It’s been a couple of months since I wrote a blog post on my initial feelings about the querying process. The post was written on January 19th and detailed what I was thinking about my motivations for pursuing the traditional route for publishing and – after my first week or two of familiarising myself with the process of querying – what the agencies seemed to be wanting from prospective clients.

Now, in a future post (spoilers!), I’ll go through my query journey in more detail. Let you know what I’ve been doing. Today, though, I feel I need to give you an update on something I mentioned in the last Querying! Ugh! post I put up a little while back.

In that post I talked about how frustrated I was with the fact that there was no standard industry format. That if you needed to query dozens (or hundreds) of times, you couldn’t just put together a standard submissions package and use it for everyone. Different agencies required different criteria. Starting with the cover letter, through the synopsis, and to the actual amount and format of the manuscript you’re supposed to send…every query was different.

I said that if I was in charge of this process I’d standardise it and use an online form to do it.

Well…

Yes, there are agencies out there that have taken my idea on board and run with it. They’ve embraced technology beyond that of the rudimentary email attachment and are moving forward into a new era of efficiency. All because of a simple blog post by yours truly.

That’s what I’m choosing to believe anyway…that I was somehow an industry-changing savant.

There’s no way that they could possibly have been on the case before I came along.

Nope. No, siree!

The thing is that my vision for a cleaner easier process through the use of simple online forms has been embraced by a number of agencies…and then fucked up.

Here’s the nub of my issue.

I’m a logical person.

Stuff that doesn’t make sense, or is needlessly complicated just does my noggin in!

From my perspective, I look at an industry that has hundreds of thousands of people trying to submit their work to a relatively small number of agents. Hence, to me, it would make sense if the process for all this was made as easy as possible. Firstly, for the people submitting their work and, secondly, for the agencies who need to vet those submissions to find those that are relevant and likeable to them.

My idea was to put in a filter up front for the genre. Use the filter to direct the query to the right agent within the agency. Currently, you have to research the agents and pick the one you think is relevant and, while your query is with them (for the requisite 6-8 week period), you can’t approach anyone else in the agency.

Does this strike anyone else as being brutally inefficient?

If you have a form-based query that has the genre types (and I think it should allow the ability to pick multiple genres up front) then your query can live electronically in the system flagged for any agent who has an interest in those categories. What’s more, it can stay there, stored in a database of sorts for posterity.

I mean, let’s say I’m an agent who deals with sci-fi at an agency who uses my system.

Joe Author submits his sci-fi opus via the form and it sits in the system. My colleague looks at the query before me, but she decides to pass. At that point, she could put her flag on the record saying it’s not for her, but the query still stays active in the system for another agent to pick up if they’re interested. So, maybe I pick it up and take a look.

Maybe I like it. But maybe the timing is wrong.

It could be that there’s no appetite for sci-fi right now, or that I have too many sci-fi-orientated clients already… Whatever, there’s a reason. But now that it’s in the system, I could flag it for future consideration.

A year later, some huge sci-fi movie has hit the box office, and sci-fi properties are all the rage. I’m light on sci-fi authors at that point, but I now have a database repository of queries from the last few years to look through and reconsider.

I find that query by Joe Author and now the time is right.

Now. admittedly, I know fuck all about how an agency runs, or what they do day to day… But doesn’t that SOUND more efficient? More likely to help the author find a home AND let the agent have a resource of queries to tap into whenever they need them?

Going back to this mythical form-based system, I also said that I’d give the submitter room to put in a whole bunch of representative text. Something like the first 50 pages. Just to reiterate that last blog, the agent doesn’t need to read it all. If they aren’t feeling it after 10 pages, then they don’t need to read the other 40. If they’re on the fence after 10, then there’s a little more to try and win them over.

Now, maybe this is a little biased on my own book here, because mine is a big sprawling epic and I need to do world building up front. I need that first 50 pages. Many other books don’t. They may exist in a contemporary world with a limited number of characters, hence can get straight to the point quickly. But I can’t be alone in wanting to write something more…epic. It’s difficult for that to be pushed across in just 10 pages.

