Tag Archives: intern

How NOT to Query: A Guide

29 Jun

By Sammy Bina

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As an intern at a literary agency, I’ve had the opportunity to read through some of the query letters authors send us. I’ve seen some really spectacular ones, and I’ve read some that made me cringe. I’ve noticed a general trend in the queries we reject, most of which contained problems that could have been easily avoided. We recently critiqued a bunch of queries here on the blog, and hopefully you guys learned something from our comments! As an addition to that, I thought I’d put together a guide on how NOT to query.

Rule #1: Don’t let yourself be unprepared.
This might sound like common sense, but hear me out. You’d be surprised how many authors are not prepared when they first begin querying. The most important thing is that you have a complete manuscript ready to go, should an agent ask to see it. Don’t start sending out query letters once you’ve written a decent partial. If an agent reads it and wants to see more, they’re not going to be happy when they find out the rest of the story has yet to be written. So make sure you’ve finished your story, and polished it up as best you can. Never send a first draft. Have people read over your work (if you need a critique partner, we even have a section for those here!), and make sure they’re people you can trust. Grandma’s probably going to tell you your work is the Next Big Thing, but Grandma also lies. Find someone you know who will be brutally honest (if that’s Grandma, all the better), and heed their advice. That way your manuscript will be shiny and perfect for when Awesome Agent asks to see it.

Also, make sure you’ve written a synopsis. A lot of agents are going to ask to see them, and you can’t leave it out just because you think yours sucks, or you didn’t feel like writing one. It can sometimes be a deal-breaker while reading your partial. An agent or intern will read through your work, and if they’re not completely sold at the end of 50 pages, they want to see a synopsis. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to doubt you, so make sure you send it.

As a side note, don’t write a ten-page synopsis. 2-4 pages, double-spaced, is the norm. If your synopsis is longer than your first chapter, you have a problem.

Rule #2 (which goes hand-in-hand with #1): Don’t send out a premature query letter.
If you need some suggestions, scroll through our comments during this month’s Query Week. Trust me when I say that the first draft of your query letter is probably not the one you want agents to see. Write it, then have people read over it for you. If they’ve never read the book, even better. If someone who knows nothing about your book can’t make sense of your query letter, it’s a safe bet an agent won’t be able to, either. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs. Personally, I went through four or five drafts before I was really happy with my my own letter, but I made the mistake of sending out the earlier drafts. Don’t do what I did. Wait until you’ve got something solid before you let Awesome Agent see it.

Rule #3: Don’t mass query.
As some of the ladies here have already mentioned in the past, it’s best to send queries out in small batches. Agents aren’t fans of queries were the cc box is a million miles long because an author couldn’t be bothered to individually contact them. You want to personalize each query letter to the agent you’re sending it to. If you refuse to add that extra 2-3 sentence paragraph at the end of your query, and just want everyone to see the exact same thing, at least address the letter to the individual agent. When you’re a female agent who receives letters addressed to “Dear Sir” or “Dear Editor,” it’s pretty obvious what you’re doing. You lose your credibility, and you’ll most likely end up with a rejection letter. Personalizing an email or letter takes about ten seconds, and it will only help to make you look good. And don’t we all want to be pretty?

Rule #4: Don’t query agents who don’t represent the genre of your manuscript.
If your book is science fiction, you don’t want to query people who represent mystery. You’ll look foolish, probably end up annoying the agent, and you’ll most likely wind up with a form rejection. Just because someone’s a literary agent doesn’t mean they represent every kind of fiction (or non-fiction). Agents have personalized tastes, just like everyone else.

Rule #5: Don’t send unsolicited materials.
Seriously. Don’t do it. This includes pictures, family trees, character listings, business proposals, artwork, random excerpts from your manuscript, or any part of your manuscript at all. If an agent wants to see your work, they’ll let you know. Until then, you just have to sit around and twiddle your thumbs. Waiting sucks, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one doing it!

