Recently I've had some other aspiring authors ask about my experience writing and querying for my novel, Eternal Starling. I thought I should post the answer here so everyone can read it.
My book is a Young Adult Paranormal Romance, though technically, since my main character is starting college, it could be considered Adult. I started writing Eternal Starling in the summer of 2008. I was working on a couple other book projects when I got the idea for E.S. and then I just couldn't get the story out of my head. I wrote Eternal Starling in three months, then gave it to some family members to read (more about that later). I took the input from my family members and edited it myself a few more times before I gave to a friend who is an English Literature Professor (Amazing Ashley). Giving it to her was the best thing I could have done. She ripped it apart. She told me where all the plot holes were, what parts of the book just weren't working, things she liked and didn't like about the characters, and how to improve the manuscript. I spent about 6 weeks working with Amazing Ashley and editing the book before I started sending out query letters. While I was first sending out queries, I kept giving the book to other readers (friends, other writers, people in my target audience) and got feedback from them and continued to make changes to the book based on what they told me. My total number of beta readers was 15 and I had two editors: Amazing Ashley and a journalist friend (Extraordinary Emily).
I decided to send my query letters in rounds so I could learn from each agent response and improve the letter for the next round of queries. You should plan to query between 80-120 agents. Rejection letters are just part of the process so don't get discouraged. I know that's easy to say and it's a lot harder to deal with, but you get immune to it eventually and the rejection is just part of the process. I just repeat the "It's SO subjective" mantra over and over again. It really is about finding the right agent and the agent has to click with your work. And honestly, that's what you want! I know when you start querying you think: An agent! Any agent! The agent could be an ostrich, I don't care, I just want an agent! No, you want the *right* agent. You're hopefully going to spend the rest of your career with this person and they will help shape your writing career. You want to make sure you have the best agent for you and your work. Once you start sending queries and getting rejections, use the rejections to improve your query and your manuscript. If you do that and you have a good query letter, you will get partial and full requests.
My day job is in marketing, advertising and PR so I decided to start marketing my book as soon as I began sending query letters out. I posted a few chapters on my website and Goodreads.com and now I have an audience around the world--which certainly doesn't hurt when it comes time to try and sell the book. I also began networking with agents, editors, editorial assistants, and other authors on Twitter. That's been a huge help because agents/editors/editorial assistants recognize me as someone they tweet with when they see my query. I also read agent blogs every day. The blogs taught me about the publishing industry, what agents were looking for, and how to write a query letter. Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid, and Query Shark, were all really helpful to me while I was trying to learn more about the publishing industry and I still read those blogs now.
The biggest mistake I see other writers make is that they finish their rough draft, read it over a few times, maybe let a couple family members read it, spell check it, and then send it out to agents. Trying to get an agent to read your manuscript can feel daunting, especially now. A few years ago, agents were getting around 50-100 query letters each week, now they're getting between 200-500 a week. So, making sure your query letter is fantastic and your manuscript is pristine is important if you want to get the attention of an agent. While family is great for boosting your confidence and giving you general suggestions, a good editor will be able to find things most readers don't think about (ie. misplaced modifiers, faulty parallelism problems, and general plot issues that most regular readers won't see). Some agents are "editing agents" and they want to help you improve the book before they send it out on submission to publishing houses. Other agents want the book ready to go to publishing houses and won't take you on as a client unless the book is very close to being ready to submit. In any event, make sure you wait to query until your work is as close to perfect as you think you can get it.
The whole process can feel overwhelming and that's why it's important to have other writer friends who understand what you're going through. I don't know what I would do without my writing mentors and a network of people to ask for advice.
That's my story so far. Hope it helps!