Welcome to Spilling the Tea, a new feature where we ask authors all about craft, industry ins and outs, and more! This week we have Meredith Ireland on the WNDB blog to discuss the (often dreaded but necessary) practice of querying, which involves pitching not only your manuscript but yourself to prospective agents.
Congrats on signing with your new agent! Since you had multiple offers, what questions did you ask the agents that provided the most helpful insights for you?
Thank you so much! Multiple offers is a strange position to be in as you go from hoping so hard for just one person to be interested to trying to decide between dream agents. I asked what their sub strategies would be, the priorities for my works in progress, and for client references. Then I asked those clients what they see as the biggest pro and the biggest con of their agent. It’s always illuminating.
You’ve queried a few different times over your career. How is the climate different now than when you first started?
Querying before you have anything published is a completely different animal than after you do. I remember (and still have nightmares) about the query trenches before I sold my first book—The Jasmine Project. From what I’ve heard, covid burnout has caused the responses to be slower. I will say that many more agents are now actively seeking diverse works and diverse authors than when I first queried.
Following up on the last question, how has your querying strategy changed each time you’ve queried?
I’ve gotten more and more selective. When I was first in the trenches I sent queries to agents I would not have been enthusiastic about repping me, but what people say is true: a bad agent is worse than no agent. The second round I wanted someone who could sell my work right away because, well, paying bills was my priority. This time because my agent left agenting, I wanted an agent who had a vision for my entire career and who was in it for the long haul so hopefully I could avoid doing this again!
What can agents be doing to better support their diverse clients?
My last agent was diverse like me and I loved being with someone who implicitly understood my issues, but this is a hard business. I wish the support structure around new agents was better. I think the best thing any agent can do for their diverse clients is to be a sounding board and willing to go to bat with publishers, if necessary. It’s also appreciated when agents say: put me as your contact, so that their clients don’t have to subject themselves to the hate mail that comes from being visible online.
What advice do you have for writers who are struggling in the querying trenches right now?
Hang in there and keep writing. It truly only takes one yes, however, sometimes the story isn’t The One that will break you out. When you’re seeking an agent you’re attempting to move from your book being art to being a business. It doesn’t make your book any less special but now the market comes into play. No trend is done, especially with a fresh spin, however some ideas are much harder to sell than others. I had to trunk four books before I signed with an agent, but I kept at it. Now in the start of 2024 I’ll have five books with my name on the covers.
Anything you’d like to add?
The hardest lesson I had to learn was to not compare myself to other writers. Just as no two writers will ever write the same story, even from the same prompt, no two people in the querying trenches will ever have the same path to publication. I’ve said on Twitter that it may feel like other writers are passing you by but writing success isn’t a horse race. We’re possums stuck in trash bins and you get out in your own time. I stand by that.
Meredith’s young adult novel Everyone Hates Kelsie Miller comes out October 11, 2022.
Meredith Ireland was born in Korea and adopted by a New York librarian and nurse. Her love of books started early and although she pursued both pre-med at Rollins College and law at the University of Miami, stories were her fate. A variety of questionable choices brought her to Upstate New York, where she currently resides with her two children, and Bob, a carnival goldfish, who’s likely a person. She writes young adult books, some of which you may like. She is the author of The Jasmine Project and Everyone Hates Kelsie Miller.