Why You Should Consider An Agent If You’re Hoping To Publish Traditionally

You can only spend so long revising and editing a novel. Somewhere between revision 3 and revision 12, you’re probably going to be done with your book. But now what?

If you want to get your novel traditionally published, you’re gonna need to query some agents. But why?

(*Tinder, not Tumblr)


To publish your manuscript, you have four options:

Four Types of Publishing

  1. Traditional publishers
    • Is well established
    • Has its own Editors and printers
    • Has reach for getting your novel stocked in stores and online
    • Has marketing influence for getting your novel in front of reviewers and in the public eye
  2. Small publishers
    • Have their own Editors and printers
    • Have some reach for getting your novel stocked
    • Sometimes have some marketing influence for getting your novel in front of reviewers and in the public eye
  3. Indie publishers
    • Lets you direct and design, while facilitating the creation your print and/or ebook
    • Sometimes connected to traditional or small publishers, this is a different branch but has some of their support
    • Minimal gate-keeping, great for very niche books
  4. Self-publishers
    • You’re in control
    • No gatekeeper
    • You’re responsible for everything from line-edits to covers to marketing.

Each branch of publishing has its own fans, some more fervent than others. But, the only one that almost requires, and works best with, an agent, is traditional publishing.

1. Why Would A Person Choose To Try Traditional Publishing?

Besides the resources and access that you can’t get without being in the industry?

The biggest reason someone chooses to go ‘traditional’, is because you only get one debut novel. Once you’ve published something, either on your own or with a smaller agency, you’re now an established author.

Which is great! Right? You’ve got credentials!

Well, if you liked the results and the people (if any) you worked with, this is great and there’s no problem.

BUT. If you think you might ever want to go Traditional, they’re gonna look at the book sales of everything you’ve published. And if they’re lack-luster, that can sway them against you.

You can always query agents and, if you have no takers, decide to go with any of the other publishing options. As there are fewer Traditional Publishers, and they tend to go for less risky novels, the chances of being able to publish are much higher (and 100% for self-publishing) without them.

It’s easy to work your way from larger, traditional companies, down to smaller companies. It’s a lot harder to do that in reverse.

2. Why Not Just Query Publishers?

Isn’t an agent just a middleman? Why query them and wait for THEM to query Editors at publishing houses when I can just query the Editors myself?

First off, for those who are unaware, Editors and editors are two different things.

  • Lower-case editors are people who do some sort of manuscript editing:
    • Developmental editing – dealing with plot, pacing, and characterization
    • Copy-editing – dealing with word choice and phrasing
    • Line-editing – dealing with grammar, formatting, and punctuation
    • Etc… (there are a lot of types of editing)
  • Upper-case Editors are heads of Publishing Houses or branches and decide (often with Marketing’s approval) if your novel should be published. Things they consider:
    • Quality
    • Marketability
    • Brand – is it in line with the types of books they typically publish
    • How saturated that genre-market is right now

Secondly, many Editors only accept submissions from agents.

Third, with both agents and Editors, once you’ve queried and they’ve said ‘no’ unless you’ve DRASTICALLY changed your novel and spent quality time (like months or years) revising your novel, you can’t re-query.

I mean, nothing’s stopping you, but it’s considered rude, ignorant, and can get you black-listed (and/or sent directly to their trash folder).

Which means? Even if you get an agent later, your agent won’t be able to query that publisher again. And that agent might have known a way to pitch your manuscript in a way that would appeal to that Editor, or know the right edits you needed to make your story appeal to marketing. You’ve basically given away your chance to work with that Editor.

Once you decide to query…

3. Why Would Agents Reject Your Manuscript?

Agents aren’t just there to skim money off the top of your sale. They’re there to see how far they can take you and your book! The better you do, the better for everyone. And many of them work on commission.

