the important part. Or, it’s as important as you make it and tbh, I love spreadsheets and charts and marking things off, so I love this part. YMMV. Keep track of things the way that makes most sense to you.
The important part is that she kept track of her rejections and when they came in, she assessed whether it was time to send more out or just sit tight. This is basically the most sane approach to querying I have ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because I think Erin is the bee’s knees. For the submission that would become You’d Be Mine, she gave herself a goal of 85 queries. 85 is a great number. So is 45. So is 105. I don’t think there is any correct number of queries, and frankly, it will vary widely genre to genre. I’m one of only a handful of agents who really work with craft books, like sewing and knitting, so you’re just not going to have 105 agents to query for that book.
That’s it. That was her strategy. It wasn’t magic or anything. It was just organized and clear.
Yeah, this is going to be another one of those newsletters where the answer is there is no one answer. Or the answer is have a plan until that plan doesn’t work anymore, then find a new plan. Set a goal not because it is the one and only way to get an agent or a book deal, but because querying is a big, messy process and if you don’t have a plan you’ll go insane, waste time being disorganized, lose track of valuable information, or all three and more. Erin said she queried like it was her job. And it was her job, because she wanted writing to be (part of) her career. It takes time and effort and planning, just like every other job we have. If it was easy, then everyone would do it and you wouldn’t need this newsletter.
The reason you probably clicked on this newsletter is because the idea of sending out queries (or pitches or job applications or whatever) probably fills you with sweaty anxiety. It did me for me, too, when I was querying. You think, if someone just tells me the right way to do this, then I can do it and get an agent and get on to the REAL work—being a published writer. Sorry, that’s not how it goes. That’s just your anxiety talking, and you need to tell it to STFU.
Quit your whinging and make a query plan. YOUR query plan. Do your agent research, like we talked about here, write your query letter like we talked about here and here and here, and send your queries. Whatever number makes sense for YOUR book. Don’t send to just your top three, because OMG there are so many good agents out there don’t limit yourself like this. Don’t send to 778 agents, because OMG there is no way that all those agents will represent your one kind of book. Somewhere in the middle is your sweet spot, and you’ll have a better idea of your sweet spot than me, because you know your book and have done your research.
(I also don’t really think the one-in-one-out approach to queries is super great. You want agents to be in competition with each other, so I think it’s best to send queries at basically the same time. You can do them in batches, say your first round of X number, and then wait X time and send out another round. But don’t send one at a time. All agents expect your query to be a simultaneous submission to other agents as well.)
And if you send queries out to all the agents on your list, and you find yourself combing back through your research and thinking well, maybe since they sold a book with crystal in the title, they might like my fantasy novel, even though that crystal book was non-fiction, then it might be time to put that book aside and try something else. It’s hard to shelve a book, but as we talked about in the subscriber newsletter last week, it doesn’t mean you failed, it just means it’s not time for that book right now. It’s not a sign that you can’t hack it. Rip it up and start again.
Happy emailing, friends.