Literary Engineer
Because reading and writing are my only obsessions

Posts Tagged ‘Query’

An Inside Look – Part II

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Last week, I had Julie S. Decker on my blog to talk about her experience as being a mentor for the Pitch Wars contest. See here for that post. This week, she’s talking about the problems and issues she saw with submissions, which would be helpful for someone querying since her advice is similar to what agents say.
 
So what were the most common problems with the Pitch Wars Submissions?
 

The most common problem in queries was lack of trajectory. Many queries failed to tell me about their story arc, and that’s very important in a query. I found a lot of vagueness, like “she must find herself” or “in a race against time, they must succeed before it’s too late” without giving me a clear understanding of what the characters want/need and what will happen if they don’t get it done. I also found that too much detail was a problem, and occasionally I would see explanations of themes or morals that didn’t need to be there. And some authors praised themselves in their queries, told me irrelevant details about their writing process, or included inappropriate personal details.
 

In the writing samples, the most common problem was infodumping on page one. When I saw awkward recitations of background details or people having conversations that were clearly contrived to convey context to the reader, I froze up and disengaged. Readers should never feel that the characters are standing still while the author lectures. Books need to begin when something is beginning–something we want to watch. It’s a delicate balance to suggest the characters and world have history and depth without halting the story to tell us about it, but that’s why writing is an art! Other problems included failure to get us invested in the characters, “telling” me a character’s attributes instead of showing me, and spelling/grammar/punctuation errors.
 

I did get a few weirdly categorized books–like projects that were pitched as YA to one mentor but NA to me for some reason–and a few people sent me things I specifically identified as NOT my style in my bio (horror, category romance, stories where women characters are objectified or killed for the sake of the male hero having “motivation”). I think most of the people who didn’t follow directions just didn’t realize that they weren’t allowed to send manuscripts to someone who wasn’t taking their category, but other than that people were good about following the directions.
 

One thing I’ve always wondered about with these contests is whether the judges (or agents) feel that the submissions were ready for querying. Of course that’s subjective, and part of Pitch Wars was to work with a mentor to prepare the submission, but what did you see, Julie? Were a lot of them query-ready or did they need a lot of work?
 

I thought most of what I received wasn’t polished enough to get an agent. Sometimes that was just a query issue but usually it was the pages. I’d say around 20% of what I got was definitely not close to ready, and 80% of it (including that 20%) probably needs quite a bit of work (though some might be close enough that an agent will give an R&R or offer representation and then give pointers). Then maybe around 20% of the submissions I received had both a decent query and decent pages which made me think they will do well with agents if they query. Some, I found out, haven’t started querying at all yet. Even the folks I picked for my top three need some help, though there were a couple in my top ten that I didn’t pick for personal reasons and still think they will do well with agents. In a couple cases I have even mentioned that I might be willing to set up a referral even though I didn’t pick them. I don’t do that often though.
 

I’ve been in several contests over the years, and I can definitely say that I wasn’t ready for some of them. It’s hard not to jump into contests because you’re so excited about getting your story presented to agents, but it’s best to wait and make sure it’s polished and ready.
 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about contests in general?

 
I think any author entering a contest should do it more for the experience than the prize. The mentee I chose actually volunteered to me during our first conversation that he was primarily interested in forming relationships with other writers and trying to expand his team of willing beta readers and critique partners. Even if you’re not chosen, you can really enjoy the community and form relationships with others in it, and start following their blogs and learning about their lives s/o you begin to build a network of people with similar interests and similar aspirations.
 
Thanks for stopping by, Julie. It was interesting to hear about your experiences. For prospective judges, I’d definitely recommend looking into the time commitments before you volunteer. And for contestants, don’t jump into contests until you know you’re ready.
 
Anybody out there want to be a judge/mentor for a contest? Despite all the work, I think it would be fun, but obviously for me, I’m not quite qualified yet to be a judge or mentor.
 

Query critique at Falling For Fiction

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

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.

Thanks.

Pitches and Queries

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

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.