When they take on a project, they have a lot of things to consider:

  • Of course, they’re considering the quality of your story
  • Different people like different things, they’re looking for a story to fall in love with
    • They need to be as in love with your manuscript as you are if they’re going to have the drive to sell it to a publisher
  • How much work your story needs
    • Even if they love it, if it needs a lot of edits and revisions to get it ready for the market, they might decide they don’t have the time to commit right now
  • How full is their current workload
    • If they took you on, but then didn’t have time for their pre-existing clients, things will start to slip through the cracks
  • How similar your manuscript is to their current clients’ active submissions
    • They don’t want to be competing against their own clients for publishers!
  • If the market is buying novels like yours right now
    • Even the best book can be skipped if the market isn’t right
    • If this is the case, try shelving it and querying again in 1-5 years

With such tough odds to get an agent, why bother?

4. What Are The Benefits Of Having An Agent?

  • They know the market
  • Many of them have contacts at publishing houses
    • Knowing the right person doesn’t get your book published, but it does mean the submission is tailored based on their knowledge of the Editor
  • They know how to read contracts– so you don’t need to also hire a lawyer
    • They can recognize a good contract
    • They know common loopholes to watch out for
  • Some agents are editorial-agents
    • They’ll give you revisions and edits to make on your manuscript before it ‘goes on submission’ (i.e. the agent queries publishers)
  • Some agents want to nurture your career
    • They’re not just here for the one book, they want you to grow and learn and get better. And write more stuff that they can sell. They want a long-term relationship.

The benefits sound good, but there’s one big question.

5. Where Do You Find An Agent To Query?

Not all agents are made equal. Same with publishers of any brand. Always do your due-diligence before querying someone.

Sites to check for the legitimacy of an agent, agency, or publisher:

Warning Signs:

  • You should never pay a reader-fee
  • Vanity Anthologies – publishing credits, but no pay, and minimal editing…
    • Do you really want writing credits from a poorly edited, cheaply made, anthology?
  • ‘Contests’
    • There are many honorable contests, there are many more small or online contests that have none-to-poor reputations.
    • Some charge large entry fees and publish all entrants
  • Solicitations, especially with poor English
  • High commissions
    • 10-15% is the standard commission for domestic sales
    • 20% for foreign rights
  • Fixed fees

Now that’s out of the way, where do you look?

5 Sites and books with literary agents and their desires:

So now you can find a list of agents and make sure they’re legitimate.

6. How Do You Pick An Agent To Query?

Just because you’ve found an agent to query on a list, doesn’t mean they’re the right one for you. There are still a few things you need to do before querying and this means going to their website and/or their agency’s website. When in doubt, defer to their personal website.

  1. Make sure they represent your genre–and age range
    • Otherwise, you’ll be rejected out-of-hand
  2. Make sure they’re currently open to queries
    • Agents often close for holidays, vacations, or when their backlog gets too long
  3. See how much experience they have and where
    • Less established agents can be good for several reasons:
      • They often have more time so you have better response times
      • They are actively building their lists–so more queries are requested
      • If they’re at an established agency, they can draw on their mentors and coworker’s agency knowledge and connections to help submit your novels
    • Established agents can be good, as well:
      • They have connections of their own
      • They’re experienced at recognizing what will sell and how to sell it
      • And they just plain have experience
  4. Decide if you want an editorial-agent
    • Some agents submit your novel in its current form with little-to-no edits
    • Some, more editorial agents, will give you marked up manuscripts and ask for you to revise before they submit your manuscript to an Editor
  5. Read their wishlist and biographies to see if they appeal to you
    • Maybe you like their voice, even if just in a bio or a tweet
    • Maybe you think your story is a good match for their list of favorite books
    • Maybe you’re a fan of the novels that they’ve agented and feel that your manuscript is a good fit for those

Just be careful that you don’t decide one agent is perfect for you. It can take dozens of queries before you get an agent. Steel your heart and treat it like Tinder, wait for that agent who swypes right on you.

7. How Do You Keep From Getting Form Rejections?

If you’re querying and all you’re getting are form rejections and no-answer-means-no-thank-yous, it’s time to look at submission package.

