Querying links and more

Revision update: Working on a change to chapter 2 after my 10-page critique at the Houston SCBWI conference, then back to chapter 12. Still on track to be finished by the end of the month.

I’m holding off my coverage of the Houston SCBWI conference til tomorrow because I was doing some blog surfing yesterday and found some great posts that I wanted to share.

First, a couple of posts that again show the importance of writing a really great query letter. Agent Janet Reid details the reasons why she rejected 50 queries in an hour — such as cliches, stale or not compelling premises and queries that don’t explain what the book is about — then defends her rejections and explains why she wants to see better queries.

Agent Jennifer Jackson posted her latest Letters From the Query Wars update, reporting zero requests on 134 queries. She also details some reasons for the rejections.

And agent Jessica Faust reports the number of queries and requested manuscripts that are on her desk — showing why patience is important in this industry.

Talking about cliches, Frenetic Reader writes about some cliches she never wants to see again in a book and some cliches she’s not yet tired of.

Lisa Schroeder wrote an awesome checklist for what to do before your book launch, showing how much work is necessary to get the word out.

Anita Nolan posted author Neil Gaiman‘s top 8 writing tips and a link to more, and Jill Corcoran included links to each of the individual authors featured. Looks like there’s lots of good stuff here.

Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles wrote about tightening up your writing, part 1 and part 2.

And finally, Beverley BevenFlorez compiled another list of great blog posts, including a very interesting podcast of pacing by author James Dashner.

Got any good posts you’d like to share?

Write On!

Submitting to an agent and/or editor

First, good luck to all you NaNoWriMo participants starting your 50K novels today. I’m revising, so I’ll be participating in spirit, with some revision work done every day. But my best wishes go out to those of your who signed up. Good luck!

Now on to the regularly scheduled blog post:

Number three in my blog posts about the North Texas SCBWI conference I attended on Oct. 24. Today, I’ve got notes from Dutton Children’s Books editor Lisa Yoskowitz and Foundry Literary + Media agent Lisa Grubka, both of whom were really great.

Few pointers from Lisa Y on submitting to an editor:

  • Submit in accordance with publishing house’s guidelines
  • Address to Acquisitions Editor or Query Editor. But, IF (and only if) you’ve researched a particular editor’s body of work and you feel your book is right for them, it’s ok to address to them, and in your query, explain why
  • Economy of words – just like in your book, make sure every word counts in your query.

That last one was echoed by Lisa G, who stressed, “You only have one page [for the query]. Make it count.”

She also told attendees to submit in accordance to agents’ guidelines, and to personalize the query; research the agent and explain why you’re sending to that agent. She said that good writing will come across in a good query, and she encouraged writers to, like they do with their manuscripts, put their query letters away from a while after they’ve written them so they can revise and make them the best they can possibly be.

Even the best query can take time to get through the system, of course, and Lisa G said the busiest times of the year for agents are January through May and September through December. The summer, although still busy, is considered the slow time. So, consider this when sending your query. Don’t wait to send out your query if you’re ready and it’s in a busy time, just be patient and know that if you don’t hear back immediately, it’s just the workload.

Lisa Y said for editors, they’re busy year-round — especially in today’s economy, with fewer people doing more — but they generally have four slower weeks in each quarter, but they vary.

As for what these two lovely ladies look for in submissions, both lean toward more literary, character-driven YA, but Lisa Y said that, if the writing’s amazing, she’ll be attracted to anything. There it is writers: Be amazing!

Write On!

Why we read agent/editor blogs

Current word count: 30,261

New words written: 1,205

Words til goal: 9,739 / 314 words a day til the end of September

Wow! I’ve passed 30K Yay! I’m in the home stretch and wrote another chapter this weekend. I thought I had only four chapters left, but it has turned into five (for now) because I found a better place than I had planned for a nice cliff-hanger chapter change and a great place to switch POV in my two-POV novel. I’m on track to finish by the end of September, but secretly — well, I’m sharing this secret with you — I’m hoping to be typing THE END in about two weeks. We’ll see.

My other goal for this coming week is three-part:

  • Send out my entry to agent Colleen Lindsay‘s scholarship contest for the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar (deadline Sept. 4; have you entered?);
  • Send the picture book I worked on a couple weeks ago two an editor I met at the SCBWI Houston conference this year and another editor I met at a SCBWI writer’s retreat a couple years ago who read an early draft and said she’d be interested in seeing it again (conferences are invaluable — I highly recommend going, and expecially going to SCBWI conferences and joing the organization if you’re writing for children);
  • And send out query packages for my newly revised first novel.

