Querying is rough, tough, and painfully discouraging at times. We all know it. And we still put ourselves out there to have our hopes and dreams crushed dozens of times until imposter syndrome really sets in and we ask the inevitable question—is my story not good enough? Am I not good enough?
By the time I got my first offer of representation, I was so used to crushing disappointment—eight months, almost seventy rejections, and I had literally given up—that I wouldn’t even let myself consider that the agent was going to make me an offer until the words left her mouth. When I got my second offer a week later, I couldn’t believe it and was waiting for the universe to screw me over somehow. I was so nervous that something was going to happen and make this all disappear up until I signed the agency contract.
The point is—I get it.
And hopefully, some of the following is going to be helpful for those of you still querying.
First—my querying stats:
Curse Boys (YA magical realism)
Queries sent: 72
Partial requests: 9
Full requests: 21
Offers of representation: 2
It’s funny because someone pointed out that I had almost a 50% request rate but I never even noticed or felt like it was anywhere near that decent. It really goes to show that the negatives can overwhelm the positives in this situation.
A few notes before sharing my actual query letter—I didn’t have anyone look over my query letter drafts for me at any point in time, but if you can get a second or third set of eyes on yours, you definitely should. My first version was… really not that great and I found things to change in it almost every time I looked at it for the first few months. Trust your gut and be willing to edit it as you go. I also took the time to read a lot of published authors’ posts sharing their query letters and found it very helpful. A few I can recommend are Writer’s Digest’s Successful Queries series and Shelby Mahhurin’s post on her querying journey.
My Query Letter:
Dear (Agent Name),
I am currently seeking representation for my queer, ownvoices YA magical realism novel, AN INHERITANCE SO DARK, which is complete at 83,000 words and pitched as Cemetery Boys meets The Raven Cycle Series. It is the first book in a duology.
For Miles, being part of a psychic family means his life is more complicated than most teenagers. He can sense people’s emotions, knows more about rituals to banish malevolent ghosts than what’s going on with his calculus homework, and spends his nights digging up graves in the local cemetery and investigating potentially haunted houses. Not to mention that he’s living in a house where it’s nearly impossible to keep secrets while trying to figure out how to tell his family he’s gay. Things only get infinitely more complicated when he starts seeing death premotions of Gabriel Hawthrone, the middle son of the family that Miles is sworn to hate due to a centuries-old feud.
As much as Miles dislikes Gabriel—he’s cold, pretentious, and his ridiculous-looking sweater vests probably cost more than Miles’s car—even he knows better than to ignore the forces that are bringing them together. Forming an uneasy alliance, they work together to solve Gabriel’s murder before it happens and discover a sinister secret at the core of the Hawthrone family.
Fighting against a future that promises Gabriel’s death, twisted spirits seeking revenge, and dark magic crawling forth from the depths of the Hawthorne estate, Miles’s loyalties to his family, the boy he cares about more than he wants to admit, and his own beliefs are put to the test.
I have several published short stories through Lemon and Lime. Most of my stories include light or heavy fantastical elements, queer characters, and mental health representation, as I’m a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community and I openly struggle with chronic anxiety. I aim to write stories that I wish I’d been able to read as a young adult while searching for my identity and acceptance.
The full or partial manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your consideration!
I kept it pretty within the basic guidelines of a query letter—the introduction paragraph with a quick overview, word count, and comparison titles. Then three paragraphs focusing on the actual story that introduces the main characters, the conflict, and the stakes. Those are the three things every query letter needs. Once you have those, spice it up a little and make yourself stand out. And then end it with the final paragraph about yourself but keep it short—any writing or relevant experience and a line or two that’s more personal. And a piece of advice that I’ve seen a lot of agents give—never tell an agent how your story is supposed to make them feel.
My opinion obviously isn’t law and I’m not an expert, but I think the biggest mistake I see is writers who keep their query letters too vague and generic sounding. Adding voice and fun little details make yours stand out and show your personality as a writer. Agents have commented on appreciating how my query letter gives them a feel for Miles and Gabriel already, as well as the dynamic between them, and paints the stakes very well.
Finally, I’d like to address some of the specific questions asked on my Twitter!