  1. When you’re first querying, send out 5-10 queries at a time. If all you’re getting are form rejections, you need to revamp your query and first chapter.
  2. If you’re getting form rejections on partials, look at your pacing and character development.
  3. If you’re getting form rejections on fulls, look at your ending, make sure it lives up to the promise of the novel.

Now you know why someone might choose to try traditional publishes, why they need an agent, and how to find the right one.

Let me know if you have any questions and good luck, getting your story out into the world.

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#5 Query Corner: ‘Dance, Dance, DIE!’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

“Dance, Dance, DIE!” a modern retelling of “Red Shoes” a fairytale where a pair of enchanted shoes force a girl to dance…to her death!

Overall Impression:

It’s already pretty strong, so don’t take my comments as nit-picking.

Solid query! It’s got stakes, personality, and as a person who’s both taken classes in almost every type of dance known to man and loves fairy tale retellings? This query hits the sweet spot for query length (250 < 283 < 300).

The only things I would change are:

  • Replace the word ‘mystery(ious)’. It’s cliche and tells us nothing. With more precision, you can make sure your story is differentiated from all the other ones out there
  • Limit lists to 3 items. Usually, you can combine 2 or more of them and it helps with the flow.
  • Put the emphasis on the plot and not on Annora’s dyspraxia. I realize this is an issue near and dear to your heart AND provides your Main Character with a unique motivation. But a defter touch won’t take away that motivation and will keep from scaring off agents who might be wary of an ‘issues’ book.
#ownvoices is important, (and a good thing!), but the story rules all.

The Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Agent,

For fifteen-year-old dyspraxic, Annora Genn, bruises, bumps, falls, and spills are daily par for the course. Until mysterious [a little cliche] red shoes transform her from uncoordinated klutz to graceful swan—just in time to impress Holmes, a cute parkour practitioner, at the homecoming dance [he’s performing parkour at the homecoming? or is that just where she impresses him].

Now that Holmes thinks she’s an urban ninja like him, [and/or start new sentence] he wants Annora to be his partner. In an upcoming tournament. For parkour. (Cue audible gulp and nervous chuckle.) Normally, walking and chewing gum together would be challenging enough. But she’d die if he found out how clumsy—to put her aptitude for blunders mildly—she really is.[We’ve already established her clumsiness. Dyspraxia gives a fresh take on the ‘clumsy girl’ trope, but we probably don’t need to over-emphasize it.] Desperate to hide her disorder, Annora continues wearing the shoes, but soon finds herself explaining away eerie dreams, ghostly visits, and strange scratches on her skin, with increasingly thin rationalizations.

 When bloody footprints stalk her in the school hallways and her locker erupts in flames, Annora steels her nerves and investigates the shoes’ haunting origins. She discovers that the ghost girl attached to them is gradually taking possession of her body. Meaning party’s over. Forever. Annora must solve the mystery surrounding the vengeful spirit [let’s be more precise], before the sinister shoes dance, flip, and tumble her straight into an early grave. [I think this is a cute line and left it in during my revision. But I’m not 100% sure it doesn’t add a more… Middle Grade flavor to the query?]

A 72,000 word YA retelling of “The Red Shoes”, DANCE, DANCE, DIE! combines the sweet romance of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING with the spooky chills of THE DEAD GIRLS OF HYSTERIA HALL. Both myself and my teen son have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects movement, coordination, planning, judgment, processing, memory, and some other cognitive skills[that’s gotta be frustrating to deal with. But… let’s make this list a little shorter]. The disorder has recently gained more awareness as celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Cara Delevinge, and Florence Welch have spoken about having it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[Q5]


The Revised Query:

Dear ———,

For fifteen-year-old dyspraxic, Annora Genn, bumps, falls, and bruises [I prefer lists of 3 items and this puts them in chronological order] are her daily par for the course, until [a thrift store visit/an afternoon exploring her attic] uncovers a pair of red shoes. When she puts on the shoes, Annora is transformed from uncoordinated klutz to graceful swan—just in time for the homecoming dance, where she impresses Holmes, a cute parkour practitioner.