For the first novel, I’m also going to try a new story description in my query letter. This is my send go around with this book, but this new version is a lot better than the first, so I’m hoping it will get more notice. My original query letter, which was sent to seven agents, got only one response for more, so I also hope for a better response rate with this new query letter. The story description is much better, I think. I’ll let you know how I do.

It annoys me that I didn’t see the problems with the novel earlier. I fell into the same trap I’ve warned against on this blog many times: sending out a book before it’s ready. But the problem is, I had done a LOT of work on the novel, lots of revisions, and I did believe it was ready. It was only until I was researching agents and read some of their comments that I saw the problems in my novel. I was reading things they said not to do and realizing I had done some of those things, hence, another revision.

This is a great reason why it’s good to read agent and editor blogs. You can get invaluable information WHILE you’re writing instead of when you’re researching to submit. Check out my blogs list to see the ones I read, and let me know if there are others you want to recommend and I’ll add them to the list. Keeping up with other writers’ blogs is great too, but to help your book’s chances during the submission process, read up what works and what doesn’t in agents’ eyes.

Write On!

Genres and what they mean

Current word count: 25,574

New words written: 1,688

Words til goal: 14,426 / 380 words a day til the end of September

I banged out four days worth of word-a-day goals this weekend, which is great, and I love to see my number of “words a day til the end of September” goal dropping. Maybe I can finish this earlier. Pat on the back; gave myself some chocolate as a reward. Ooohhh.

Now for something entirely different…

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has been having quite an interesting discussion about genres over at his blog, starting with Wednesday’s You Tell Me: What Genre is Your WIP? post and following up on Thursday with his Genre Poll Thoughts post.

Ok, here’s where I’m going to make a confession that I probably shouldn’t make in public, but I’m going to anyway. Genre kinda confuses me. Well, let me clarify. I know horror when I see it. I know fantasy is when the story is set in another world. I know science-fiction has to involve, well, science. Where I get confused are all the subgenres. Urban fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, and the reason I get confused is because the same book can be assigned different genres in different places.

For example, I heard the genre “urban fantasy,” and, not having heard that one before, I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, urban fantasy has supernatural elements but is set in the real world. Ok. Sounds good. So, the Percy Jackson books, which are about the Greek gods still roaming Earth and have taken up residence in the U.S., has supernatural elements (Greek gods, monsters, etc.) but is set in the real world, i.e. the U.S. However, Wikipedia says the Percy Jackson book series is an “adventure and fantasy.”

Ok, I know, Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable source. It is afterall edited by whoever logins in and changes information, but it does make my point. I also searched Barnes & Noble and Amazon online and while they both have the series under children’s books, Barnes & Noble also has it under “Fiction & Literature” and Amazon has it under “Greek & Roman” and “Monsters.” hmmm

And if you go into bricks-and-mortar bookstores, children’s books are mostly differentiated by age, not genre.

So, where does this get writers like me who are writing novels that have supernatural elements but are set in the real world when we’re querying agents? Do we say urban fantasy, contemporary fantasy, supernatural, paranormal (which, according to Nathan Bransford includes anything with witches and werewolves)?

Well, I kinda like what Nathan Bransford put at the end of his Genre Poll Thoughts post:

Please remember: friends do not let friends lose sleep over genre distinctions. It’s not worth worrying over. Just pick one, and if you find an agent, they’ll tell you what it is.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Anyone else confused about what genre they’re writing?

Write On!

P.S. In case you haven’t seen it, literary agent Colleen Lindsay is participating in a contest for a scholarship to the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in New York (only entry, travel is up to the winner). The deadline is Sept. 4 and entries must be mailed (i.e. no e-), so start printing and get to the post office. Oh, and it’s only open to entries that correspond to a finished novel.

Preparation is key

As I was doing more research on agents yesterday, I ran across a thread on the AbsoluteWrite.com message boards. If you haven’t been on these boards before, they can be very handy. I was searching for information about an agent who doesn’t give interviews and doesn’t have any kind of web presence, and on the message boards I found messages from writers who had queried the agent, response times and links to other information.

But one message stuck out to me. A writer said she had queried an agent and got a request for a partial, which is awesome. The sad part was that the writer went on to say that her partial wasn’t yet fully revised, so she had to send it out early.

