Tag Archives: literary agent

Mistaken Newbie Writer Beliefs

7 Apr

by Savannah J. Foley


I have been a noob. Or, as I have often seen it called, a ‘huge, flailing noob.’ Now, I’m still pretty new to the writing business in general, despite having written over six complete manuscripts, having an agent for two years, and of course being a part of this blog. I don’t have a publishing deal, and obviously I’m not an old veteran, but there’s a difference between ‘new to the industry’ and ‘noob to the industry’, and I have definitely been a noob. Noob is unaware there even IS an industry.

I see a lot of mistaken beliefs out here on the internet, so despite the fact that I’m not the world’s greatest expert on writing and the writing business, I was hoping to use today’s post to clarify some of the most common mistaken beliefs,  in an effort at educating all those ‘huge, flailing’ noobs out there:

Mistaken Newbie Belief #1: I am God’s Gift to Publishing

Sigh. I’m guilty of this one. Without a peer group of writers at a young age, I thought I was probably the best, youngest writer of all time (OF ALL TIME!). Clearly that was not so. But it’s something I see over and over: new writers think they’re the best ever. And they lack the perspective to see that their writing actually needs a lot of work.

So if you think  you’re probably, like, at LEAST in the top 10 greatest writers of all time, you might want to step back and reconsider.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #2: My Work Will Be Stolen

I see this on the internet a LOT, and I experienced it first hand during the meet-ups for NaNoWriMo.

Listen very closely: No professional in the industry is going to steal your work. Seriously. Agents and editors are SWIMMING in writing. They have editing and agenting to do; they’re not going to steal your work and pass it off as their own. Then they’d actually be responsible for revisions and promoting and detailed analysis of characterization, and I promise you that they all believe that’s a job best left up to the writer.

Now, will people plagiarize your work if you post it online? Absolutely sometimes. Some of our own LTWF members have been plagiarized by users taking their stories and posting it somewhere else under a different name. Whether or not to post your work online is a big debate, with lots of good points on both sides, but again I say that editors and agents are extremely unlikely to try and pass your work off as their own, so don’t be afraid to query. Not for that reason, anyway.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #3: I Have to Copyright My Work

This ties right into what I said above. It’s a common misconception that you have to manually copyright your work or else it doesn’t belong to you. I even wrote an article about an encounter with a young writer who believed she had to mail her manuscript to herself before attempting to get it published.

(Confession: I emailed Nameless to myself. It was like 5 years ago, shut up).

The truth? Once you create something, you own it. You hold the legal copyright for it, whether you put that obnoxious little (c) sign by it or not (Pro tip: do NOT put the copyright sign in your query letter or anywhere on your manuscript when you query. It screams ‘noob’).

Mistaken Newbie Belief #4: The Bigger the Book the More Publishers Will Love It/The More Genres I Combine the Better

Who hasn’t fallen in love with the phrase ‘sweeping epic’? Who hasn’t once thought ‘omg my SciFi/Detective/Romance/Literary novel is going to be a game-changer!

The truth is that, though there are very minor exceptions, you need to stick to the word count acceptable for your genre, you need to actually HAVE a genre (something I still guiltily struggle with to this day), and the likelihood that your book combining two opposing genres will be a game-changer is about nil.

Here’s the thing about books that combine genres: No one knows where to put them on the bookshelf at the bookstore. And that’s a huge problem for agents, editors, and booksellers. If they can’t figure out how to market you, they won’t buy you. Period.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #5: My Book Will Appeal to Everyone

Could literally everyone who is literate read your book and probably not hate it? Yes. But that doesn’t make the world your audience. An audience is the people you target with your books, and the demographic that will most enjoy them. It’s not the diverse types of people who would, if waiting in a doctor’s office, pick up your book off the coffee table and be able to pass the time with it while they wait. Figure out your audience.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #6: Publishing is Dead/Publishing is Out to Get Me/I’ve Been Blacklisted/I’m Too Good for Traditional Publishing

I’m not an agent. I don’t see nearly the number of queries and complaints that agents do. But I see a few. In my experience, people who claim that the industry doesn’t understand them/isn’t worthy of them/won’t take the time to see that they’re sitting on a gold mine, are… bad writers.

