querying process myth-busting

Back in the day when I was querying What The Woods Keep like a woman possessed, I made a habit of reading up on any querying advice I could find. The Evil Editor and Query Shark blogs were my daily staple reads but I also devoured many a confessional posting from fellow writers at varying stages of the querying process.

What The Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra (2018)

I did appreciate the success stories the most, especially the kinds that started with the infamous ‘slush pile’. But then, I also paid attention to the troves of other kind of advice available out there, some pretty common sense obvious (e.g., research agents before querying, craft your query based on each agency’s requirements, don’t approach editors and agents simultaneously, etc.), but some didn’t turn out to be true for me at all!

Hence, this post, where I ‘bust’ some myths surrounding the agent querying process.

Though, I’d need to reiterate that this is my experience, and it happened this way for me because the publishing stars have aligned in the particular way the day I hit 'send' on my email to Amy, who eventually became my agent. So this may not work for everyone, but the point I’m making is that ‘rules’ could be broken sometimes. Or maybe those are not ‘rules’ at all. Judge for yourself!

So here goes:


Myth # 1: Don’t query agents who don't represent your genre 

I know, I know… 

This is like THE OBVIOUS THING: if an agent says they loathe space opera, it’s probably not a good idea to bother them with your Dune meets Dr Who meets gender-bender Flash Gordon opus.

After all, agents say they favor some genres/tropes/story-telling techniques over others for a reason. If they personally can’t stand multiple POV narratives or experience an eye-rolling episode whenever a story featuring a magical portal lands on their desk, then it’s likely they won’t be super-enthusiastic about your portal-focused book featuring ten narrators. And even if you somehow manage to snatch representation, despite the odds... It’s not enough that an agent believes they can sell your book, ideally they also should be super-excited about it!

Another reason not to pitch your werewolf detective story to an agent who swore off paranormal in the post-Twilight era is that it’s very likely agents know the market better than you do, and the reason they don’t want to represent werewolf books anymore is that editors don’t want to buy them.

So there, you have it – to only query agents who represent your genre is a great advice.

However…

When I queried Amy with What The Woods Keep, I described the book as “a young adult urban fantasy with science fiction elements”, quickly adding in the same paragraph that it's written in a multimedia format. Honestly, in my querying frenzy, I totally missed the part where Amy says she doesn’t represent science fiction and fantasy!

A BIG OOPS on my part! What was I thinking? How could I have missed that? And it’s not like this was some hidden knowledge either – Amy is pretty clear about it in her bios and numerous interviews freely available to all. Yet, the oblivious creature that I am, I queried Amy with my weird mixed genre urban fantasy/SF ,multimedia book and she… requested a full, like an hour after my email was sent!

So here’s my take-away on this: while it’s probably a good call not to bother agents with books classifiable as genres they don’t like/want/rep, this can also—maybe?—work in your favor. Perhaps an agent wants to ‘branch out’ and try selling different genres. Maybe their situation has changed and they’ve met some new editors and those editors want stuff like urban fantasy. So what have you got to lose ? The worst thing that can happen if you pitch your asexual vampire book to a supernatural-avoiding agent is that they… reject it. It's fine. Rejection happens all the time - even if you query an agent with what you believe is their dream-book! Either way, it’ll take them a minute to read your query and determine if it piqued their interest or not. And the best thing? It might intrigue them enough to request a partial or a full, and you never know what can happen then.

Myth # 2: Agents want series and/or books in trilogies

Yes, maybe some do. 

But what I heard from my fellow querying/signed/published authors and then again after I signed with Amy, is that editors are not too keen on series/trilogies anymore because book-sellers prefer 'standalones'. It’s less risky that way – in case the book is a not a break-away hit.

When I was querying What The Woods Keep, I didn’t bother describing it as a ‘first in a series’, though I think in some queries I referred to it as a ‘standalone with a sequel/series potential’. It may not matter either way, because million things will change in the time it takes for a book to sell and then to be published. I wouldn’t go out of the way to leave too many loose ends in the your debut book in hopes of a sequel. If it comes, it comes, but meanwhile focus on making THIS book the best you can and that means, ending it in a satisfying way of a standalone.

Myth # 3: Agents want manuscript evaluation report

I’ve read somewhere a long time ago that Alexandra Adornetto (my fellow Australian YA author who wrote HALO and the like) had a manuscript evaluation letter included as part of her query submission package and that it impressed a certain agent so much, it resulted in a representation offer. (As a side note, Alexandra was a teenager at the time.)

I did consider for a few moments whether I needed to have my book professionally evaluated, but then I read lots of interviews with agents which all shared the following sentiment on the topic: agents could not care less. Maybe the above story was an exception to the rule. Or maybe there were other factors at play (like the book itself was amazing, for one)… But what I learnt from this was that not only agents don't care about what someone else had said about your book, some actually actively dislike being given an evaluation report along with the query/pitch. After all, they’re the ones making a judgement call about your book’s suitability for publication and it doesn’t matter to them that much what others have said/thought about it thus far. Like, it’s kind of the same thing as including a letter from your mom assuring them how great your writing is.


So, know the ‘rules’ well enough to break them, focus on your query, craft it good and send it off widely.


After all, all you need is just one YES.

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