Tag Archives: query letters

Out of the Mouths of Agents

Tip #27: Do not show up at an agent's office wearing this.

I used to be very superstitious when it came to querying agents. It started when someone told me the best time to query was between January and June, but I took it to another level. I started trying to get into the minds of agents (i.e. Would s/he be more receptive to my email in the morning or afternoon? Should I wait until mid-week in case s/he had a crappy weekend? Etc.). It was exhausting, not to mention…unhealthy.

Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:

What agents are seeing too much of:
– Vampires and werewolves
– Mid-life spiritual memoirs
– Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
– Talking animals in children’s books

What would agents love to see:
– Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
– Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
– Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding

What can an agent bring to the table:
– Editorial experience
– Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
– Someone who will champion your work to the world

What agents look for in a new author:
– Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
– Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
– A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
– Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
– Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers

What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
– Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
– Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
– A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy

What agents think of social networking:
– Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
– Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
– Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
– Think of Google as your virtual resume

What agents think of self-publishing:
– It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
– Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
– Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
– Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
– “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
– It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
– If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you

What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
– How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
– What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
– What do you connect with in the book?
– What revisions do you suggest?
– What’s your experience with my kind of book?

What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
– Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.

As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.

If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations

If You Want an Agent, You Need Backspace

I learned about the Backspace Writer’s Conference the way I learn about most things: Twitter. An author I follow tweeted about his new agent and his blog detailed the experience (Backspace played a huge role).

I cannot emphasize enough what an amazing opportunity this conference provides to authors looking for an agent. Unlike most writing conferences that offer a couple of anxiety-ridden pitch sessions, Backspace provides genre-specific workshops where authors spend hours having their query letters and opening pages critiqued by agents seeking new clients.

Not all participants receive offers of representation, but at the very least they should come away inspired and informed enough to make their manuscript query-ready. I received multiple requests for my women’s fiction manuscript, but of equal importance was the opportunity to connect with writers who have become beta readers, cheerleaders and swoon-worthy drinking buddies.

I’ve also completed a children’s chapter book that I’m ready to query, but only YA was being represented in the workshops. Luckily, Backspace offered agent/editor panels on both days and writers were able to pitch their work to them following the sessions. This allowed me to connect with agents who represent children’s fiction (more referrals and requests for pages).

Since I went totally budget on the accommodations and was able to score a cheap flight, the entire conference cost me just over $1,000—obviously a significant chunk of coin, but think of it as an investment in yourself…that’s how I sold it to my husband :-D

LD

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Filed under Author events, Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Writing resources

Ditch the Follow-up Phobia

Querying agents is a humbling and pride-sucking process, but it’s also just plain weird.

You slave over your manuscript (sometimes for years), then craft a 300-word letter that perfectly encapsulates everything about your book, and it’s sent out to a multitude of strangers with the hope that one of them might want to take a closer look. If you aren’t used to tooting your own horn, the process can feel a bit…icky at first, like arriving for a first date in your wedding dress. Or showing up for your first day of work, resume in hand, without benefit of having been offered a job. Or sending your kids to college without admittance. Or…you get the picture.

Many people send their query letters and then hide under the bed sit back and hope for The Call. That’s what I used to do. Now I know better.

Beckie is the person who encouraged me to follow up with agents. She is relentless as well as restless in her pursuit of writing, and she shows no fear in gently reminding agents that they have her manuscript. Half of me was worried about bothering the agents and the other half just wanted to forget I was even querying. In my twisted logic, not thinking about it would make it happen (see also: a watched pot), but that wasn’t working out so well for me and I decided to do some following up.

And guess what? Ten sent e-mails led to three requests for more pages! It also led to seven “thanks but no thanks” responses, but at least it gave me some closure. And one of those rejections was the nicest “no” anyone has ever received. Ever. It actually made my day.

Rather than appearing desperate, sending a brief follow up simply demonstrates professional courtesy, and often encourages positive reciprocity. Worst case scenario? I get another “no” for my pimped-out, colour-coded, agent-tracking spreadsheet.

Best case scenario? I get an agent.

LD
What’s your follow up strategy? Do you have one?

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations

Listening to the Woo Woo

The manuscript is complete. Edits are finalized. Query letter is as perfect as it’s ever gonna get. Agents have been researched. Submission guidelines followed to a T. So why haven’t I sent a single one? Because the shamanic astrologer told me to wait.

No, seriously. I met this fella and he gave me a two-hour reading. Part of that focused on my writing and apparently the stars, etc. are suggesting I hold off for a month or so before approaching agents. Now I love a good psychic and even read tarot cards myself, but I also spill salt with abandon and break the odd mirror without a second thought.

Why am I listening this time? Maybe because Halloween is around the corner. Or it’s an excuse to perfect my procrastination skills. Whatever the underlying reason, I figure if it’s taken me this long (“this long” being three years) to get this show on the road, what’s another month?

LD

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Filed under Getting published

How Tweet It Is…

We are the Restless Writers and we are Twitterholics.

Maria, Beckie and Lori's initial reactions to Twitter

Whether we’re toiling the summer away on patios while sipping Mojitos, or in basements sweating over queries (note: put the two together!), there’s one constant to be found: we’re taking regular breaks to tweet, see who #FF us, check for new followers, or just read everyone else’s stuff. Pavlov would be proud.

We were tentative at first, putting out little missives announcing blog postings. Then we slowly began following other writers, agents and interesting celebrities. Now, we ourselves have a sassy cadre of followers with whom we banter regularly. And if you look at who we’re following (as well as who follows us), it’s very telling of our personalities:

Beckie is currently shopping around a kick-ass proposal for a non-fiction environmental book aimed at younger audiences. Her lists include YA / MG writers and agents; greenies (those with an environmental slant) and book bloggers.

Maria is our literary empress, PR maven and indexing dynamo with a penchant for short stories. Her list is as diverse as she is – everyone from Seth Myers to Simon & Shuster (UK) to AintYoMamasBlog.

Lori is the stay-at-home-mom and pop culture junkie who is querying her women’s lit manuscript. Her list is full of the usual suspects: agents; funny writer-types; and any celebrity not on a reality television show.

There’s definitely some cross-over (hot hitchhikers traversing the globe, line forms on the left), but that’s true of us as well – during our last meeting we marveled at how such different women, writing in such different genres, could enjoy each other so much.

Who should we follow on Twitter? Is it you? Let us know in the comments!

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Filed under Group meetings, Life and stuff, Writing ideas, Writing resources

I see the light…

I’m almost done my manuscript. I thought I was done over a year ago, but with a lot of help from my fellow restless writers, I determined that this was not the case and re-wrote the first 100 pages.

This draft is tight. I’m really happy with it. But as much as I long to start cranking out some queries, part of me doesn’t want it to end. I like my characters, especially the saucy one, and I don’t want to leave their world quite yet.

I’m also having pre-query-jitters, similar to those felt by my sister when she plunged into the online dating pool: you’re putting yourself out to the masses and hoping someone likes what you have to offer. At least I don’t have to include a picture…

Lori

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Filed under Motivation