Okay, you’ve written the next best seller – congratulations. The embodiment of months, maybe even years, of your life is sitting on your word processor. Every word has been painfully scrutinized and stressed over. Four and five rounds of edits, sucking in your pride, swallowing the bitter taste of ego – all worth it.
You made it! Your precious creation is ready to be loved and adored by the world. In no time, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House and Penguin Group will be asking, no, begging to publish your masterpiece.
Invite everyone you EVER knew and share the sweet taste of success. The cheating, lying ex-friend who never had the time to read your work? Yep, invite that wretched girl over too! (BYOB)
(Oh, I hope no one posted THAT video of you on youtube)
Okay, so …now what?
So, there isn’t a house elf who makes it their sole responsibility to get your work published? No? Crap. Not even some kindly fairy ready to wave their wand over your book to have it magically in book stores? Wow, I wish that WAS possible. Sadly – nope on that account as well.
Now starts the fun (hole in your head) journey of getting you and your manuscript noticed.
Step 1: Write a Query
(A what?) This is your first, and sometimes only, impression you will be able to make. Like your manuscript, it needs to be just as edited and polished.
The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter
(If you’re tempted to be cute and gimmicky hoping it will make you stand out, don’t. You’ll stand out but not in the good way. Trust me when I say agents have received so many queries they’ve probably read everything under the sun.
The Anatomy of a Query Letter: Step-By-Step Guide
Interested in seeing what was accepted by agents from other authors? Successful Queries
Just like your manuscript, get everyone you know to read it. Sometimes we don’t have those crazy author friends – what next? Absolute Write Water Cooler has a Share Your Work section (password is vista), and a Query Letter Hell forum(password is vista) where you can post your query letter. Please read this thread first (same password). You need a minimum of 50 posts before you can start a thread in any of the Share Your Work forums.
Getting fifty posts is really easy. Being an author is never selfish. In fact, it is incredibly tit for tat. Read other people’s queries. Give your opinion. Offer to be someone’s critique partner and swap manuscripts.
Don’t think the first draft of your query is perfect because it isn’t and I don’t mean that in an ego-crushing manner. EVERYONE’S first draft of anything sucks.
Now that you’ve written and revised your query to the point of never wanting to read it every again – it’s time to write a synopsis. (woo…)
Step 2: Synopsis
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman), who has more than 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, posted a concise road map for writing a synopsis. She is the co-founder of Scratch Magazine, all about the intersection of writing and money, and the web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. She has served as a writing and media professor at the University of Cincinnati and University of Virginia, and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.
I highly suggest you check out. I could copy and paste what she’s written but Ms. Friedman laid it out so well. It’d be a crime.
First submit to agents first who don’t require a synopsis. Exhaust those choices. Then, focus on the agents with submission requires that require a synopsis.
“But you’re an editor!” you are no doubt wondering.
“Yes, I am.”
“And you’re giving us advice to go to agents first?”
Why is an editor from a small publisher advocating going through agents first? I am going to be honest with you. It is in your best interest financially to try your darnest to find a good agent because they have the connections to shop your work to all the major publishers.
Exhaust all those options. Rack up a hundred rejections. Cry, edit more. Then, come find me and pitch your query.
No, any agent does not = a good agent.
I wasted a year of my life on an agent who contracted a book of mine. “Wasted” being the key term.
Step 3: Figuring Out Your Genre
First thing you must know is the genre your manuscript falls under in the literary agent/editor world.
You see, not all agents represent the same stuff. For example:
Agent Jane Doe
Literary Fiction | True Crime | Horror | Commercial Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Humor/Satire | Romance | Young Adult | Thrillers/Suspense
Let’s say you’ve written a romance but it also falls under suspense/crime with a haunting paranormal twist and your main character just happens to be a Bridget Jones wannabe – how would you classify your work?
Here are the genres. The break down can be found at : Agentquery.com.
Hopefully you found your genre somewhere in that huge clump of words. Your next step is looking for agents who represents your work.
Step 4: Finding an Agent
If you thought the query and synopsis was hard, get ready. This next step brings all the excitement and let down you’ll probably ever feel in your writing career (sans actually snagging the book deal…or waiting for a pregnancy test). Every time someone tries to pacify you with “patience is a virtue”, you’ll want to strangle them. If they tell you to get a hobby, walk away and curse them under your breath.
Your best friends when going through the query process are these three sites:
a.) AgentQuery – this site lists (by genre and category) agents.Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, this is a wonderful place to start fishing in the agent pool. Put in your genre and good luck. I suggest starting with those who are accepting new clients and receive email submissions. It gets costly mailing out queries with a SASE.
(Make sure you keep a list who you send queries to – helps with double submissions and feeling like an idiot)
b.) Query Tracker – Not only does this site list agents and publishers (which Divertir Publishing is on) but authors can connect with each other regarding request/rejection times. Try to gauge how long they might have to wait in order to receive a response. Finding solace int he misery of other writers helps but don’t forget to celebrate their victories because it WILL be you one day.
c.) Absolute Write Water Cooler – These forums are were authors get together and , like query tracker, talk about agents and publishers. Seasoned and amazingly helpful authors are ready to help new people (as long as you’re nice) and look for those scary red flags when something doesn’t smell right. They’re the checks and balances of the publishing world. Sign up and start getting to know the writing community because you are not alone in your dream to publish.
