agent

Why Agents Deserve That 15%

Most of us know why it's good to have an agent around. They negotiate contracts, they have access to the editors, they sort through all the chaos that goes into having a book deal. But agents truly go above and beyond the call of duty here. Unlike most people who have day jobs, these people don't just clock out and go home. They take it with them. All the time. What else do they do, you ask, that make them so amazing?

1. They make the effort to appear sane.

Contrary to popular belief, agents are humans, too. They get discouraged, they get nervous, and they get frustrated just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us, these unearthly beings don't show it. At least, mine never has. They make the effort to always be certain in the decisions and events taking place. They are ready to reassure and reassess. Tons of rejections? They'll be unfazed and make the choice between a new round or a new revision. Can't get the numbers you want on a contract? Agents will do the best the can with what they've got.

2. They always tell the truth.

Seriously. Think about it. All those rejections, all those revision notes. They don't hold back. Yes, usually they're kind and encouraging. But ultimately, if a story needs work or something needs to be changed, we will be informed of it. Agents speak truth as easily as I eat cheese. It's so hard to see these truths when us writers are so close to our work, so ecstatically convinced it's amazing or dejectedly believing it's nothing but crap. Ask an agent a question, and you'll get the true answer. Maybe not the one you want, but that's the beauty of it.

3. They deal with e-mails from crazy clients.

I'm not proud to admit this, but we all know how insecure writers can get. Once in a while I'll send random e-mails to my poor agent without trying to stop myself, all frenzied and desperate and truly cringe-worthy. Basically they run along these lines: "Tell me I don't suck." My no-nonsense agent sets me straight pretty quickly. So... yes. She deserves that 15%. And if I'm going to be honest, she really deserves way more than that. 

Have you told your agent lately how awesome they are?

Guest Post by Mindy McGinnis: Quality Time in the Query Quagmire

Today I have the fabulous Mindy McGinnis stopping by the blog. Mindy is a YA writer, repped by Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services. She also serves as a moderator at Agent Query Connect. This lady knows what she's talking about! Thanks for being here, Mindy!

So the query process kinda sucks, right?

I’d have to say, yes. And I mean say it in the same tone you use to sound your barbaric YAWP. There are plenty of overnight success stories out there, but the majority of us don’t fall into that category. Some of us even fall farther to the left of that category. And then there’s me. I’m somewhere past the guy with the big stick on the evolutionary scale of query process.

At least I was ten years ago. I’m agented now so I can laugh at Mindy-That-Was and her decade of failure, but it’s the kind of laugh that makes your trachea bleed.

Mindy-That-Was made very basic mistakes. Mistakes that Mindy-That-Is wants you to avoid. Namely – don’t assume that you are so God Awfully Talented that you don’t need to do your research.

Yes, research sucks. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it’s not what you had in mind when you decided to be a writer. But it’s what you need to do if you want to become one.

If you want to land an agent you need to know if they rep your genre, (hint – first know what your genre is), if they’re open to queries, and what to send to them.

Some agents want your query. Some want your query and sample pages. Some want your query, sample pages and a (DAMMIT) synopsis. (Hint – don’t do what Mindy-That-Was did and try to slide the query and sample pages past them without including a synopsis. You’ll get an email back asking for that synopsis, then you’ll write one like mad and send it off. And uh, it’ll suck.)

Do your research my friends. There are plenty of resources out there to help you find the answers, and you don’t have to buy a copy of Writer’s Market like Mindy-That-Was did. They’re free, and they’re online. In fact, you can go there right now.

Sites like AgentQuery Connect and QueryTracker were both instrumental to my success. AQC (where I also serve as a site moderator under the screenname bigblackcat97) is a resource and forum. We’re a welcoming community, so stop by. QueryTracker will track your hits and misses for free, but I highly advise dropping the cash for the one-year membership. It’s worth a hell of a lot more than they charge for it.

Also be sure to hit up the websites of agents, or their agencies. Individual submission preferences are usually listed there, along with specific info about what the agent is currently looking for. Agent blogs are a must. Does someone sounds like a good fit just because they rep your genre? Or because you read their blog and now you think you’re probably related? (Hint – don’t actually say that in a query. It makes you sound creepy).

There’s a multitude of resources out there to get that query in shape and into the hands of the right people.

What isn’t there? An excuse.

Want more from Mindy? She can be found on her blog or on Twitter.

Opinions

My agent said something recently that struck a chord with me. We've been going back and forth about some things in my manuscript that may need tweaking, and she made a suggestion. Yes, I said. But this person said that it didn't work. We exchanged a few more comments and e-mails, which eventually led me to say, Well, I guess it's all a matter of opinion, isn't it?

And then Beth hit me with: As is most of this business.

Okay, before you're tempted to throw a drink or a piece of food at me and go, Well duh!, allow me to finish. I know that publishing is impossible. I know that a piece of writing can't please everyone. One person is going to love it and one person is going to hate it. But how do you know when to make changes according to someone else's opinion and when to make a decision that goes against it?

