Querying strategies for a messy world
It's rough out there. Fight back.
“An agent I met at a summer writers’ conference has had my manuscript for nearly four months now. She was really excited about it when we met, but I haven’t heard from her since I sent it after that.”
“If I don’t hear back from agents, did my query go to spam?”
“I have to query for my ego. I just have to get this out there. Do I start with the fancy veteran agents or do I look at the younger, newer agents first?
Ah, the agent query period. When I was querying for a new agent back in 2012, the process so undid me that I published an article for Tin House called “How to stay sane while querying literary agents.” Apparently, the process is still crazy-making because that article still gets a lot of hits.
Nevertheless, things are different now than they were in days gone by. Walking backwards through the publishing bramble, there was a huge trial this summer in which many of America’s most respected and senior editors admitted that they don’t really know what they are doing when they publish things, and are throwing both money and spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
Womens’ rights are being ripped away, so you’d kinda sorta think that gatekeepers (many of whom are women) would open their arms a little wider to womens’ creative nonfiction about reproduction issues, sexual assault, misogyny, birth trauma, port partum, anxiety, and depression, but instead—with few exceptions—agents and editors are rejecting “sad lady memoir” en masse.
Add to this the reckoning with systemic racism that the publishing industry is going through, the aftershocks of the Trump presidency that changed the way we read, the shuttering of magazine after magazine (meaning less real estate for book reviews) and you’ll have more context as to why agents and editors are overwhelmed, overworked, and not super open to taking on risky projects that might never “breakthrough.”
Is this going to be the world’s most depressing post about publishing? No, friends, it is not! As you know by now, I believe in showing writers the obstacles out there and then devising ways to get around them, like the dedicated coach character in some 1980s film.
So how do you query successfully in this messed-up world?
We’re going to look at specific strategies after the jump, but first, we need to understand the hierarchy of rejection when it comes to agent query letters. It looks something like this: