Querying: Shotgun vs Guided Missile

Querying: Shotgun vs Guided Missile

Main Points
• The shotgun approach is querying many agents/publishers at the same time, trying to get out as many queries at once. It’s impersonal, and less likely to get hits.
• The guided missile approach is querying specific agents/publishers, using customized/personalized queries that show you’ve researched them. It requires much more time, but should get more hits and may be the best approach overall.

Querying can be a huge pain. It’s annoying, difficult, and there’s so much to learn about doing it right. And it’s kind of like how job interviews aren’t actually tied to your work performance; it’s just another skill to improve on. If you want to get traditionally published though, this is the gateway, and most people pass through it at some point.

I’ll admit I don’t have much experience with querying, but I’ll share my thoughts on what I’ve done, and the two different approaches I’ve used.

The Shotgun Approach Blasting away at agents and publishers
The first thing I tried to do was the shotgun approach, where you get a giant list of agents/publishers/contacts and just start submitting to them. For my first book, I set up a generic template query, then went through my list one by one, making minor changes to my letter. It took a while, but I ended up querying 63 people, all from different agencies. Then the rejections started rolling in. Almost all of them were generic/form letter rejections. Very few of them actually had feedback, which I didn’t think too much of at the time.

The Guided Missile Approach More time less queries
When I went to my other writers’ group (the one with the professional author), he informed me that shotgunning 40-60 people at once is a great way to get 40-60 rejections. The better way, he proposed, is to pick 10 agents/publishers, research them, find great fits, read some of their work, and then write custom tailored queries to each of them. “You’re trying to get a response,” he said. “If you do, you know your query is working.” That’s not something I had read before while learning about querying so I decided to try.

The thing is, this approach takes MUCH MORE time. Saying to an agent, “I’ve read the latest book you sold and really like what you did with it,” actually entails reading that book. Looking up what they’re specifically looking for requires actual thinking. How I see it, this is more of a guided missile approach that may take more time but gets more hits whereas the shotgun approach takes less time but gets less hits.

So I tried doing that with my second novel. So far it’s I’ve had better results. I still get a lot of query rejections, but I’ve gotten more hits than I did with the shotgun approach. It’s difficult to say whether the guided missile approach was the cause of this improvement or not (e.g. it could just be my second book is stronger than my first one). I’ll keep experimenting with these approaches, trying both simultaneously.

But which approach, or which combination, has worked best for you in slogging through the query process?

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