I've been at a crossroads a few times over the past few months. I've made choices that go against the grain and choices that go with the flow. People say often, Kelsey, this is your story, you do what feels right. Which is ultimately the only piece of advice us writers can follow. We can make those changes and we can keep things the way they are, or we can go another direction entirely. It's up to us. It's our words, it's our story, it's our decision. There are people standing behind you, and hopefully there are more people down the road that will have the right to an opinion. In the end, though - the truth I keep coming back to during this experience - it all comes down to our opinion. My opinion.

Three Things You Need for the Submission/Query Process

1. A distraction.

Oh, this one should be all three. I could end the post here. Because a distraction is really the path to sanity. My first instinct after that all-important e-mail has been sent is to go back to the computer and check my inbox every four seconds. Which, okay, I pretty much do no matter what else I set about doing. But I try to focus on other tasks or projects. Piano, cleaning, exercising (I always seem to gain a few pounds duing the writing process), another project (though I really try to avoid the computer for a while). We should make a bumper out of this, guys. Distraction: the path to sanity.

2. Comfort food.

This may contradict the whole exercising distraction, but seriously. When that butterfly sensation explodes inside of you and you become consumed with what ifs, it's nice to reach for a bag of chips or a tiny piece of chocolate. Okay, a chunk. Fine, a bar. Okay, a freaking box of chocolate. There's a reason I have a gym membership. It's an investment.

3. An ear.

No, not just a random ear like in a horror movie or something. But don't you just love that imagery? Anyway, I mean a friend. Someone who will listen to you rant and fret without losing their patience. (Thank you, Bambi and Tiger!) It might be just me, but I'm an out-loud worrier. I need someone who'll turn that ear towards me and let me go on and on like an unstoppable freight train. Wait. Wait just a second. Someone in my office has been conveniently gone every time I stop by. You don't think... No. She's just busy. She loves listening to my problems.

These three things should keep us from becoming hunched-over monsters with foaming mouths. Well, it's too late for me when it comes to the hunchback... Good luck with your own waiting!

Form Rejections

I know that some people hate form rejections, loathe their quick formality. They all run along the same vein: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to consider your work. Unfortunately... Whenever you see those words, it's like someone knocked the air out of you. The hope dies just a little.

Now here's the kicker: I like form rejections. Wait, wait. Before you go thinking I'm a freak or a glutton for punishment, let me explain. I like form rejections because they don't leave you hanging. Some agents - more and more, actually - don't respond at all if they aren't interested in your work. I think that we, as writers, should be grateful that an agent took the time to notify us of their choice to pass. They took the ten seconds out of their busy day so we're not sitting around wondering, waiting. Sure, they're not personalized. Form rejections are honest, and, yes, they hurt. But I think it hurts more watching the days go by without any response at all.

When an agent passes we have so many questions: Why? What was wrong with it? What can I do to make it better? It's hard not to bother them after that experience. But we have to try and look at it from their point of view: personalizing a form rejection is encouragement. For anything, really. An argument, a plea to revise and resubmit. So I understand, and I'm grateful. Plus - and maybe this is just me - the hurt aspect of getting a form rejection starts to fade after you get so many. So there's something to look forward to!

What are your views on form rejections?

The Relationship With Your Agent

Today I was trying to come up with a blog topic, and I kept asking myself if there was anything I wondered about before I signed with Beth. I remember constantly trolling through blogs and websites, looking for any and all information that I could get about agents. And there are so many resources for writing the perfect query, for what to say or ask during the official phone call. But one thing I didn’t see too much of was what happens after. What’s it like, having an agent? What do you talk about, how do you communicate?

Every author’s relationship with their agent is different. But I can share with you what it’s like working with Beth.

We don’t talk every day. There are long stretches of time that we go without hearing from each other at all, in fact. Right now, for instance, I’m deep into editing. Beth and I went back and forth on the phone and in e-mails for a while, talking in length about these changes. Now that we’ve decided what to do, it’s up to me. Of course if I have a question or an idea to throw her way I will, but for now, we’re both working.

In the beginning I think the relationship was a little more formal. Now that we know each other better, it’s easier. I don’t type Dear Beth at the beginning of every e-mail, and I don’t sweat waterfalls when she calls. I don’t know if this was just me, but I had trouble thinking of agents as actual people. They were beings that were so exotic they were almost unreachable. Not that they still aren’t exotic beings! But they’re actually real, and friendly! I know, it’s unexpected. Who knew?

Edits. Beth is great with the idea-tossing, when the time comes for it. She doesn’t do line-by-line. She lets me know what themes in the novel are working, and what should be tweaked or rewritten. I actually enjoy how much is left up to me. She reminds me that this is my story, and I should do what feels right. It’s awesome sauce.

Point is, your agent is your biggest fan. They’re rooting for you, they’re putting time into your story and your conversations. It’s amazing to have someone so capable on your side.

