Drag Racing Your Query Letter with Grandmother Snark

Dear Miss Snark,

Is there a downside to spreading a wide query net? I mean really wide. As in, what if I wanted to send out fifty at once -- fifty carefully researched, professionally written queries, each assembled according to the fifty agents' individual specifications. Would that be the height of efficiency or nitwittery?

Thanks for the advice,
A Snarkling

When Miss Snark was a tot, she ate all her Halloween candy as fast as her grubbly little hands could toss M&M's into her tinsel toothed maw. Other, more restrained, girls..the ones with ironed frocks, polished shoes and grandmothers who did not drag race flivvers on Broadway and moon after Valentino, saved their candy (till it rotted in the cupboard...a condition Miss Snark had not dreamed was even possible till she saw it with her own four eyes).

Now, you might ask what this has to do with queries.

You can shoot your wad now, and have nothing to fall back on or you can send them out in measured cadence and learn from your errors/experiences.

I number my cover letters on a project so I can make sure to send the best/most recent one and I'm always amazed how much better they get even in the space of a week. Questions editors ask, or just things that fall into my brain often help me refine what I say or say things in a new way. If you've sent all 50 queries out, you've got no place to put all that stuff you learned.

It's not a rule and its not nitwittery to do it the other way though. No, to be a nitwit you have to leave chocolate in the closet and let it go bad. That's beyond nitwittery...that's just criminal.
Miss Snark must lie down with a scented hankie over her eyes to recover from that terrifying memory. Those girls came to bad ends though...which is how Miss Snark has such great friends among the criminal element.


Patrick Samphire said...

It can also be awkward if more than one agent requests the full manuscript and wants an exclusive. You can end up having to wait a long time between query and actually sending the manuscript to an agent. It's not a disaster, but the agent might wonder why and ask (mine did).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question, Miss Snark. The backstory to the question, which I didn't want to bother you with in my original email, is this: I've been querying on my book since last August. I've been doing it in measured batches of 10 to 15 at a time. I've had several requests for partials and fulls, though so far no takers. I've improved my query letter several times along the way based on what I've been learning, as you suggest. At this point, however, forty pages into a new book and eight months after I began the query process on the first book, I'm getting impatient to either find an agent or put this one down as a learning experience.

Any of you other Snarklings tried the shotgun approach on the last 50 of your Snark-mandated 100 attempts?

Eika said...

patrick, allow me to quote Miss Snark:

Exclusives suck. THey always have, always will suck.

If you follow that time-honored advice, you'll never be in the situation Miss Snark mentions.

delilah said...

Patience is a virtue - why, I will never know.

That being said, I advice you to send them out in small groups and be as virtuous as humanly possible.

Not only will you improve your query over time, but you may also want to do some rewriting on the ms based on feedback from agents.

Might even be a good idea to let the process ride for the summer and concentrate on your second novel. Then in the fall, when all the lazy-ass agents (Miss Snark's favorite designation for many of her colleagues) come back from their digs in the Hamptons, you can start up the process all over again.

I'll bet by the fall, there will be a whole new batch of agents who have gone out on their own and may actually read your query themselves. It's worth a try.

Anonymous said...

"shoot your wad"

Tut, tut. What has Miss Snark been reading?

Anonymous said...

I have it on good authority (um, him) that Steve Berry queried 300 agents in a mass flood.

His writing sux, but he's a NYT bestseller.

Name withheld for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, a slowly measured query process, aiming a few here or there and awaiting a response is fine...if you're Miss Snark and actually get responses.

However, for those of us down here who recieve useless form rejections, there is little to be learned, except, "not right for my list at this time".

This much I know is true: requests for partials, query does not suck. Requests for mss, writing does not suck.

But which control group is more meaningful? Five, or twenty-five?

lizzie26 said...

First of all, try your query on ten targeted agents (poor things, sounds like a shooting range). Anyway, if you get some responses for partials or fulls, it means your query was spot on. If you get all negatives or no responses, revise, revise, revise that query. Send out another ten to other targeted agents.

As for requests for exclusives: Set it at three weeks. Any other agent who wants a look-see, you tell them that it's already being a read, but you can send it out in three weeks.

Patrick Samphire said...

Eika: Requests for exclusives do suck. But there are very respectable, very good agents who insist upon them. You can choose to ignore those agents in your search or you can choose to include them. I don't believe there's a right or wrong there, from the author's point of view.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, you are unusually wise. It's the same with submitting short fiction to magazines. I send one or two at a time (only to the editors who accept simul-subs) and wait to hear while I continue to write. Sometimes, a brilliant (it seems so at the time) strikes me, and I go back and make a change to the already-submitted story. At that point, I'm just glad I don't have to send revisions to 50 editors.