When I was at an event with my friend, Walter Jon Williams, someone commented to him about how humble and down to earth he is, which he is. His response was, "We writers spend a lot of our time doing something called 'submission'." This, to me, is the most depressing part of the job, which doesn't make me unique at all :-). I'm working hard to get my submissions to agents out there, but the time it takes to research each agent and tailor the query package is significant. That's what I'm doing every afternoon while my son naps, and there's nothing more frustrating than to spend three hours on one query only to get a form rejection (which has only happened once so far, so there will be other writer's reading this who want to punch me.)
The advantage I have this time is that my husband is helping me out. We're researching agents together and he's proofing all my queries and helping me draft all the different kinds of synopsis that agents request. Some seem to like a couple of paragraphs outlining the story. Some want only one. A few want it down to a sentence. But at least when rejections roll in, I have someone to show them to, and he's starting to realize just how competitive this market is. He's admitted to me that if applying for school or a job was this hard, he'd go insane.
My biggest obstacle is that both the YA fantasy market and the contemporary romance market are very hard to sell to these days. I feel like I have room to go in another direction in my speculative fiction. It'll just take a few months of brainstorming and plotting. I have zero interest in doing any other kind of romance other than contemporary. When I'm down, or really bursting to say something, that's what I write. So that's what I'll stick with, and it may mean querying a ton of agents.
Things I've learned this time around: 1) Many top agencies are actually better at responding than lesser known ones. They aren't so big and cool that they don't feel like you deserve the time of day. There's a good reason they're at the top of the field. 2) AbsoluteWrite.com forums are a goldmine of information about what to expect from different agencies. I find them much more useful than QueryTracker or even AgentQuery.com - which is a great way to get the names of agents, but only the beginning. An agent's profile there might be a year old, and hence their preferences are likely to have changed. 3) Queries, like anything else, get easier with practice. It's a bit like learning to write essays in high school; at the time they were agonizing, but looking back they're so straightforward and easy it's a wonder I ever stressed about them.
Materials I've put together to be able to tailor queries to specific agents: 1) a one page synopsis of the book - stick to the main plotline and characters and try to make it a good read 2) a 3 paragraph summary of the book, for longer query letters 3) a one paragraph summary of the book, for shorter query letters 4) a log line, a one sentence summary of the book. Put this at the top of nearly all your query letters, unless the agent lays out a different preference on their site or in an interview. 5) a paragraph synopsis of my writing history - be aware that if you're querying outside of science fiction and fantasy, there can be a strong bias against these fields. They're the nerdy, friendless genres of the publishing world.
As with the last book, I will not be posting all the rejections I get on this blog. This is in part because if there are a lot (which there aren't at the moment, but I'd hate to get started only to have them pile up and up), that's not a good thing to have out there. Say an agent does finally pick it up and pass the book on to the editor, and said editor is a blogger who finds my blog detailing 97 rejections or some odd. That 1) doesn't look good and 2) tips them off to the fact that I might be a little desperate for any offer. Definitely weakens my position.
But, for what it's worth, I've read some fantastic books that piled up a doorstop of rejections and some awful ones that got in the first round. Finding an agent is a bit like finding a spouse. It isn't just about having your own act together, it's about finding a good relationship with someone who believes in you.
So glad I never did internet dating or personal ads. I'm guessing this is what they'd have felt like.