Have a great day, guys! Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Some Simple Query Don'ts

Okay, so. How does one write a great query letter? Oh, what a loaded question. Because, honestly, I don't think there is a right or wrong way. Despite the basic rules, there have been instances where agents made exceptions or overlooked the breaking of these rules because the story sounded so interesting. So that's the key. Make it interesting. (Here's an example where an agent made one such exception.)

I'm going to keep this post simple. There are already so many resources out there for you guys when it comes to writing a query, and I'm probably parroting it all. But here are some things to avoid to keep your query from, frankly, being a yawn fest.

Don't info-dump.

Example: Wisconsin is a state where nothing out of the ordinary happens and people are expected to cheer for the Packers. No one believes in magic and no one believes in anything beyond this world. Anyone who does is automatically an outsider. (And so on and so forth.)

Don't over-explain your plot.

Hannah lost her father when she was six. She and her family have always believed it to be a car accident. After all, there was a car wreck and a body on the road. But then Hannah gets a strange visit from a girl she's never met before and she begins to doubt what shouldn't have to be questioned. The girl tells Hannah that... (Basically, keep it simple. This could be direct and clear if it was just, Hannah has always believed her father died in a car accident. After meeting a girl who knows too much about her life, she begins to doubt this. Rough example, I realize, but it gets the point across, right?)

Don't claim your book is the next Twilight.

Can't stress this one enough. I'm annoyed when I read things like this on Query Shark or anywhere else. Agents aren't looking for the next Twilight - it's already been done. They're looking for something new! If you have a great query and you're professional, they'll ask for more.

I think those are the big ones. I could have summed it up in one sentence, really: Show, don't tell. But I thought I would make one of the lists I'm always talking about. I'm not the sole authority on this, of course, but if someone has a question, I'll do my best to answer!

My Query

It occured to me that although you know I'm on submission, none of you know what my book is actually about. So for the first time, I present the query I sent to Beth that eventually led to representation. I'm not actually sure my query is all that wonderful. The fact Beth requested to see more could be due to the fact that she'd already seen my writing. I might have to ask her one of these days. Anyway. Read on.

Dear Beth,

I am seeking representation for SOME QUIET PLACE, a young adult urban fantasy. The novel is complete at 77,000 words. You requested another manuscript of mine at one time, a young adult suspense entitled BECAUSE, and you were open to seeing more of my work.

The very definition of humanity is the quality to be humane. Ironic, since Elizabeth Caldwell appears every bit human, yet sorely lacks in the latter. As a small child she somehow lost the ability to feel any emotion. While her best friend slowly dies of cancer and her father comes home in drunken rages, Elizabeth searches for the truth.

Among her other abnormalities, Elizabeth has the ability to see the unseen. Faeries are emotions personified. They’ve all stopped seeking her out, save one: beautiful, stubborn, adoring Fear. Fear wants the truth just as much as she does. There’s a stranger in town that might know something.

It soon becomes evident, however, that there’s something more pressing out there besides the mysterious stranger and the haziness of Elizabeth’s history. Creatures are fleeing Edson in terror, and people have begun to discern that something is amiss with Elizabeth. Will she have enough time to put the pieces together? What’s coming for her? And is finding out the truth really the key to survival? Secrets are buried for a reason…

A piece of mine was selected as Best Personal Essay for the Anoka-Ramsey Annual Writing Contest, and I’ve been a part of a writing critique group for over three years. I can be reached at 000-000-0000, and my e-mail address is kelseyjsutton@gmail.com. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

Kelsey

The Questions I Asked

As I was trying to think of a topic to blog about on this chilly Thursday, I thought back to before I signed with Beth. What did I not know then that I know now? The truth is, signing with an agent doesn't suddenly make you wise, or all-knowing. Although during the whole process in finding Beth I did inhale every article I could find about querying, what agents look for, what the step-by-step is like. I'm pretty sure I've already done posts on these, haven't I? To be sure, I looked back over my archives. I stumbled upon my post on The Call...

...and realized that I never actually gave you guys my list of questions. You know, the questions I bombarded Beth with during the conversation? Granted, you can find this list on a ton of other sites on the 'net, but this will be just another resource for someone to stumble upon when they're ready to query. These aren't all the questions I asked, because I can't find the exact list, but I think these are the top ten. Please not that these are in no particular order!

1. If this manuscript doesn't sell, what will be the next step?
2. What is your percentage?
3. Will you show me the list of submissions, and how often will you send me an update?
4. What rights do you handle?
5. Do you consider yourself an editorial agent?
6. Will I work with a publicist?
7. What would happen if you were to leave the agency or no longer able to represent me?
8. What would you consider a good agent-client relationship?
9. May I contact some of your clients for references?
10. Do you have any questions for me?

My list is kind of sad in comparison to these great resources. So if you're expecting that call someday soon, or even in the distant future, check these pros out.