Yeah, I said it. If no one will take your work, maybe it’s not that Publishing is a Good Ol’ Boys club, maybe it’s that your work isn’t ready yet. Keep trying.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #7: I Don’t Need an Agent

Yes you do. Yes, you do. YES, you DO. And this article by an Editor explains why better than I ever will.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #9: My Book Would Be A Great Movie

You should never write a book because you want/hope to see it turned into a movie one day. Writing a book about a story is a great way to NOT get it turned into a movie. Movie rights are complicated, and just because your book gets ‘optioned’ doesn’t mean a movie will ever get made, or that the people who optioned it ever have any intention of seeing it get made. Yes, I’ve heard stories about people who option books just so the movie WON’T ever have an opportunity to get made!

In short, have a great idea for a movie? Write a film script, not a book.

Mistaken Newbie Belief #10: It’s Going To Be Easy/My Book Will Be Out Next Month

Sure, there’s always that one person who writes a book in six months, signs an agent in month seven and sells in month eight. But is any of this easy? No, it’s just fast. Even on this ridiculously short schedule, the book could still take two years to come out.

Personally, I’ve had my agent for over two years, with no sales. Lots of writers (more than you think) sign with an agent for one book, it doesn’t sell, they write another, and that one sells. And it takes years.

Other people query for years to no success. Others don’t even get to the querying stage; they labor for decades on their novel until they feel ready. But even those people who have ‘miracle’ publishing stories still have to put in the time and effort into making a marketable product. They put in  hours over revisions, they brainstorm every spare minute, and they keep up with their day job at the same time. Fast it may be, but easy it is not.


Any other Mistaken Beliefs you see frequently out there on the internetz? Do share in the comments!


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal. She is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.


Getting published– even if you’re a “nobody.”

23 Mar

by Mandy Hubbard


There’s a big misconception in publishing that a writer has to “know somebody” or have substantial writing credits in order to get an agent, and thus, get published.

So here’s the truth– keep in mind I’m talking about fiction here– Non-Fiction has a lot to do with platform so things are different in that field.

MYTH: You need to spend months or years trying to amass writing credits.

TRUTH: Most agents gloss right over that stuff. Just because you wrote an article for a magazine doesn’t mean you can write a whole book. Sure, they can be nice. Go ahead and freelance if you like it or want to try and earn $$. But don’t think it’s the only path to publishing novels. It’s not.

MYTH: You need to get a referral or some kind of “in” in order to get noticed.

TRUTH: The stats can be scary– most agents request 5-10% of the queries they read and only offer rep to a scant few. But guess what? There are some pretty awesome stats out there proving that SLUSH WORKS.

I conducted a poll on twitter– I simply asked agented writers to respond and tell me if they snagged their agent via a cold-query (no connections) or if they had some kind of a referral, publishing credits, etc. And guess what? 58 people had NO credits or connections whatsoever. Only 6 people got their agent via a referral from a client or impressive credentials. Yes, you read that right– MORE than 90% of those writers snagged an agent with the tried-and-true query letter.

MYTH: Your work doesn’t fit the trends, so no one is going to want it.

TRUTH: To be honest? Books that are totally outside the trends often stand out the most, because when I’m reading slush it’s like FANTASY FANTASY FANTASY REALISTIC FANTASY FANTASY. (And by fantasy I am lumping in paranormal, UF, etc).

MYTH: You need to hire an editor before submitting your work.

TRUTH: I actually don’t know any one who paid a freelance editor before beginning submissions/being published. Find critique partners at the same place in their career and swap manuscripts. I learned as much from critiquing as I did from receiving critiques, and I made lifelong writer friends. (This is not to say freelance eds aren’t awesome in their own right. But don’t despair over the $$ needed if you don’t have it.)

MYTH: You need to spend a lot of $$ going to conferences because that’s where most agents find their clients.

TRUTH: Again, the slush works. If you can’t afford conferences, skip ’em! They can be fun for socializing and you can learn a lot, but it really and truly does not cost a dime to be published (with the exception being postage if an agent wants material snail-mailed.)