I think I’d also put a facility on the web form to attach your manuscript.

Let’s face it, text documents are TINY in the grand scheme of things. My ‘Hunters’ MS has 138k words and is just 777k in size. Not even 1MB. My laptop (and it was a cheap ass laptop!) has 900GB of available hard-drive space.

So, as long as the online form had some sort of legal tick box on it to allow the agency to store your manuscript for future reference, surely this would be easier, too? If I’m an agent and I love the sample, I could simply access the attachment and read the rest.

Just to reiterate, I’m NOT a legal expert or well-versed in how agencies work. This is all simply blue-sky thinking. I’m just bouncing ideas around about how I’d love to do things to make life easier for everyone concerned. Sometimes you need to think outside the box to fix the box.

A last note on the online form method…

While there is seemingly no standard for this, I have at least been amused and fascinated by the questions that I’ve been asked on the forms. It makes for a more interesting experience than the custom email rinse and repeat method. Some of the things I’ve been asked thus far:

  • Link to website/blog (Gladly!)
  • Similar books to your manuscript (Okay, I see what you’re doing.)
  • Authors who inspired you (Too many, but here goes.)
  • One-line pitch (Difficult, but I’ll try.)
  • Whose audience would be attracted to your book? (Makes sense.)
  • Favourite Harry Potter character (Getting specific now…would you like to know which House I test into, too?)
  • Favourite Star Wars/Star Trek character (Gosh, this could be divisive… What if I pick the wrong Captain? What if I pick Kirk and the agent is a Picard lover? What if I pick Sisko? Do I confess that Janeway irritated me? Or that I gave up on Trek during the ‘Enterprise’ years? Will that reflect badly? Oh, fuck, now I’m hyperventilating!!!)
  • What song do you sing in the shower? (Now we’re getting kind of personal… I kind of expect the next question to be…)
  • What are you wearing right now? (Okay, I made this one up!)

Joking aside, I quite like the online forms. I feel like there’s still room for improvement on standardisation of the industry to make life easier for all parties, but it does feel like a step in the right direction.

with that addressed, I’ll give you a little update on where I am. I’ll go into this in MUCH more detail on a future post, but here’s a brief status report.

At this point…my querying has been less than successful.

Here’s the breakdown:
Submitted: 30
Outstanding: 22
Rejected: 8

At first, the rejections were kinda hard to take. Initially it felt like my work wasn’t good enough. That I’d failed. As time has gone on, however, I’ve started to simply take them in my stride. It feels like a rite of passage somehow. Talking to others in the #WritingCommunity has helped.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth discussion on this soon.

In the meantime, please help me by channeling the power of positive thinking this way. Keep your fingers crossed for me to find a home for my book soon!

Addendum: I wrote this blog a few weeks ago in prep for publishing (I like to keep a little bank of posts ready to go!) but obviously Covid19 happened. We’re all in lock-down now, and as such I haven’t done much (any) querying. I’m not entirely sure the time is right at the moment. Hopefully this will all be over soon and the world can get back to semblance of normal and I can start the futility of querying again!

Love and Books

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16 Comments

  1. Liam

    Reply

    That actually sounds like the perfect win-win solution so why aren’t they managing the process that way? I’m truly baffled because most industries try to automate as much as they can, and they gather and retain as much data as possible just in case it’s needed in the future (or in case it can be sold). Do you have any theories about why it’s not more streamlined?

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      Honestly no idea.
      You’re right, most industries strive to streamline the process.
      I find it even more mindboggling considering the stories of how huge hits get missed. Think about how many people turned down JK Rowling before someone took a chance on her Harry Potter novels. You’d think that agents and publishers would want to go with more than a ‘one and done’ approach to querying. If I ran an agency, I’d want to make sure that even if a book didn’t gel with me personally, maybe someone in the agency might feel different.
      Art, all art (including writing) is subjective. What’s right for not right for one agent, might be spot on for another. But most agencies seem to let potentially great books just slip away.
      At a guess, I’d wager that it’s just the sheer amount of submissions they probably get. They may never get time to go back through them and hence it’s an accepted part of the industry that sometimes they’ll have to suffer ‘the one that got away!’.