Agent Rachelle Gardner on Rants & Ramblings: What to Ask an Agent
Casey McCormick on Literary Rambles: The Call
Writer's Relief: Nine Questions to Ask a Literary Agent 

Are You Ready to Query?

I'll admit that I jumped into the query pool far before I was ready. I was 15, very impatient, and very excited. I'd finished a draft and I had illusions of getting dozens of offers and being published in a matter of weeks. (This was before I learned to keep a firm grip on reality when it comes to those daydreams.) It wasn't my query that was the problem; it was the writing. If I'd done more research and worked on my book more, I could've saved myself a lot of time and heartache. Not to mention the agents' time.

Have you finished writing a book?

First step to getting ready. I've heard of some writers querying an agent with a half-finished manuscript. Not only are agents looking for great concepts and great writing, they're also looking for a completed project. No one wants to look at a half-done painting, right? 

Has someone else read your work?

I've blogged before on how important outside feedback is. Can't stress it enough. We're so biased about our own work that it's impossible to look at the draft with fresh, critical eyes. That's where other readers come in. It can't be your mom, or your cousin, or your best friend, because more often than not they're going to be too nice about offering their opinion. Trust me, the first draft of your novel is not ready. I made the mistake of sending off my first draft, and agent interest turned into rejections.

Have you done your research?

Every agent has different submission guidelines and genre interests. It's time consuming to browse through agency websites and reading about these agents, but it's better for everyone involved when those guidelines are followed. That way, the agent isn't irritated, time isn't wasted, and you're sending your work to someone who's really interested.

And then, of course, there's the actual query letter to be written. But that's another post for another day. If you answered all of these yes, then you're ready to start to process. Too bad I didn't ask myself these questions as that over-eager 15-year-old. Are any of you guilty of querying too early?

The Hard Facts

“An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.” Quoted by Adlai Stevenson in You Said a Mouthful.

Today I want to talk about realism. And this is as much for me as it is for you. Because the fact of the matter is, it’s fun to dream. It’s encouraging to imagine. It’s great to have goals. But we writers need to be practical. This isn’t to crush any hopes or slow your momentum; it’s just to reaffirm the way things are for all of us.

Landing an agent won’t guarantee you publication.

Ouch. I know that might be hard to hear, especially for those of you that are focusing on this. I love my agent. She rocks my socks. And I know she’s doing her damndest to get my book out there. She’s enthusiastic and I couldn’t be in better hands. But she doesn’t control the industry, unfortunately. Not everyone is going to love the story. If an editor decides he or she doesn’t like my work, and it happens over and over again, then Beth’s part has been fulfilled. She did her job; we just didn’t get the prize. It’ll be my job to write something new and amazing.

And that doesn’t mean that the manuscript won’t be seen one day. Just not now. It could be because your writing needs a little tweaking, or it isn’t the right time for that story, or you haven’t found the right editor. The road the publication is, for most, long and hard. It’s not daisies and sunshine and cupcakes. It’s work. Revising, waiting, dealing with rejections and deciding the next move.

Which leads me to another point. It won’t happen in one week.

Okay, it has happened for a few, I admit. But those are the exceptions, not the norm. Many bestselling authors were rejected dozens of times by publishers before finding that one perfect fit. For the most part, though, it’s a drawn-out process. Most of us know that publishing is a slow business, right? It takes time. Because I’m not a particularly patient person, this has been a learning process for me. It isn’t going to happen right away, and not even anytime soon, if I’m being realistic.

So while I love picturing myself on a red carpet with cameras flashing (in my daydreams, authors are like Hollywood stars), I do need to keep a light grip on that realism. If I don’t, the waiting gets harder and the anxiety gets a little more rein.

I know, this post is such a downer, huh? Of course it's okay to have those dreams! If we didn't, we wouldn't have agents or submit to editors or one day see our work on shelves. And if you're the kind of person who's fueled by hoping hard and leaving reality behind, go for it. Maybe it will happen for you. There have to be more J.K. Rowlings and Stephenie Meyers in the world, right? Just be careful.

That's it for today, I think. I promise, tomorrow's post will be less doom-and-gloom. I’ll see you all next week!

The Waiting Game

When it comes to being patient, I'm not so great. When something's on my mind, it tends to stay there no matter what I do. But being a writer is all about waiting, unfortunately, so there's really no other option but to get used to it. I've come up with a few methods that distract me fairly well.

1. Write something else.

This is number one because it's so important. Maybe this project you're submitting or querying isn't going to work out. If you eventually decide that this project should be put on the back burner for a while, you'll need something else to put out there. Not to mention the fact that practice makes perfect. Even if you've written what you think is the most amazing novel to ever be written, you'll keep getting better the more your write.

2. Clean.

Do all those things you put off while you were writing The Book. Ugh. I know that after I finished mine, I turned around to face a mountain of laundry, a lonely little dog, work, and so much else. So rather than plunging head-first into a shiny new idea, I forced myself to tie up some ends that had loosened in my absence.

3. Develop your online presence.

Start a blog. Twitter. Facebook. Anything just to meet other writers out there and learn about the world of reading, publishing, writing. I met all of my betas online. Yours could be waiting. Also, it doesn't hurt to build a bit of a platform for that wonderful day when you can announce your book will be in stores, go buy it!

4. Hone another skill.

I've always wanted to learn piano. So, one day, I opened the phone book and found a teacher. I was the oldest student by far, but it turns out I have a knack for it (if I don't say so myself.) Of course, now those lessons have gone on hold since life took over, but I will begin again, soon. I hope. No, I will. Is there something you've always wanted to learn or do? No time like during the lull of a book on submission or a query in an agent's inbox.

5. Just relax!

I wouldn't recommend relaxing too long, but hey, we've earned it, right? We sat down and spat out 50,000+ amazing words. We created this incredible thing. Why not sit back for a day or two and watch reruns of Friends?

Like I said, these are only distractions. But we all need our distractions at one time or another.

Have a great week, everyone!

Guest Post by Agent Beth Miller: On Queries

Today for the first time on my blog, I'm excited to introduce you to a fabulous agent at Writers House, Beth Miller.

Some background on Beth: I have a long-standing fascination with the sea, and went to college with the intention of studying marine biology. About halfway through, I switched to general biology, and graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Southampton College of Long Island University. Not knowing what to do after I graduated, I entered a teaching certification program, where I quickly discovered that I had absolutely no desire to teach. I gave that up and worked in a bookstore for awhile before landing a job at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a DNA Sequencing Technician. That position lasted for 7 years, during which time I went back to school, earning my M.A. in Literature from Queens College, CUNY, in December 2006. I began working as an assistant at a literary agency in February 2007. I absolutely love it here, so much so that the 7 years at the lab are barely even a memory.

Take it away, Beth!
 So you’ve written a novel. Congratulations- it’s a fabulous accomplishment!

Now what?

The Dreaded Query Letter…

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so what should you do (or not do!) to grab the attention (in a good way) of the agent you’re querying?

Do your research!

There are several ways to research the best agents for your book. My favorite: go to the bookstore (also known as the Mother Ship), and flip through the latest novels in your genre. Most of them will have an acknowledgments page, and in many cases, you can find the names of the author’s agent on this page. Then go to the internet. Research that agent/agency. What are they looking for? How do you submit to them?

You can also skip the bookstore and go straight to the internet (which may be a good idea if you’re like me and drop a paycheck in the bookstore every time you walk through the door). Try www.agentquery.com and do a search by genre or keyword. Or try www.absolutewrite.com and visit the forums there. You can find discussions on nearly every agency out there.

Don’t forget the blogs! There are plenty of agents who are blogging these days, and you can learn a lot by seeing what they’re ranting about. Try Janet Reid, who also runs Query Shark, and check out whose blogs she links to. There’s a blog for BookEnds, LLC, The Rejectionist (who doesn’t always rant about publishing stuff, but she’s hilarious anyway), and plenty of others that will be a great help to you.

Ok, so you’ve found some agents to try. Now what do you do?

Snail Mail or Email?

In this wonderful age of the internet, many agents are accepting email queries. But some kick it old school and prefer snail mail. Or maybe you just like to send things through the mail. Either way, there is etiquette to follow!

Your query letter should have a paragraph or two about the story itself, including the genre and word count. If it would appeal to readers of a particular author, include that too. Then there should be a paragraph on you, which includes any publishing credits or relevant information. By “relevant,” I mean that if you’ve written a novel set in Medieval England, and you have a degree in medieval history, that’s relevant. If your novel is about the Amazon River dolphin, and you did your doctoral dissertation on them, this would be relevant (and way cool!). If you’ve written a novel set in Middle-earth, and you are a hobbit, that would be relevant information. It’s not relevant to tell me your grandmother loved it (we know she did) or that you are married with four beautiful children (it’s wonderful, but not relevant to your novel).

Can we talk about word counts? Most adult novels are around 100,000 words. This is about 400 pages-ish. Books for kids vary greatly—some can be that long if they’re for older teens, but many YA novels are probably between 60,000 and 80,000 words. Books for younger readers are usually shorter than that. If you’re writing epic fantasy or a sweeping historical saga, you may be able to go for 125,000-150,000 or so. Any more than that, and you are probably too high. Bear this in mind if your novel is 267,000 words. This is pretty much never okay. There is some leeway with all of these, but not a huge amount.

Snail Mail

The easiest way to discuss query letters is to talk about the “don’ts,” any of which may get your carefully-written and mailed letter tossed aside with a guffaw.

Don’t include glitter, sequins, bread crumbs, or anthrax in your query letter. If I open the envelope and stuff falls out all over me, I will put you in the “reject” pile even before I finish brushing myself off and cursing in Elvish.

Don’t include food. Just as you are unlikely to eat something sent to you by a stranger, we’re even more unlikely to do so. We appreciate the thought behind the brownies, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and meat pies, but unfortunately, we’re going to toss them unopened. Booze, on the other hand… no, wait, we don’t want booze either. Really.

Don’t include photos of- well, anything. If you’ve written a YA novel, there’s no need to include a head shot. We’re not a modeling agency or a talent scout. You can look like Halle Berry or Christian Bale, but it’s completely irrelevant to your query. Also, it’s great that you have wonderful kids/pets/art collections- we just want to read your query. Obviously, if you’re an illustrator, then yes, please feel free to include an art sample, but otherwise, please enjoy your photos at home.

Don’t forget the SASE (Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope)!

For those of you who may not know what this means, it’s an envelope addressed to yourself, with return postage. I didn’t know this many years ago, and people thought I was dumb. If you have included pages, please remember to include the proper size envelope and postage if you want your pages returned. If you don’t include a SASE, and your email address isn’t on your letter, we may not reply.

Email Queries

**Please remember that these are business letters. Remember that you are trying to make a favorable impression and get your pages read, not irritate the agent so that he or she deletes your query unread.**

Don’t put “Hi!” as your subject line. It should say something like “Query” followed by your title. Anything else is inappropriate. This isn’t a letter to a friend, and we’re not fooled by an email that says “Hi!” from someone we don’t know.

Don’t include an attachment in your initial query, unless instructed to do so. Most agents will not open unsolicited attachments. If you’re including pages or a synopsis, paste them into the body of the email. Also, please put your query letter in the body of the email—some people attach the query letter. This is not correct.

Don’t address your email to anything other than the agent’s name you are querying. We know you’re querying other agents, and you would be foolish not to. But at least take the time to address each email to a particular agent, including the “to” field. If I see more than one agent’s name there, or “undisclosed recipients,” I immediately delete it without reading.

Don’t use a query service. You wrote the book. You toiled over it, edited it, tore it apart, edited it, cried over it, and worked on it for weeks/months/years/decades. Why would you want someone else to write your query letter for you? You can easily find resources online that will give you guidelines for query letters. Examples of these are www.agentquery.com & Query Shark, but there are many others. The problem with the query services is that they all seem to follow the same general format, and it is immediately obvious that you used a query service.

Don’t require the recipient’s email to be verified for a reply. If I reply to your email, and I receive a bounce-back that asks me to click a link to verify that I am not a spammer, I will delete your email and not “verify” myself. If you’re worried about receiving spam, set up a dedicated email for querying with a free service like yahoo, gmail, or hotmail. You should do this anyway, so that when I reply to you, I’m replying to beth.miller@yahoo.com or bmiller@gmail.com, not ilikebunnies@yahoo.com. It just looks unprofessional.

Don’t query incessantly. If I rejected your project in June, I will reject it in mid-June, July, and December as well. We keep track of queries. Also, don’t query with a different project every other week. It gets to the point where I will delete your email on sight. And don’t try to be clever and send the same query every day using different email addresses or usernames. You will go to the crazy junk mail file.

Don’t forget to include the title of your project! You wrote it, own it! Be proud of it! And it makes my reply look nicer when I can say “Dear Beth, thank you for your query for I Like Bunnies…” rather than “Dear Beth, thank you for your query.”

Don’t give ultimatums. When you say “If you don’t reply in 10 days, I will come after you with the Sword of Truth I will assume you’re not interested,” I am pretty much guaranteed to delete your email.

Don’t be crazy! We all know that authors are artists, and there’s a little bit of crazy that goes along with that. This is not what I mean. I mean the crazy that has me afraid for my life after reading your query. I have to not only love your work, I have to want to work with you! This includes blogging and other internet-related stuff. If I like your work, I may Google you or go to your enclosed website. If you’re on a tirade about the publishing industry, I will think “hey, this person is crazy to talk about this stuff on her blog, and she may be crazy to work with as well,” and I will probably turn you down.

Ok, you’re sending pages! Is there something you should know about this?

Yes. If you’re including sample pages with your query, start with page 1! It’s the first pages that have to grab the reader’s attention. If the first pages aren’t good, they won’t read pages 110-142, even if you’ve said it’s your best writing! If you send me pages 110-142, I will assume that the first 109 pages are crap.

I’ve got your partial (or full) manuscript under consideration, and you’ve gotten feedback that indicates a re-write is in order. Please email me to withdraw the submission until it’s ready! This is okay! Sending an email with a revised document every other week is NOT okay!

Miscellaneous don’ts:

Please don’t smoke near where you keep your printer paper! Hey, we all have vices- I don’t judge. But you’d be stunned at how paper absorbs cigarette smoke, and when I open that envelope and catch a whiff of stale smoke, it’s likely I will not read your pages.

Please don’t feel the need to reply to a rejection letter or email. We appreciate the sentiment, but it just clogs up our inbox, and it’s really not necessary.

Please don’t ask us to recommend another agent/agency. If we wanted to, we would have done so.

Don’t forget to proofread your work!!

Some thoughts about the Dreaded Synopsis:

Everyone has different ideas about what this should look like, but basically a few pages that give the story arc is about right. Three pages at the most is probably sufficient, unless the agent specifies otherwise. Please don’t summarize every chapter of your novel. Main characters and story arc, including the end of the story. That’s it.

Remember, at the end of the day, we want to find the next Stephenie Meyer/Nora Roberts/James Patterson/J.K. Rowling. We want to read your work, and we want to love it!

I am happy to answer questions if you have them!

Thanks for stopping by, Beth. These are great tips and insights.

Dealing With Rejection

We've all dealt with rejection at one time or another. And if by some miracle you haven't yet, I can promise that you will at some point. It's hard to take and the hurt can linger for a long time if you let it. There's not much you can do besides ride out that pain - maybe not what any of us want to hear. But I have a few things for you to think about until it fades.

It's not about you.

It's about something you created. Okay, still not great to hear, but it's still important to know, because here's the big point: Your writing is always improving. So when you get a rejection, know that you can always try again, and the next time might be different. The agent isn't out to make you feel miserable or to make you feel so horrible you give up. It isn't about you, it's about the craft that we're all constantly working on to improve.

It isn't the end.

When we fall, it's so important that we get back up again. Because even if we don't reach that ultimate goal - an agent, publication, whatever it is - we still benefit from pushing on. We grow stronger, we learn. And learning from rejection doesn't just apply to writing. It can be applied to life. I realize this may sound like preachy, but I honestly believe it. Every time I saw those words: Thank you for the opportunity to consider your work, but... I just got more determined. I just wanted it more. I just worked harder. Like I said; it can make you stronger. If you let it, it can also do the opposite. It just depends on how we choose to respond.

It's one opinion.

Maybe your writing is ready for submission. Maybe that agent really isn't the right fit for your work. It doesn't hurt to go over your query again and send it to someone else. Okay, if you are getting the same responses over and over, then you know you're going to have to do more than reread the query, but in the beginning it could just be that you're querying the wrong people.

Rejection sucks, put simply. But it doesn't have to be looked at as a bad thing. So even though a door is closing, there are other open doors and, hey, maybe the door previously closed will crack open again in the future. (I just got a little dizzy from this. Sorry.)

Anyway. Just wanted to share my take on this, since, quite honestly, I've dealt with it a lot. This is one area I will admit I know much about. And for those of you who are feeling discouraged, or have had one too many of these rejections, read this. So, now that I've hopefully given you something to think about... I'll step down from my pedestal.

See you all later in the week!

Agent Edits

One of my friends mentioned that she was really curious as to what an agent’s edits are like. Every agent is different, of course. But I can tell you what it’s like working with Beth so far. She’s the kind of agent who guides me but doesn’t hold my hand, if that makes sense.

Before she officially offered me representation, Beth sent me notes of what she believed worked and didn’t work, plot inconsistencies, etc. She gave me a lot of time to make the changes, but since I’m an obsessive writer and I like to set deadlines for myself (not to mention I wanted that call, man!), I got it all done quickly.

After the call and the signing, she sent me more notes. Just a few paragraphs similar to before. What wasn’t working with the story and what could make it better. I fixed it, sent it back to her. She had a couple of her colleagues read the book and sent me what they had told her. Again, I made some changes and sent it back. I’m guessing this is what it’s like for most writers.

It was looking pretty good at that point. Right before we went on submission she also sent a few line edits, just to make it shine to the extent that it would blind anyone who read it.

Beth always gives me the option of taking my time, but I'm just too excited to slow down!

Is the Query Flailing?

First off, I just love that word - flailing - and second, no, I don't think that the query system is suffering. It's just getting a bit tougher. More and more people are deciding to write, which means more and more queries in an agent's inbox. The bad has to be weeded out, which, let's be honest, is most of it. I'm not being cruel; I've been querying since I was fifteen, and now that I look back I want to tell myself, "Stop, you delusional little girl. You're not ready."

While I was querying, I remember reading all these stories about authors finding their agents at conferences. I've honestly never had a chance to go to a conference, so I started to lose hope, thinking that this was becoming the only way to land an agent. I finally got smart and stopped looking at the success statistics for cold-querying. Simply because they're impossibly low, and I believe in exceptions. (You can ask my high school math teacher - he had a no-retake policy. Guess who talked him out of that?) A writer can easily be crushed or discouraged looking at those numbers. As long as you have something that's actually good and unique, you should only believe in being that exception.

People are getting signed from cold queries. I just read a blog post similar to mine about getting a full request and then getting the call. So it's happening out there. Believe that, if you find yourself doubting or despairing. I sincerely think that if you have skill as a writer, you're eventually going to get noticed. It just takes a lot of time, a little bit of luck, and perseverance.