So, I hope this helps dispel the myths that you need to know someone, or pay a lot of money, in order to be noticed. I know dozens and dozens of debut authors– some who sold in major deals (over $500K) who had pretty unassuming day jobs and knew NO ONE in publishing before snagging an agent and a book deal.

The writing is the only thing that matters. Write a damn good book, and it’ll rise above.


Agent, D4EO Lit

Author, Prada & Prejudice (2009) You Wish (2010) But I Love him (May 2011) and RIPPLE (July 2011).

The Parts of a Good Query Letter

28 Feb

by Susan Dennard


I have a popular post on my personal blog that’s part of a series I did called How I Got My Agent.  I thought I’d take out the “good bits” from Part 1, and share them with you here.

Much like in the How to Write a 1-page Synopsis, I’ve drawn up a “worksheet” that you can use to format and write your novel’s query letter.

And if you’re interested in reading about WHY my query worked from my agent’s point of view, you can read about it on the NCLit blog.


The Query

I started querying on October 6, 2010.  But before that, I spent a loooooooong time honing my query letter.  Like, I took workshops, read books, and got feedback until my eyes bled.

But it all paid off!  Out of the 12 agents I queried, 9 requested a full or partial manuscript.  WEEEEE, right?  (Note: part of my success rate has to do with my research, but I’ll talk about that in Part 2: The Prep.  Nonetheless, a good chunk of my success was thanks to my kick-booty query.)

The thing about query letters is that there is a general standard for what should be in a query and how it should be presented. Above all else, you must include a summary of your book — you must show your book’s plot. Next, you need to keep the query professional.  This is a business letter — remember that!

A few other rules to keep in mind:

  1. Be brief, be brief, be brief! Your goal is to snag the agent’s attention immediately and only share enough information so they want to read more.  Keep the story summary under 250 words.
  2. Do not tell the ending! The purpose of a query is to show an editor/agent that you can tell a story from beginning to end, but you want to leave the end unknown. This is much like the back of book – you want to sell your story and entice them to read more.
  3. You must lay out,
    1. the MC’s goal,
    2. why the MC is choosing to act,
    3. what’s at stake if the MC fails.

The Parts of a Good Query

Below, I have written out the building blocks of a strong query letter.  I’ve filled the formula in with my own query, and I hope you find it useful!

Opening lines — Why are you contacting this agent/editor? What is the title, genre, and word count of your novel?

(I’ll get into this more tomorrow and explain why I suggest starting here.)

I read in an interview that you seek strong female leads as well as steampunk.  As such, I thought you might enjoy my 90,000 word young adult novel, THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS.

Hook — What is a one sentence zinger that introduces the MC, sets up the stakes, and is (most importantly) concise?

After her brother is kidnapped, Eleanor Fitt – a sixteen-year-old with a weakness for buttered toast and Shakespeare quotes – must leave the confines of corsets and courtesy to get him back.

Summary Paragraph 1 — Briefly describe the ordinary life of the MC. Follow this with the inciting incident and why the MC must pursue it (i.e. what is at stake?).

It’s 1876, and Philadelphia is hosting the first American World Fair, the Centennial Exhibition.  It’s also hosting rancid corpses that refuse to stay dead.  When one of those decomposing bodies brings Eleanor a hostage note for her brother, she resolves to do anything to rescue him. But to face the armies of Dead that have him, she’ll need a little help from the Spirit-Hunters.

Summary Paragraphs 2 & 3 — List/show in 2-3 sentences what the MC must do to solve the problem before him/her. What choices must he/she make? Be sure to end these  paragraph with a sentence explaining what will happen if he/she fails.  You want to leave the agent with a perfectly clear idea of why this story matters.

The Spirit-Hunters, a three-man team hired to protect the Exhibition, have a single goal: return the Dead to their graves. Yet, what began as a handful of shambling bodies has escalated beyond the team’s abilities, and time is running out. Whoever rules the Dead is losing control, and when the leash finally snaps, Philadelphia will be overrun with ravenous corpses.

Now Eleanor must battle the walking Dead and deal with her growing attraction to the team’s inventor, Daniel, an exasperating but gorgeous ex-con. From the steampunk lab of the Spirit-Hunters to the grand halls of the Exhibition, Eleanor must follow the clues – and the bodies – to find her brother and stop the Dead before it’s too late.

Conclusion — List your qualifications as a writer (societies, publications) in one sentence. If you can, try to find 2 works similar to your own (this shows the agent what audience you believe will read your novel).  Then thank the agent for his/her time.  Sign off.

Though the novel has been written as a trilogy, it can stand alone.  I believe it will appeal to fans of Libba Bray’s GEMMA DOYLE trilogy or Cassandra Clare’s CLOCKWORK ANGEL.  I’m an active member of RWA, SCBWI, the Online Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, and YALitChat.  I live in Germany and am working full-time on my next YA novels.  You can learn more about me at http://susandennard.com.

So there you have it: a simple way to start building your query.  Again, I hope you can use it.  Be sure to read Part 2: The Prep — or all the preparations needed prior to actually mailing your queries.

BOTTOM LINE: A good query can do wonders and instantly pull you to the surface of the slush!

Do you have any tips to share?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

On Trends in the Slush Pile

14 Dec

by Mandy Hubbard


I haven’t shared the trends I’ve been finding in the slush pile in a while, and I thought it would be fun to share them with the LTWF crowd. Before I dive into the stuff you *really* want to know, I need to provide some context.

For starters, you should read my two blog posts– the first on whether you should chase trends, and the second on what editors told me they were looking for (hint: It’s pretty much everything, as long as the writing is awesome).

All that said, no matter how many times someone says not to worry about trends, people are forever fascinated by them. And I do think there is some power in knowing where you stand– whether it’s in the midst of a saturated trend or if it’s something wacky and left field.

So, I quickly flipped through the last fifty queries I’ve received, and here’s the breakdown:

A type of project I don’t represent: 8

Number of above who queried because they thought it was YA and it was adult: 2

Realistic YA or MG: 19

Breakdown  for *some* of above

-Adventure: 2

– Dark or Issue-based: 5

-Coming of age (MG): 3

-Romance: 4

-Modern retellings of a fairy tale or classic: 2

Historical (w/no fantasy elements) realistic YA/ MG: 3

Total number of speculative fiction/SF/Fantasy queries: 31

Break down of this:

-Urban Fantasy: 6

-Magical Realism: 4

-Dystopic or Post-Apocolyptic: 4

*Paranormal Creatures:

-Vamps: 2

Comparisons to twilight: 1

-Ghosts 1

-Devils, Demons, or Angels: 3

-Mermaids, Sirens, or other water creatures: 1

-Banshees: 1

– Steampunk: 1

-Dreams or Dreamworld or Visions as the leading paranormal element: 3

-Teens or Middle-graders discovering special abilities: 2

-High or Epic Fantasy: 4

-Fantasy-esque retellings of a fairy tale: 1

-Based upon Lore/Legends/Myths: 3

-Time Travel: 1 (MG) 2 (YA)

-Historical w/fantasy elements: 2

-Other realms/parallel worlds: 1

So, by the above, it’s a little tough to see any particular saturated point. If I had done 100 or more queries, I think stronger patterns would emerge. I *can* tell you things I feel like I see a ton of: Ghosts/After life, Angels/Demons, books based on Greek, Roman, or other myths (Often the main character discovers she is a goddess reincarnated), girls who dream up a boy and then he’s there– in real life (Gasp!) Post-apocolyptic based on realistic fears (water running out, viruses, global warming) and books that are “Like Twilight but with X.”

In the end, as I always say: Be aware of the trends so you understand where you fit, and can better decide who to query. If you’re torn between writing two novels, perhaps the market dictates which one you choose. But otherwise: Write the novel in your heart. Write it as well as you can. Kick-Ass writing almost always sells, trends be damned.

Good luck!



Mandy Hubbard is the author of Prada & Prejudice and You Wish (both now available) as well as the forthcoming RIPPLE and BUT I LOVE HIM (both coming in 2011). She’s also an agent at D4EO Literary, where she represents authors of middle-grade and young-adult novels. Visit her at www.mandyhubbard.com

When multiple agents make an offer

29 Nov

by Susan Dennard


Goofy and I are back to wrap up our last post: When an agent requests your manuscript.  So please, put on your imagination caps (or Disney caps — whatever), and imagine the snide voice-over yet again!

Also, if you want to see how I (Susan, not snide narrator) actually handled the Great Agent Hunt — from query prep, to querying, to offers, to choosing — I’m talking about it this week on my blog. 🙂

Now onwards!


I gart too many choices...

Agents!  Everyone wants one, but no one can seem to find them.  More elusive than a bird-of-paradise, and even easier to scare off for good.  Demand far outweighs supply.

Except when it doesn’t.

More and more often these days, when a writer gets an offer, they wind up with several offers.  >1 agent wants to get their hands on the manuscript because it’s a darn good story, it’s well-written, and it’s highly commercial.

So what do you do in this situation?  How the heck do you choose just one?

First Things First

First, make sure that you have notified all other agents in possession of the manuscript and given them a response-deadline (see When an agent requests your manuscript to learn how).

Second, DO NOT REFUSE ANYONE before the time is up OR before all agents have responded.  You may, of course, make a decision, but don’t notify anyone until you’ve reached your deadline or all agents have said yay/nay.  Again, this is described in more depth in When an agent requests your manuscript.

Now onto the Famous Call.

What To Ask During The Call

Be sure to gargle plenty of salt water and practice your phone-voice.  You want to make your best impression, after all.  And also, be sure to avoid phrases like, “Garsh” or “Huh-hyuck.”  These do not give off an impression of intelligence.

Prior to the call, you should prepare a series of questions to give each agent.  Even if you have only one offer, you should do this.  Some important things to consider are:

  • How did you get to be an agent?
  • How many clients do you have now?
  • What professional organizations are you a part of?
  • Do you handle film rights?  Foreign rights?  Audio rights?
  • Are you a hands on agent?  Or do you prefer to leave all that to the writer alone?
  • In what “state” do you think my book is?  In other words, how much editing do feel it still needs?
  • What would be your timeline for submitting?
  • How often do you like to check in with your clients?
  • Do you charge any fees?  And what is your percentage?
  • What would you expect from me as a client?
  • If I sign with you, what will happen next?
  • Can I see a copy of your agency agreement?

The last question is of particular importance.  Try to see a copy of the agreement — most agents will happily comply — so you can be sure it’s a contract you want to sign.

What To Consider Next

I'm not sure this agent fits...

Once you’ve spoken to each agent on the phone, now is the time for you to DECIDE.  If there is no obvious choice — someone with whom you instantly connected and without whom the world would be dreary and gray — then now is the time to compare/contrast.  I suggest weighing pros and cons.

For example, if you want minimal agent feedback, and Agent 1 is hands-on while Agent 2 is hands-off, then Agent 2 has +1 pro and Agent 1 has +1 con.

Some aspects to consider (and that work well as pros/cons):

  • Enthusiasm (for your book, for your career)
  • Agency agreement
  • Experience
  • Hands-on/hands-off
  • Age (perhaps you’d rather work with someone close to your own age)
  • Number of clients
  • Editorial vision for your book
  • Career vision for future books
  • Submission plan for this book
  • Phone conversation (too friendly?  too cold?  not professional enough?)
  • Professional organizations

Tally it up, ponder it, dwell, moan, whatever.  Just be sure to have a decision in time to meet your own deadline!

Oh, you have decided already?  You’ve found The One you want representing you and your novel?  Well, in that case, let’s move to the final phase of this process then.

Saying “No”

Because you’ve chosen, you now have to tell all those other sweet agents “no”.  Email is the best way to do this, but it is no easy task because, to put it simply, rejection sucks.  Face it bravely, dear Writer, and if you like, use this template to help guide your words:

Dear<Agent Name>,

Thank you so much for the time and effort you spent considering me as a client.  I appreciate your enthusiasm, and even more, I appreciate your offer of representation.

