Getting — and Staying Published

All writers who want to share their work with the world want to be published. Some want to self-publish while others would prefer to have the backing — and distribution — of a publishing house.

At the titular panel at WorldCon 2019, George Sandison, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rachel Winterbottom, E.C. Ambrose, and Michelle Sagara talked about the realities of traditional publishing — when you’re not an A-list author.

The Top 3 Ways Writers Make It Hard On Themselves When Getting Published

  1. Quitting their dayjob
    • A publishing contract is great! It’s a huge amount of money. But, look at it as a year’s salary (or 5 years). There is no guarantee your next book will find the same market — or that your current book will perform as well as the publishers hope.

      If you get an advance, there are shockingly few authors who ever “earn out” — or make back for the publishing house — what the publishing house gave them.

      Many authors see their advances getting smaller and smaller, until they reflect what the market will give.
  2. Switching markets
    • Of course it’s always best to write what you’re most passionate about. If you’re forcing the writing, it usually comes through to the readers as a lack-lustre book.

      That said, if you change genres and markets, it can be like building your audience from scratch. Except, without the “like”. you ARE building your audience from scratch.
  3. Getting the wrong agent
    • If you get a contract before you have an agent, it is usually very easy to find an agent. It is always wise to get an agent or contract lawyer to look over your publishing contract, but unless the lawyer specializes in book sales, the agent will likely be better versed in industry standards — what’s expected and what’s not.

      That said, make sure you know if the agent you’re working with is invested in your career, or just here to help you through this single contract. Misunderstandings can leave your career in shambles.

Is It Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Usually, what it looks like from the writers’ end is…

  1. Your first novel? Floats on clouds of hope and optimism — and the traditional publisher advance reflects this.
  2. Your second novel? Well, they like to give writers second chances.
  3. Your third novel? Good luck.

The reality is that publishers need to sell a writer and their voice, not necessarily just one genre. Plenty of authors have more than one type of story in them.

Typically, writers query agents, and agents submit manuscripts to acquiring editors. Occasionally, some publishing houses will be open to unagented submissions. But, once you’ve sold a book or two, a working-relationship can evolve.

Acquiring Editors Can Work For An Author

Editors that select works for publication at publishing houses can have working relationships as close as an agent with a given writer.

And, of course, the more senior the editor, the more clout they have when it comes to deciding what gets published.

Here are 4 ways they can help a writer.

  1. They can go to bat for your novel, versus the publishing board, even if the numbers aren’t there. (i.e. We messed up marketing last time, but this writer is too good!)
  2. Publishers can pitch ideas internally, and bring in the author they want to write it.
  3. Even after a slump, if your pitch is keen enough, they can get you an offer.
  4. Some have success changing by-lines, to re-introduce authors to new audiences.

But sometimes? You need to walk away.

Reasons to find a new publisher

  1. Sometimes, a new publisher is what you need after a slump. The old one has already used all it’s connections and marketing techniques. It’s time to try something new.
  2. Sometimes, the editor you’ve worked with leaves and no one has the passion for the manuscripts they left behind.

But not everything relies on the publisher. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re ready for the market.

Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. Network
    Make friends in the industry. Hit conventions (if you have the time/energy but no money — volunteer! Or, you can just keep reading my notes).

    But, be sure you’re making a good impression when you do. Everyone knows somebody here, so be friendly but respectful of boundaries.
  2. Be prepared
    Rejection stinks. Seeing friends (or frenemies) succeed while your novel is passed over hurts — whether you’re at the “hoping for an agent” level, “hoping to publish” level, or the “hoping for awards” stage.

    Know that you aren’t alone. Know what you need to keep your passion from burning out.

    Read! Write! Ignore jealousy. Or acknowledge it — and then move on.
  3. Don’t give up the day job
    Even if you do get a huge contract, or tons of steady ones, fear of bills and falling behind can put too much pressure on you, and take away the love of the writing. Remember to take care of yourself.

