When I was functioning as that lowest of all life forms, the unpublished author, I benefited from established novelists willing to share their experiences. This article is intended to give something back, especially since my experience had some unexpected turns.
I quickly learned to prefer sending queries by snail mail. Yes, it is slower, expensive, and more work, but my perception is that paper queries are taken more seriously and less likely to be ignored. They are also harder to destroy than merely pushing a delete key.
Where I struck out on my own relative to what I was reading on the Internet was the volume and velocity of my campaign. I sent out more than 500 queries, each a customized package, in three months. I scrupulously abided by all guidelines listed for each agency or publisher except one. I did not abide by the industry’s requirement of honoring exclusive reading policies of agencies who request it.
This is an unethical system that appears to have been deliberately rigged to unfairly favor publishers at the expense of writers. Although many publishers no longer ask for it, it is a disgraceful legacy that needs to be put out of its misery as soon as possible. Ignoring it in a massive way will do that. I do, however, think that, for now, writers should state clearly that they are making simultaneous queries.
Why such a massive, saturation bombing approach to querying? Well, life is short, and the more leads you put out, the greater the chance of a productive hit. I also needed it because I discovered that I was disadvantaged relative to many other authors. My novel, Coinage of Commitment, is a new kind of love story, one written of characters who love at a higher level than we see all around us. Plus it is fittingly written in a more emotionally vivid style than is currently fashionable.
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Sales figures tell me this works well for readers, but it did not appeal to agencies who, I quickly discovered, are very conservative, extremely risk averse, and looking only for something they are used to or which has sold well in the past. Many have political or ideological agendas that bias their decision making. I never did come that close to landing an agent. Publishers were more sympathetic, more interested in literature for its own sake, but it was still a tough row to hoe.
The high volume approach to querying was decisive in my case because without it I would not have found the three royalty publishers who offered me contracts. Only after I had exhausted the list of addresses in print sources like Writer’s Market, and those on subscription sites like http://Firstwriter.com, did I go to open sites like Predators & Editors. There I discovered a new class of royalty publisher not listed in the other sources. These are small outfits with low overheads, who use POD print technology (which is becoming widespread), and who do not accept returns.
Otherwise their books are carried by the leading distributors. This is a group of publishers who have sprung up in the last five years. Many of these folks seem to be in it more for the love of books and literature than the profit motive. I found them much more willing to consider something new, like what I was offering, and this is where I hit gold with my own project.
There are other related issues: how to progress as a writer and improve your manuscript while also trying to sell it; how to deal with independent editors when you feel your manuscript is not good enough; and how to deal with the shadier side of our industry during a query campaign. But that is for a future article.