Random Contest Stuff

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

I was so excited on Saturday about a contest I got into, but before I get to that, I want to mention a great query/agent opportunity.

Melodie Wright at Forever Rewrighting is having a query contest with her new agent Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This is a great opportunity because the EMLA is not open to unsolicited queries. That means someone like me can’t submit to them. So check out her site before February 15th and get your query and first page ready.

My other cool news.

There is a new anonymous blogger, Cupid’s Literary Connection, who has started putting on these unique query competitions with agents. The first contest had two agents. The rules mandated how many full or partial requests they could make. You sent your query and first 250 words and if they really liked it, they would request to see your full manuscript or a partial (a few chapters).

The current contest is called the Blind Speed Dating Contest. It’s too hard to explain so check out their site to see how it works.

Friday morning was the first window to submit and I learned a very important lesson. I waited about a minute, worried about a time discrepancy. BIG MISTAKE. I had Cupid on Twitter and a tweet popped up that said FULL. My mouth about dropped to the floor. I was so shocked, I didn’t know if I should try submit anymore but I did, just in case others were rejected. Within about 2 minutes, Cupid had about 150 submissions. I’m still shocked.

So the next window was Saturday morning. Once more chance. And wouldn’t you know it, I woke up from a dream where I was trying to do my submission but my computer wasn’t working and by the time I got it, I was about 2 minutes too late. So I woke up frustrated. A great start to the day.

But I had my plan. The window started at 10am. So at 10:00:02 (yes, two seconds, I watched the second hand tick on my computer), I hit send.

And I got in. I am so excited because this just sounds really cool. Of course I’m not fully in yet. The first step is to get by the gatekeepers. There are four judges and they get to pick who goes on to the speed dating round with the agents.

This week the first 50 entries went up. Next week, the next fifty entries go up (which includes me). Over those two weeks, the 4 judges will pick who moves on to the next round. Then the third week (Feb. 20th), the agents will do the speed dating rounds with the finalists the judges chose.

This is so creative and fun. And the neat thing is I know (in the internet sort of way), several entrants. I’m looking forward to it.

One last note. I’ve started a new story so check out my new WIP under Current Projects. This is the first time I am querying, editing one project and writing a 2nd. It’ll be interesting.

Can I hit a perfect pitch?

Friday, January 13th, 2012

On Sunday I am participating in my first pitch contest.

A pitch is a brief (one or two line) summary of a book.

This contest is put on by Brenda Drake, a ya/middle grade writer. On January 15th, you post your pitch and first 150 words of your manuscript on your blog. Then you jump around to the blogs of other participants and comment on their pitches.

At the end of the 2nd day, you may revise your pitch and the next day a literary agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, will review them. If she likes your pitch, she may request to see your manuscript.

By the way, summing up a novel in one or two descriptive and interesting sentences is not easy.

Speaking of contests, I have some other cool news. I won a blog contest put on by Gabriela Lessa, an editor, literary agent intern, writer and more. Her blog has good tips about writing and editing along with the occasional contest. I submitted my query and a few sample pages and she picked mine. As a winner, I get a 40 page edit and 30% off her editing services, which is huge. The 40 page edit is wonderful because it will give me a good idea of what might be wrong with my writing. I’ve very excited about it all.

That same day, another good thing happened. Some bloggers do contests/giveaways related to their blog, so of course you’ll often see writers doing book giveaways.

In honor of her first year of blogging, ya writer Monica Bustamante Wagner, did a contest/giveaway. All you had to do was post a comment, then say if you’d prefer the book or a 10 page critique. I didn’t win, but she decided to give 12 people the chance to send in their first 1000 words and she’ll do a critique. And I was one of the 12. A lucky day for me.

Remember when I talked about coincidences. Here’s another one. Of the two bloggers (Gabriela and Monica) I told you about, one lives in Brazil, one in Chile. Interesting, huh.

There are so many wonderful opportunities like this. Generous writers and agents who give you the chance to present your work. And even if you don’t win, you may still receive valuable feedback.

