Pitching Agents And Readers

I talk a lot about pitching agents via the query process, but that’s not the only way to pitch. There are verbal pitches to agents. And? There’s the pitching you need to do to the READERS!

6 New Tips For Pitching Agents

Here’s a couple things to keep in mind.

  1. In person, if you’re not very social, it’s fine to keep the pitch extra short!
  2. In the written query, the part addressing the story is typically
    1. First paragraph is the character, setting, and inciting incident
    2. Second paragraph is the escalation
  3. It’s okay to close with a question!
    1. I’d heard so many times that agents “hate rhetorical questions” that I’ve just banned any question from my query letters. BUT! I’ve been told, it’s okay to have a question, especially in the summary sentence. “Will Carol manage to finish dinner before the store closes, or will she find herself locked in, forever!
  4. A strong character voice in the query is very dangerous, but on rare occasions will work.
  5. Only describe your background/education if it’s on display in the book.
  6. A lot of publishing houses are looking more for duologies and stand alone books than series. It’s a smaller commitment, that can be expanded if the book(s) sell well!

Pitching Readers

The number one thing you have to remember when pitching to your readers is … if you’re planning on selling on Amazon, no matter how amazing your cover text is, Amazon only shows the first 2 lines of your blurb. Make Them Count.

No Matter Who You’re Pitching

There are two things your pitch has to accomplish.

  1. Show how your story is distinct from the others in its genre
  2. Show how your story fits in the market

What pitching tips work best for you?

What ones would you suggest we avoid?


Here were more notes from all the panels I hit at Balticon53 and I’m still not done. I attended all the panels, so you don’t have to.

Tune in again next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.

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.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

***

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!

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.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

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'

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

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.

A laptop, a map, a notebook, and a pen held over a spot on the map.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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!

When Querying A Novel: Hope Can Be The Scariest Thing

If you’re a regular reader, you saw my post two weeks ago about how I started to lose faith in my story. I believe in my story, but I was worried about its ability to stand out in an over-crowded market full of amazing stories.

I don’t know if it was karma, persistence, or simply comedic timing, but I got a FULL REQUEST on Monday.


Querying and Life

For those of you who haven’t queried a novel, I’ve been sending 1-page ‘query’ letters to agents, asking if they would like to represent my novel and me, and find me a publisher. Each agent and agency is different in what they ask for, some just want the query, some want anywhere from 5 pages to 50 pages, some want the synopsis as well.

As you might remember, I just finished a move that turned into a two-month ordeal. Well, I didn’t really get time to recover from that. The past 2 weeks, I’ve been helping coordinate my cousin’s wedding, which culminated in the official event this past Saturday. The beach was hot, the bride looked lovely, and we were surrounded by friends and family.

And? Let me tell you–if putting in that much time and effort to help a loved one earns me the karma for a full request on my manuscript? I’d do it twice a month. (I just don’t know where I’d find the time to work full time, write, and throw a wedding…)

A couple, kissing on a sandy beach at sunset (sunrise?)

Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com


Hearing Back On A Query

But, going back to the full request. I’d queried this particular agent with just the query 104 days ago. The agency website says they TRY to respond in under 8 weeks for queries and under 12 weeks for page requests, but it’s not guaranteed.

Personally? I like to be patient and am hesitant to nudge unless a timeline for that is explicitly noted. Otherwise, I’ll likely wait double the suggested time limit. I don’t want to irritate the agent, and as long as they aren’t a ‘no-reply-means-no-thank-you’ agency, I’ve yet to not hear back eventually. (And many are now sending “we got it” automated replies, so that worry is alleviated.)


My Reaction To Getting a Full Request From An Agent

Confession?

When I got the email, I had to read it twice. I’ve gotten fewer than a handful of non-form-letter rejections. My one other FULL request, from two revisions ago, turned into no-reply.

Reading this one, I started breathing hard and my hands flailed in the air.

Tears welled up in my eyes, as I covered my face with my hands, and tried not to let my entire cube farm know that something was up.

Hope is terrifying!

I’d given up. I’d emotionally stopped expecting to get any traction with this story I love so much, that I’ve worked so hard on. I’d even entered a writing contest last week to try and get feedback, to see if someone could help me try and add that SPARK to get the interest that my story deserves.

To be offered this chance, this opportunity to display my work to an agent I was super excited about was overwhelming.

I had hope. Which meant now I had something to lose.

I stared at the clock. I couldn’t wait to go home and work on my novel.

clock


Prepping My Manuscript For Submission

Wait! But Morgan, you’re only supposed to query novels that are already edited and ready to go? What work did you need to do?

Well, true. And my novel IS revised, edited, and ready to go.

But, I’ve been slowly working on a read-through of my novel, just for a final polish while waiting on rejections to try and make it shine. I’d slowed down after I passed the 50 page mark, thinking anyone who asked for more pages would start with a partial (i.e. Where they ask for more pages, but not the whole thing.)

And with the move and the wedding and all? I was sitting at about page 160 out of 340.

I could have just sent it and trusted my earlier edits, but honestly? I wanted to finish this read-through.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens.


The Odds That A Full Request Will Lead To An Offer

Now, I’ve been querying for a while and I know the odds. A request for more pages means that my query is working (and maybe my first pages if they’re included in the submission package.)