After much thought, I’ve decided to decline your offer.  I ended up with several offers and was forced to make a choice.  It was an especially difficult decision because <insert something you really liked about the agent>.  I wish you the best with all your future projects, and thanks again for taking the time to consider me.

Best wishes!


And there you have it, folks.  Don’t forget to notify your chosen agent, of course!  They’ll want to know that you’ve selected them, and they’ll want to draw up the needed paperwork quickly.

Now run around and squee your head off, for it’s definitely something you have earned.  Best of luck in your career, Fearless Writer!


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her manuscript is currently on submission to publishers. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

When an agent requests your manuscript

9 Nov

by Susan Dennard


As I was writing this, I got to thinking of all those awesome Goofy cartoons. You know the ones I mean – where Goofy learns to play baseball or ski or swim, and hilarity ensues… So heads up. Goofy’s gonna learn to navigate agents too…

Oh, and you have to imagine me as that snide voice-over in the cartoons. Very posh, very serious.


Garsh! This is hard.

Writing! The age-old profession for the entertainment of millions. Amongst those brave enough to pursue a writing career, it has been directly linked to premature aging and stubby fingernails.

These days, it seems the internet is saturated with information on researching agents. On querying agents. On handling The Call. Yet, where does one find information on partial or full requests? What does one do when offered representation while other agents still possess the manuscript? Or, what all writers dream about, what does one do if multiple agents offer representation?

Requests for Your Manuscript

Once you get over the initial and inevitable hand-clapping and squealing, try to calm yourself. After all, ::condescending voice deepens:: initial professionalism doth the man…er, dog…er, writer make.

Simply fill out this handy-dandy template, paste a copy of your query letter below it, and then attach the manuscript file to the email.

Dear <Agent Name>,

I was delighted to receive your request for a <full or partial> of <Book Title>. As asked, I have attached the manuscript (in MS Word format) to this email. I have also pasted my query letter below.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing from you.


<Paste Original Query Letter Here>

An Offer While the Manuscript is Still Out

I gart an offer! Huh-hyuck!

Oh happy day! You have received your first offer. What do you do now? There are still 6 (or 16 or perhaps even 60) agents still in possession of your manuscript or query or synopsis.

You have two choices:

1) You may choose the offering agent and instantly – instantly, I repeat – notify the other agents of your decision.

2) You may decide to hold off on acceptance until you have heard back from all the other agents. If you choose to do this, then simply fill out this handy-dandy template and send it to all agents who have not yet rejected you. In the subject of this email, be sure to say: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION for <Book Title>, <Name>.

Dear <Agent Name>,

I would like to inform you that an agent has made offer of representation for my <Genre> novel, <Book Title>. I wish to make a decision regarding this offer within the next <Time Frame>, but I also want to give you a chance to read the <full or partial or query or synopsis or whatever you sent> I sent. If you could please let me know your position with regards to <Book Title> by <Day>, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks so much, and I look forward to hearing from you.


<Paste Original Query Letter Here>

Additionally, be sure you choose a reasonable time for decision making. The standard amount is a week to ten days, but you can do more (if perhaps you contacted a lot of agents) or you can do less (if you want a quick answer).

That said, if you give the other agents a deadline, then you REALLY SHOULD NOT accept any offers before that deadline. By giving the agents a chance to finish your manuscript and decide if they want to make an offer, those agents are effectively clearing off their schedules and prioritizing your manuscript. For you to accept an offer before hearing back from them is considered rude – you have just wasted their time.

Stay Tuned

Oh the complex world of writing! All non-writers wonder why you do it, and all writers wonder how you could ever do anything else.

Goofy and I will return at a later date to walk you through the final question posed: “What does one do if multiple agents offer representation?”

For now, though, Goofy must ice his sore muscles, and I – haughty voice over that I am – must go gargle salt water for my future gigs.


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She recently signed with Sara Kendall of NCLit. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Query Week Wrap-up

18 Feb

By Mandy Hubbard


Hi All! I hope this Query Week has been helpful! I know that querying can be thrilling, scary, tiring, gratifying, exciting…. and sometimes all of that all at once. As a writer, I’ve been there, and I know how you feel.