Literary Agents Again

Friday, November 25th, 2011

I have never met a literary agent. It would be interesting to talk to one to find out more about their jobs and what they do on a daily basis. How much time they spend on queries. How much time they spend talking with publishers. How the whole selling a book process works…

Most literary agents seem to be in the New York City area. Others are in LA or San Francisco, Denver and a few other places. A lot of the agents who don’t reside in NYC have a little explanation on their websites that they don’t need to be in NYC, where apparently most of the publishers are. Being in the age of of e-mail, it’s probably much easier and in reading agents’ blogs, they seem to travel to NYC periodically.

Therse are a few other things I wonder about too.

Job hopping…

Is job hopping prevalent with agents? In my short time querying, I’ve seen a lot of change over. So when it comes to querying my next story, I can’t just send to those on my list. I will have to go back to websites and make sure that agent is still with that agency.

A funny thing happened a few months ago.

I queried Jane at Agency A. I queried Mary at Agency B. On a Friday, Jane responded and said she was not interested. On Tuesday Jane responded to my query on behalf of Mary (who was no longer with Agency B) that she wasn’t interested.

Did Jane switch agencies? Or are the two agencies tied together somehow?

This confused me slightly so I decided to write Jane (now at Agency B) and ask if she switched jobs. She responded. She’d indeed had switched jobs, taking the place of Mary.

The whole thing was weird because it happened within a span of a few days. But it was nice of Jane to respond to my query to Mary—even if it wasn’t a yes.

Common addresses…

I also found that agencies share addresses although I can not otherwise find a link between them. In Microsoft Excel, when you start typing a similar word it does the autofill. So are these agents just friends and share a common workplace? Or do they work together even though they each have their own agency?

No more queries…

Some agents post on their website that they are no longer accepting queries. (Some never accept unsolicited queries—you have to be referred). Most of the time they’ll give a specific date when they’re opening back up, othertimes it’s indefinite.

Why do they do this? Are they in query overload? Have they recently acquired several clients and need to concentrate on them? 

Being in ND, I don’t get the opportunity to smooze with litarary agents. Maybe someday I’ll get to attend a conference and meet some agents and learn more about how their jobs. It’d be fun to learn more about what they do.

Rejections

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

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
__ Other
Then I wouldn’t have to wonder what it means when they say, “I am not the right agent for your book.”

Query Help

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

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.

Query time again

Monday, October 24th, 2011

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.

My first writers conference

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Last weekend I attended my first writers conference at UND. It was actually the 32nd Annual Writing for Children and Young Adults Conference. Yes, 32nd annual, and I just heard about it for the first time, thanks to my mom who spotted it in the newspaper.

I have absolutely nothing to compare it to, but I thought it was a good conference considering the size of UND/Grand Forks. They had three (the 4th cancelled last minute) editors from publishers that do children’s books. I’d never heard of the two companies, Flux and Egmont, but the other was Random House, which everyone knows. And the one who didn’t show was from Viking, which I recognize too.

There was also a local author of middle grade fiction, Kurtis Scaletta, who now lives in Minneapolis area. He lived in Grand Forks and attended UND.

The speakers were dynamic and interesting. And I met some nice people too who I will probably run into again.

The best thing was that being a small conference, 25ish people, you have access to these editors and the writer. They sat at lunch and dinner with us and would answer questions you might have. That might not happen in New York at a conference with hundreds of people.

Mr. Scaletta also offered to review query letters and offer suggestions since he’s dealt with them and literary agents. He thought mine looked good. It has been much revised and changed since I first started querying, so hopefully this might grab someone’s attention.

I was disappointed that I’d missed the deadline to submit a manuscript (10 pages) for evaluation by an editor. That would have been helpful. I also wished they would have had a literary agent (which the big conferences do).

But I will definitely go back.

I also hope to go to more conferences. Sioux Falls had one last spring and hopefully will again. Yes, the big jump from Grand Forks to Sioux Falls. Maybe I’ll take on Denver or New York or LA after that!