“Are You My Agent?” A Writer’s Perspective on Querying

catSo, you’ve just finished eighty or so thousand words, or as Hemingway described it, you sat down at your typewriter and bled them out. It took you months, maybe even years to get just the right tone, pacing, and dialogue. And, now you’re ready to get someone’s opinion about how they sound on paper.

You choose someone kind at first. This manuscript is, after all, your little bundle of joy. You remember when it began as just a few pages, then stretched into chapters, before the labor pains came of conflicts, climax, and resolution. Now, who would you entrust with something so dear to your heart to tell you it was the most magnificent thing they’ve read, perhaps since Wuthering Heights. Of course, your mom and Aunt Frieda! And, wouldn’t you know it, they do love it. After four thumbs up, you think you can take it to press. But, wait, maybe your mom and Aunt Frieda aren’t enough. Maybe you need a few more beta testers. Ones that aren’t biologically linked to you. So, you find a few people at your work. Throw them a copy and tell them to hold nothing back. You wait. A few grueling weeks after you checking in daily on their progress and they give you word that it’s a great story. Fine. Just what you wanted to hear. Now to the next step; Querytracker. A writer’s best resource for finding an agent.

You locate the site, do your research, and find the second top five agents you’d want to query. You know to reserve the first five for whatever you have to change with the comments of the second best five. So, you do your research, write and re-write your query, add in a few sprinkles of personality that you aren’t indeed a robot, and send it over. Now, it’s time to burn up the refresh button on your computer and/or phone. You unsubscribe to all the retail sites, just so your phone doesn’t ‘ding’ for false positive results of a query response, and wait. And, wait.

Finally, you get it. Actually, you don’t even have to open the email. You see enough of the message on the screen not to have to injure yourself any further with opening it up full page…”Not for me.”

“Not for me?” That’s it? What exactly was it? The premise, the character description, the name of the hero that would eventually save the day? What is not for them?

You wait…there’s another query response. “…it’s a subjective business, and I just didn’t like it.” Okay, it didn’t exactly say that, but that’s what I read into it. And, I appreciate it. Yeah, it is a subjective business. Not everyone likes things that other people like. So, you didn’t like it. It’s a little better than “not for me.”

So, you don’t hear anything from the other three agents and you get to work on re-writing your query and/or your first five pages of your manuscript. You send out the fresh words to five more lucky contestants. But, wait, you want to up the ante. It’s becoming less personal and more like a crap shoot. Anyway, you want more feedback…so, you send it to ten more. And, wait.

Finally, a winner! Not actually that someone wants you under contract, but someone takes the time and writes exactly what your problem is. Hallelujah!  Now, you’ve got something. They tell you that you’re telling and not showing enough, or that you try and explain too much. Now, you can work with that. And, you do. You go right to work and spend the next few weeks re-tweaking the first fifty pages. You even pay a freelance editor to double check your work.

You pick a few more agents, hoping that you could reel back the other submissions and change them first, and send out the new and improved. Afterwards, it might be that you get a partial or two with the changes. Something that keeps the ventilator pumping air into your lungs. But, nothing else. It goes no further.

In the end, you feel you did things by the book. You wrote a manuscript that passed the likes of both friends and strangers alike, you researched the market, formulated the right agent for your genre, and read up on the etiquette for querying. After all, it’s something of a mafia. You can’t ever email them back about the rejection, ask questions about improving, and you can’t re-query when you’ve made the appropriate changes.

So, you push the blue-eyed, blushing baby, that everyone gushed over and told you would go to the best seller’s list, back into the drawer and sharpen your pen for the next one. You continue to write because you have to. But, still you wonder…am I the Anne Frank of my genre and someone will one day see the injustice. Or, am I the American Idol contestant that should’ve stayed singing in the shower and not come to auditions.