    Age doesn’t matter, but financial security can affect your approach.
  4. Remember what you’re comparing
    When you see social media feeds and think about all the ways you don’t measure up? You’re comparing their highlight reels to your blooper reel. Take a break if you need to. Step away if you need to.

Audience Questions

  1. How does maternity/health leaves of absences affect your career?

    If you’re writing on a schedule, know this:
    1. Publishing schedules are flexible – but…
    2. Write first — as much as possible, if the leave is scheduled, and drop everything you can to make it happen.

    If you don’t have a schedule, it’s up to you.
  2. Should I self-publish?

    The more niche your book it, the more successful it could be as a self-published book.
  3. What does it take to succeed as a writer?

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the writing.

    Can you write a sentence? How about a paragraph? A chapter? Can you plot?

    There is a huge cliff between a great book and a ho-hum, not bad book. Most are ho-hum.

Agents and Editors Share–Pitches We’re Sick Of!

What do agents want? What are publishers sick of? At Balticon52, I got the opportunity to hear a few of the industry leaders voice their opinions.

The panel was entitled “Pitches We’re Sick Of (And One’s We’d Like To See More Of), but since that’s not enough to fill an hour, it turned into a Question and Answer session.

***

Whose Opinions Were Shared And Why Should You Care?

Joshua Bilmes is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. His clients include NY Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon and Simon R. Green.

Neil Clarke is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld. He is a six-time and current finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form.

The panel was moderated by Sarah Avery. Sarah’s first book, Tales from Rugosa Coven, won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Fantasy Scroll, Great Jones Street, and Jim Baen’s Universe, as well as Black Gate, where she was a regular contributor on series fantasy and teaching fantasy literature. With David Sklar, she coedited the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology.

***

Skull and bones, half buried in a forest.

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Pitches They’re Sick Of*

  • The Paranormal Boom is DEAD.
  • Superhero piles are getting supersaturated.
  • Zombies are rotting.
  • Some urban fantasy subgenres are being overplayed.
  • Oz.

Note: Even if stories are still being published in a genre, that’s often because publishing contracts and schedules are arranged years in advance. Even when a genre is dead, it can take 2-3 years for a publishing agency to get rid of their backlog.

***

Pitches They’d Like To See More Of*

  • ‘HopePunk’ (even if the term stinks)
    • I *think* it’s a dystopian future, where we actually solve current crisis. Like climate change or evolve into a more accepting species.
  • Diversified stories
    • It’s what the publishers are looking for
    • As the book reviewers themselves become more diverse, a wider variety of stories resonates with the reviewers.
  • Vampires seem to be coming back
  • Steampunk can’t be counted out for the next 3-5 years, but it’s on a downswing.
  • Short Sci-Fi sells better than short Fantasy.
  • But really? Whatever you’re passionate about! Agents can tell if you’re just chasing trends, and earnestness shows through. THAT’S the spark they want.

***

When To Approach Agents or Editors

  • NOT when they’re going into the bathroom – that’s their safe place
  • If they’re attending a convention and are on panels, they typically want to be found.
  • If they’re in a restaurant?
    • Is it next to the convention?
    • Are they at the bar, chatting away? Or off at a table in the back with one of their writers? Pay attention to context clues.

***

Rejections!

As any querying writer can tell you, a personalized rejection is worth its weight in gold!

What does it mean when an agent/publisher says, “It’s too similar to something I just bought/sold”?

It depends.

  • For some, it’s a polite brush-off.
  • For others, they only say it when it’s true.
  • For anthologies? Very likely true.
  • For magazine publishers? They can stagger release dates if needed…

*** Now, we pause for a brief interlude and the story of…***

Rejectomancy!

Once upon a time, Joshua submitted a story he was excited about from one of his writers to an editor. And this is what he heard back.

“I had to get a second read…”

“… because I couldn’t believe you’d sent me something so bad.”

