I am close to finishing up my editing on The Proper Way to Say Goodbye, and I hope to be querying by October. At least that is the plan. And I don’t want to make the mistake I did with my first novel–querying with a bad letter–so I’m getting as much help as I can.
Thursday I’m over at Falling For Fiction. The ladies there offer critique help, and I’ve submitted my query. So Kelley G. will be giving me her suggestions, and I’d really appreciate any comments you may have also.
I’ve been working on a few things. One is my pitch.
A pitch is a description of your novel in about 35 words or less. Usually in one sentence, but sometimes two.
And let me tell you, it’s not easy.
I entered a pitch workshop where my pitch for Frosty and my first 150 words were evaluated by one of three women. See Shelley Watter’s Site to see my pitch.
You have to be 35 words or under. You have to get your story across. You have to make it interesting.
And I repeat, this is very difficult.
I’ve revised mine several times—trying new things. I think my very first pitch explained the story to a T. But unfortunately, it was dry and probably wouldn’t grab an agent’s attention. So I’m trying to spice it up.
This opportunity was a workshop to improve my pitch. (The same woman had a pitch contest a few weeks ago that I entered.) Pitch contests don’t seem as common as query contests, but they’re still out there. Usually a pitch contest will be with an agent and if they are interested, they may ask to see your manuscript. So it’s important to get your pitch right.
The next thing I’m working on is my query for When The Mist Clears.
A query letter once again is what you send to a literary agent, hoping that they’ll like your story and want to see your manuscript.
Even though I’m only editing WTMC right now, it’s important to get that query ready because when I am done with my editing, I want to be ready to query and not wait two more months as I get my query figured out.
Query writing is hard too. But you have about 250 words to do it instead of 35.
Once again, you have to explain your story enough, but leave a little question as to what happens at the end. It shouldn’t be a synopsis, but should give them enough details of the story. It needs to have voice. It needs to grab the attention of the agent. It needs to be perfect.
Therefore, once I get my query ready, I will submit it to websites like Agent Query Connect or Absolute Write Forums where other members will critique it.
One thing I worried about a while ago was that I didn’t want to reveal the details of my story on the internet. But 99% of the people on these writers’ forums are honest and are not out to copy others. So I no longer feel wary of this. And it really is the best way to get help.
Since I’ve written a little about queries, I’ll now write about query rejections. According to my very unofficial approximated tally, only about 50% of literary agents even send responses.
A general rule is that if you don’t hear from them in about 2 months, you can probably consider it a no. Many of them will tell you on their websites what their response time is, if at all. It can vary from 2 weeks to 3 months.
Most of the replies are form rejections. So I’m impressed when I get one that is addressed to me personally. They don’t offer much advice though. (Which I do understand, but don’t like.)
Usually what mine have said is that they are not the right fit/agent for this project. That could mean several things. Maybe they don’t like the story. Or maybe they don’t like the writing (it needs a lot of polishing). Or they’re just not looking for that type of story right now. It could be a lot of things.
I had one agent say Frosty was an “interesting premise,” but wasn’t right for her. I had one agency tell me it wasn’t “polished” enough. That was very helpful and since then I’ve done some major polishing and other additions so I could resubmit to them. Normally you wouldn’t do that, but I called the agent’s assistant and she said it was okay to resubmit.
Some of the rejections are apologetic, like they don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings. They remind you that writing is subjective so there may be another agent out there who might get excited about your story. Often times they wish you good luck. But as I said, this is usually a form letter.
I wish they had the time to give a tiny bit of feedback. A form letter would be fine, but if they could include a little check box with these options, it would help.
__ I’m not looking for this type of story now
__ Your idea sucks (could be for many reasons, but at least you know it’s the idea and not the writing)
__ Your writing sucks
Then I wouldn’t have to wonder what it means when they say, “I am not the right agent for your book.”
There is lots of information out there to help you write query letters. Even with all that advice, you may have a horrible query letter and not know it. So then, you need to go to other sites for help with your actual query.
Here are a few sites I have found.
Mother. Write. (Repeat.) is the blog of an aspiring writer. She has been doing a contest called The Agent’s Inbox. A limited number of people can submit a query and the “first page” of their work. Anybody can comment on your query and she has a literary agent who reviews them too. If the agent likes any of the queries, she may ask those people to send in their manuscript. The agents that she has hosted have all been well known agents and it is a great opportunity to get some feedback.
Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire (Gotta love that name) This blogger is an agented writer and writes about
writing and other things. (Lots of Ws in that last sentence.) She has offered to do critiques of queries. Although it appears she has just started doing this (I actually found her through the above blogger), I like how she is doing the critiques. She offers comments almost line by line and then summarizes what she thinks.
I have done the first one, and I’m in line to do the second one.