Holmes recruits the “urban ninja” Annora to be his partner in an upcoming tournament. For parkour. (Cue audible gulp and nervous chuckle.) Desperate to hide her disorder and keep dazzling Holmes, Annora continues wearing the shoes, but her newfound grace isn’t the only side effect of wearing the shoes. Every morning, Annora finds new scratch marks on her arms and she’s beginning to see the ghost of someone else peeking out through her eyes: an angry, bitter, dancer. [I dramatized this a little. Hopefully, I guessed right-ish]

When bloody footprints stalk her in the school hallways and her locker erupts in flames, Annora can no longer rationalize the happenings away. That’s when she discovers the ghost girl attached to shoes is gradually taking possession of her body and taking the shoes off won’t stop the spirit [I’d assume. Otherwise, this is more ‘is she willing to risk her life to keep the grace the shoes grant her’ story]Annora must defuse the vengeful spirit before the sinister shoes dance, flip, and tumble her straight into an early grave.

 The 72,000 word YA retelling of “The Red Shoes”, DANCE, DANCE, DIE! combines the sweet romance of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING with the spooky chills of THE DEAD GIRLS OF HYSTERIA HALL. Both I and my teen son have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects movement, coordination, judgment, memory, and other cognitive skills. Recently, celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Cara Delevinge, and Florence Welch have spoken about their own struggles[experiences? -Pick whichever word better suits your feelings of living with dyspraxia] with dyspraxia.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q5
 
[email]
[Twitter]
[phone]

Now, this queryist was also revising her query with a mentor separately. After several passes back and forth, she took some of my suggestions and ignored some of them. Here is her current version:

Dear Agent,

For fifteen-year-old Annora Genn, life is a daily battle against her own body.

Having dyspraxia, a hidden disorder most people never heard of, means bumps, falls, and bruises are par for the course. Until Annora receives an anonymous gift: a pair of red shoes that transform her from uncoordinated klutz to graceful swan just in time to impress Holmes, a cute parkour enthusiast, at the homecoming dance.

Her newfound “urban ninja” skills prompt Holmes to ask Annora to be his partner in an upcoming parkour tournament. (Cue audible gulp and nervous chuckle.) No way would Holmes be into her if he knew how clumsy she really is, so Annora continues to wear the shoes, only to find herself explaining away eerie dreams, strange scratches on her arms, and the dead girl lurking in her mirror. When bloody footprints stalk her in the school hallways, Annora runs out of rationalizations. And if her growing suspicions are right—the compulsion to keep wearing the shoes isn’t coming from herself.

Terrified, Annora investigates their haunting origins and learns that a vengeful ghost is gradually possessing her. For all the times she’s considered her body a burden, Annora’s not about to hand it over without a fight. And maybe—just maybe—Holmes could actually like her for herself, blunders and all. But she may never get the chance to find out, because unless Annora surrenders to the ghost girl, the cursed shoes will dance, flip, and tumble her straight into an early grave.

DANCE, DANCE, DIE! is a 72,000 word YA Paranormal Suspense that offers a compelling modern take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes”. It will appeal to fans of lightly creepy tales such as Eileen Cook’s UNRAVELING ISOBEL and Katie Alender’s THE DEAD GIRLS OF HYSTERIA HALL. Both I and my teen son have dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects movement, coordination, and some cognitive skills, such as planning and processing. The disorder has recently been gaining more awareness as dyspraxic celebrities, such as Daniel Radcliffe, Cara Delevinge, and Florence Welch, have spoken about their personal experiences.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q5
[email]
[Twitter]
[phone]

You’ll see she took my advice but didn’t always use my wording suggestions. Which is what you should do with ANY editor’s advice. (Unless it’s a line-edit…) Make their edits your own!

Best of luck to Q5!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

 

Here’s A Trick To Fix Your Rough Draft–In 30 minutes Or Less

Note: The TRICK takes 30 minutes or less, not the process of fixing your rough draft

When You’ve Finished A Rough Draft…

Congrats!

You’ve done what so many people dream of doing. Butt-in-seat, you got your story out.

But now what?

You’ve got this mess of a draft sitting there in front of you. Sometimes, it’s long and messy, other times it’s short and sparse.

But it doesn’t matter. You wrote a novel!

pexels-photo-255483.jpeg

Pour yourself a toast!

Unfortunately, your friends and family, the ones who are supportive (or at least are faking it), are now asking when they can read it!

One problem: it’s a mess! So step one? Edit it! Get your butt back in your seat and make that thing readable.

After You’ve Edited It…

If you’re anything like me, you thought you edited it, but really, you’ve just been doing line edits and making the sentences readable. You haven’t actually revised it.

The plot, pacing, and flow? Everything’s still a mess.

book-address-book-learning-learn-159751.jpeg

It’s just a pile of pages and papers…

You’re beginning to despair of ever turning this manuscript into something people might want to read.

That’s where my secret trick comes in.

Well, maybe it’s not a secret, but it is a nifty trick.

Sit down, think about your dream agent, and write a query letter!

What, Morgan!? You gasp in horror and fear. It’s not remotely ready for outside-eyes, especially not an agent!

As you know, it’s not polite to keep querying an agent every time you make a new draft. You want to wait to query until you’re sure it’s ready.

So Morgan, why am I writing a query and how is this going to fix my rough draft? you ask.

Query Yourself!

I can feel you looking at me askance and sighing, this sounds like one of those mumbo-jumbo esoteric writing exercises.

Well, yes. Yes, it is. But when you write your query letter, you’re reducing your story,  your world, all your beloved characters in their most basic form:

Main character + wants A + but B  + stands in their way

Writing queries is hard. It’s a completely different skill than writing a novel, or even a short story. You’ve barely got 200 words to say EVERYTHING.

Yet, when writing your query letter, a strange thing happens…

You find out what the story you wrote is about.

What? You ask. I wrote the thing. It can’t be possible for me to NOT to know what my own story is about: clearly, it’s about Main Character and Major Plotline!

But, when you reduce it down to its bones, that’s when you can see what lies beneath the skin of your story.

You find your story’s theme. Often, something you didn’t even know you were trying to say.

You find your core plot, which may have been an over-arching plot that you couldn’t see for the trees.

Together, the theme and the core plot provide you with a compass to help you plot your way through your rough draft.

Finally, It’s Time To Revise.

Once you know both:

  • Which plot points you want to emphasize
  • What the theme at the core of your story is

Then, it’s easier to see which scenes and characters are supporting those plots and themes.

If you have a scene or a character that doesn’t support the core plot or theme, you’ve got a few options:

  • Delete it
  • Edit so it DOES support the core plot or theme
    or
  • Revise the query to re-analyze your manuscript and reorient that ‘compass’

After You Revise?

Rewrite your query.

Every new draft deserves a new query. The story may have taken you in new and exciting directions.

And that’s it. That’s my trick to figuring out how to revise that rough draft of mine.


What tricks do you use to get your rough draft in shape?

Do you ever write your query before you even draft?

 

#4 Query Corner: ‘Jeffrey Dean and the Destiny Matrix’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

Sounds like a super fun story! Good length query and spot on. But… there is a little too much backstory, even if the novel lingers on his recruitment (even if the query is short). See what you think of my take.


The Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear ———,

I am seeking representation for JEFFREY DEAN AND THE DESTINY MATRIX, my 61,000 word upper middle grade science fiction novel. [I like to combine this with the comps. QueryShark prefers them after the story portion, but it’s up to you. You can always start with this if you want.]

Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey Dean is a self-reliant loner who wants nothing more than to find his birth parents and stop his bloody visions of past events [wait. Is he a street kid or what? how is he this self-reliant at 13?]. Agents from a secret government project offer him exactly that. The choice seems like a no-brainer, but there is a catch – he must become their operative in the fight against an evil [melodramatic, although maybe the right tone for your novel?] organization attempting to manipulate history and rule the world.