Even agents get rejected.

***

Player 20 winding up to throw a pitch.

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Pitching Your Story

The Dos and Don’ts of Preparing Your Pitch

  • Don’t use an adjective to describe your book itself
  • Don’t go over a page!
  • Don’t be cute or suck up
    • Your query letter is somewhere between a job interview and a cover letter for a resume.
  • Don’t write it from the main character’s point of view
  • Don’t summarize your story, especially when querying a short story
  • Don’t have a query longer than the story itself
  • Do include wordcount
  • Do follow the guidelines
  • Do pick a genre
    • Decide where your book goes on the library shelves and pick one.

Is it ever appropriate to respond to a rejection letter?

  • If they personalized the rejection, you can send a very brief ‘Thank You’ note.
  • NEVER respond negatively. If you can’t say anything nice, this is when you really shouldn’t say anything at all.

Is ManuscriptWishList.Com useful?

Joshua doesn’t use it, but at least one of his other agents does. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean the agent isn’t skilled, inclusion doesn’t mean they are skilled. You still need to do your research.

Comp Titles

Comp titles (comparison titles) are often included in a query letter. Typically either two authors with similar writing styles and markets, or mash-ups where you can specify what aspect of that story you’re using. They have to be under 5 years, (preferably under 3), in your genre, and not run-away successes.

As I’ve said before, what sold 50 years ago isn’t what appeals to most modern audiences. Pacing, themes, POV preferences change.

So, what did our panelists have to say?

By using current novels, you’re showing that the trend you’re writing for isn’t dead.

Verdict? Useful for novels, but only if it’s a good match. If you’re trying too hard, it’s obvious and you should skip it.

Joshua noted here that no one can use Game of Thrones as a comp, (even if it wasn’t too popular) because there hasn’t been a new one published in over 5 years.

Not useful for magazines, but can be useful for anthologies.

***

Writing Contests Tips

  • NEVER pay to enter a contest or pay a “reader’s fee”
    • EXCEPT – Tenure-track professors often pay the entrance fee for college magazines…
    • EXCEPT – Some contests offer critiques/other services as a matter of course for having entered (RWA)
      • Fees currently should be <$50, preferably under $30
      • Verify their validity first, though.
  • Look at the contest’s readers
    • Who are you writing for?
      • Is that the path you want to go down?
  • Look at the past winners’ work
    • Did they write just for the contest, or are they writing like they want to be published?
      • Often, these will read very differently
  • Pay attention to how much time it takes away from your writing
    • Do you have to campaign for votes?
    • What other obligations does it create for you?

***

And finally:

When Is My Story Ready To Query?

As long as you feel that each round of edits is significantly improving your story, keep at it!

Storytime!

Brandon (Sanderson) submitted several manuscripts to Joshua. And Brandon kept getting rejected despite his wonderful (and steadily improving writing) because he couldn’t plot. Finally, when he submitted Elantris, Joshua looked at it and saw that the plotting could be fixed. That’s when he made the offer.

Submitting different stories to the same agent can pay off. But only if you keep working at your craft.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

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***

Make sure to reread these dos, don’ts, and preferences! And best of luck as you work towards perfecting your craft.

* Yep. I ended those with prepositions. Whatcha gonna do? Throw red ink at me? Besides, it was the title of the panel!

What Good Is An Agent? Answers From Writers.

https://youtu.be/8bsDxJ7awgM%5BPrevious related topics: Why? How? What? ]

If you’ve been paying attention to the literary agency world in the last month or so, you probably heard about the embezzlement conviction of Darin Webb, the accountant for the 49-year-old UK literary agency: Donadio & Olson. Webb’s total theft? $3.4 MILLION DOLLARS.

Then, this opinion piece came out on kriswrites.com and was passed around, warning of the dangers and lack of oversight for all agents. It may have left you wondering… with all the risks, why would I want a literary agent?

Well, at Balticon 52, I got to hear a variety of perspectives from published authors who’ve had every sort of agent possible. Here are the stories of Leah Cypess, Keith RA DeCandido, CS Friedman, Tee Morris, and their hunt for a quality agent.

How These Writers Got Their Current Agent

CS Friedman started off with just a publisher. They handled all her negotiations and used their standard, boilerplate contract. After book 2 was published, two agents contacted her.

THAT’S when she found out that the standard contract with agents has her share at 80% of foreign sales or tv deals and the standard one, when it’s just publishers, had her share at 50%. Not a scam, just the standard rates.

Keith DeCandido got his start as an editor and broke into writing with media tie-in work, where there’s not much room for negotiation. So? Once he started original pieces, he already had contacts and knew who he wanted to ask and had the track record to appeal.

Leah Cypess spent years sending her works to publishers… 20 years ago when the market was different. And eventually, began to get rejections saying, “Not this, but do you have anything else?” Once they accepted her book, they suggested she get an agent.

Not knowing any better, she asked for their suggestions. This wasn’t a great idea for several reasons:

  • The agent felt compelled to say yes to maintain a good relationship with the publisher
  • She felt compelled to accept their suggestion
  • The agent wasn’t actually very familiar with her genre and market, and they were a mediocre match.

What Do Agents Do For You?

Other than the money, which a good contract lawyer might help with, what other reasons are there to get an agent?

  • They are your biggest fan
  • Many are editors and can make your story better
    • Or hire someone to do it for them
  • They take off the negotiation pressure
    • It’s a lot harder and trickier to run a bidding war for yourself!
  • They can yell at Editors FOR you so you can keep a good relationship with the editor
  • They have relationships with the Editors already
    • They know what books the publishers are looking for
  • They can vouch that you will fix [whatever] and that your ego won’t get in the way
    • It’s more convincing when someone else believes it
  • They manage your IP [Intellectual Property]
  • A good agent is neither a pushover nor belligerent
    • They’ll do right by you without making the editor’s life hell

Two people shaking hands, clipped to see just the arms.

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Once You Have An Offer In Hand

Once you have an offer from an agent, it’s considered professional to send a notice to the other agents sitting on your query, giving them 1-2 weeks to decide.

Do NOT lie to get agents to make them respond faster. Agents talk.

Two weeks is about the limit, maybe three if it’s summer or a holiday. Longer than that will make an agent feel like you’re using their offer to find a better deal. Don’t do it.

When Should You LEAVE An Agent?

You worked so hard to GET an agent, you thought this meant you’d made it.

But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Now, this is something you don’t usually hear writers talk about, but 3/4ths of professional writers have left an agent.

Warning Signs

  • No news is NOT good news.
    • They should check in regularly and let you know what they’re doing for you (2-3 months is fine).
  • They’re not submitting your work or following up with the publishers.
    • 6-9 months is a reasonable wait with publishers, but your agent shouldn’t just be sitting on their thumbs.
  • They’ve gone from no-contact to immediate deadlines with little warning.
  • Your career has changed direction and they don’t know your new market.
  • Your agent stopped fighting FOR you!
    • Maybe you didn’t sell like they’d hoped
    • Maybe they signed some fresher or bigger names
    • Maybe life came up and they’re distracted

It doesn’t matter the reason, once they’ve stopped being your supporter, it’s time to move on.

Orange scissors cutting an orange rose and a piece of paper that starts with the words "Marriage Certificate: This is to certi-fy that the .."

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Dealing With Leaving An Agent

No matter your personal relationship, an agent-writer partnership is a professional one. And once they’ve accepted you on as their client? Your agent is actually your employee.

You should write a VERY professional (and not personal) break-up letter.

Remember, they STILL get their percentage on all contracts they’d negotiated for you. Like a divorce, you’re sharing custody of the “kids”. And typically? Your money goes to their agency and they pay out your portion.

