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Mike Chen’s Successful Query Letter
Mike I’m thrilled to have you on my blog today, and thank you so much for sharing your querying experience with us. I had so much fun reading about your querying experience, and I know my readers and other authors out there will enjoy it too!
Hello! And thank you for having me! I love trying to help out fellow writers with the query process. I feel like I’m pretty good at breaking down the query letter, so happy to share my knowledge.
That’s awesome – after all, I think the more we help each other out, the better! So let’s begin with your query letter itself and then we’ll get into the questions:
- How long did you spend writing your query letter?
By the time, I queried HERE AND NOW AND THEN, it was the third book I’d queried. My second one got pretty close with a really good request rate, and it was that manuscript where I felt like I learned the formula during that time. So the query for HNT, I probably drafted a few different versions and refined it over the course of a few weeks.
- Did you revise your query letter at all during the querying process?
I actually didn’t! I just looked back at the first query I sent and it’s the same one that landed me offers despite being sent four months earlier.
- How long did it take you from when you started querying to when you got your first partial or full manuscript (ms) request?
I just checked and it was two weeks.
- How many partial and full ms requests did you receive?
18 requests over 90 queries.
- Did you receive any rejections, and if so how did you cope?
Oh, I did for sure! The query to my now-agent was actually a result of getting a full rejection from one of my top tier agents, and I was so mad that I went on a revenge-querying spree. Up until then, I sent things out fairly methodically in small batches but I was in a “screw it!” mindset and blasted a bunch out.
- Did you use any particular software, or system for keeping track of the queries you sent out?
Querytracker.net is the best resource for that. I used that with my own spreadsheet.
- How many query letters did you send out at a time?
I tried to send batches of 5-10, and those batches would have a mix of first, second, and third tier agents.
- How did you choose who you sent your query letter to?
I’m very much a believer in the idea that you don’t want to blow through your top tier first. Just in case your query isn’t working, or you get revision notes that make your manuscript better, it’s a good idea to mix it up. Also, different agents read/request at different speeds regardless of how long they’ve been in the business. When I started out, I did use Querytracker to see who typically responded the fastest and I identified those in my first batch just to get a sense of if the query was working.
- Did you personalize each one?
I tried to personalize the greeting/opening paragraph especially if there was something personal that made sense. For example, my agent loves Nick Hornby and has a corgi, and I love Nick Hornby and had a corgi at the time who has since passed. But I mentioned that in my query.
- Can you tell us a bit about when you received ‘the call’?
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as others have had. The first offer I got was from a smaller agent and first he wanted to talk. But we were having trouble finding time for a call so he said on email that we really should talk because he wanted to offer representation. That kicked off the whole thing. It wasn’t quite as immediate or explosive as some of my other friends!
I did wind up getting multiple offers (more on that below) and when I did actually get to talk to Eric, he said (and I totally remember these exact words) “I want to represent your book. Well, all of your books forever, actually.” He was the third of four offering agents that I talked to and I felt 99% certain that he was the one after that call, though I did my due diligence and took the last call.
- Did you have multiple offers for either representation or publication, and if so, how did you decide who you were going to accept?
As mentioned above, I had four offers of rep. For friends who’ve wound up juggling multiple offers, I advise them to look for three things. First, manuscript feedback: who did you agree with the most? Second, personality: publishing is an intensely personal career, so who do you feel you mesh with the most? Third, communication style: this is an offshoot of personality, but different agents communicate in different ways. Some are very businesslike and others are extremely personal (mine is the latter). Talk to them, talk to their clients, and see what meshes with how you like to work.
- What questions did you ask when speaking with the agent/acquiring editor that you were considering?
It was a mix of questions about my work and how they worked. A short list:
What did you like about the work?
What kind of submission list do you see for this?
What areas do you think it could change or improve?
Are you hands on with editorial or do you prefer the writer handle that on their own?
Can I speak with some of your existing clients?
What is your typical process in working with a new author?
- What questions do you wish you’d ask, but didn’t?
I did not ask about communication style, but I’m lucky that it didn’t end up being an issue. I’ve heard horror stories of completely opposite expectations in the relationship and no one is happy with that, so it’s definitely a priority question.
- Any advice and top tips for others about the querying process and writing the query letter itself?
My most basic advice for querying is to focus on voice, pace, and stakes. I go into it a bit more on my blog post breaking down my own query, but those are the key elements. It’s okay to eschew world building and proper nouns to keep it lean and make sure the pace really goes. Every sentence has to build on the previous one to increase stakes successively. And the opening line should have some ironic hook, which should be referenced in the last line for a feeling of completing the circle.
- Anything else you want to add?
I’m very active on Twitter and happy to answer any questions regarding the query process or writing queries on there. Don’t be shy!
Thanks so much Mike for sharing your Successful Query Letter with us! It was an absolute pleasure to have you on my blog, and the advice you’ve given will be so helpful to other authors out there and will certainly inspire those about to hunker down in the querying trenches, lol!
And for those of you who want to have a read of Mike’s absolutely amazing debut ‘Here and Now and Then’, it’s scheduled for release on Jan 29th, 2019. Click on the pic below for more info.
HERE AND NOW AND THEN:Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.
Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.
Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.
Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.
A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.
To order your copy of HERE AND NOW AND THEN, click on the book picture, or the links below:
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek culture websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist), covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets, and ghostwritten corporate articles appearing in Forbes, Buzzfeed, Enterpreneur, and more. A member of SFWA and the Codex Writers group, Mike calls the San Francisco Bay Area home, where he can often be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.
Mike can be found on the following platforms: