Tag Archives: querying

Query Week: Ask Us Your Querying Questions!

19 Feb

Rather than do a Question of the Week, we figured we’d use today to open up conversation! All day today, we’ll be answering every and any questions you have about the querying process and landing an agent!

So, don’t be shy–feel free to ask ANYTHING! Simply post your question as a comment to this entry, and we’ll get back to you ASAP!

Ask away!

P.S. A HUGE thank-you to everyone who helped make Query Week such a success! You guys are amazing, and we wish you nothing but the best in your publication efforts!

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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

Thanks!

Mandy

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

~

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.

Query Week 2: After the Query

16 Feb

QUERY WEEK PART DEUX:

After the Query

By Sarah J. Maas

~

So, let’s say your query was stellar, and you’ve got a whole pile of requests from agents!  Excellent. But what the heck do agents mean when they ask for the first fifty pages, or the first three chapters, or—eek!—the full manuscript?

First of all, this is AMAZING. This means you’ve got the agent’s attention. Feel free to do a victory dance. Go ahead. You know you want to.

Done? Awesome. Now, let’s get down to business.

When an agent requests the first fifty pages or the first three chapters, this is called a Partial Request (ooooh). They want to get a sense of your writing before committing to reading more from you. This is precisely why your opening pages are SO important—this is your only shot to get that agent excited about your work. If an agent likes your partial, they’ll most likely request the rest of the manuscript.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. When I got my first partial requests, I freaked out. Why? Because Page 50 stopped right in the middle of a scene! Most often, your first 50 pages will end somewhere inconvenient.

You can either choose to end the partial at the scene closest to page 50 (maybe it ends on page 48), OR you can just find a good final sentence on page 50 and end it there. It doesn’t matter THAT much, but I personally preferred to close the partial with the end of a scene, rather than stop in some random place/in the middle of the action. If your scene ends on page 51, it’s okay to go over by a little bit, but not by much.

But what if an agent replies to your query with a request for the full manuscript? Well, the short answer is: Jackpot! They want to read your entire book. This essentially translates into: “Your Query Blew My Mind, and I’m Hoping Your Book Will, Too.”

When you send off your partial or full manuscript to an agent, it should ALWAYS look professional.  To help with that, here are a few rules to abide by:

  • Your manuscript should be double-spaced in Times New Roman, 12-point font (unless the agent specifies otherwise—make sure to check!!!).
  • You should have 1-inch margins.
  • DON’T FORGET PAGE NUMBERS! Upper or lower right corners are fine.
  • Be sure to add in a header that includes your name and the title of your work (example: Sarah J. Maas, Queen of Glass).
  • Chapters should begin around 10 lines down from the top of the page (like in a book).
  • When sending electronically, remember that some agents don’t have computers that support .docx, so always send your manuscript in .doc format.
  • Again, some agents might prefer a different set up, so ALWAYS double-check their agency guidelines before you send them material!

Once you’ve sent off your material, the hard part begins:

Waiting.

Waiting to hear back from an agent is like being in limbo. You jump every time the phone rings, you flinch every time you see your inbox announce that you have 1 new message. Sometimes, all you want to do is lie on the couch and eat bag after bag of Cheetos as you watch reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Normally, after sending your material, you can expect to hear back between 8 and 10 weeks. If you haven’t received a response after 10 weeks, it’s not considered inappropriate to send the agent an email to check on the status of your manuscript.

Sometimes, you’ll wonder if an agent even received your materials. Some agents send a confirmation email to let you know that they received your manuscript—but many just won’t reply until they’re telling you Yes or No. If you don’t receive a confirmation email, please refrain from bugging them about it—wait until the appropriate 8-10 weeks have passed before inquiring.

It’s maddening, but try to find ways to occupy yourself while waiting for agents to get back to you: start a new novel, bake hundreds of cookies, go for long walks. You can’t let the waiting overrun your life, and often you’ll hear back at the most unexpected times. I actually missed The Call from my agent because I was sleeping!

I heard my phone ring early in the morning and was SO ANNOYED that someone was calling me at the crack of dawn (even though it was more like 10 AM) that I didn’t even bother to pick up! When I finally got up and listened to my voicemail, BOY was that the most heart-stopping message of all time!

In short, you can’t make agents read your material any faster (and please DO NOT attempt to do so), and you can’t predict when they’ll respond to you—so don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to guess! Stalking agents on Twitter definitely doesn’t make you feel any better, either—in fact, it can make you even more insane.

But if you’re curious about agent response times, go to Agent Turn Around, a livejournal community that tracks how long it takes for agents to reply.

Best of luck with everything!

~~~

Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella. Her agent currently has her novel on submissions to editors. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

Query Analysis

14 Feb

By Mandy Hubbard

~

Hi Everyone!

Sorry for the delay in my query analysis post– things have been pretty crazy since the big announcement, but I’m settling into a rhythm now.

Let’s start with Sarah’s query. My comments are in bold/italics:

Dear Ms. Rydzinski:

What if Cinderella went to the ball not to win the heart of the prince, but to kill him?  In THE EYE OF THE CHOSEN, the first book of my fantasy trilogy, QUEEN OF GLASS, Celaena Sardothien is not a damsel in distress—she’s an assassin.  Serving a life sentence in the salt mines for her crimes, Celaena finds herself faced with a proposition she can’t turn down: her freedom in exchange for the deaths of the King of Adarlan’s enemies.

I’m definitely a fan of starting a query with the hook. I read dozens and dozens of queries in a week, sometimes spending a few hours in a row. If you can start your book with a sharp focus on the hook, it’s more likely to grab me right from the get-go. Likewise, if your book is humorous, get me laughing right from the start. It’s okay to start with, “I am seeking representation for________” but I prefer to save that for the end, near your bio.

Before she can complete her mission, she must first train within the glass castle in the capital of the empire. As training with the Captain of the Guard revives her muscles, encounters with the Crown Prince threaten to do the same to her heart. But Celaena soon learns that the King of Adarlan might have plans more sinister than assassinations.

Great! We have the hook, now we’re focusing in on the character. It’s important to have a good balance of  conflict and character.

An ancient queen’s ghost charges Celaena with an enormous task: to discover and destroy the mysterious source of the evil king’s power. Torn between her desire to win her freedom and a mission much bigger than herself, Celaena thus begins an adventure she never wanted, which will uncover her forgotten, magical past—a past more dangerous than any tyrant…

Sold. She’s got enough conflict, driven by the character, to carry a novel.

I am a 2008 graduate of Hamilton College with a degree in Creative Writing, and I have been published in Hamilton’s literary magazine, Red Weather. Because of your interest in fantasy, I thought you might be interested in my trilogy, which is centered on a retelling of the Cinderella legend through the eyes of an assassin. My completed manuscript is available at your request. Below, please find the first ten pages of my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Though she skipped the word count (and I happen to know it’s because it’s the word count is slightly higher than normal, so this was probably a smart move), she has all the pertinent information. The closing is concise and to the point.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sarah J. Maas

So, is it a request? Definitely. Sarah’s query is well-written, with a great balance of character and plot. She gets right to the point up front. Even better, she’s added a commercial angle by showcasing that her epic fantasy is a unique take on a fairy tale.

Moving on to Savannah’s query:

I read on AgentQuery.com that you represent Young Adult fiction, and are particularly interested in edgy romance. I believe you will be interested in my 60,000 word gender-issue YA novel Woman’s World, book one of a completed trilogy.

Here’s how most people begin their query– genre, word count, etc. It’s professional, and it works. My PERSONAL (stressing the PERSONAL) preference is to begin with the hook, but Savannah’s opening works just fine. Further, she’s pinpointed the agent’s specific preference for edgy romance. If all you plan to say is “I see you represent YA so I think you’ll be interested in my YA book,” Then leave it out. All you’re saying is that you found them on a website or search engine. It sounds like you’d take any agent that reps YA. Moving on….

In a female-dominated society where men are kept as domestic slaves, one young woman must overcome cultural barriers as she grows closer to her new, abused slave -a romance that uncovers the secret history behind women’s rise to power in our world and leads to an exciting, apocalyptic revolution to restore gender equality.

Great! Here’s the hook, and Savannah tells it in an easy-to-follow manner. She also tells us who the main character is, which I assume she’ll elaborate more on…

When the famous and reclusive writer known only as the Poetess selects for her first slave a young man whose muteness makes him worthless in society’s eyes despite his great beauty, their journey towards trust and compassion in her isolated home sparks a powerful and forbidden romance. Torn with feelings deviating from strict religious and social dogma, and possibly dying from a cancerous illness that makes her shamefully barren, the Poetess struggles to come to terms with the love she feels for the slave she names Shaedyn, and her new, heretic belief that men deserve to be equal with women. Whispers of an underground equalist movement, and their tentative plan to use the Poetess as a political tool to sway the hearts of the nation, excite and terrify the Poetess until a near-deadly failing of health forces her to leave Shaedyn behind and travel to the East Hall, a technological metropolis and secret heart of the revolution itself.

Bingo! We know more about the main character, and Savannah has done an EXCELLENT job of balancing internal and external conflicts. She’s also set up the plot sufficiently that we get an idea of where the reader is going to be taken in the opening pages, but not so much it’s like one of those too-long movie trailers that spoils the movie. Remember, your query is to ENTICE AND INTRIGUE an agent,  NOT to explain away your novel! Savannah has done a great job of this.

At age 19, Woman’s World is one of five novels I have written. Originally posted online at Fictionpress.com, garnishing 61,000 hits, near 1,000 favorable reviews, and hundreds of registered fans, Woman’s World takes the female-dominant society stereotype to an intelligent and realistic place with a romance and characters proven to capture the heart of any reader. My other writing credits include a personal narrative in the November 2006 edition of literary magazine TeenInk, and an award from the Journalistic Education Association for Feature Writing. I would be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your review. I appreciate your time, and look forward to hearing from you.

In her post earlier this week, Savannah said she would have removed her age and her fictionpress background. I agree– in a normal situation you shouldn’t mention either of those. For me in particular, it might be of interest becuase I myself came from FP, so it’s something in common. But for your average agent, fictionpress will come off as amatuerish.

Regards,

Savannah J. Foley

The verdict? I probably would have requested this, too, although I would wonder if it were truly YA– it probably has a strong crossover into regular “adult” romance. I would have requested to see, though, because I’m a sucker for romance, and Savannah has made it clear that it’s the romance driving the story in this one.

I hope this was helpful! Please remember that these are my opinions only, and another agent could very well feel differently.

Mandy

Agent, D4EO Lit

Author, Prada & Prejudice

Query Week: ANTEBELLUM by Savannah J. Foley

10 Feb

QUERY: ANTEBELLUM (WOMAN’S WORLD)

By Savannah J. Foley

~

Hey guys, Savannah here. Today is the second post for Query Week, in which we share our query letters and discuss them.

The query letter you are about to read is the one that got me signed with the Bradford Literary Agency in December 2008. I received over a hundred rejections before Laura Bradford signed me, and looking back I can easily tell you what I did wrong (it started with naming my book ‘Woman’s World’, lol). But let’s read the original query first:

I read on AgentQuery.com that you represent Young Adult fiction, and are particularly interested in edgy romance. I believe you will be interested in my 60,000 word gender-issue YA novel Woman’s World, book one of a completed trilogy.

In a female-dominated society where men are kept as domestic slaves, one young woman must overcome cultural barriers as she grows closer to her new, abused slave -a romance that uncovers the secret history behind women’s rise to power in our world and leads to an exciting, apocalyptic revolution to restore gender equality.

When the famous and reclusive writer known only as the Poetess selects for her first slave a young man whose muteness makes him worthless in society’s eyes despite his great beauty, their journey towards trust and compassion in her isolated home sparks a powerful and forbidden romance. Torn with feelings deviating from strict religious and social dogma, and possibly dying from a cancerous illness that makes her shamefully barren, the Poetess struggles to come to terms with the love she feels for the slave she names Shaedyn, and her new, heretic belief that men deserve to be equal with women. Whispers of an underground equalist movement, and their tentative plan to use the Poetess as a political tool to sway the hearts of the nation, excite and terrify the Poetess until a near-deadly failing of health forces her to leave Shaedyn behind and travel to the East Hall, a technological metropolis and secret heart of the revolution itself.

At age 19, Woman’s World is one of five novels I have written. Originally posted online at Fictionpress.com, garnishing 61,000 hits, near 1,000 favorable reviews, and hundreds of registered fans, Woman’s World takes the female-dominant society stereotype to an intelligent and realistic place with a romance and characters proven to capture the heart of any reader. My other writing credits include a personal narrative in the November 2006 edition of literary magazine TeenInk, and an award from the Journalistic Education Association for Feature Writing. I would be happy to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your review. I appreciate your time, and look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Savannah J. Foley

First of all, when I created this query letter I didn’t have any writer friends at all. I didn’t know anyone who was going through what I was, and I had only one resource: agentquery.com.

I don’t remember how I found it, but I remember thinking that it was the only website related to agent queries that looked respectable. Its search feature was mostly useful (it crapped out every now and then), but best of all it had a FAQ section. That FAQ section taught me all of my initial knowledge about agents and what they want. In fact, that was pretty much my only guide in writing this query letter.

My first mistake did not begin with a query letter, however. It began with a novel that wasn’t ready to be queried on. Yes, I had a lot of fans on Fictionpress, and yes a lot of people claimed to adore my story, but I knew there were huge flaws in it, but at that point I didn’t care. I figure if it could make Fictiopress fall in love with it, then surely an agent would follow.

Yeah, right.

My book sucked. From the title to the low word count to the embarrassing repetition of issues and occasional corniness. I had bad names and irrelevant sections that had been included so long simply because they had always been there. My book was a messy room; yes, I knew where everything was, but it was not appealing at all.

The description of plot itself isn’t bad, but it ends at an awkward point. I almost want to ask my past self, ‘yeah, so? What happened then? The book ends with them separated? What happens after that?’ I should have pitched the series more, I believe, and briefly (oh so briefly!) outlined the rest of the series. It would only have taken a sentence.

Let’s pop down to the ending paragraphs. I have since learned not to mention Fictionpress in query letters, but I thought at the time that it would serve as preliminary proof that I could write pretty well. If I had to go back, I would take out Fictionpress, and also my age. It’s not relevant, and might have actually discouraged some agents from requesting partials. I would also take out that I had written 5 other novels. At the time I thought it would demonstrate that I was serious about being a writer, given my age, but have since learned that it actually leads the agent to ask what I’ve been doing with them this whole time. It’s better to just focus on the novel you’re pitching at the moment.

My award from the JEA isn’t really relevant, but I would keep it in if I did it again. It was for Feature Writing, and that’s basically fiction anyway. 😉

Thankfully, Laura Bradford somehow looked past all my mistakes and picked up on the spark that had enthralled so many others. She was simply amazing in helping/teaching me to edit my book, and it’s 10 times better than I could have made it on my own, unguided.

My biggest advice to those of you writing or about to write query letters out there is to have several crit partners be brutally honest with you about your book, and then be brutally honest about your query letter. Research, research, research successful query letters so you know what to do and what not to do (I recommend Query Shark). There are so many resources out there these days that you really have no excuse to have a bad query letter. Even just go to Twitter and search for the tag #queries. You might even run across some by LTWF contributor and future agent Mandy Hubbard 🙂

So, what do you think of my original query letter? If you were an agent, would you have requested to read that book?

~~~

Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

Query Week: QUEEN OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

8 Feb

WELCOME TO QUERY WEEK!

In case you didn’t see on Friday, this week is ALL ABOUT QUERYING.

Today, Sarah J, Maas will discuss her querying experience for QUEEN OF GLASS, and what made it successful (or not); Wednesday, Savannah Foley will be doing the same for her ANTEBELLUM query; and Friday, Mandy Hubbard—YA author extraordinaire and literary agency intern—will be analyzing their queries from an agent’s POV.

But what’s the point of all this?

To help you. To learn from our mistakes—and our achievements. To get a sense for what works, and what doesn’t. To know what catches an agent’s eye, or what repels them.

Feel free to post any questions you might have about the querying process–we’d all be more than happy to answer them! And don’t hesitate to give your own feedback about the queries we share!

We hope you’ll join us!

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QUERY: QUEEN OF GLASS

By Sarah J. Maas

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To be honest, there were times when I wondered if I’d ever be in a position to discuss what made my query letter for QUEEN OF GLASS successful. So, here’s a bit of background on what I did BEFORE sending out my query.

I researched like a crazy person. Using AgentQuery.com, I browsed through agents who represented fantasy, viewed their client lists, and easily accessed their submission guidelines—which are IMPORTANT. FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES. DO NOT IGNORE THEM. THEY ARE THERE FOR A REASON.