WHAT? It should be the other way around! — Well, maybe. But this way, you don’t have to pay taxes on THEIR portion of the money.

When Don’t You Need An Agent?

  • Short story submissions. The money isn’t there and they typically don’t come into play.
    • Note: A cover letter from an agent CAN help with the top markets, though
  • If the publisher does ANYTHING to ask for stuff
    • That turns your manuscript into ‘SOLICITED’!
    • Note: Usually, waiting to hear back this way is even LONGER than with agents.
  • If they’re shmoozing about how they can ‘see it as a movie’. Movies are a hard field to break into, and literary agents have about nill influence there.

A Few Notes About Publishers

  • Publishers are ALWAYS looking for the “Next Big Thing”
  • Small publishers are hungry
    • But before you opt to go with them, pay attention to:
      • their audience
      • their resources
      • their current market
      • the quality of their products
  • Traditional publishers have known names lined up and will bump new authors back if they’re worried about the market impact
    • Their lead books get all the marketing money and the rest are ignored
    • BUT! They get you into every bookstore in the nation, so their lack of marketing is still exponentially greater than most small publishers can hope to achieve.
      • You typically get a smaller advance — for a wider distribution

***

Getting an agent is hard, but getting the RIGHT agent is harder. Here’s to hoping it’s a good match when you both swipe right.

Top 4 Questions From An Editors & Publishers AMA (Ask Me Anything)

Sunflowers in full bloom against a bright, clear blue sky.

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 (Happy Summer Solstice!)

At Balticon52, I had the opportunity to attend an Ask Me Anything panel of Editors and Publishers. Usually in my panel notes, I skim over the panelists to get to the meat, but in this case, I feel their expertise was part of the draw.

The publishers and editors in question were:

  • Walt Boyes – an award-winning journalist, writer, and editor of the Industrial Automation INSIDER, the Grantville Gazette, (the magazine of the 1632 Universe), co-editor of Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, and a member of the 1632 Editorial Board.
  • Scott H. Andrews – a writer, musician, and the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He’s a six-time Hugo Award finalist and with his podcast, a five-time Parsec Award finalist. [Fun fact: he always gives personalized rejections!]
    • For non-querying writers, I know that sounds kinda… pathetic. But if you’re in the querying trenches, you know what that’s worth.
  • Neil Clarke – the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning magazine, Clarkesworld.
  • Ian Randal Strock– a writer, plus the owner and editor-in-chief of Gray Rabbit Publications/Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz). Previously, he edited and published Artemis Magazine and SFScope. He also worked on the editorial staffs of Analog, Asimov’s, Science Fiction Chronicle, and many others.
  • (moderated by) Jeff Young – an award-winning author, bookseller, and editor of several anthologies.

So let’s get this rolling. Here are the questions.

1. What is Your Biggest Pet Peeve?

The top three answers were:

  1. Zombie Stories — they’ve been done to past death
  2. Writers who don’t READ THE GUIDELINES
  3. Writers who argue with critiques
    Even if you disagree with the critique or the suggestion, don’t argue with someone who spent their time and energy to give you feedback.
         Give that section of your prose a closer look

    • Is it moving the story along?
    • What is it adding?
    • Could you do it better–not necessarily the way they suggested.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

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2. Should A Writer Use Different Names For Different Genres?

As with all writing advice, it depends on the situation:

  • If you’re doing your own marketing, starting over with a new name doubles the amount of work you have to do to get traction.
  • If you’re with a large publisher, it can be helpful for the marketing.

That said, there are of course caveats:

  • You can end up getting shelved in the library/bookstores alongside whatever genre you first published in.
  • If you’re doing both Children’s books and explicit erotica — it can be helpful to make sure kids don’t end up with a book they probably didn’t mean to get.

Regarding publishing names in general:

When choosing which name to be published under (birth name or pen name), searchability reigns supreme.

