Self-publishing my 4-book YA fantasy series, The Conjurors, was an experience that I am so grateful for. Over the past five years, pushing myself to finish the series and learning how to effectively market it has given me purpose and taught me what it means to build a platform and brand for myself.
But I’ll be the first to admit that marketing my books isn’t nearly as fun as writing them. There’s a satisfaction to be had when a sales/marketing strategy succeeds, but, for me, it doesn’t compare to the joy, the oblivion, of losing myself inside the movie in my head. So I decided for my new YA science fiction series, Joan the Made, I would search for an agent and try the traditional publishing route.
I had no illusions that it would be easy, or even possible, to land an agent. I have no contacts in the industry, or published friends to look to for advice or a reference. I’m also a hard-core introvert with the networking skills of a meerkat. But I have a book that I believe is the best thing I’ve written so far, and the willingness to spend a ridiculous number of hours researching agents, personalizing my query letters, and sending out hopeful wishes into the universe.
At first, there was a lot of rejection. But after sending dozens of queries and tweaking my manuscript and letter, interest began to rise. I’m still waiting and hoping that an agent will be interested in working with me. My manuscript is currently in the hands of a few agents, and there are others who have yet to respond.
Here are some lessons I learned along the way that dramatically improved the response rate from the agents I queried.
Revise your query letter when it isn’t working.
After every ten queries, I would rewrite my letter to emphasize a new angle. I adjusted the paragraph about myself, the description of the novel, and expanded why I was reaching out to that particular agent. This was the best thing I did. By the fifth query rewrite, I began seeing a lot more interest in reading samples of my manuscript, and even manuscript requests.
Revise your manuscript if you receive valuable feedback from agents.
A few kind agents gave me words of advice in their rejection notes, letting me know what they liked or what could be improved. About halfway through my querying process, I rewrote my manuscript to incorporate those suggestions.
Try Twitter pitch fests.
I know. I was skeptical at first, too. Condensing my manuscript into 140 characters was a challenge, and what real agents found writers on Twitter? A lot, it turned out. It was also a much-needed ego boost to see agents “like” my tweet and request a query letter and writing sample. One of those agents went on to request the full manuscript. I had the most success with #PitMad and #PitDark. Just be sure to vet any agents who are interested in your manuscript before reaching out to them to make sure they’re legit.
Only target agents interested in your exact genre, or you will drive yourself nuts.
Take it from the girl who queried over 100 agents. There are a lot of agents interested in exactly what you’re writing. Focus on those agents, rather than agents who have broader interests. If you’re writing Fantasy or Science Fiction, I found this list helpful. Another tactic that I tried was looking up who the agent was for books that were similar to mine that had been published and were successful.
I’m a still a newbie at the querying process, so I welcome any suggestions you have for me that I haven’t thought of yet.