Traditional Publishing — Step 5: Submit Your Query Package

It’s time.

You have a polished manuscript, a killer query, a compelling synopsis, and a list of reputable agents or publishers who represent your manuscript’s genre and category. Good job getting this far! Now it’s time to submit your query package.

Before you send, whitelist the domain of the agent's or publisher's email address. You want to be sure you get all replies!

Submit in small groups

I recommend you submit your query package in groups of five. Why so few? Because submitting in small groups gives you an opportunity to evaluate the responses you get and revise as necessary.

In an earlier post, I described how to make an A, B, and C list of agents. I recommend querying to at least one from each batch in each query group.

Why not just start at the top? Because until you know for certain that your query, synopsis, and pages are working, you don’t want to burn through your list of top agents.

Remember: You get ONE shot at a specific agent.

Track your submissions

Earlier I recommended that you either use a tool like Query Tracker or create a spreadsheet to track submissions. Columns on my personal spreadsheet are:

  • First column is just a checkmark. I leave it blank if I haven’t yet sent the query. Black checkmark if I’ve queried, but they haven’t responded. Green checkmark if they requested a full. Red checkmark for rejection.
  • Agent name
  • Agency
  • Notes
  • Date queried
  • How (email or online form plus specifics about what they asked for in the query package)
  • Est. response time
  • Reject date
  • Request date (for fulls or partials)
  • Nudge (date to nudge if I haven’t heard on a full)
  • Full rejection date

As you get responses, update the spreadsheet, and send out more queries.

Rejections

Sadly, some people have a “no response means no” policy, which means you won’t get a response unless they want to see additional materials. Most agents reply to queries within a couple of months. If you haven’t heard by then, assume it’s a rejection and send out more queries.

Don’t pore over the rejection letters for queries to try to figure out why they rejected you. 99% of those are form rejections — including most of the ones that SOUND personalized!

Even the very occasional personalized rejection won’t go into detail. Why? First, because it’s time consuming to give feedback to people who aren’t clients. Second, because too many queriers respond with “Yeah, but” or outright attacks.

If an agent does send a personalized note, you may respond with “Thank you” but nothing else! If you disagree with the feedback, let it go. It’s a rejection. Move on.

Requests

  • If you get a request for pages, reply to the same email (so the previous correspondence will be included at the bottom), but change the subject line to REQUESTED MATERIAL: BOOK TITLE. Requested partials and fulls can be sent as attachments.
  • Track the percentage of agents or publishers who request material. This tells you if your materials are working.
    • If fewer than 10-15% of agents or publishers are requesting additional material, STOP submitting and reassess. You might have targeted the wrong agents. Or maybe your query or your opening pages (or both) aren’t working. FIX THEM, and then resume querying.
  • If you get requests for partials, but those don’t turn into requests for fulls, particularly if they come with a form rejection, STOP submitting and reassess. Your first three chapters (or first 50 pages) aren’t grabbing their interest and making them want to read more. FIX THEM, and then resume querying.
  • If you get requests for fulls, congratulations! That’s huge and wonderful. You are getting close to getting published. Chances are good that any rejections will be personalized. If you learn that your story isn’t well organized or the ending isn’t working, STOP submitting, FIX the problem, and then resume querying.

Be patient

It can take weeks to hear back on a query. It can take MONTHS to hear back on a partial or full. Track when you sent the pages and the stated response time. If they say they respond in 12 weeks to a full, then you can politely nudge after 12 weeks or so to make sure they received your pages.

In the meantime, write another book!

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