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Saturday, June 21, 2014

How To Keep Track of Query Letters Using A Spreadsheet

When you start sending out query letters to literary agents, things can get jumbled and confusing surprisingly fast.  After all, how do you keep track of all the agents that rejected you?  People like to cite J.K. Rowling as an example of persevering through countless rejections--she was rejected twelve times before a publisher bought her work.  Twelve whole times.

I'm sorry, Ms. Rowling, but I have no sympathy for you.

The reality is that most writers send out many, many more query letters before they land that contract.  Dozens, at least, but probably higher.  I've heard average numbers in the hundreds.  It's just not realistic to expect an agent (or publisher) to bite after just twelve tries.

Because of that, you need a way to keep track of which agents you've queried.  If you only send a few queries, you can do this in your head.  Sooner or later, though, your memory won't be able to handle it.  That's why you need a good ol' Excel spreadsheet.

Your query tracker spreadsheet can, of course, include whatever information you want.  It's up to you.  If you want to keep things organized, though, it's going to need a few key things:
  1. Name of the agent you have queried, or would like to query.  This one is rather obvious, but it does ensure that you don't embarrass yourself by querying the same agent twice. 
  2. Date query letter was sent.  Some agents have a policy that if you don't hear back on your query within a certain amount of time, you should resend it.  Or, if you haven't heard back, no response equals a no thanks.  Check the website for their policy.
  3. Website link.  This makes it easy to double check submission requirements, if needed.
  4. Email address.  This isn't as necessary if you're looking through agents one at a time, but I tend to gather information about potential agents in groups, and then send out a bunch of queries at once.  This way, I don't have to go back to the website and search for the email in order to send it.
  5. Status of query.  Is it still waiting in the slush pile?  Has it been rejected?  Did you get a bite?  Is the agent closed to queries until a certain date?
  6. Items needed in submission.  In my experience, few agents require only a query letter.  Many times, they request a query letter, synopsis, or even the first few chapters of your work.  This way, you can make sure you aren't missing any pieces, because this in itself might cause an agent to pass on you.
These are the vital pieces of the spreadsheet, but I've found it helpful to include a few other things:
  1. Other relevant books represented by this agent.  A great place to start looking for people to query is to find out who represents your favorite books, or books similar to yours.  If your book is similar to something an agent already represents, you can mention this in your query, to give you a boost.
  2. Genres the agent represents.  Sometimes it's helpful to know what specific genres the agent deals in--is it YA, YA high fantasy, just high fantasy in general?  If you know this, you can tailor your query to it.
  3. Anything specific that the agent has requested.  If you read the agent's blog or follow them on Twitter, you might have seen them post something along the lines of "I'd love someone to send me a book about fire mermaids who live in the lava of Mount Doom".  If they request something that describes your book, you've hit a golden opportunity.  Mention this request in your query.  It will highlight the fact that your book fits the agent's specific interest, and it will let them know that you've made the effort to get to know them by checking out their social media.  There's a Tumblr that collects all these requests and puts them in one place for you.
When you have it laid out and filled in, the spreadsheet will look something like this:

Click for larger image.
The only major difference between yours and my sample is that on yours, all the genres, specific requests, and books represented will be related to your book.  Otherwise, there's not much point in recording the agent's information, or querying them, for that matter.  But obviously, you'll be querying people like Bucky and Gandalf.  No, I didn't get carried away when making this.  Why would you ask that?

That's all there is to it!  Making a query tracker spreadsheet isn't hard, but it'll keep you organized.  Plus, it'll allow you to avoid blunders like querying the same agent once, twice, or even three times.  Because that could get awkward.

If you want to read more about creating the query letter itself, has you covered (since I haven't written a post on that subject yet).  To learn about writing a synopsis (and my own experience with synopsis-writing), go here.  You can also read about my experience of sending my first query letters, or my list of what not to do in a query letter.

How do you keep track of query letters?  Is there anything you would add to the spreadsheet?  Any fun/interesting querying stories?
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