I don’t know what happened with this writer and her partial. Maybe she got representation. I hope so. But if she knew her partial wasn’t ready for publication, i.e. still needed revision, I’m going to bet that agent knew it too. Consequently, the writer most likely blew it with that agent. She lost an opportunity. (P.S. I was just checking out my regular blogs and found a Q&A post from agent Kate Schafer-Testerman in which she says this. Click here then scroll down to the question from @jjochwat. Note that when she says if there’s a no, revise then resend elsewhere, meaning the writer blew the chance with that agent for that project.) (P.P.S. Guess this is a hot topic today. Here’s a post from agent Jessica Faust about making sure you edit your manuscript before you query. She also encourages writers to move on to their next book, saying, “Agents and especially publishers want career novelists, authors who will write book after book after book.” That’s what I’m moving onto now.)

Before you send out anything to agents, you have to be prepared. You’ve worked hard on your book, so give it the best possible chance during the submission process. Remember, if an agent says no, 90% of the time, that’s no to the project, not no to this version of the project. If they see the book again, they’ll remember and reject it automatically. So first impressions count, and you have to make sure they’re the best.

How do you prepare? First, don’t even think about querying an agent until you believe your manuscript is ready for publication. You’ve done all your revisions, got the plot and structure down, deleted passive language, fixed pacing problems, fully developed the characters, corrected grammatical errors, cut scenes or words or paragraphs that didn’t add to story or character — you want it to truly shine. When you read through it for the umpteenth time, you shouldn’t be bored; it should be that entertaining. That’s when you start thinking about querying an agent.

When you’re ready to query agents, research them. Build a master list of all the agents who handle the types of books you write — think long-term here; you want an agent you can work with for a career. (Granted, you can start doing this research between drafts of your manuscript, just don’t query them until your manuscript is absolutely polished.) Once you’ve got the master list, start researching the agents themselves through interviews, news items, sales, etc. Is this a person who has the same sensibilities as you, the same goals for their books, the same outlook? Again, think long-term. Is this a person you think you’d like to work with for a long time? List the agents in order of who you think you would like to work with most. I put all this information in an Excel spreadsheet, but do whatever works for you.

Once you’ve got you’re agent list, research their submission guidelines and add those to the list. Now you can see what you’ll need to prepare before you start querying. Some agents will want only a query letter, some the first few pages of your book, some a synopsis. Depending on what your ideal agents want, prepare it. When I was preparing, some of the agents wanted a synopsis, which is generally around four pages. But one agent wanted a two-page synopsis. For me, that’s a little tight, but I wrote my regular synopsis first, then prepared a two-page for that agent. I wrote a skeleton query letter with story blurb and information about me, then I personalized that with information about each agent letting them know why I was interested in working with them.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is a lot of work, and I’m so anxious to get my work out there. I fully understand. In the past, I’ve sent out my work before it was ready. But here’s the thing — I was roundly rejected. And I can’t blame the agents. They were right. My work at that time was not ready for publication. (This was a different project from the one I’m currently submitting.) Unfortunately, I wasted their time and mine, as well as tasted the bitterness of rejection, all because I wasn’t fully prepared.

This time, I prepared myself for whatever the agents wanted initially and whatever they would need if they requested more. I’ve polished my entire manuscript, so I can send out fulls with no worries. Whatever they ask for, I’m ready to provide it. It has already come in handy, but more on that another time.

So, give your book — and yourself — the best possible chance at success by being fully prepared before you send out your first query letter.

Write On!

Researching agents

 I did it! I’ve send off my first submissions for my novel. Queries went out to agents this morning and to two editors I met at the SCBWI Houston conference. I’ll let you know the results.

As I was finishing up these submissions, I was doing some more final research on the agents and came across a site that I had heard about at my critique group and promptly forgot: QueryTracker.net. The site offers similar research opportunities as AgentQuery.com, which I used to get my master list of agents, except, I believe, QueryTracker.net also tracks response times from agents.

I came across the site through a blog I found called Literary Rambles, which posts some really useful agent spotlights. The blog’s writer, Casey McCormick, has compiled info and links for a bunch of agents, some which aren’t very easy to find online, so thanks, Casey. I’ve put her blog in my blog roll under Blogs By Writers, so check it out.

But in her latest post, Casey talks about the importance of researching agents before you send to them, something I’ve talked about a lot on Day By Day Writer. Casey also provided a post in which QueryTracker.net’s Elana Johnson lays out how to research agents.

It’s really worth it to do this work. Not only do targeted query letters save time for you and the agent, you’ll get fewer automatic rejections. Rejections aren’t nice anytime, so why put yourself in the path of one by sending to an agent who doesn’t handle the kind of books you write? Research, research, research.

Write On!

How to query

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has an interesting post up today about query letters. It seems that a group of writers got together, worked on their query letters together then hired someone to submit them. The problem is the person who was hired didn’t properly research the agents or their guidelines, resulting in rejections for the writers and, I would guess, a waste of their time and money.

