Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When (Not) to Query an Agent

First off, happy 12 - 12 - 12!

(and Happy Birthday to my son, who, on 12 - 12 - 12 is ... 13! Almost made it there, buddy.)

So, on to the topic at hand.
Coming to the end of my novel (and maybe the end of my sanity, too) I began to wonder if there was a best time to query an agent. Of course, the best answer is to query when your novel is ready. Beyond that, though, the all-knowing www is sort of nebulous. But, there is definitely a wrong (or less right) time to query. And that time is Now.

Let me reiterate: most sources say, do not query now unless you absolutely have to.

A few things happen to agents this time of year:

  1. Agents get hit with the NaNoWriMo tsunami. No matter how much the NaNo site tries to tell you there's more to be done with your novel, many, many people flush with a 50k victory will pack up their next Twilight or War and Peace and email it off to a bunch of agents. Wading through that is probably enough to make any agent into a rubber-stamping rejection Grinch. Don't get caught like so much flotsam and jetsam in the NaNo deluge.
  2. It's the Holidays! Believe it or not, agents are real people, too. They have lives, loved ones, and people they'd like to spend time with. As much as you might think it's a great idea to curl up with a good book over winter vacation, an agent might not like curling up with yours. Sorry, but that's her (or his) job, and when she's reading your manuscript, it's not for pleasure. Let agents have some breathing room to enjoy the bright lights, tinsel, and company of friends and family, too.
  3. Oh, and don't think about querying January 1st, either. It's a New Year. You've set a goal to get published this year. How many other people have the same idea? How many others are sending out their stories January 1st so they can check that puppy off their New Year's resolution list? A lot. So, how do you start the year out right? By not querying. Just like NaNo, let the flood subside before you submit.
So, if it's not right to query now, when is it right? Just about any other time of the year. Late winter to early spring seems to be particularly promising from what I've read. Summer can be hit or miss. Some agents love to have something to do during those dog days. Others are busy with vacations and activities. Fall, like Spring tends to be another universally good time to query.

One other thing to be aware of when querying is the agent's schedule. If you know an agent is going to be attending something big, sitting on panels, hearing pitches, etc., it's probably reasonable to expect her inbox to get a little overstuffed. Wait to query until she's a little more free.

There you go. You now have permission to breathe a sigh of querying relief, put down the keyboard, close the email, and go enjoy the holidays.

What good querying tips have you found?



  1. One of many reasons I'm not a huge fan of NaNoWriMo. :) I have yet to reach the querying stage, but I like to think that if I were in your position I might hang on to that query while I worked on something ELSE. The query/rejection rollercoaster might be a lot less nervewracking when you've mentally moved on to your next bestseller. And it will help pass the time until February. If you *would* query now except for the timing issue, then you're done. Put it away!

  2. Excellent advice!

    Even if it wasn't a bad time for agents, I think the last thing you need over the Christmas Season is to stress over rejections and no responses. Of course you could get the best Christmas present ever with an offer, but that would only come with the added stress. Who needs more stress this time of year. :)

    I'm with Sarah. Put it away. Relax, enjoy Christmas.

  3. The first time I wrote a novel was for Nanowrimo. I was so pumped that I kept writing right through December, and finally finished at around 95,000 words. Though I would never have dreamed it was good enough to start querying, I was pretty certain it was gold, and sent it out to everyone I knew who had even expressed the minutest interest in critiquing it. Oh, the humiliation I feel when I think about that. The headhopping. The changes in tense. The stilted dialogue. All the telling when I should have been showing. All the times my character just went to bed because I couldn't think of anything else for her to do.

    Oy vey. I feel very sorry for the agents and editors who have to wade through it all if it's anything like my first drafts. And yet, I completely remember how high on adrenaline I felt. It was golden. But it was the difference between discovering a gold mine and discovering a gold ring. You know what I mean?

  4. This sounds like common sense advice, but I know I've queried in December before, foolish writer that I am. Now I know why I never heard back. Thanks, Susan!

  5. Additional querying/submitting tips, from an editor perspective:

    -ditto on the holiday thing. Another thing no editor or agent likes is having to send rejections in the weeks surrounding Christmas. It makes us feel like jerks.
    -Don't denigrate yourself in your cover letter. I keep saying this because I keep finding cover letters that say such things. Most recent "I guess you don't like this kind of thing."
    -Don't try to be funny. One person's humor might not work for another. Better to be professional all around.


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