Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Query Process: The Numbers Aren't What You'd Think

I've come to about the end of my agent research, a cumulative effort of five years' work.

1. I combed through the data bases on both Agent Query and Query Tracker and created a list of potential agents based on what they said their preferences were. I ended up with nearly 300 names.

Great start, right? I thought, I'd surely find several interested agents with these odds.

2. Next, I visited each agent's website or did further research into what they want, what they represent, and if they were still agenting or taking unsolicited queries. This took up most of my time, was often tedious and frustrating, but was well worth the effort.

Some agent's are very open about who they represent and specifically state what they want. Most are vague and tend to generalize. Compared to when I began my research five years ago, more agents have an online presence today. So if their agent bio on their website unhelpfully says they want YA projects, there are usually interviews, spotlights, and other data available online to clarify what types of YA projects they gravitate toward.

By the end of this phase, my promising list of 300 was down to 160 agents. And I learned another valuable piece of querying information which promised to dwindle that list even more.

3. Many agencies state that you may only query one agent. Some say "at a time" but most give you the option of one and one only. Often this is because agent's will pass on a query letter to another person in their office they think would be a better match, or because they discuss query letters as an agency. It makes sense and is good news for querying writers.

However, this meant I needed to prioritize my agent list. So I drew up a second list, one which pulled the agencies from the first list. I put all the potential agents under the banner of their agency and then researched them further to give them a pecking order. I found that every agency that didn't have the "one only" rule, I had only one potential agent for. With the other agencies, I assigned numbers to each of the agents, based on who I thought would be my strongest fit down to the least likely. It's a rather revealing process, one which should make my query letters better when I state why I chose to query that agent.

My list went down from 160 to 95. The odds might look not so well in my favor now on one hand. On the other hand, I stand to waste less time querying agents who wouldn't fit, and the potential of garnering more partial or full requests raises.

4. This step goes with step 3, but I'm giving it a separate place. This is my last step in the research phase, delving deeper by subscribing to Publisher's Marketplace. Here I can find out exactly what these agents are acquiring, selling, and representing. I'll go back through my prioritized list to make sure the pecking order is as it should be. I expect there'll be changes. The number may even drop from 95.

And that's okay. As I stated in my recent query advice post, you want to target the right agents. It's not about how many agents you query, but who you query and why.

I had to think long-term when making cuts to my agent list. While my current project fits under one genre banner or age group, other projects differ. I don't mean as drastic a difference as say, a thriller versus a children's book, but rather more like the difference between a fantasy and a science fiction. Some agents don't do both. I had to find potential agents who would fit my entire writing career, not just one project.

I know I took longer at it than the average writer. I like to be thorough. So don't feel like you have to take five years to research. But I can't say it enough, do more research than you first feel inclined to do. If anything, it will help cut the depressing numbers of rejections you'll receive.

If I had only done step #1, then sent out query letters to those nearly 300 agents, my rejection numbers probably would have killed my publication aspirations within weeks. Querying after step #2 would have been better, but I'd have not only received a lot of rejections, I probably would have alienated quite a few agencies as well by not following the "query only one agent" rule. Querying after step #3 might have been fine and safe, but what if the agent I targeted hadn't been the right one for me, and they didn't feel like passing on my query to anyone else in the office that day? Despite well written query letters and research, sometimes getting an agent depends on luck and an agent's mood.

From my point of view, why not take the time and give your story its best chance for success?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Contests, Agents, and Links

Good morning, everyone! I thought the blog was well overdue for some helpful links, so here we go.

New agents to check out via GLA New Agent Alerts:
Kathleen Zakhar of Harold Ober Associates
She's looking for: "Kathleen loves all things YA and is also actively looking for adult science fiction, fantasy in all its varieties, historical fiction, and horror novels. She enjoys quirky middle grade tales with captivating adventures and original voices, and will also accept picture books. Kathleen has a special place in her heart for sweeping love stories, magical realism, inventive world-building, repurposed folklore, dark comedy, and genre-bending novels."

Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis
She's looking for: "picture books, middle grade, young adult and new adult projects and is currently building her list. She is a fan of new adult and young adult novels with a romantic angle, and strong, quirky protagonists. In young and new adult, Christa is especially interested in contemporary fiction, horror and thrillers/mysteries. She’d also like to see any steampunk and fantasy (urban and high), that pushes the boundaries of what’s currently on the shelves, perhaps a new take on these genres that has yet to be seen. As for middle grade, Christa enjoys humorous contemporary, adventure and magical realism for boys and girls. For picture books, she’s drawn to cute, character driven stories..."

If agent Jill Corcoran is on your query list, you need to send in your query before the first of May. She will stop accepting unsolicited queries at that point. To quote: "Starting May 1, 2013 I will only accept queries from authors I meet at conferences, A PATH TO PUBLISHING participants and referrals."

Query Kombat, beginning May 13th in which participants submit their query letter and first 250 words of their manuscript for a duel-style tournament. Literary agents will be involved. A great opportunity to see if your query and opening are up to par and maybe get an agent's interest. For details go to SC Write, It's in the Details, or Writer's Outworld.

And if that's not enough excitement, you can also submit your pitch and first 250 words of your manuscript for some mentoring and a chance to catch the attention of the participating agents for the May Pitch +250 Contest over at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. They are taking submissions on April 28th until they reach 100 submissions. The window is narrow, so be sure to look through the contest details.

Other Great Links:
From Writer Unboxed:
What NOT to Do When Beginning Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

From Pub Rants:
New Adult - Perhaps the latest word for ChickLit
And do you agree?


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When the Writing Life Has Got You Down

No, don't worry, I'm not in a state of depression and going to vent. I'm very much the opposite right now. But I have been there and I don't know a single writer who hasn't stood at the bottom of a metaphorical ravine wondering how to climb out or if they'll ever see sunshine again.

Whether it's query blues, editing issues, getting that first draft done, a bad case of writer's block, feeling alone in the social media madness, or beta reader angst, here's my method to deal with it:

First of all, it's okay to cry or get mad. We're human and we have natural human reactions. However, don't do it publicly, no matter how much you want to stand on the proverbial rooftop and share your misery with everyone else. In what should be a simple cry for sympathy, you actually get the opposite reaction if you air your grievances in public.

Why? Well, have you ever come across someone else's pity party online? It's not fun to read, often sounds like a temper tantrum, and we tend to doubt their word. Mention you're having a bad day, sure, editing's got in you in a bind, okay. But keep it generalized and simple. Don't start naming names or pointing fingers. Especially if you get a bad book review or don't see eye to eye with someone else.

After the initial passion has burst, I like to walk away from the writing life for a bit. Depending on how big the issue is, determines how long the break. Do something else and let the air clear. Sometimes getting distracted by life can help you break through writer's block or editing issues. And other times we must be reminded that we shouldn't hole ourselves up writing about life every moment of the day, we need to live it too.

Feeling ignored or unimportant? Definitely spend time with people you can see and speak to. Don't get depressed by your blog stats, your lack of followers, the fact that no one has jumped at the opportunity of reading your work, or if your email inbox is strangely empty. Remember, your happiness doesn't depend on the constant goodwill and popularity of other people. You are your own special, unique individual who has something to give. Forget about yourself and let the needy feeling slip off your shoulder. See if you can't reach out and touch someone else who may need a boost. Do a good turn, without expecting fanfare and the applause of the world. It'll make you feel much better.

If it's your story that has got you down, get out a blank sheet of paper or pull up a blank document on your computer. Then write down every reason why you love your story. Write down what other's have loved about it. Write down what your strengths are. Write down what you've learned during the process of writing. And when you think you are done, write down the things you are looking for in a story, that you want to read and that you enjoy. This especially comes in handy after a bad beta reader review or a lot of rejection from industry professionals.

Most of all, remember that your writing life doesn't embody you entirely. You have many facets, other talents, dreams, and priorities that matter. We are all part of a large community, we are individuals yes, but we are also one of many. Don't compare your life, even your writing life, to that of anyone else. There is no comparison, not ever. Anyone who says differently is probably trying to make themselves feel better, and failing.

How have you dealt with writing life blues? I'd love to read about your method.

Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising,
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate.
     For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
     That then I scorn to change my state with kings.