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Focus on What You Can Control

Focusing your energies on what you can control, not what you can’t, is critical to success. As agents, it’s something we discuss all the time when it comes to our own careers.

You can’t control other people, their words, actions, behaviors, loves, likes, or wants. You can’t control the market, the weather, or anyone’s personal interests. What you can control is you, your actions, and the work you’re doing.

The Power of You

Querying can be the most out of control feeling authors have. You’ve spent months writing a book where you have full control of what happens. You feel the book is ready and now you’re sending it to people whose personal interests you have no control of and into a market that’s ever-changing.

While you can’t force someone to take you on as a client, you do have control of key things that determine success. How you approach this will, I promise, make a difference in your career. Remember, querying agents is only the first go-round. These skills will help you later when your agent is querying editors and later, when your publisher is selling the book.

Keys to Success

  • Honing and polishing your query skills–learning what makes an effective query.
  • Writing and revising a strong and rejection-proof query.
  • The number of queries you send and the frequency with which you send them.
  • Acknowledging that struggling while writing a query might mean the book, not the query, needs work.
  • Writing and revising a competitive and marketable manuscript.
  • Moving on to write and revise your next manuscript.
  • Networking with authors and agents to get referrals and learn about the business.
  • Researching agents to learn specific interests, likes, and dislikes.
  • Taking chances on those you deem “too big” or “not quite right.”
  • Not rejecting yourself by deciding someone else won’t like it.
  • Going for no, because only no’s will lead to yeses.
  • Studying and understanding how the industry works.
  • Becoming an expert in your competition, your market, and your genre. In other words, reading books and researching bookshelves.
  • Embracing feedback, revisions, and critiques.
  • Asking for feedback, revisions, and critiques.
  • Your emotional response to rejection–are you angry and bitter, or more determined.
  • Your persistence to write more, query more, and keep going.

There is so much in this business that’s out of our control, for authors and agents. I know what editors like, but I can’t control whether this is the book that meets those likes. Focusing on what we can control empowers us and teaches us along the way how we can do better.

For more information, check out this video on our YouTube channel:

Category: Blog



  1. Thanks for this post. It hit home at a good time for me. I finished my manuscript and I’m in the Query Trenches. I have received several rejections (this is not my first rodeo), but I remain positive and persistent. Like you said, I can’t control what others do or think, but I control how I react. Keep moving forward.

  2. Love this, Jessica. I remind myself to work on the things I can change everyday. I also try to remember when I write that my characters also have this “why can’t I have control” feeling, and have them learn to cope with the way things are. LIFE.

  3. What a wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to map out the intricacies involved in the querying process…..A beneficial reminder for those of us who are steeped in these muddied waters.

  4. What do you think about creating a query before writing the book, and then seek professional assistance in honing the query? I’m thinking of that rather large number of queries reviewed by Query Shark in which the problem with the query wasn’t the query itself, but the book’s plot/characters. I’m thinking it’d be far less work to find out your plot and/or characters need work while still in the planning (outline, etc.) stage rather than finding out after writing the whole darn thing.

  5. Ditto Martha, Mary and Susan. Just read an email about a new author who says Bookends has HEART. Ditto to that as well. Having just recovered from a “maybe I should just throw in the towel” conversation with myself, Jessica is always there to save the day!

  6. Jessica, thank you again for your wise words. I wonder if I could trouble you to write more about point 3: The number of queries you send and the frequency with which you send them?

    This is something I’ve wondered before. I know you send in batches, but what are your thoughts?

    Ideally, you’d wait and get some feedback in case you need to improve if you aren’t getting any hits. But with many agents “no response means no” and some taking months to respond to a query, this isn’t really viable (it would take years to query one manuscript!).

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