  2. Emily K.

    Reply

    “Favourite Harry Potter character (Getting specific now…would you like to know which House I test into, too?)” – yes, please. I’m guessing you’d be sorted into Gryffindor thanks to your forthrightness, adventurous spirit, and bravery. Hey, it takes a brave soul to submit their work to agencies and face up to any rejection, criticism, and outright dismissals that are a natural part of the process.

  3. RaeY

    Reply

    Only 8 rejections is great! Keep it up! Soon, someone is going to read it and love it!

    I really like your ideas too. There should be flags, more than one person should be able to see it. I have no idea how agencies work either. I imagine they get hundreds daily to look at?

    What are you wearing! Ha ha… It’s Jake from State Farm. Thanks for the laugh!

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      You’re very welcome Raey!

      I like my ideas too, but I’m honestly just spit-balling. I have no idea what happens in these agencies in actual fact. Maybe an agent will read this and weigh in on how they ACTUALLY work! 😀

  4. Sean T

    Reply

    That is a great idea Jon. If I may, you can also put somewhere on the query form that it was made in the style required for sci-fi submissions, as fiction formats may be different. A size 13 font instead of a 12 for example. That would give an agency a heads-up as to what they are about to read.

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      **scribbling down Sean’s idea**

      I like it. When I start my agency I’ll be after you for more ideas! 😀

  5. Robert P

    Reply

    That was informative from the standpoint of someone who doesn’t know that end of this business too well, so thank you for that.

    I have to say that it does sound like a pain to go through all that, but maybe there is no industry standard because there isn’t much of a need or that. Most writers, maybe I’m wrong about this, don’t cross genre’s so they don’t know about the different querying criteria’s.

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      You could be right.
      The genre thing is also where I feel a little at sea. I generally describe it as Sci-Fi fantasy, as it’s set about 20 odd years into the future and has the fantasy tropes of vampires, werewolves, dragons etc.
      But, it tends to treat those tropes in a more realistic matter of fact way than most other similar books.

      It reads to me, like an action, adventure, romance, horror, comedy novel… it has elements of just about everything!

  6. Isla Davies

    Reply

    How frustrating to have your momentum stalled by the coronavirus! I hope that changes soon. I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to worry about the rejections. Just remember that one “yes” is all you need. Good luck to you!

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      I hope so too. Thanks for the support Isla. 🙂

      I’ve learnt to put the rejections behind me to be honest. They stung at first, but now…seems kind of like a rite of passage!

      I just REALLY want that one YES!

      So Agents, if you’re reading this…please say Yes! 😀 Thanks in advance!

  7. Evie

    Reply

    Wow, I had no idea that getting published was that intensive of a process. How odd that the powers that be make it tougher on themselves to boot. It sounds dreadful. I’m not sure my ego could take it. Writers must have very thick skin. So, how is going on? Anything promising in the works? Do they ever offer constructive feedback?

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      Sometimes they give feedback. Often you just seem to get a standard ‘copy & paste’ response. Which I guess is understandable as there are so many people querying.
      I have had a little though, from time to time, and I try to put what I get into action. I’m pretty good with feedback and critique. My personal opinion is that it only helps you become better if you listen and learn. 🙂

  8. Clarke

    Reply

    How is it coming along, Jon? I’d love an update when you have the time. Here’s hoping that you get your one yes, so that Gayle’s story can take flight.

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      To be honest, Covid has seemed to put the brakes on the Querying.

      New through the industry seems to be that the release of books has been delayed through traditional publishing, and that with the mass unemployment and the furloughing of staff the world and it’s wife have taken to writing. My understanding now is that agents and publishers are being inundated with queries, so now may not be a good time. I haven’t had a single response to my queries in months, and I think that this is why.

      So, the new plan is to pursue the self publishing aspect WHILE still querying. See if I can get picked up that way. Maybe it’ll be a little easier if I can present a track record of book sales being out there. Here’s hoping!

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