The Call

I promised you guys I would do a post on this. Now, everyone probably has different reactions to this call, but I'm going to be honest with you guys: I was sweating the entire time. And it wasn't hot in that room. At all. And I'm not a sweater; when I get nervous, I usually have to go find a toilet or a baggie or a bush to puke in, like I did the day of the Romeo & Juliet play in high school. (I shudder even thinking about it. Romeo was a slobbery kisser.)

But when it comes down to it, there's really nothing to be nervous about. Keep this in mind when or if you get the call. The agent is contacting you because she loves your work, and she believes in your abilities. She wants to take you on as a client. And I think that some of us forget that agents are people, too - they're just as excited as we are, and maybe they're a little nervous, too.

Anyway. I technically got the call on the night of January 4th. Beth and I had been e-mailing, and I informed her that she could reach me after 5 p.m. But I failed to tell Beth that I'm one hour behind her. So she called at 4 p.m., New York time, and I wasn't even home. When I did get home, though, and played her message, I remember despair curling in my stomach, and disbelief filling every core of my being; I missed the call.

I e-mailed Beth right away and told her that she could reach me at noon the next day. (I set aside the time during work, because there was no way I was going to miss the call again.) She called at exactly 11:58. I know this because I was sitting in the conference room, staring down at the little screen on my phone. My heart was pounding and I was sweating and butterflies were all aflutter in my stomach and I thought I was going to be sick. But I answered, cool as a cucumber, "Hello?"

I'd prepared a list of questions (three pages long!). I've read before that you should keep this from the agent, or at least sound like you're not reading from the page, but I just told Beth that I had put together a list and wanted to go over it with her. Which we did, and Beth had great answers for everything. We were on the phone for about an hour, I think. We talked about my book some, about the way she does things, and our goals. She had some questions for me, too, of course, and I remember at some point during the conversation I blurted, "Okay, you ask!" Like some kind of cave woman. Sigh. Oh, well.

Now, I also broke some more rules here. I've read that you're supposed to inform the agent that before you accept their offer of representation, you want to think about it for a few days. Basically, though, I told Beth that I would like to contact one of her clients and ask them a few questions, and after they got back to me with all their praise and adoration, I would accept her offer. I signed that same day, because the client quickly got back to me with exactly that. Honestly, Beth was the only agent I wanted to sign with - there weren't any others in the picture, no one to inform that I'd gotten an offer. It seemed to me that there was no point in delaying the dream.

And that's it. That was how it all came about. Funny thing - I was so nervous I have trouble remembering the specifics. 

It's Official

I'm so excited to tell you guys, and I'll admit, I've daydreamed about writing this post, being able to say the words. Well, here goes. Yesterday I signed with Beth Miller at Writers House.

Kelsey pauses for a moment to breathe evenly and not embarrass herself.

I think it will take a while for this to sink in, but I'm very, very excited to work with Beth. She's passionate about my work and I have confidence in her skills and abilities. As to confidence in my skills and abilities, well, I'm working on that.

So, the story. The first time I heard from Beth, I'd actually queried the agent she's an assistant to, Robin Rue. (For a project that I really had no business querying for, but that's another post for another day.) Anyway, Beth found my query in the slush pile and rescued me. She was interested in seeing some pages. I sent them to her, trying to retain my overzealous joy, and she then responded with a request to see the manuscript. Beth got back to me rather quickly with a pass. She explained to me her reasons for doing this and expressed interest in seeing more work when I had something.

Time went by. I edited the manuscript over and over again and worked on my writing overall. I then contacted Beth again, who said she'd be happy to take another look. I waited, and, again, she quickly responded with a pass. The reason was simple this time: she just didn't love the book. Which, oddly enough, really excited me. Here was an agent who wanted to feel as passionate about the work as the author.

So, finally, I left that manuscript behind. Or just stuck in in a drawer somewhere. The symbolism wasn't significant. I began work on a new novel. It took me about one, two months to finish the first draft. I then edited the crap out of it and had some of my betas help me out. It didn't take me long. I sent Beth a third query and, again, she was willing to take a look.

Beth got back to me within days stating that she loved the manuscript... but she was wondering if I'd be willing to make some changes. I tried to keep my cool as I told her, yes, I would be willing. (I think I might have failed at the cool aspect of it.) I edited again and again and sent it back within two weeks.

Days later, I got The Call. (Another blog post I'll have to do.)

Beth sent me a contract, which I read, signed, and sent back, making it all official. I keep pinching myself, thinking maybe it's a dream. But, nope, the pain reaffirms this is real and it's happening.

Now, since I'm very new at this, and there's only so much research I can do, I only have a vague idea of what comes next. I'm doing more edits on this novel, and I imagine Beth will begin submitting once we've deemed the novel shiny and flawless. From what other authors have said, being on submission sucks. And since I'm not a patient person, I realize this will be a difficult time for me. There's no guarantee someone will love the manuscript as much as Beth and I, and there's especially no guarantee any of it will be easy.

I'm looking forward to the challenge.