You want to be high in the search result, but also easy to spell.

Simplified spelling, middle initials, mining family names, or deciding who you want to be shelved next to are good places to start.


Shelves full of books, in a decently lit library.

3. How Has The Market Changed In The Last Ten Years?

The top 3 ways the market’s changed:

  1. More exploring of the human condition in fantasy, a lot of the exploration is reactionary — which has a shorter shelf life.  Morgan’s side note: It might be more overt, but I’d argue that fantasy has ALWAYS explored the human condition.
  2. The rise in the respectability of online magazines.
  3. Massive growth in international markets.

Wood signpost, with worn red arrow pointing right. Greyed out mountains faintly behind it.

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4. Where Do Querying Writers Lose You?

There was a lot of discussion on this question, so I’ll break it into high-level and specifics.

The top three high-level answers were:

  1. When I quit caring.
  2. If you make it work to follow the narrative.
  3. If they don’t remember it the next day.
    • Note: This editor also said that the bad stories blur together, they don’t typically remember them.

Top 4 things that break their buy-in:

  1. ‘Red line of death’ – Boredom, implausibility, names that don’t fit the setting
  2. Implausibility – where all emotions are explicit rather than undercurrents. Most people don’t spell everything out for each other in real life.
  3. External commentary (even by the narrator) – “If I’d only known then…”
  4. A character doing something stupid or out-of-character (OOC)

A thought bubble drawn in chalk, with a lightbulb resting in the bubble

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I always find getting an insider perspective on the industry enlightening. Hopefully, these answers help you as much as they helped me.

 

How To Find An Agent For Your Novel

I talk a lot about my querying process, but one thing I haven’t talked as much about is HOW to find the agent in the first place.

It takes a bit of research, but most of us writers are pretty comfortable with research, especially if it means we’re putting our manuscript in front of the ‘right’ person. It’s a little time consuming, but ultimately not usually challenging.

Step One: Pick a list of literary agents

Where can you find a list of literary agents? All over the place.

The main places I look for agents are:

  • Guide to Literary Agents [YEAR]  – found on Amazon, in bookstores, or at your local library, this is a print(or Kindle) edition of vetted agencies. It’s fine if it’s a couple years old.
  • The Manuscript Wish List – A website associated with the twitter hashtag #mswl. This list is lightly vetted and tends to be where you’ll find the more social media adept agents.
  • Query Tracker – A website to track your queries, response rates, and more. You can also FIND agents to query here, with a pretty handy search feature.
  • Your genre magazine! Yes, they print a magazine for most genres listing the books that recently sold, what agent sold them, and interviews with the writers, agents, and editors. I write fantasy, so I look at Locus Magazine (for SF/F)
  • Publisher’s Weekly – check out the book deals and look for agents selling books that sound like yours.
  • Your bookshelf! – Open a book you love with a comparable genre to your manuscript (preferably one published in the last 3-5 years) and see who they thank in the opening. Who the listed agent is!
  • Google! Just look for literary agents.

Step Two – Make Sure They Represent Your Genre

When you’re looking at this list of agents, make certain that your genre is listed as something they represent! Otherwise, you’re asking for a short trip to the rejection form letter queue.

Feel free to add all the agents you want to your query list, though! I suggest creating a large list and ranking them 1-3.

It can take up to 100 no’s before you get that ‘yes’.

For me, 1’s are the agents whose bios spoke to me, who listed some of my comps (comparison novels) as favorites, or request a theme I feel is strong in my book.

2’s are the agents who sounded up my alley but didn’t have any specific requests that my novel fulfilled.

3’s are the agents who represent my genre, didn’t give enough detail for me to know if we’d be a good fit but didn’t list any specific dislikes that fit my novel. They could be AMAZING and just didn’t use their bios to their full potential.

Because a lot of these lists are just that- lists of agents’ names and represented genres.

And worse? Sometimes these lists are out of date.