It does NOT in any way, shape, or form mean I’m about to have an offer on the table.

For one? Remember that 104 days I waited to hear back on my 1 query letter? A full manuscript takes a bit longer to read — assuming always that they don’t read the first chapter and decide it’s not for them.

In addition? This particular agent hasn’t read a single page of my manuscript, yet. The voice, the tone, or the pacing might not be right for her.

But then again? It could be just what they’re looking for.

Picture of a roulette wheel.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Responding To On A Full Request

Back to my manuscript polishing. I could have spread it out a little–as long as I replied in the next couple days I would be okay.

But, I didn’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t ready.

I didn’t want to give the impression that I was slow to work with or that I looked at standard guidelines as mere suggestions.

Plus, I’m the kinda girl who finishes her test and turns it in first, because every time I try to review my answers, I only change right answers to wrong ones. Overthinking things isn’t my forte, so I just send it off and make sure it’s out of my hands. I wasn’t about to start sitting on things now.

Also, I’m the sort of person who, once I have a decided course of action, moves forward. (Assuming it’s something I want. Not just the lesser of two weevils.)

WIN_20180517_00_16_07_Pro


Focused On Polishing

Thus, I got home at 6 pm and I polished until 1:30 a.m., prepped the submission package, and sent it off before I could work myself into a tizzy.

The first about 150 pages I polished had my complete focus.

Wait. That’s a lie.


Distractions From Writing – Gaining Traction

About 25 pages in, I got an email from my dad asking if I wanted to collaborate on a short story. And remember that writing contest I entered? They were asking for more pages.

❤ Traction. My little story is starting to get some traction. ❤

I had to take a few moments to fan myself and take it all in.

Meanwhile? A thunderstorm was blowing in, with strong winds and heavy rains. I watched the trees in my backyard sway and decided I’d be working a little further away from those great big windows.

Sitting on my couch, away from the windows, listening to the howling storm, I had to just sit back and laugh.

When it rains it pours. In this case? Literally.

A hand reaching out to feel the falling rain - in black and white/greyscale.

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com


Late Night Writing

So, there I was, burning the midnight oil to finish reading through my polished draft one last time before I sent it off.

Honestly? The last 50 pages? Well, my eyes were starting to blur from staring at the screen, but the ending’s been rewritten and reworked a lot, so likely needed less polish than the middle.

A bit rushed, but acceptable work. Plus, now I know I can polish nearly 25 pages an hour, so I have no excuse next time for working so slow.

Social media can take care of itself without me for a while.

Now all I can do is cross my fingers and hope that my manuscript touches a chord.


 Best of luck to all of you out there and don’t give up hope!

Let me know if there was a time YOU got feedback at just the right time to keep you going. It doesn’t have to be writing related.

4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

4 Ways Querying A Novel Is Like A Religion

Most agents, especially in America, like query letters. These are somewhat formulaic introductions to your novel’s characters and plot, that give the agent a feel for your writing style and story.

(I’ve heard ones in the UK and other places like cover letters? But I fear what those might entail, and have never studied their holy scripture.)

1 – Adherents should follow certain tenets

Like most types of religious doctrine, there are different sects, but they agree on a lot of the basic tenets.

The Basic Tenets of Querying

  • Include at least 2 short paragraphs about the novel
  • Include a paragraph with the novels stats
  • Include a short author biography
  • Try to keep the query under 250 words or 1 page
  • Avoid rhetorical questions – they’re overdone and not compelling
  • Avoid ‘in character’ queries – they’re confusing and trite
What they don’t agree on? Everything else.

2 – Different Sects Have Different Rules

If you ask 20 agents what a query should look like, you’ll get between 10 and 20 different answers. Some will overlap, and some will contradict everything the other said.

Querying Doctrinal Differences

  • If the stats paragraph goes at the start or the end
  • If you should include a single pitch sentence, or just get to the story
  • If personalization is something desirable or feels like trying too hard to be friends
  • The length of the story section of the query (1, 2, or 3 paragraphs)

3 – Ritual Observance

To offer the best odds for a query to succeed (i.e. result in additional pages requested, the story sells itself), many query practitioners concoct different rituals.

  • Querying at specific times and days of the week, month, or year
  • Tweaking the query based on #mswl or other stated preferences
  • Following and commenting on the agent’s social media in the hope of connecting such that they recognize your name in a fond way when you query (in a RESPECTFUL and NON-STALKERISH way)
  • Selecting agents based on the assumed personality extracted from their profile
  • Number of queries sent at a time
  • Number of outstanding queries at any time
  • Number of query rejections between revamping pages and/or their query

4 – Heretics!

There are heretics who hate the formula and strive to stand out, to be different, to break the mold and catch an agent’s attention.

  • They’ll write from the character’s point of view
  • Send the letter as though they were writing a friend
  • Send a stream of consciousness message
  • Talk about why they wrote the book and themes, (rather than letting the story demonstrate these things itself)
  • Go on for pages
  • Write 3 lines and their salutations
  • Write in verse — iambic pentameter, haiku, or free verse

I’m not saying none of these will ever work with any agent, ever. I’m just saying, most agents like the formula for a reason. And if the agents are bored by the formula, that just means your opening pages count for more.


Do you have any rituals I missed?

Which query sect do you belong to?