As an agent, it’s also many of those emotions, and more. To wrap things up, I thought I’d give you insight as to how I approach the inbox every day– what I think as I read queries, what will make you stand out, etc. I hope this builds nicely on what Vanessa posted yesterday!

First off, when it comes to queries, I always start with the oldest ones first. I approach them with nothing but hope— will this be the query that makes me sit up and take notice? Many writers see agents as mean ‘ol gate keepers that only want writers who have huge credentials or the most amazing high concept book known to man.

Not true! Some of the queries that just plain blow me away seem rather anassuming at first–but the writing is just plain good. That’s all I’m looking for. Really good writing! Everyone has a fair shake at it.

When I start reading, I’m pretty neutral– I do not go in expecting to be blown away, but I don’t expect to hate it. You’ve got a blank slate, so use it to your advantage– grab me from the get-go.  If your book is funny, showcase your humor from the first line. If it’s dark and emotional, make me care about the character so that I’ll want to follow her for the next 50,000 words.

For queries I just really don’t like, I don’t read the sample (My submission guidelines ask for the first 5 pages).  It might be something I don’t represent (I’ve seen some chapter book submissions and adult fiction subs) or it might be something that doesn’t suit my personal tastes (high-fantasy or deeply cultural).  Or it might just be a hot mess. I see those, too.

For Meh Queries, I move onto the sample. If I’m leaning toward a rejection, your first paragraph or two really has to reel me in. I’m not just checking to see if you’re a competent writer– I’m giving you a chance to change my mind. Most often, it doesn’t.

For queries I’m on the fence with, I read further. I’ll give it a full page or two– many times the whole 5 page sample, hoping to see that spark that tells me the book may be bigger and better than the query gives it credit for. These are the queries where the sample is most important, because it can tip me in the right direction.

If your book is a humorous book with a quiet concept, the sample is paramount. Humorous books are all about voice and making me laugh. If you don’t do that in 5 pages, I probably won’t want to see more.

Sample pages are your friend. As an intern I lost count of how many times I sent a query on to the agent saying, “yanno, the concept is kind of quiet, but those pages just  pulled me right in.”

For queries I love, I eagerly scroll down, crossing my fingers that the writing holds up. I often don’t need more than a page to confirm it, if I’m super excited by the query.

Because I ask for samples, I skip right from the query/sample to the full manuscript. If you were printing/mailing it, maybe I’d do partials, but I see no reason to have you create a new document just for me– I can stop reading at any time and it didn’t waste any paper.

Okay, so that’s my process for reading queries. When it comes to fulls, things go a little differently. For starts, I don’t read them in order. I know, that’s mean, right? But trust me, it’s a good thing. If your book is funny, do you want me in a grumpy mood when I’m reading? If your book is serious, and I want to laugh, I’ll open that humorous MG and save your dark/edgy YA for when I’m in that sort of mood. Just like different books appeal to you on different days. Further, sometimes I just get a manuscript with an exciting concept and I dive right in. On top of that, some books are Middle-Grades weighing in at 20K and some are urban fantasies at 100K. Depending on how much time I have, I may choose to read one over the other.

I read fulls a little differently– I go in with certain expectations. I know I like the concept and sample, so I am always hoping the rest holds up. You’ve got about 50 pages to really hook me.  If i’m at page 50 and I can put it down and go take my daughter to the park and I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen next, I’ll start leaning toward a rejection.

I do sometimes have 2 or 3 projects going at once, and if yours isn’t battling for attention in my mind, it’s not a good sign.

When I represent an author, I go in knowing I’m in it for the long haul. If we don’t sell it on the first round of submissions, I could be reading it and resubmitting it and working on revisions with you for months. That’s why I have to truly love it, not just like it.

So, I hope all this gives you a little insight into how an agent reads and what they are looking for.

Good luck to all those in the query trenches! And remember, if you write MG/YA and you have a project ready for submissions, feel free to send it my way. Send your query and the 5 page sample (both pasted into the  email) to mandy@d4eo.com