It’s a wonderful idea that in our busy life, we can concentrate on writing and leave the submitting to someone else, but, if you have spent all this time making your book the best that it can be, would you want to leave its future up to someone else?

Now, I’ve never used or even researched services such as these, and maybe there are good ones. But, if you’re going to use one, let Rachelle’s post be a cautionary tale and research them well.

However, keep in mind this: No one will care about the future of your book more than you. No one will care enough to spend the time researching agents for just the perfect ones, researching their submission guidelines and tailoring the query letter to them specifically. All of these things will give your book its best chance of getting noticed, so they’re all important and should be done right.

Remember literary agent Jennifer Jackson’s Letter From the Query Wars blogs posts: Last week she read 205 queries and asked for partials from 3 — just 3 out of 205! Imagine if out of those 205, she had 12 that all read the same way, were received the same day one after another and didn’t follow her guidelines, like those Rachelle received. Do you think any of those 12 would have been in the 3? I’m sorry to say that I don’t think so. As Rachelle pointed out, even if all those 12 were great query letters and did follow her guidelines, Jennifer wouldn’t be interested in following up on 12 books that are all the same. And she’d probably be a little suspicious. I would.

Don’t short-change your book. After you’ve done all the work on writing and revising your manuscript, take the time to write a great individual query letter that will stand out in the crowd; research the best agents for your particular work — not just your genre, but your style too — research their guidelines, the ones from their website not a book that might not be up to date; research their style of working, read their blog if they have one, their clients, their clients’ books to make sure your work will fit with them; then tailor your query letter to each one of those, personalizing the letter.

Give your book the best advocate it can have: You.

Write On!

More on the importance of a brilliant query letter

I’ve written about this a few times before, and the more I read about query letters, the more I see that spending time making your query perfect is as important as time spent making your manuscript perfect.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford had a post this week about working with new agents and in it, a link to a speech by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, etc.) about how he got his agent. Have a read. It’s a fun piece. But here’s the part I want to point out:

A typical agent in New York gets 400 query letters a month. Of those, they might ask to read 3-4 manuscripts, and of those, they might ask to represent 1 The odds are tough, but not impossible, and that’s why I believe that a good query letter is the single most important page that any unknown, unpublished author will ever write.

I worked hard on mine; 17 drafts over two weeks and I did my best to make sure every word counted.

Nicholas Sparks’ success is unquestionable, and his road to publication began when he spent two weeks writing and revising his query letter. (Note that, if you read more of his speech, he got nos from all the agents he sent to except a new agent who had been passed his query from someone else in that agency. So, even after two weeks of work, the odds were still tight.)

To show how competitive this is, check out literary agent Jennifer Jackson’s blog every Friday when she posts Letters From the Query Wars. At the top, she lists the number of queries she read this week, the number of partials/manuscripts she requested and their genre. This past week, she read 158 queries and requested 0, none, nada.

There are a number of possible reasons for this, including a query letter could be brilliant but not her cup of tea. But all 158 of them? I doubt it. Those query letters really need to shine.

I’ve also written before about being picky when it comes to getting an agent. New writers often feel so grateful for any attention that they’ll sign on the dotted line for anyone with a pulse and an interest. But this is our career that we’re setting up, and an agent is someone we’ll work with for a long long time. So, it’s ok to be choosy and make sure it’s a good match. (This is why it’s important to research the agents you send to before you send out your queries.) Check out this post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner about the best way to fire an agent — a situation you don’t want to be in. The post is very interesting and offers great advice. But here’s something I thought was good in one of the comments:

I made a mistake and signed with the first agent who’d take me on. If my experience can teach just one lesson, let it be this: the author-agent relationship is like a marriage. Be just as careful in getting into one as the other.

This author ended up terminating the relationship with her first agent and thankfully signed with another agent more suited later. Congrats. But if you can avoid it, do. Research research research, write, revise, revise.

Make your query count. Your manuscript and your career will thank you.

Write On!

Writing a good synopsis

Once I finally had a query letter I was happy with, it was time to write a synopsis. In the past, I had thought it would be easier to do it the other way around — write a 4- to 6-page synopsis of my novel, then write the 1- to 3- paragraph query blurb; work down in size. But it didn’t work for me. While I was struggling with my query blurb, I tried writing the synopsis and it came out drab and boring. But once I got over my trepidation of the query blurb and found my voice again, I re-wrote the synopsis in the same style and it came out much better (gaining approval from my critique group).

