Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable

Follow the Instructions

giphy.gif Time for everyone's favourite topic! Resolutions! Or, in this case, lessons learned. Gather round, pretend I know what I'm talking about, and listen closely!

It's December 26, 2017. On Boxing Day 2016, I was still tweaking my draft of The Pick Up and trying to convince myself to believe the people who said it was good enough to query. 365 days, 1 agent and a 3-book publishing contract later, what is the most important thing I learned?

Read the instructions.

Querying is a minefield of angst, endless inbox refreshes, impostor syndrome and occasional highs where someone actually asks you for more.

giphy-downsized

You know what makes querying easier?

Following the instructions.

Lame, I know, but here's the thing: The internet is littered with frustrated agents who just can't wrap their heads around why anyone would query badly. The threads below from @RaeAChang and Laura Zats are full of examples where people didn't follow the instructions and hoped for the best anyway. Why would you do that?

What can we learn here? Here's a short list.

Before querying:

  1. Finish the book. Like Laura said, this should be the first thing on this list.
  2. Find agents who represent the genre you're writing in. Query Tracker and MSWL were my go-to resources for this.
  3. Know the standards for your genre. Look, I write long, so I get it that sometimes stories just take a lot of words. And I have no idea exactly how long the book in Q464 above was. There is some wiggle room in any genre. But if you (like me) are an unpublished writer shopping around a contemporary romance, know that 85k is cool, and 150k is probably going to be a no.
  4. Know what makes a good query letter. The internet is full of resources, examples, and forums who will critique your draft letters for free. The good folks at Agent Query Connect raked my first letter over the coals (it hurt, but was totally worthwhile). I read all the archives at Query Shark, and I cannot recommend that exercise enough to any fiction writer going to market.

If you're querying, you've probably heard all of this before, but this is truly the biggest thing I learned in 2017. Follow the instructions. Do the research. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Since The Pick Up is coming, obviously all of this paid off for me. But I can also tell you that putting together the best query package possible (and tailoring it exactly to every agent's submission guidelines), got me great traction. I queried 25 agents and got 10 full MS requests out of it.

I know this sounds lame. Writing should be more fun than critique forums and spreadsheets with submission requirements. I'd rather talk about inspiration and the high that comes when the scene you've been anguishing over finally pays off. But trust me, if you're going with traditional publishing, at some point you're going to have to follow the instructions.