Answering Your Questions:
1. How did you handle rejections and how did you keep your hopes up?
I think initially it was easier for me to brush off rejections because there are so many agents and at the end of the day, it only takes one who believes in you. Full request rejections are the most painful, but I tried to be logical about it—if I’m getting a good amount of requests, my query letter must be solid, and if I’m getting full manuscript rejections, obviously the flaw is in my story itself. So I kept a list of rejection comments and decided that after a year, I’d stop sending queries and try editing with that feedback. I tried to focus on making progress and moving forward rather than dwelling on the rejections. But trust me, there were more than a few tears.
As for keeping my hopes up… Well, at a point, I literally gave up, haha. But even then, I was deciding between editing and trying again or shelving it and starting a new story. The best advice I can give is to find your community. I was so fortunate to have writing and querying friends to cry and complain to, to encourage and help me, people who knew exactly what I was going through. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have made it more than a few months.
2. How did you know that your agent was the right one for you?
I won’t lie, it was a tough choice between the two offers I got. They were both so lovely and enthusiastic and sincere, and I could see myself working with both of them. In the end, the agent I went with was someone who I really connected with over the call, who understood the inspiration behind my book and the heart of the story I was writing. My gut told me that she would do an amazing job of making it the best book it could be. And I liked that she clearly had a professional side, experience and a plan, but she also laughed and joked on the call and radiated encouragement. I never wanted an agent who would try to change too much or erase my identity as an author to make something more marketable, or one who was more of a tough-love type, though I know what works for some people. Trust your gut, do your research, and be honest with yourself about what you want from an agent!
3. How did you balance querying finished stories while also keeping your creativity up and writing more?
I’m very fortunate because I have a lot of time to dedicate to writing! But burnout is real for all of us and I’ll have days where the inspiration and creativity are just… gone. I found that it helped to have a day or two to focus on catching up on querying (marking rejections, sending new queries, researching new agents) and bust it all out so I could have a few weeks dedicated toward writing time where I didn’t have to think about it aside from checking my emails. Compartmentalizing worked well for me and having that schedule set up. And allowing myself to work on any story that my muse was nudging me towards when I felt my inspiration running low.
4. Did you get your book professionally edited or reviewed by published authors before querying it?
Nope! I did a few drafts and found a lovely group of beta-readers on Twitter to read over my story, did more edits with their feedback, and then I felt ready to query.
5. What questions did you ask your agent during the call?
I would say to absolutely do your research on this one! Two things I personally found really helpful were Jim McCarthy’s post on questions to ask a prospective agent and Cortney Radocaj’s post on querying help that includes a section on agent questions.
For me, both agent calls started with them telling me about what they loved about my story and asking me about my inspiration for it. Then they would typically share about what kind of agent they are, how they communicate, resources they have, highlights of their agency, etc. When it was my turn to ask questions, my biggest ones were about their editing ideas/revision suggestions, what would happen if my book didn’t sell, how they build their clients’ careers, and what I could expect the revision and submission process to look like.
6. What was the querying research process like and how did you narrow down your agent list?
Again, I did a lot of research! I made lists of all of the agencies I could find and spent days going through individual agents, open or closed to queries, just to pin down the ones I wanted to submit to. And always look further than just their profile on the agency website—find their blogs, their Twitter, their manuscript wishlist. It takes a while but it really helps you narrow down your list.
7. How did you know your manuscript was ready to query?
Exhaustion and good faith, haha. Just kidding, it was those AND trusting my gut. I got to the point where all of the changes I was making were nitpicky and all of the beta-reader feedback was positive. At that point, what else was there to do other than start querying? It was tempting to put it off but I figured that if I got nothing but rejections, I’d know revisions were needed and I could tackle them then. I believed in my story and knew that continuing to work on it would only be wasting time I could be querying.
8. How did you write your synopsis?
I can’t share my synopsis because spoilers but this was one of the hardest parts for me. At the end of the day, I found a few solid examples and a resource that broke down into a worksheet you could fill out—I highly recommend it, check it out here. And make sure you keep it within the recommended word count! I’ve seen people who don’t check that and end up with four pages, which, I imagine most agents aren’t thrilled with.
That just about covers everything! If you’re querying or thinking about querying and have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter! I’m more than happy to answer anything!