When his training is complete, the agency assigns him an urgent mission:[this sounds like where the story starts] preventing a 1938 coup attempt against FDR to install a fascist military dictator. Things take a bad turn before Jeffrey leaves on[?] the mission when saboteurs poison the serum the project uses to send him to the past. Now he must beat the clock to defeat time traveling mercenaries and foil the plot against FDR before the poison kills him. He’ll have to overcome his self-reliance and work with a team if he’s going to prevent fascist control of the timeline, uncover the truth about his parents[what?! There’s a different truth], and save his own life.

JEFFREY DEAN AND THE DESTINY MATRIX is a cross between the television show TIMELESS and Anthony Horowitz’s ALEX RIDER series, with a bit of Pierce Brown’s RED RISING added in. This novel stands alone, but it is intended to be the first of a series[uh oh. this can sound too much like the novel doesn’t have a definitive end].

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and write light science fiction and horror for middle grade and young adult audiences[a little bland? can you add something to give it flavor?]. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[Q4]


The Revised Query:

Dear ———,

When government agents recruit thirteen-year-old, Jeffrey Dean, he sees it as a way to find his birth parents and stop his bloody visions of his past. Trained as an operative, his job is to prevent a terrorist organization from manipulating history in order to rule the world.

Sent to prevent a 1938 coup attempt against FDR, Jeffrey arrives poisoned by tainted time-travel serum. Jeffrey must defeat time-traveling mercenaries and foil the plot against FDR before the poison kills him. If he can overcome his self-reliance and work with a team, he just might prevent fascist control of the timeline, uncover the truth about his parents, and save his own life.

JEFFREY DEAN AND THE DESTINY MATRIX is a 61,000 word upper-middle grade science fiction novel. My novel is a cross between the television show TIMELESS and Anthony Horowitz’s ALEX RIDER series, with a touch of Pierce Brown’s RED RISING added in. This novel stands alone, but has series potential.

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and write light science fiction and horror for middle grade and young adult audiences. Unlike Jeffrey, I’m stuck traveling forwards through time, one day at a time.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Q4
[email]
[Twitter]
[phone]

Now, not all of my feedback is going to work for the queryist, as they already let me know.

“At first glance, I do see some things in what you’ve done that I like better than what I had in the original. Other parts might need a little massaging.”

They know their story best, but hopefully, it puts them on the right path!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

3 Things To Consider Before “Fixing” Your Writing

3 Things To Consider Before “Fixing” Your Writing

How Do You Please Everyone With Your Writing?

Spoiler Alert: You can’t.

I’m back in the query trenches again, alternately deciding that “this is the agent for me!” and “no agent will ever love me!”

So, while I’m sorting through agent profiles, trying to decide who might “swipe right” back at me (right’s the one where they’re interested, too? I don’t know these things), I see agents posting about what they don’t want.

And there’s this knee-jerk reaction, when I recognize a trope from my writing in their ‘no thank you’ list. The feeling of, “Oh! I can fix it! And then you’ll love it!” Especially when you see so much of your story in their ‘please send me’ list.

But before you go an fix your story to appeal to that agent, you need to stop and consider a few things.


3 Things to Consider before “Fixing” Your Story:

1. Are there other Agents looking specifically for that trope?

If so? Well, there you go!

Just because one agent pooh-poohed the trope you played with in your story, didn’t mean every agent out there was shying away from it. Clearly, that agent just wasn’t the right match for you!

I know it can be hard to walk away from an agent that looks ideal!

You see them asking for X and Y, both of which your story does amazingly! And then you hit that “hard pass if the Manuscript does Z”. *insert screeching to a halt sound clip. And maybe a sad trombone noise*

It’s hard to stop yourself from justifying sending to them anyway. “I have everything they’re looking for,” you think.

Yes, but if you also have something in your manuscript that will make them auto-reject you, why set yourself up for failure?

