Looking to query more effectively? Follow these tips to get closer to the agents/editors that are looking for your manuscript:
1.) Make sure you’ve correctly identified the genre that your book falls into.
Avoid the stringing of genres together, and instead pick the one genre that most accurately describes your manuscript. If you’re not sure, find a book that is similar in structure and style to yours, and then look at where it is shelved in the bookstore/how it is categorized online. (Online categories may be less accurate than bookstore shelves, as categories can be manipulated for online exposure.)
2.) Objectively evaluate your book’s potential market.
Okay, everybody wants to believe that their book is the next blockbuster and the market is “everyone from age 9 to 99!” But chances are, your manuscript’s market is considerably smaller than that. Before you start looking at agents and editors, it’d be helpful to get a true sense of where your book’s market lies. For example, if you see the book for use mostly in the classroom, then you’re going to want to look at educational publishers and/or agents that represent a lot of non-fiction/educational material. (Caveat: most agents are interested in the trade market over the educational market.) If your book is of interest to a small niche, i.e. birdwatchers in upstate New York who are only interested in cardinals, you may find that it makes more sense to go to regional publishers directly.
Also, don’t use whatever the latest emerging market is to pitch your book. In other words, a thriller starring a forty-year old protagonist is not “New Adult.” It’s an adult thriller, and abusing genres only makes one look amateurish.
3.) Make a short list and a long list.
When agents submit to editors, they tend to submit first to a short list of houses/editors that they think would be the best fit/offer the best deal, and then work down the long list afterwards. Start by submitting to a small list of agents/editors that look like they are the most appropriate fit — they have represented/published similar books, but there’s nothing on their upcoming list that would compete directly with your manuscript. They are open to submissions and looking for new talent. Their personalities/philosophies jive with your own. Evaluate feedback from your short list, and then move on to the long list if necessary.
4.) Follow the submission guidelines, and observe proper follow-up etiquette.
See How (and When) to Follow-Up with Agents and/or Editors for sample follow up emails.
For more tips and tricks, see Some Things to Consider When Making Your Submission List.