One of the things that helped me was Erica Orloff’s synopsis boot camp. I found this after the boot camp was finished (it’s five days, so check out all the subsequent posts), so I wasn’t able to participate, but I wish I had seen it earlier. (Erica, if you read this, your synopsis boot camp was awesome. Any chance of a repeat? Monthly? Too much. Quarterly?)

Why pay attention to what Erica Orloff has to say about writing synopsis? Well, as she points out, she has sold more than 25 novels on the proposal alone! (Presumably she sold a finished manuscript first, before she made a name for herself, but either way, that’s impressive.)

Erica offers up the opening of two of her synopsis. She also says a synopsis should be around 5-6 pages. I went for 4 pages as I’m writing middle grade and that’s a little less complex than most adult books (what Erica writes). Other research I did for my genre suggested 4 pages would be good, and once I had a winning version, I cut it down again for one agent who specifically asked for a 2-page synopsis in the submission requirements.

But I still had to get to that workable synopsis first, and Erica’s boot camp really helped. Reading Erica’s beginning and how she edited the beginnings and other parts of the boot camp participants, you can see a pattern emerging. Here’s some of the tips I picked up:

  • Voice is king
  • Don’t tell the story just in chronological order; show themes, emotions, choices
  • Reveal characters
  • And make it exciting (as exciting as your book)

Another great thing was that you could use the query blurb as the beginning of the synopsis, even if you’re sending them both to the same agent/editor. I would have tried to avoid that, but frankly, after seeing that it’s ok according to synopsis guru Erica Orloff, it makes sense. They’re two parts of the same package, marketing the same book. They should have similarities. If you think of your submission as a press kit (hey, my day job is in journalism), there’s nothing wrong with the cover letter, press release and any other supporting materials have the same words, sentences, etc. As long as they are the right words, sentences, etc., it reinforces the idea of what you’re trying to sell, i.e. my novel.

And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our query letter and synopsis: sell our work.

So, I’ve got a query I like and a synopsis I like. I’ve got a few last corrections for the manuscript, then I’ll send out. This won’t be for a few weeks, probably, as I’ve got some things coming up. But soon. I’ll let you know how I get along.

How are you doing?

Write On!

Queries and Corey Hart

Firstly, a side-note. What do you think about the slight design change on the blog? Ok, it was a small change, and you might not notice. But what do you think of the little flowers in the nav bar? I love the little flowers. Ok, now onto writing…

Yay! I have a query letter.

After much frustration and my husband pointing out that if I rewrote the first six chapters of my book six times, it’s not unfathomable that I would have to do the same with a query, I finally have a letter I like — and, better yet, it has the approval of my circle of critiquers.

A letter is such a small thing, compared to a novel, and because I was having difficulties coming up with a compelling, fun letter that hooks the reader and gives the voice of the book, I was starting to have doubts about myself as a writer — and the validity of my book. What good am I if I can’t write a simple letter? And, if I can’t distill my book’s plot into a couple sentences, that must mean the story isn’t streamlined enough, it’s too complex, to busy and NO ONE WILL EVER READ IT!!!

See how easy it is for a writer to overreact? Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t felt this way, if not about a query, about your book, your chapter, whatever. We writers tend to be insecure types.

But I’m here to tell you, push it aside. It’s not true. None of it. It’s all in our head.

When I came out the other side of this rant, I realized — as my husband had been telling me — I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees. I was so busy trying to write about all the little things that happen in the book, I wasn’t focusing on the overriding theme.

A few things helped me get over myself and write a better query: 1) my husband telling me to have fun with it, like I did with the book; 2) one of my fellow critiquers saying I should talk about the conflict of the main character (an obvious point that I had completely overlooked); and 3) a blog post from an agent who says she reads story blurbs in queries to get the hook of the story (sorry, I can’t find the post otherwise I’d link to it). Now I have a query that’s fun, in my character’s voice and focuses on his conflict and the overriding theme of the story. I’m happy with it, and if it gets attention from agents, I’ll post it on this blog for you to see. Stay tuned.

Today, as I scrolled through the blogs I read regularly, I found a link to a great video that summed everything up for me. Literary agent Janet Reid linked to the really cute and funny video below. Although it’s actually about debut author Lara Zielin getting editing notes, it struck me that the song could work for queries too.

The line, “With a little perseverance, I can get this done,” works so well for writing in general. And besides, I’m a sucker for Corey Hart songs. (Sunglasses at Night, anyone? No matter how silly it is to where sunglasses at night, I didn’t care when I was 14 and in love with Corey Hart.)

Enjoy! (Ok, I realized the video wasn’t showing up. Let’s try this again…)

Write On!