Agent Questions Fifteen: When to Stop Querying

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I was recently asked, when should an author stop querying a project and move on to the next?

Great question. The answers you get will be subjective. Meaning, everyone has a different answer and no opinion will work for everyone. Just like you can’t get everyone to like your book.

The agent you are querying not only has to love your writing, he/she must love your plot and believe they can sell it to a good publisher. It is the agent you are querying who decides if it passes all their checkmarks. Then, they have to find the right acquiring editor to take a chance on it, but oftentimes, the editor then has to take it to a table meeting and convince their colleagues to bring on the project. That’s a lot of people to please.

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Those people at Top 5 publishers and their imprints can help with marketing and exposure that is very difficult for indies to compete with. They have a marketing team, connections, brick and mortar stores, swag, and best of all, a larger budget. If you prefer to be traditionally published for those reasons, I say, go for it.

Some people know right away that they want to self-publish. This is not for them. This is for the people who want to be traditionally published or don’t know yet if it’s possible for them.

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My first advice is this: Finish that book. Make sure it’s done and been through beta readers. Make sure that it’s been edited…more than once. When your book is the best it’s going to be, you are ready to query. Do NOT rush this step. You get ONE chance to impress an agent per book. Be sure it’s your best chance.

Some people query twenty agents, some query hundreds of agents. I believe you should query in rounds of about fifty. Do not send to more than one agent per agency at a time. And make sure that the agency sells books to well-known publishers. Target your agents well. Go to: www.manuscriptwishlist.com to find agents who are looking for your genre. Click on the search tab, click agents, and then your genre, then search. The page will not refresh. Just scroll down. (Do not click on editors, those are acquiring editors at publishing houses, and most won’t accept un-agented submissions.)

The reason for keeping your rounds smaller initially is that if you get an offer from one agent, you must let all the other agents know. That way, if they are interested, they can throw in a bid for your book. (Best case scenario.) At that point, you can email any other of your favorite choices and let them know you’ve had an offer, but you would really love to know if they are interested.

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But sometimes, one has been querying for rounds and rounds and not getting back any acceptances. Have you gotten ANY feedback about the book or your writing that may help? Gather the consensus of opinions, if you have any, and consider making those changes. Halt querying and work on your professional query letter, your blurb, the things that are not pulling agents in. Have someone critique these things for you. Be positive the agents are seeing your book in its best light. Make sure your first pages introduce setting and characters, capture attention, show clear plot structure, and entice the reader with action.

Then query again. You owe yourself and your book the second chance. Once it is published, you can’t turn around and change your mind. Find more agents and query again. Maybe try www.mswishlist.com or www.QueryTracker.net for more choices.

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You will know when you are done querying. At some point you say to yourself, I want to be published and this is not happening.

I, personally, say not to give up- if your dream is Top 5 or imprint, then revise and submit, revise and submit, until you make it. Never give up.

But I know that most of us do. I did. I was told that I couldn’t do any better than what I got. So I settled. Do NOT settle. This is your book baby. Getting a big publisher after having a small one, is extremely difficult. So is trying to query your self-published book. Publishers will not take books out of series, and many publishers have a clause in their contract that gives them first rights to publish whatever you write next with the same characters or world. It’s best to do it right the first time.

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Can dream publishing scenarios happen? Yes. Does it happen? Yes. Does it happen to best-sellers? Yes. Does it happen to regular Joe Smith and his Pilot Dreams of Yonder? Not usually enough to bank on. But even if you’re like me and you already have a book out by a small press, you can always write a new series and take it to agents. Just don’t forget to market the heck out of your first book(s) because the agents will be concerned with your sales information on previously published works.

Only you can know when it’s time to pull the plug and move on. I believe, if you cannot get your dream of a big publisher, that you should self publish. I have looked at Draft2Digital and it seems legit. I would use them myself.

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Why self-publish rather than accept a small press? At least I will be published, right?

Many small publishers are regular people who began to self-publish themselves or someone else on CreateSpace or another self-publishing site. They learned that if they make themselves a company, they can publish others’ books for free as well, and keep 50-70% of the profits. They may also attach prices to your own book when buying for yourself, to cover their costs from formatting or cover artistry, whether you hired a cover artist or not. They can lock you into a contract for your series that you can’t get out of.

Small publishers are notorious for having little to no budget for marketing, so you, as the author, will be doing all your own marketing. You will be contacting betas, bloggers, book groups, libraries, conferences, doing the marketing budget and all promotion by yourself. And it is hard to see what promotion is working when you don’t have access to your own sales information.

If you were going to be published on a self-publishing site and doing all your own marketing, why wouldn’t you want to keep all your own money?

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So I guess the question comes down to: do you want to make changes and query again in hopes of a deal? Or do you want to stop, settle for what you’ve got, and start making some money on it?

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The choice is yours.

But if you have more questions, let me know in the comments…

~jenn

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