Last week, I finished a bright, positive and energetic workshop on strategizing my queries with agents. The workshop was run by an author and an agent, with two guest agents weighing in. It covered submitting your manuscript after a request for full or partial, but I haven’t been in that position yet. I hit the pause button right before, with 12 queries outstanding (the oldest, 3 months), and 15 responses. You guessed it—rejections. But four of the rejections had personalized content, so that has been hopeful.

Day one was all about searching out agents. I’d done research on that before, especially with Query Tracker and Manuscript Wish List. Although I’d been using Publishers Marketplace, until this workshop, I didn’t understand how to use PM as a search tool. The videos (workshop was entirely online) helped me to modify my tracking sheet for recording queries, with various details—one of which was including the genres represented by each agent that are not only mine (LGBTQ+, Psychological Thriller), but ‘adjacent’ genres, like mystery, crime, suspense.

I had been sorting agents into three categories, but the recommendation was to start with the B and C list. This, I wish I had done. But after using the various search ideas, I’m sure I can compile a list (A, B and C) of over 200 agents, so there’s plenty of time to start over. The Twitter Advanced Search tool was something I knew about but was just not using (maybe I’ll get to that in the future).

I think the most valuable portion of day one was about how to ‘log’ the responses into various categories: the spectrum of rejections from ‘I hate it’ to ‘Send me your next book’, and determining how well the agent seemed to comprehend my query and pages. Thinking about how an agent reads these things (i.e. fast) was something I hadn’t considered. Although I hadn’t had enough query responses to really draw certain conclusions, I felt good about pausing and pivoting to drill down on three things: the first 2-3 sentences of the query, the first manuscript page, and how these tie to each other. Also, direction on how to address the agent, what timing to expect on query and submission responses and what qualifies as a ‘CNR’ (closed, no response) were great.

Day two was all about rejections. The workshop participants submitted examples and, in a live event, the presenters went through multiple examples, interpreting the letters. Here I was lucky to have one of my rejections chosen to review (an entirely random process), so that felt good. And it seemed like that the agent would look again at my project after six or more months, and revision.

After applying the ‘how to interpret’ guidelines on my small sample, I thought I was doing somewhat okay (not fabulous, but not the pits). I’m still noodling how to make my manuscript’s opening paragraph better. I think I’ve accomplished some good restructuring and characterization improvements in the opening.

I was completely excited when I got a call this day from the two women who put on the workshop. It was basically a pep-talk, but I had a brief chance to talk about my opening pages, and the possibility of using a prologue, or something similar.

On day three, we all sent in our query letters and first page. This was after the morning of videos about the promise that the query makes, what makes a good query, and how to judge whether the first page is delivering on the promise. I had learned from my fellow Sisters in Crime about ending pages 1, 5, 10 (as well as later intervals) with something ‘hook-y’, but some more time on this was good.

I also learned some good things about how to communicate with agents pending response after doing substantial revisions. That feels good because some of my strongest agents have earlier revisions. I can invite them to receive updates if they would like (I have earlier versions also at two small presses as un-agented submissions, so I imagine I could do the same with these).

All-in-all, I’m glad I took the workshop. There are two areas I plan to go back to again (materials remain available for 30 days). I’m also glad I had some experience with querying before I took this. Since I’m in a pivot, it gives me a chance to prepare ‘batches’ of queries to send once I’m done with this review/revise phase.


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