Query Shark is by a well-known literary agent. You submit your query and she goes through and offers comments. I would assume it takes a long time to get your query critiqued because this is a popular site. But you can learn a lot by going through the old ones as she’s been doing this for years. There are a lot of rules to follow and you are supposed to read through all her old posts before submitting. I won’t bother submitting to this one, I’m sure it would be a long wait.
Query Tracker is a site that has a lot of stuff on agents and publishers and more. They have a forum where you can submit your query. I haven’t looked into this one yet, but it appears that anyone can post feedback.
I’m sure there are a lot more out there, but these are some of the better ones I’ve found. You probably need a tough skin because you may not like what you hear. But the way I see it, any comments are helpful.
I just finished with my final edits of Frosty and am now ready to send off my query. The manuscript has been greatly improved over the last month and I hope it will attract some attention.
I’ve decided to do something considered taboo. I am going to re-query a few agents. This is generally considered a big no-no. They don’t like seeing the same material again. I guess there are people who resend queries over and over after being rejected. Sometimes from different e-mail addresses, as if they couldn’t figure that out.
I am going to re-query for a few different reasons.
1. My original query was terrible. I queried too soon and even though I researched how to write queries, I got it wrong. (There is a lot to learn) I wrote it more as something you’d read on the back of the book. It didn’t really have many details of the actual story, which the agent needs to see. Most agents want to be hooked by the query to read more, so they don’t necessarily need the ending, but they need a good understanding of the story.
2. My manuscript was not ready. Again, at the time I began querying, I didn’t realize how bad it was. But since I first started re-editing, I’ve added about 10,000 words, helping with character development and tying up loose story ends, along with cleaning up the grammar and punctuation.
I’ve searched the internet for advice on re-querying and a few agents say it is okay, under certain circumstances. So I’m hoping that it doesn’t annoy the agents I re-query. If it comes back no, I won’t try again. And I’m not doing it with my whole list; just a few that I consider to be great agents. I also have one agent who requested my manuscript last summer but (obviously) rejected it. I’d really like to send her the improved story too.
The whole process is live-and-learn. So many people talk about jumping in too quickly and it’s hard because you’re excited about that next step. But now I’m ready to query again.
So we’ll see what happens.
What are my chances of being published?
Unfortunately, not very good. I’ve looked on the web and it seems that about 97-99% of queries are rejected. So if an literary agent receives 50 queries a day, only 1-2 might pique their interest. (MIGHT)
For those 1-2 queries they liked, they may request a manuscript. But that doesn’t mean they’re signing you on yet. They have to read it. Figure out how much editing/rewriting is involved and then I assume they do some research about if they think it’ll sell. But most of the manuscripts are rejected in the end.
Supposedly agents only take on a few new clients every year. So the chances of becoming published are very small.
Another bad thing for me. Paranormal (think Twilight) and Dystopic (think Hunger games—an imaginary dysfunctional world) are the big things right now. My writing has so far been contemporary fiction—meaning realistic. And although there are plenty of authors who write contemporary fiction, it’s not the most popular genre currently. But that’s what I’m writing and any day it could swing back the other way.
If I came up with a good paranormal young adult idea, I’d go for it. I just haven’t gotten that idea yet.
Either way, your chances of being published are tiny. Gotta keep trying though.
Coming next… Why Literary Engineer?
Right now I am in the querying process. Querying means sending letters to literary agents, hoping to find one who will represent your work. You’re trying to hook their interest with a letter so they will ask for more and eventually want to represent you to sell your book to a publisher.
There are many rules to follow. Some seem pretty straight-forward, but I guess people have a hard time following those rules. Here are a few.
- Don’t send out mass queries addressed to Dear Agent (address it to them)
- Don’t query an agent in the wrong genre (young adult, sci fi, romance, what is it?)
- Don’t talk about how you’re the next Stephen King
- Follow the agent’s submission guidelines
The majority of agents have websites. But for those who don’t, you can find their name/address and what they represent on searchable databases. The agents who have their own websites, always have submission guidelines.
And they are all different.
Some just want your query letter. Some want a synopsis. Some want 10 pages of the manuscript. Or 50 pages. Or 1 chapter. Or 3 chapters. Some want author’s bios. I don’t have one because I’ve never published anything.
Some want it more personalized. They like when you mention a book they represented that you admire. But more seem to not want that. They want you to get to the point—what’s your story.
Some agents say they’ll reply within a certain date. Some won’t reply at all—that is their reply. Some reply in two weeks (if you’re lucky). But more likely it’s 6-8 weeks. Some are three months.
Some only accept snail mail submissions. Most have switched to e-mail only.
(Apologies for my overuse of some.)
And that’s how querying works. If you’re lucky, they’ll ask to see your manuscript, but the chance of that happening is small.
Coming next… What are my chances? (of getting published)