Querying 101: How to Get Your Manuscript out of the Slushpile

Advice for authors straight from the source.

Stephanie is an agent scout and developmental editor turned author coach to help authors strive during their author journey!

Slushpile: A set of unsolicited query letters or manuscripts that have either been directly sent to a publisher by an author, or which have been delivered via a literary agent representing the author who may or may not be familiar to the publisher

Stephanie! How can I make sure agents are reading my query and not sending it straight into the slushpile?!

This is a common question that might seem like it has a complicated answer, but it really isn’t!

Dot your i’s and line your t’s – make sure you’re taking these points into consideration before hitting “Send.”

DID I SEND MY QUERY TO THE RIGHT AGENT/AGENCY?

When you’re looking through your selected list of agents to query, make sure that you:

  1. Address the correct person in the opening of your query
  2. Double check if the agent has any submission guidelines or requirements
  3. Take a look at the genres they’re currently working with
  4. Make sure that they’re still accepting submissions for books in your genre

When I was an intern at a literary agency, I went through MANY queries. Even now, as an agent scout and dev editor, I still help out with reading queries at our agency. The number of times I’ve seen queries addressed to a person who is no longer at the agency or obviously templated queries have been more than I can count.

I won’t lie when I say that the queries that always catch my eye are ones that are personalized and look like the author took their time to craft.

Queries with just enough of a synopsis that also includes relevant previous works or social media links are a huge plus.

Most of the times I’ll reject a query, and it’s not because it’s terrible, but because it’s not right for what our agency is looking for.

It’s as simple and straightforward as that.

When you get a rejection, it’s hard not to take it personally. Since you’ll be querying so often in the next couple of weeks, even months, it’s going to help you if you try to separate yourself from the author and put on your business mode glasses.

Keep those glasses nearby, because once you’re done with the writing and editorial process, they’ll be extremely handy.

Going into business mode and seeing yourself as the client will help what I’m going to explain make much more sense.

WHAT DO I DO WHEN I GET REJECTED?

Unfortunately (and fortunately), getting rejected will happen. As much as I know agents would love to help every single author, it’s nearly impossible.

Something to keep in mind about agents is that they don’t get paid until you get paid. So agents want to not only love the book themselves, but know that they can sell your book.

Some agents aren’t willing to take that chance on every author that queries them. But lucky for you, some agents are kind enough to share feedback.

Make sure you hold onto that feedback to help you when you go back to your manuscript and/or query.

If you don’t want to get rejected, do your research!

  • Check previous works that the agency has published, especially ones that the agent you want to query has published.
  • Go on their social media if they have it, check any interviews they’ve been on, really look to see what you can find about them.

One great source is PublishersLunch.com, where you can research agencies and agents to see who they’ve recently signed along with getting any needed updates from them.

HOW IS SEEING WHAT AGENTS CURRENTLY SIGNED HELPFUL?

Simple.

Let’s say you’re researching one of the agents on your list. You notice that they often work with romance authors and has recently taken a liking to historical fiction.

You go on publisherslunch.com or any other source you like using and see that they’ve already signed a couple of authors within this genre.

Now, they probably have their hands full!

There’s no saying that you can’t query them, go for it! Just keep in mind that they are likely going to be looking for a specific type of query and a manuscript that’s at a certain level to want to keep reading.

If you see that the last couple of books that agent has signed have all been historical fiction romance, do some research on those authors.

  • What do all of those authors have in common?
  • How do they differ?
  • Is their writing more polished than yours are?

The reason why you would also want to take the time to look up the authors is that it allows you to get a better idea of the type of author that agent is looking for, or at least what piques their interest.

Now that you’ve taken the measures to properly research the agency, the agent, and their authors, go back to your manuscript.

At this point, you might notice that skimping out on a developmental edit wasn’t the best idea. Or maybe realize that now might be the best time to build your author platform before querying again.

There is a reason to the madness! You just need to make sure you have the right tools to succeed.

Do your research, query in batches rather than all at once, and be patient!

Transform the way you look at querying and at your author journey and sign up for a 30-minute FREE consultation.

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