Scrabble pieces spelling out 'SEARCH'

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Step Three – Visit Their Agency’s Website

No matter where you get the name from:

  1. Go to their agency website
  2. Visit their profile
  3. READ it.

Often, this is where you’ll get a list of their preferences, their tastes, their favorite books. This is where you get a taste of their personality so you can evaluate if you think they’d be a good match for you. Use this information when ranking these agents for querying.

Plus, you can find out their experience. Are they young and hungry? Where did they work before? Do they talk about their editorial feedback or are they just going to start selling your book right away? Are they experienced and only take on the rarest of new writers? Do they want to sell a book, or start a partnership that will last throughout your writing career?

And most importantly, are they currently open to queries!?

Step Four – Vet Them

Once you’ve decided an agent sounds right for you, don’t stop there. Check out both the agency and the agent!

  • Writers Beware – A SF/F run site, but can have lots of information on vanity presses, scams, and more.
  • Query Tracker – Do they have a success rate (many agents don’t track here, but can be a clue. Check out what other writers have to say about working with them, their response times, etc)
  • Absolute Write* – Forums and posts about agencies, agents, and issues with any of them.
  • Plain out google them. Check out their twitter or blog.

Some agencies are glamorized vanity presses. Remember, you should NEVER pay to be published traditionally.

Some agencies basically just help you self-publish. If you’re self-publishing or indie-publishing, you might end up paying out of pocket for your own editor, cover art, and print/e-formatting. Is it worth it to you to go through them?

Remember that a lack-luster sale on a self-published work or through a small publisher can be strikes against you in the future if you do try traditional publishing.

If you’re a blow-away success, you can find a publisher or agent easily. But the number of people who’ve gotten a book deal that way can be counted about on one hand.

A hand holding a deck of cards, fanned out, facing away from the camera.

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Step Five – Deciding Who To Query First

It’s recommended to send out queries in batches of 5-10. I usually do batches of 3-5, but I’m cautious and nervous.

For an untested query, I like to do a mix of 1’s and 2’s. I feel the 1’s are a better match, but I don’t want to use a query that performs poorly on all of them, because once they say no, you should NOT re-query, unless you’ve substantially revised your manuscript.

NOTE: If you’re getting a lot of form rejection letters, you should look at your query and opening pages and see if you can make improve them.

Requerying will typically just get you rejected faster, and possibly added to that agent’s blacklist.

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Step Six – Follow Their Submission Guidelines

I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel, edited it, revised it, and gotten feedback at LEAST twice before you even THOUGHT about submitting.

If it takes you even more rounds of beta readers and revisions, that’s fine! Especially for a first-time novelist. You only get one debut novel.

You should have written your query letter — keeping it under at least 300 words, and preferably under 250 words — concentrating on the emotional arch of the main character(s). CHARACTER wants SOMETHING, but SOMETHING ELSE stands in their way.

You should have created your synopsis.

However, no two agents or agencies have the same guidelines. So what do you do?

  1. Go to the agency website
  2. Click the ‘Submissions’ tab
  3. Read the directions
  4. Follow them

Really. It’s that easy.

Plus? Their guidelines are kinda a test. If you ignore their directions, they’re going to assume you’re a pain in the butt to work with. They get dozens of queries a day and you just made it really easy for them to say no.

Some are going to have you fill out a web form. Some only accept snail-mail submissions. Some want you to email a specific address.

99% of email submissions do NOT accept attachments. Adding one anyway will get your query deleted without being read. Often, you’re going to copy and paste pages or even chapters AFTER your query letter, directly into the email.

And make sure you spell the agent’s name right. Don’t ask me how I know this one.


sky ditch eye hole

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Now you know how to pick agents to query! Best of luck in the query trenches.

Thanks for tuning in! Feel free to subscribe and I’ll be back next Thursday for more Writing Tips and Writerly Musings.

*Edited to add Absolute Write. I knew I was missing one!