How Soon Do I Query Again?

At last, another good picture book querying question! Plus, this one is useful to novel writers, too (if only a bit less relevant). Read on, everyone! Megan asks:

How often is too often to query an agent with different projects? For example, I’m in the process of sending queries for project A and writing project B. By the time I wait for agent responses to trickle in, I may be ready to query project B. Is it crazy to send another project to an agent who rejected me within 3 or 4 months? Am I just being annoying? Or, since picture book manuscripts can be written, revised, revised, revised, and polished faster than other genres, maybe this frequency for queries is expected?

I tell my picture book writer clients — AND THESE ARE CLIENTS…people who’ve already cleared the “hurdle” — that one out of every ten of their picture book ideas/manuscripts is going to be saleable. Picture books are “easy” to write and generate and revise and get 700 or whatever words into shape, sure, but it’s infinitely harder to hit upon a winner idea. GOODNIGHT MOON was first published in 1947 and parents still read it to their kids every night, all over the world. Publishers are tightening their lists and, ideally, would love a book with that much power and longevity. In other words, everyone wants something that will backlist for eternity. It’s not easy. I would even argue that’s it just as hard to hit upon such a picture book idea as it is to write a publishable novel, especially in this current marketplace.

Personally, I balk a little when writers hit me up with picture book after picture book, even if some time lapses between attempts. The point is to evolve and go to the next level between picture book manuscripts. Every submission round to agents will bring you valuable feedback and insight. (If you get absolutely no personalized feedback, that’s feedback in and of itself.) Keep writing while you’re on submission, of course, but you should also, in my opinion, wait to see how a submission round goes before you jump back into the querying game. You don’t want to give off the idea that you’re just churning projects out without stopping to learn and grow in between attempts.

Look at it from my angle. I have, oh, six picture book clients. They can all, in a good year, give me 10 manuscripts. That’s 60 manuscripts. Say I decide to just go out with them all (which I would never do). For each submission, I go out to about 8-10 editors at various houses. That would be between 480 and 600 picture book projects that I would send out. About 10 submissions a week. There are about 300 editors actively acquiring in children’s books these days (at the major, mid-size houses, and smaller houses), so even if I cast my net as wide as possible, I would still hit up every editor at least once, sometimes twice, regardless of whether they’re a good fit or even looking for picture books (if you want to know, that particular number of PB-hungry editors is at about 70-100). You also have to consider that, if an editor and I have a good relationship, existing projects together, or similar tastes, I will send to that  group of particular editors more frequently over the course of the year. Those editors — the ones I really love and want to work with — would probably get more like five or ten projects each.

Do you think all those editors are going to see my email or get my phone call and think, “Wow, I haven’t heard from Mary in a while, and I know she only goes out with projects she thinks are really top notch, so I am really excited to hear all about this one!” Absolutely not. They will most likely think, “Yikes, another call/email from Mary. What does she have for me this month and how quickly can I get it off my desk?”

I don’t go out with everything my clients give me. I have to be selective and keep my currency with editors high, so that if they see something from me, they don’t roll their eyes. The worst position you can be in, I think, is if someone gets an email from you and groans. So I’m selective. And I have extremely high standards for the work that I pitch to publishers (just ask some of my impatient clients…and we all know how I feel about patience). You should strive to be this way, too, so I don’t groan when I get your second or third or fourth query for the year.

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  1. Megan K. Bickel’s avatar

    Thank you so much for answering this, Mary! Very valuable advice and I’ll certainly follow it. Can you tell I ran over here first thing this morning to see if today was the day for my question to be answered? : )

  2. Erica Rodgers’s avatar

    What a great perspective! It’s always interesting to see the process from the “other” side of things, and I’m sure it surprises people to think that authors with an agent still have to worry about whether or not their agent will want to take a current project to editors. Great advice about waiting to see how one round of queries pans out before blasting off another. We can’t learn from them if we don’t take the time to wait for the feedback. Ahh…waiting. :)

  3. Franziska Green’s avatar

    Experienced kidlit folk always try to impress upon new writers how important patience is, but even though I have ‘heard’ what they (and you, Mary!) say, I wish I’d listened MUCH, MUCH harder. Because by being patient and waiting for skills to improve, you not only increase your chances with that first PB query, you then have OTHER PBs of a similar standard to offer them.

    I’ve been very impatient, and definitely been guilty of firing off queries/PBs because I just wanted to get somewhere fast(er). Thing is, you’ve got nothing to lose if you sit on your hands for a few months longer, it’ll only make you a stronger contender.

  4. Priscilla Mizell’s avatar

    Like Erica, I love reading about the “behind the scenes” aspects of an agent’s job. I’m pasting the “one out of every ten” statistic into my notebook.

  5. Diana Delosh’s avatar

    Another good reason to diversify and do all types of things – not put all your hopes in 1 project or genre and just keep working at your craft. It’s the only way I can stay patient with this PB submission process is to keep moving by creating new things with an eye towards always being better.

  6. Melissa’s avatar

    I hear you, Mary. I write novels and chapter books, not PBs, but I haven’t sent anything out in over a year. I’ve been trying to learn and grow without the distractions and disappointments that come along with constant mailbox checking.

    Now I think I might be too slow about sending work out, though. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get one manuscript in shape and send it out in 2011. I’m itching for feedback, even if it’s negative.

  7. Kristin Gray’s avatar

    Mary, I adore this post. I’m bookmarking it, to reread when my fingers are itching to press SEND.

    Slow and steady wins the race. Or something like that. ;)

  8. Julie Hedlund’s avatar

    Great question Megan! Great response Mary! This very question has been on my mind as well, since I intend to have more than one project ready to query later in the year. Luckily, they will not be ready at the exact same time. Also, I’m pretty conservative about querying. I hit a small group, see what response (if any) I get, and then adjust (either the queries or the manuscript). I always figured I was too afraid or paranoid and should be sending more queries faster, but after reading this, I think my approach is in line with your advice.

    Thanks again!

  9. Nikki Smith’s avatar

    This is another timely post from you, Mary! Just two days ago I was wondering about this, so I asked my husband if it would get on his nerves to get query #2 from me (new project) if he’d gotten one a year ago. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not a writer. I don’t know anything about this. Why are you asking ME?” I like your answer much better! :) Thanks!

  10. Andrea Di Salvo’s avatar

    Thanks so much for an insightful and HELPFUL post. As a writer just dipping my toes into the PB field, I’ve been wondering how often is too often to query. I’ve been struggling to have patience and not send my projects out en masse, and I’m glad to see my instincts were right in that, at least. I’m also facing the gut-wrenching fact that maybe they’re not all fit to send, which you also address honestly in your post. Thanks!

  11. Christie Wild’s avatar

    Thanks for the question and answer. Very insightful, even though I’m not querying agents. Lots of good info to keep in mind. But how to choose the best of 10 ideas? Hmmm…

  12. Rachna Chhabria’s avatar

    Thanks Mary, for answering this. I had the same question running in my mind, as a writing pal told me that she was sending agents (who turned down her YA novel) PB queries. I thought it was to soon, it looked to me that she was shopping more than one book to various agents, sometimes to agents in the same agency.I feel I should just make her read this post.

    Mary, we keep hearing that agents don’t have the time to write personalized rejection letters. They send out form rejections. I would like to know, when do agents give feedback based on the query letter and sample pages. Is it because they see potential in the story?

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