You’ve heard the dating analogy. Everything else might be good, but if my date is looking for a partner who cooks, we’re not going to be a good fit.

You should be querying people who want what you have to offer, without that deal breaker.

2. Is Not Wanting That Trope A Trend?

Agents are people, and no two people are exactly the same. Which means they have different wants and needs.

If ONE agent talks about not wanting a specific trope, it can be hard not to start reading into what the other agents are saying. You start convincing yourself that the other agents were obliquely referencing that trope and that no one will ever want your novel.

Oh wait–that’s just me.

But EVERY story has its own tropes. It’s how you play with them, subvert them, or make them shine that makes your story unique.

Don’t immediately assume your story is broken! Look around at other agents, at other agencies. Look at what the editors are looking for and see if there’s a pattern.

If, and only if, you find a pattern of agents and editors saying specifically that they do not want this particular trope, that’s when you might think about looking at your manuscript.

3. How well integrated is this trope in your story?

Just because the publishing world isn’t in the mood for this trope, doesn’t mean there’s a problem with your story!

You have to think long and hard before removing a trope from your novel. Start by asking yourself the following questions.

  • Does it make sense for your story?
  • How will this affect your characters?
    • How much of their backgrounds, personality, and goals are influenced by this trope?
  • Will your story be worse off by taking it out?
  • How well did you write the trope?
    • Perhaps you’ve gotten to the heart of the trope and made it real and fully three-dimensional!
    • Perhaps you’ve subverted the trope, in an unexpected, but fascinating manner.
    • Perhaps you’ve played with the trope, in fun and exciting ways!

If you’ve taken the trope and made it yours, then leave it be!


What Happens If You Leave It In And The Trope Causes People To Reject It?

A – Maybe your story ends up being a ‘practice book’…

It’s still not a waste of time. No one tells the musician who practices their scales that they’ve wasted time.

B – Maybe you need to wait for trends to change.

Shelve this project for 6 months or 6 years, and then send it out to agents again.


Don’t Give Up Hope Before You Query

It could be that your take on this trope is just what the industry has been waiting for!

#3 Query Corner: ‘Egg’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

You’ve got a cute middle-grade adventure! You’re following query format beautifully. I think this just needs a bit of polish to avoid cliche phrasing and really make your story shine.

The Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear Ms. Hazelwood,

When 12-year-old Jo and her cousin Andy find a mysterious [cliche!] egg in their favorite hideout – the cave on the bluff near their Wisconsin home [singular? Do they live together?] – Jo’s first instinct is to leave and never go back. The egg is bigger than any she’s ever seen, and so stinky she doesn’t want to be near it. But when she finds [using ‘find’ again] the corpse of the beast that laid the egg, she can’t just walk away. Her own mother left when she was just a toddler, and Jo would never do that to anyone[might be too explain-y?]. So she prepares herself for two things: a serious commitment and a baby dragon.[I think it’s just 1 thing. Serious commitment to a dragon!]

Once the dragon hatches, Jo and Andy help it learn to fly, hunt for its favorite food (pine cones), and speak a few words of English[the dragon can speak!]. But the dragon’s hoarding instinct kicks in and it steals treasure from people in town. Then it eats some of Jo’s chickens, including her favorite hen. When the dragon learns to breathe fire and accidentally burns Jo, Andy insists on sending their dragon away. But Jo doubles down – she will never abandon her dragon even though keeping it risks her friendship with Andy, the safety of her town, and her own life.[a little clunky]

EGG combines the longing and secrecy in THE TIGER RISING with the light-hearted play of PETE’S DRAGON. Set in modern-day rural Wisconsin, EGG is a middle grade contemporary fantasy, complete at 43,000 words. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[Q3]

[email]

[twitter] [phone]

The Revised Query:

Dear Ms. Hazelwood,

When 12-year-old Jo and her cousin Andy find the enormous (and stinky) egg in their hideout cave on the bluff near their Wisconsin homes – Jo’s first instinct is to leave and never go back. But when she discovers the corpse of the egg’s momma, she can’t just walk away. Unlike her own mother, Jo swears she would never abandon a baby! Even if it’s a baby dragon.

