Query Pros #1: My Story

Hi, I’m Catherine, a writer querying her YA fantasy novel, now working as a freelance editor to help other writers through the process of querying. I’ve also started a query support group, because I know from experience that querying a novel is NOT an easy process, and even harder to go through alone.

I wanted to talk a little bit about my past experience querying a novel, and what I learned from that. I call this my Query Pros series. I will be featuring some other people from my Query Support Group who also have stories from their old querying days, and of course, I’d love to hear more about your own journeys in querying!

If you want to answer these questions below on your own blog, please do, and tweet at me at @catbakewell so I can retweet and share!

How many projects did you query in the past?
From 2014-2016 I queried a historical fiction book. It was Adult, briefly, and then Young Adult (YA).

What were some of your rookie mistakes when you first started to query?
As you can see above, I was not certain about the age category of my novel. There were some dark themes in my book, so I assumed it was Adult. I queried it as Adult, and then SEVERAL agents, as well as some Pitch Wars mentors, told me the pacing and writing read more as Young Adult. And they were totally right.

Bonus bad points to me for reusing my Adult comp titles on my YA query :)))))

To make matters worse, I started my book when the characters were twelve years old. How confusing is it for an agent to be told this book is about an adult or a teenager when it opens with twelve-year-olds?! Don’t do this, guys. Bonus points for me for not ACTUALLY starting with a prologue, but I may as well have.

At what point did you decide it was time to stop querying your project(s)?
I started querying people JUST so I’d be rejected. I didn’t look into what books they represented. I didn’t look into the agency’s sales. I found myself saying, “Well, they didn’t say they DIDN’T want historical fiction. Guess I’ll send it.” If you find yourself being reckless and nihilistic in your querying, you may want to pump the breaks.

What do you wish you had known and could tell your past self about your very first query?
I would tell past Catherine to find writer friends, ones who have pursued publishing, and get their feedback on your materials. Also, past Catherine, QUERY SLOW. This isn’t a race. Give yourself time to pause, reevaluate, and revise your materials if need be.

What advice would you give new queriers?
Find a support team. Querying is maddening and isolating. You are constantly thinking about it, and it is SO lonely if you don’t have some writer buddies who you can complain to about it. Your mom or your best friend or your partner may be good listeners, but there really is value in finding another writer who is also in the “query trenches” with you, and knows the intricate pains that come with querying.

How do you pass time during all the waiting of querying?
WORK ON A NEW PROJECT! I know it hurts to do that while your writing is out there being judged, but it’s the best thing you can do. Also, pro tip: don’t write your sequel. I mean, if you want to do it just for fun, go for it. But remember–if the book you’re querying gets picked up by an agent, you are FOR SURE going to go through revisions. They could overhaul the whole plot of your book, and you may have to scrap your sequel. Feel free to make a rough outline of sequel ideas, but it’s recommended that you start a new project. It’s a good way to get your head out of the worrisome space of the world of your queried book. Also, if your queried book lands you an agent, you’ll be able to pull your new book out of your back pocket and possibly get that published someday, too!

Lastly, tell us about the new project you’re querying–if you’re querying. What is it about this project excites you?
I am now querying a Young Adult Fantasy about flower magic. I actually have used a beat sheet, CP’s, and have appropriate comp titles. I understand the market more thoroughly and I have outside voices giving me so much feedback for this novel. This has made so much of a difference.

I believe I was a great writer before, and I’ve grown so much. But I tell you what–my query journey is going a LOT better than it was before. My request rate used to be 10%, and is MUCH higher now. I’m cautiously optimistic. If this project isn’t the one to get me an agent, I know another one will be!

Querying is a scary business. Don’t go at it alone! Use the #amquerying hashtag on Twitter, connect to writers through #CPMatch, or DM @catbakewell on Twitter, if you’d like to join my Query Support Slack Group!

I’m also happy to answer any book/query questions you have. Writing is such a difficult, isolating world. Let’s not do it alone!

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