Rule #6: Don’t use fancy paper.
I know you want your letter to stand out in a sea of slush, but pretty paper isn’t going to compensate for a poorly written query or novel. And even if your query’s good, the pretty paper still gets a raised eyebrow. It’s just going to get recycled anyway, so stick with the standard 8×11 white printer paper. It’s professional and standardized. We like standardized.

Rule #7: Envelopes. Get the good ones.
Obviously you’re free to use whatever kind of envelope you have on hand, but let me just tell you that the self-adhesive ones are the best. You know, the ones that have the tape you just peel away? When you send a SASE, and it’s hot out, other envelopes will seal themselves shut in the mail. Then interns like me have to take sharp objects and slice them open, only to tape them back together. And trust me, you probably don’t want to make me use pointy objects.

Rule #8: Don’t query from prison.
Stranger things have happened.

To be fair, the person may be a good writer. But if you’re going to query from prison, please be professional. We don’t need to know what you’re in for, or how long you have left until you get out.

Rule #9: Don’t forget your SASE.
Or your postage! If you forget your envelope, or didn’t include postage, you probably aren’t going to get a response, and then you’ll spend weeks wondering what happened to your letter. I’ve seen people send money with their envelopes, but not every agent is going to be nice enough to actually take your letter to the post office and mail it. So make sure you put the stamp on your SASE yourself.

Rule #10: Don’t be aggressive.
You know that phrase that goes “B-E aggressive!” that people tend to use when they’re joking? Don’t. Don’t be aggressive. Not when you’re querying, anyway. Make sure you give agents plenty of time to get back to you. Typically, it’s perfectly acceptable to resend a query if you haven’t heard back in two months (unless their guidelines specifically tell you they don’t respond to queries they aren’t interested in). Don’t be that person who checks in every week or two to see if an agent’s read your query. By the time they actually get to it, the agent will have already formed a mental image of you, and it probably won’t be a good one. I know from experience how nerve-wracking waiting can be, but just keep yourself busy while you wait. You’ll come across as professional, and you’ll be glad you did in the long run.

And that’s it! Keep in mind that your query letter is the first thing an agent sees. It’s the first impression they get of you and your story. Like any job interview, you want to be polite and professional. So follow the agency’s guidelines, and don’t get over-zealous. Rules are there for a reason, and in this case, they weren’t made to be broken.

~~~

Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior, majoring in Creative Writing. She is currently querying her adult dystopian novel, THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, working on a YA paranormal romance, and interns at the Elaine P. English Literary Agency in Washington, DC. You can follow her blog, or find her on twitter.

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Why the Ideal Man is Not Quite So Ideal

17 Mar

Vanessa Di Gregorio
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For an intern at a literary agency, there is nothing more annoying than opening up a manuscript, thinking it has potential, and seeing the story veer off into something that doesn’t work – and having this something be the same with almost every other single manuscript. And what is this annoying thing that just doesn’t work? Male characters who are attractive.

What do I have against attractive men, you ask? Well… nothing really, I suppose – except when it comes to writing; then, pretty much EVERYTHING is wrong with attractive guys. You see, the majority of partials that I read are YA. The majority of books I read on my spare time are YA. Savannah has mentioned an epidemic; this one that I’ve come across is frightening (and I’m sure you’ve noticed it, too). I’m talking about the Twilight epidemic that is attractive male figures.

Okay, so I will be the first to admit that I enjoyed reading Twilight (except for the last book; more on that another time). But the aftermath of Twilight has led to a genre of YA that is beginning to all look the same: paranormal romance. Now, I like some paranormal romance every now and then. I’m not trying to bash it. What I am going to bash, however, is the constant stream of weak female and/or plain Jane protagonists who meet sexy yet nice males that make me want to gag. I’m talking about the Ideal Man.

Here is what I think is wrong with this picture.

  1. Everyone is doing this. And I mean EVERYONE. It’s like… Harlequin for teens (not bashing Harlequin either, but I think YA paranormal romance shouldn’t ALL be so harlequin-like). And it’s starting to get a bit old.
  2. Why do these guys need to be drop-dead gorgeous? No, seriously. WHY?! Think about this for a second. Does this make them more likeable? Or more talented? Or a better person? Physically, sure… but that isn’t the only reason a girl should end up with a guy. Looks fade (unless you’re a vampire – and I don’t even want to go into the whole cliché vampire thing now). Is it necessary for them to have this inane ability to make females go weak in the knees, or salivate upon looking into their eyes? No (unless they are evil and attempting to brainwash your protagonist with lust in order to rule the world… or something). It really isn’t necessary to mention their drop-dead good looks if they aren’t causing women to actually drop dead.
  3. Chances are, that uber hot guy with the dreamy green eyes is pretty 2-dimensional as a character. Gorgeous AND sweet? Uh… Idealistic much? Okay, so maybe there are gorgeous guys out there who aren’t pricks. But chances are they aren’t perfect. They aren’t eco-friendly AND smart AND nice AND super sexy AND good cooks AND in love with the average-looking female protagonist. They need to have flaws. Every character needs to have flaws. ESPECIALLY the good-looking ones. It’s the only way to make them complex and INTERESTING.
  4. And if they aren’t nice? Well, why do I need to know that he’s attractive? If you’re writing realistic/urban YA set in high school, then go nuts – that’s what high school is: staring at and comparing hot guys. But if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy or whatnot, then why do I need to know how super good-looking he is? Answer: I DON’T. Really. I don’t mind physical descriptions (as long as they aren’t mentioning his “muscular arms” as he leans over a counter). If I need to know that he’s muscular (ie. he is a trained fighter, or it makes him intimidating or something), then fine. That makes sense. If you’re writing Harlequin, then fine. But otherwise, let’s calm down with the obvious “sexy” descriptions. It can make your writing a bit tacky.
  5. Did I mention just how boring perfect guys are? YAWN.

I mean, isn’t personality SO much more important anyways? Sure, let us know that he’s blonde with blue eyes and that he has a slight build – fine. But don’t then say that, “she tried not to notice his attractiveness” or, “she was at a loss for words – he was gorgeous”, or something equally as ridiculous. COME ON. Seriously? I DON’T CARE. In fact, 9/10 times I’ve come across a super gorgeous guy who leaves the female protagonist speechless or whatever, I’ve been turned off and end up saying that I think it needs a rewrite before it is resubmitted (the one exception was because there was a good reason for his attractiveness – it added to the plot). The whole “ideal guy” is getting very old, very fast. And is too cliché. If there isn’t a reason plot-wise to mention how attractive he is, then don’t. I’m sure by the end, if he ends up being the romantic love interest, we’ll all think he’s gorgeous. We just don’t need you spelling it out for us. We’re not dumb. We get it.

So the “Ideal Sexy Male” is not always so ideal. It will probably make your story a lot weaker than it is, and will make your characters a lot weaker than they are. And not just your sexy male character; your female protagonist will also be a much weaker character if all she notices the first time she meets said gorgeous boy is his attractiveness. There needs to be SOMETHING other than his abs or his eyes.

So I want everyone to do me a huge favor, and just stop with the attractive guys already. I don’t need to know, and your readers don’t need to know. Your work will be so much better without him.

~~~

Vanessa is an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Making It Official: New LTWF Contributor!

3 Mar

Hi everyone!

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, what with my picture and bio already having been in the contributor page for a couple of weeks now, we just wanted to make it official: I’m Vanessa Di Gregorio, the new LTWF contributor! I am super excited to be a part of this group of amazing and talented writers, and I hope my experiences on the other side of publishing prove to be useful!

So, I suppose I should tell you a little bit about myself. I apologize in advance if you already know most of this, but bear with me!

I’m twenty-three years old, and the third member of LTWF living in Toronto, Canada. Currently, I have an English Literature degree, and am now enrolled in a Publishing Program. I worked for 5 years at a book wholesaler, selling books to schools and libraries; and it was there that I realized I wanted a career in this industry. Children’s and YA books are my favorites, be they graphic novels, picture books, non-fiction, fiction – I love it all. While I’m not completely sure what I want to be, I do know that I am loving my current intern position at a literary agency called The Rights Factory; where I edit manuscripts, write proposals, read queries/partials/full manuscripts, write rejections, and do some design work (create party invitations, a revised logo, email signatures, etc). I love editing manuscripts, so a career as an editor or agent is something I will probably pursue in the near-future.

I started out writing when I was 12, scribbling over pieces of lined paper. To my great dismay, I still have pages and pages of this as proof, sitting in the bottom of a drawer somewhere in my room (collecting dust, of course). I later moved to fanfiction.net, where I began writing; and after a few years, I then moved onto Fiction Press, although by this point in time, I was writing rather sporadically. Eventually, I decided to leave; so I took my FP account down.

It wasn’t until a year ago that I began to write again (and then, I only wrote a prologue and a couple of chapters). The files were somehow deleted, and it took me quite a few months before I could get over my heartbreak and attempt a rewrite. Currently untitled, it is a YA fantasy set in another world revolving around a young woman named Danae, and her journey into a realm she has only ever read about. A lover of stories and curious by nature, Danae takes a path most of her people do not; she ends up leaving her sheltered life amongst her people to explore new lands, find a lost friend, and discover the truth.

Now, with an internship, a part-time job, and school, I have very little time for writing (let alone for any of my other numerous hobbies, such as drawing, painting, or playing excessive amounts of video games). But at least I write when I can! At this point in time, though, I am happy with editing other people’s manuscripts and helping their work get published. Though I would one day like to be published myself, my main priority is helping other writers with their work. Oh, and trying to land myself a real job. While planning my wedding.

Nice to (officially) be a part of the group!

Vanessa

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Currently reading: Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
Currently playing: Starcraft 2 beta

Query Week 2: Greetings From the Slush Pile

17 Feb

QUERY WEEK PART 2

Greetings from the Slush Pile

Guest Blog by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Hey everyone! So I’m Vanessa, and today I’ll be guest-blogging about what happens after an agent has your partial or full manuscript. And yes, that means I’ll be talking about the dreaded slush pile (dun dun duunnn)! As an intern at a literary agency, hopefully I’ll be able to give you guys some insight into what goes on over on the other side of the fence.

So, what happens after your manuscript has been requested? Whether it be a partial or a full manuscript, you need to be patient. Agents get a ridiculous amount of queries at any given time, and will request for quite a number of partials. If you’ve reached this stage and are rejected, don’t take it to heart! This is a VERY subjective industry. Agents will only take on manuscripts that they are passionate about.  And what about agent interns, you ask? Well, while our own personal taste certainly comes into play, we also have to consider what kind of manuscripts would work for certain agents at the agency. For example: I help manage two different slush piles at the agency I am currently at. After reading material from the clients they have already signed on, I have a fairly good sense of what they would like in a manuscript, and what they don’t.  And interns will only get this responsibility if they prove that they are good at it.

Now, what about rejection? Why do so many manuscripts end up on the chopping block? The reasons vary. Sometimes people just aren’t starting their story in the right place. Other times, the protagonists aren’t engaging enough. Or the writing style is just not something that particularly appeals to the agent. If I feel that I can offer some sort of advice to the writer, I will. So don’t think that agents who reject you are heartless, or have terrible taste, or are the vaguest at offering you advice! Agents need to be vague in their advice when they are rejecting you because it isn’t their place to tell you want they want. The specific advice comes after you have been signed on. So they will give you broad advice that can help improve your story instead of specifics (which can be much more subjective).

Also, keep in mind that agents get drowned under a sea of slush, and have to do a hell of a lot of digging to find something that catches their eye. And with all that slush to plow through, sometimes we don’t have the time to read your entire partial (blasphemy, I know! But this shouldn’t be new to you). After around 2-3 pages, it’s easy to get a sense of whether or not we’ll take you on. And if we read more than that, it’s because SOMETHING has caught our interest in some way. It can be a well-written character, a great P.O.V., a plot that just hooks; it can be so many different things.