Once the dragon hatches, Jo and Andy help it learn to fly, hunt for its favorite food (pine cones), and even speak a few words of English. But then the dragon’s instincts kick in: it eats some of Jo’s chickens, (including her favorite hen!), it steals treasure from people in town, and it learns to breathe fire. When the dragon accidentally burns Jo, Andy declares the dragon is too dangerous. Jo must decide if keeping her promise to the dragon is worth risking her friendship with Andy, the safety of her town, and her own life.

EGG combines the longing and secrecy in THE TIGER RISING with the light-hearted play of PETE’S DRAGON. Set in modern-day rural Wisconsin, EGG is a middle-grade contemporary fantasy, complete at 43,000 words.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[Q3]

[email]
[Twitter]
[phone]


Now, not all of my feedback is going to work for the queryist. They know their story best, but hopefully, it puts them on the right path!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

5 Ways To Use The Moon For World-Building Inspiration

5 Ways To Use The Moon For World-Building Inspiration

When you look at our history books and the artifacts that exist from prehistory, there’s a definite trend.

Humanity has always looked upwards.

From Stonehenge, to the Pyramids in Maya and Egypt and elsewhere, to China’s Puyang Tomb and its mosaic of constellations, the moon and stars have always inspired us.

Note: There’s even a science devoted to studying it! Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past “have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures.”

Even today, people from around the globe admire the moon and take the time to step outside and look up when we know there will be an eclipse.

The moon has a lot of influence: it creates our tides, gives us a sense of the passage of time, and provokes our imagination.

So, when it comes to creating a fantasy world, the moon (or moons!) can help inspire you!

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5 Ways You Can Use The Moon To Enhance Your Fantasy World Building

1 – Gods and Goddesses

From Sumeria to Greece to India, lunar Gods and Goddesses abound, often a counter-part to an opposite-gendered Sun God or Goddess.

When creating your world mythology, try to decide what your people made of the moon and the sun. Do they believe everything to be part of the divine, do they believe in a singular god, do they have stories of the celestial bodies?

Even if your world has ‘advanced’ past that sort of thing, there is likely to be a sort of holdover from earlier in their history. References, stories, and holidays.

2 – Holy Days and Celebrations

New Moons, full moons: holidays based on the lunar cycle are popular. From the Chinese New Year to Ramadan to Easter here on Earth, we pay attention to the moon when we want to honor a momentous occasion.

Any society you create is going to have a major holiday. Whether religious or not, people like breaks.

When creating a culture, decide in what sort of ways your people recognize their holy days. Do your people meditate? Do they hold large festivals? Think about ways the moon may influence the timing.

3 – Calendars

Following off the holidays, our months started out approximately the length of a lunar cycle, only politics and the solar cycle got them misaligned.

Our weeks are carefully subdivided lunar cycles, drawn and quartered. 28 days to our lunar cycle, divides evenly into 4 weeks of 7 days each. It’s not a coincidence.

If you’re writing a new world, is your week going to be the same length? Why? What about your months?

4 – Tides

The sun has a bit of influence, but our moon is the main game-player when it comes to dictating high-tide and low-tide here on earth.

If your story is placed on a version of Earth, tides can play a part. If your story is placed on another world, how many moons do you have? Are they closer or further away? Think about how that’s going to affect the tides!

5 – Moods

Legends talk of werewolves running rampant when the moon is full and even mere mortals acting strangely.

Despite scientific studies pooh-poohing on this theory, some people, even today, believe that people act more impulsively when the moon is full.

Does your world have this sort of syndrome? Is it reversed? Do you want your world to have superstitions about the full or the half or the new moon? 


New worlds are fun to create, but I find I really enjoy making up reasons why things are the way they are in my worlds.

What sort of things do you look to, when designing your worlds?