Oh there are other great sites. Agent blogs, how-tos (like this fabulous one, darling), and other author blogs, but you will stalk those three – trust me.
Step 5: Wait
Yep – this is the most annoying part of the pursuit to publish. Waiting. This is the time where many authors give up halfway through and self publish. Agents can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 60 days to respond to a query. Hell, some don’t respond at all. It’s hard. It single-handedly decimates your ego.
Justin C. Key on Scribophile gives us 9 Things to do While Waiting for a Response to Your Query:
1) Revise your query. If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t know what it is about your query that will decide its fate. Was it the joke you made in the beginning? Did you spend too much time describing the plot? Even though you read a template that said to put a general introduction in the beginning, maybe you are wondering if starting straight with the action will work. In the end, different agents have different tastes, and varying your product can help you gauge those tastes.
2) Look in to other agents. I’m assuming that your first round of agents was based on a detailed search. For example, if your story is a thriller than you probably queried a lot of agents who specialize in that genre. There are two main reasons to now consider broadening your search. The first is that you’ll be less likely to run out of agents, and the second, more serious reason, is that interest is very subjective. For example, I recently queried an agent and, curious, looked up some comments about him on agentquery.net. One person said he rejected them saying that horror is too hard to sell right now, and isn’t really his thing. This was back in May. Earlier this week, that same agent requested a partial on my horror novel. Point is, an agent out there who specializes in mystery could still fall in love with your romance (see what I did there?). It’s all subjective.
3) Read a good book. Now that you’ve started the process of looking for an agent, it could be helpful to delve back in to the land of the reader with a more critical eye. Knowing the process of query preparation,ask yourself how you might pitch a certain book. The plot is already proven to be publishable, so the only real hurdle would be getting an agent to read it. Think about these things. That, and if you’re reading, you’re less likely to be harassing your e-mail account. Which leads to…
4) Have a friend change your e-mail password. In the days of the smart-phone and the mobile devices, people can check their email every minute of the day if they want to, and some do just that. If you’ve been sending out email queries (and you should, some agents take only e-mail these days), you may turn in to one of these people. This just adds to the stress. Try to refrain from checking the old inbox any more than you normally would. Or better yet, set up a filter so that you know, specifically, when an agent has e-mailed you back. Otherwise, every ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (does AOL still do that? it’s been a while for me…) sound-byte will take about a year off your life.
5) Plan your next attack. Maybe for the first wave you used a basic template and sent out about 40 queries in a week. Sure, you made sure to address each to the right person, and maybe even allude to a book or two a certain agent has under his or her belt. But, much like trying different query styles, you should reconsider your approach as a whole. Might it be worth your time to only send out one or two queries per week and really research each agent, get familiar with their likes and dislikes, maybe even read a book of theirs or two? Probably. In the end, sending out 40 at a time may very well get you more responses, but how are you going to know if you don’t try.
6) Read agent blogs. There’s a lot of information out there, plus it can take the edge off the waiting process to read how human these people handing out rejections really are. They aren’t much different than you or I: they want to make an impact in the literary world, only for them that quest means sorting through hundreds of projects a month. Imagine if every time you wrote a paragraph you were forced to stop and think about 20 totally different ways to write it. Yeah, it’s something like that.
7) Compile feedback. Agents are busy, busy people, and instead of being rude to the many rejection letters you are destined to receive, try the ‘kill them with kindness.’ And this doesn’t mean beg. Simply a reply to the rejection (unless they specifically request no replies) stating that you really appreciate their time and are wondering they can share any specific feedback on why they passed. You may get a lot of silence but even if 1 out of a 100 gives some good advice, it’s all worth it, right?
8) WRITE. Don’t get so caught up in the stress of finding an agent that you forget to do what you love. Sending off a significant amount of queries can be satisfying, but also quite halting. It’s like you’ve traveled hundreds of miles just to end up at a brick wall to wait for an unknown amount of time for someone to drop you a rope. Starting a new project (or revising an old one, even the one you’re querying) will make you feel like you’re progressing towards something again. Not to mention, every writer needs the practice.
9) Frame your first rejection letter. (Okay, maybe you’d want to wait until you’ve actually reached success to frame it, but at least keep it somewhere where it can safely await the framing ceremony.) I’ve heard of some people making necklaces out of balled up rejection letters. Personally, I don’t think it’s fashionable.
This can easily be the worst time of your life while your inbox comes up empty. However trust me when I tell you the journey is always worth the time spent. An author hardens, hones their craft and meets some amazing friends along the way. If you’re picked up by an agent – that’s amazing and I am so proud of you! If you end up at a small publisher – great job! Small publishers are blessed with some great authors (I know – we have so many.) Millions of books are published every year and a very small percentage comes from the big five. That means small publishers are discovering hidden and overlooked talent.
You are talented. If writing is your passion, don’t give up no matter how many rejections you receive. Google how many rejection letters the big names racked up before finally landing an agent/publishing contract. You can do this because you want it bad enough. Maybe it won’t be this manuscript, maybe the next one, but it will happen.
Good luck and may the force be with you.