If we still reject you, it’s probably because it might need too much work at that particular moment. So if an agent says something positive, or mentions that your manuscript needs more work, keep that in mind – and listen to them. They aren’t your bff’s telling you that your story is totally awesome and will sell millions. They are strangers to you and your work, and will give you their honest opinion. Some agents will even mention that they would love the opportunity to read your manuscript if you rewrite it. In fact, I did just that recently. The query was absolutely AMAZING – her summary was just so intriguing! But then after receiving her partial, I was disappointed. The story begins and falls flat, but there is one short scene in the middle of the first chapter that I thought was absolutely BRILLIANT. And I thought, why couldn’t THAT be the beginning of the book? So while we ultimately said no to her manuscript as it currently stood, we did tell her that if she rewrote her manuscript, we would love for her to resubmit it.

Just to give you an idea, out of all the partials I read through, only around 10% of these will get a request for a full manuscript. Slim, I know. BUT DON’T DESPAIR! Chances are, if you have a crit partner for your work, you will be at a tremendous advantage. The reason for this very small percentage is because most people send their very rough first drafts… Which NO agent wants to see. So as long as you have given your work a thorough look-over and edit, you will be WAY ahead of a majority of people.

And here are some reasons WHY I have ended up rejecting some manuscripts from the slush pile… and since I love making lists, what better way than in a list of DON’Ts?

  • DON’T have a ridiculous amount of typos. No, seriously. This may sound like the most OBVIOUS thing in the world, but you would not believe how many people send in partials that are CLEARLY first drafts (and full of typos/simple grammatical mistakes). Likewise, don’t mention that you are sending your first draft (that is actually kind of insulting). Now, I’m not saying that all first drafts are horrible – but the majority of writers should go over their manuscript and polish it up after writing it. If an agent requests a partial, remember: make it as polished as you can. You are trying to show an agent what it is you are capable of.
  • BUT (and this is a biggie) – DON’T just polish your partial and leave the rest of the manuscript alone. It should ALL be equally polished. If there is one thing agents hate, it’s thinking that your work is BRILLIANT, only to see that the rest of your manuscript is a great big mess. Agents don’t like being fooled.
  • DON’T write a 3-page synopsis that sounds exactly like Twlight/New Moon. It isn’t appealing. It’s fine to compare your work and point out similarities in theme with other titles, but don’t show how good you are at taking an already published story and changing the setting and character names with your initials slapped on top.
  • DON’T mention how characters are of a certain background if it has absolutely NO relevance to the story – and especially don’t make it a selling point for your manuscript. Example: If you are writing a novel about faeries, don’t mention how they are Irish as opposed to British when the story takes place in California. Because then what you have are American faeries who have different hair colours. UNLESS their background is somehow relevant to the story, don’t mention it as a selling point.
  • DON’T look up body parts in an anatomy book when you’re trying to be sexual/erotic. Let me just say, IT DOES NOT WORK. Please, PLEASE use urban dictionary if you are trying to write something erotic. Don’t start naming various parts of the body using terms that only doctors would use. It just makes the reader (and the agent) laugh. And then cry a little on the inside.

And, just in case you still feel insecure, my fellow intern Rachel (gotta love her) showed me what I think is a great guide for writers who just can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong when querying called, Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected by Jessica Page Morrell.

So, hopefully I haven’t scared any writers away from dreams of publication! Remember, agents aren’t personally slapping you in the face when they reject you. And the slush pile isn’t some black hole where all your manuscripts go to die. If you have received a partial request, pat yourself on the back – your query letter was good! If you have received a full manuscript request, do a few fist pumps. And if you get signed, remember – there is still a long way to go. BUT, you’ll have someone in the industry who LOVES what you’ve written and will do everything it takes to get that book published. And then that slush pile won’t seem so evil anymore, cause it’ll all be worth the wait. And I think THAT deserves a happy dance.

~~~

Vanessa is currently an intern at The Rights Factory, a literary agency located in Toronto. She is also taking courses in a publishing program, and is trying to figure out where in the world of publishing she wants to end up in. Currently, she is working on a YA novel.