It’s been my experience that learning how to query an agent is almost as grueling as learning how to write a novel. Querying properly requires a lot of research and a whole lot of trial and error. If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, I’m querying once again. This time around, I’m using a tactic that was presented at the New York Pitch Conference. At the conference, those of us who got editorial requests were instructed to query agents in small batches, small meaning three queries at a time. My knee-jerk reaction to this suggestion was “Oh, my gosh, this is going to take forever.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that small-batch querying might actually be an efficient tactic in the long run.

Reason being, each time you query an agent, you are more likely to get rejected than accepted. From what I’ve been hearing (from agents and writers. Take it or leave it.), many agents receive about 10,000 queries a year, and most of them sign 2-3 clients per year. Many times, they sign clients they meet at conferences, which means that odds of getting discovered via a query are something like 1 in 10,000. Don’t panic. Just accept the bottom line: these are bad odds, but patience, wisdom, and good writing can up your chances.

Anyway, each time an agent rejects a query, it becomes harder to re-query that agent, especially if you’ve sent sample materials. Yes, you can re-query the agent, but when you do, you’ll probably want to mention that you’ve queried before, and this may make the agent even more skeptical of you than s/he already is. Plus, you’re probably going to want to wait 6-12 months (and significantly edit your manuscript) before re-querying, which is a long time. So, sending queries in larger batches, though it may feel more productive than querying in small batches, might actually cost you more time and stress in the long run.

Also, as you target agents in your genre, you will realize just how small your pool of agents actually is. I’m writing middle grade fiction right now, and although many agents say they’re interested in working with middle grade writers, very few of them have. Maybe, they’ve sold a middle grade project here or there, but that’s the extent of their experience with middle grade. When I really dug into my research, I discovered that there are only 20ish agents who seriously sell middle grade titles. Querying in small batches means that I can polish my materials as I work through this list without burning up all twenty chances at once. If the first three agents reject me, I have the opportunity to edit my query for the next three, and so forth and so on.

Yes, the small-batch process is going to take a while, and it’s not always going to be clear when I should send the next batch, as many agents simply don’t respond to queries that don’t interest them. I may be wrong, but I’m going to assume that ten weeks without a response from an agent is a rejection.

Again, there is no formula for landing an agent. If there were, I’d have used it already. There are an infinite number of routes to the summit of the mountain. Plan, prepare, and think before you climb. Your chances of survival will be that much better. Oh, and do climb!

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