Ever since I discovered that Scrabble was on Facebook, I have been playing simultaneous games with multiple people. In an attempt to justify this, I have decided to write a post about things that I have noticed are parallels between the game of Scrabble and the Querying Process.
1. LOOK AT THINGS FROM EVERY ANGLE
Look at the board’s potential in various ways before setting any letters down, even before you look at your own tiles. Sometimes, just adding an ‘S’ can net you more points than making a word out of the letters on your rack.
When writing a query letter, it is important to think of a good hook. While there are typically many aspects of a manuscript that could be highlighted, jot down several different ideas before selecting one to develop. Sometimes, not going with the obvious can be more effective.
2. TAKE YOUR TIME
It pays to take some time to consider the potential point value of different words, instead of just going with the first thing you see.
Rather than whipping your query together just to have something to send out, it is better to take your time with it, get some opinions, and send out a few test queries to agents on your B list first. If you find that no one responds, give it a few tweaks and send out a few more. Remember, you can never requery an agent with the same project; don’t burn bridges in your haste to get on the bestseller list.
3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE A FEW RISKS
Sometimes you’re not sure if a word is really a word or not, but when you take a chance, it can pay off in big points. One of my recent words was QUIPU, which I recalled from my sixth grade Social Studies report on the Incas. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be valid, but I tried it anyway. 66 points!
A few months ago, I queried an agent whose website said if there was no response in one week, to requery. A week later, I had not received a reply. Although I felt awkward about it, I re-sent the query with a note reminding the agent that queriers were instructed to do so, and apologized for it being a duplicate. Within a few hours, the agent responded that he had never seen it, and requested a partial.
4. CREATE A CHALLENGE AND THEN REWARD YOURSELF
It can be dull playing against people who don’t play as well as you do, or are of the same skill level. Mix things up by playing people who are better than you are. If you win, take a little time to gloat. This can be done subtly on Facebook by “sharing” the news and personalizing it by saying, “Good game, (opponent’s name here).”
Researching agents can be tiresome, as can tweaking/personalizing each query, and you should reward yourself often. Set up a system where after researching/sending three, you get a treat. The treat doesn’t have to be big, just something you like (going for a walk, getting a snack, or playing a game of Scrabble on Facebook…). After ten are totaled, you get something bigger, while a request for a partial or full manuscript gets a correspondingly larger payoff.
5. DON’T SET YOURSELF UP TO FAIL
Don’t play someone better than yourself too often. Sometimes it’s fun to face a difficult challenge, but it isn’t fun to get beaten all the time, and you won’t want to play anymore if it happens a lot.
Don’t make unlikely goals to inspire yourself (sending ten queries in one day, getting a response in the first five queries, getting an agent in 20 queries, etc.), because if you fail, you will be less likely to try it again. Managable chunks are best.
6. DON’T RELY ON THE SAME PERSON ALL THE TIME
Don’t always play the same opponent. Playing with a variety of people keeps you from getting into a rut, and you tend to learn a better variety of strategies.
Find different people to critique your query and make suggestions. You will be sending the query to many agents, with different points of view. The more people the basic query appeals to, the better off you’ll be.
7. CAPITALIZE ON NEW IDEAS AND TECHNIQUES
Learn from your opponents; watch what they do better and take heed. They might not be prepared to have their own tricks used against them.
Look for query critiques on agents’ blogs. Even if your query isn’t the one being evaluated, you can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes.
8. FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR THINGS BEYOND YOUR CONTROL
Sometimes you just don’t get great letters on your rack. Persevere, and sooner or later things will turn around.
Consider the comments on your rejection letters. If it’s just not “right for their list” or not what they rep, or if they just signed a similar book, don’t take it personally.
9. DON’T GIVE UP
Even if your opponent is 80 points ahead, keep on playing. You may end up losing anyway, but you certainly will if you just forfeit.
Even though it can be discouraging to get rejection after rejection, it is all part of the querying game. Keep reminding yourself of authors who got over a hundred rejection letters before finding representation, such as J.K. Rowling, and that was when it was a lot easier to get published.
10. DON’T BE AFRAID TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
You might have the word “indigo” in your tray, but if the letters on the board don’t give you an opening, it doesn’t matter how great your plans are. If you look into alternatives, you might get something even better.
Don’t just query. Participate in online agent pitch fests, go to conferences, enter contests. There are many ways to get your work seen by agents. Take advantage of as many as possible. Not only will it get your work out there, but it is fun and breaks up the monotony of querying.
I could go on, but it’s my turn…