Once I compiled my list of agents—and properly formatted everything to fit their individual requirements—I made sure to tailor each of my queries to the similar tastes we shared. If they had a passion for strong heroines, I’d mention how Celaena, the heroine of QUEEN OF GLASS, is an ass-kicking assassin; if they enjoyed love triangles, I’d mention that. Basically, by tweaking my query to our mutual interests, I demonstrated that I’d done my research, and that I wasn’t mass-querying them (which is one of the biggest faux pas you can commit).

Then…I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and hit “send.”

The query I sent to my agent was the following:

Dear Ms. Rydzinski:

What if Cinderella went to the ball not to win the heart of the prince, but to kill him?  In THE EYE OF THE CHOSEN, the first book of my fantasy trilogy, QUEEN OF GLASS, Celaena Sardothien is not a damsel in distress—she’s an assassin.  Serving a life sentence in the salt mines for her crimes, Celaena finds herself faced with a proposition she can’t turn down: her freedom in exchange for the deaths of the King of Adarlan’s enemies.

Before she can complete her mission, she must first train within the glass castle in the capital of the empire. As training with the Captain of the Guard revives her muscles, encounters with the Crown Prince threaten to do the same to her heart. But Celaena soon learns that the King of Adarlan might have plans more sinister than assassinations.

An ancient queen’s ghost charges Celaena with an enormous task: to discover and destroy the mysterious source of the evil king’s power. Torn between her desire to win her freedom and a mission much bigger than herself, Celaena thus begins an adventure she never wanted, which will uncover her forgotten, magical past—a past more dangerous than any tyrant…

I am a 2008 graduate of Hamilton College with a degree in Creative Writing, and I have been published in Hamilton’s literary magazine, Red Weather. Because of your interest in fantasy, I thought you might be interested in my trilogy, which is centered on a retelling of the Cinderella legend through the eyes of an assassin. My completed manuscript is available at your request. Below, please find the first ten pages of my manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Sarah J. Maas

So, in hindsight, what worked and what didn’t?

Well, I still like my pitch. BUT I’m not ashamed to admit that the first draft of my query was a nightmare. Mandy Hubbard can attest to that, and it’s only because of her editing genius that my query looks the way it does. I was totally clueless about what to include in a query—and it wasn’t until I imagined that I was writing the summary on the back of the novel that I got the tone and pacing down right. I spent several drafts tweaking words to make them juicier, cutting or combining sentences to make it flow better, etc..

And PLEASE–don’t discuss the philosophical and thematic elements–SHOW them in your pitch. Don’t talk about your history with the manuscript; don’t mention how long it took you to write it, or how quickly you revised it, or how your critique partner thinks it’s the next HARRY POTTER.

So…What could have been cut? Well, some things in the final paragraph irk me. The reference to my publication in Red Weather, for one. While it’s a college literary magazine, it doesn’t really COUNT in the real world. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed that I saw it as a credential, and my query wouldn’t have suffered in the least if I had removed it. I would also cut out the double-use of “interest” in the same paragraph (Wow, I’m cringing right now).

Regardless of those things, I learned pretty quickly that I had a decent query in my hands. I immediately received requests, and out of the 16 agents I queried in mid-December of 2008, well over half of them asked for material.

My agent got back to me within a few weeks—and requested that I snail mail her the partial. Two weeks later, she asked for me to mail her the entire manuscript. A week after that, she called to offer representation, and from the moment I spoke to her, and heard her enthusiasm for the story, I KNEW she was The One. I signed with her at the end of January 2009.

There are loads of missteps that I could discuss—the two agents I queried in spring of 2008 with a 2-page query letter (eek!); or the 6 agents I queried in fall of 2008 with my novel, A FARAWAY LAND (whose query letter was pretty kick-ass and garnered a bunch of requests). The short explanation: I learned not to write a 2-page query, and that, while AFL received a few revision requests, my heart was more in QUEEN OF GLASS, and I’d endure the rejection better with a project that had my entire soul in it.

But the most important thing I learned when querying was on a more personal level. I learned about my strength. I learned to get back up when knocked down; I learned that my backbone is made out of steel. I learned to take risks—I learned that it’s okay when those risks turn out to be mistakes. I learned to keep my head held high, no matter what.

While it was difficult at times, I wouldn’t trade the ups and downs of querying for anything. I wish you all the best of luck with your own endeavors!

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Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella. Her agent currently has her novel on submissions to editors. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.

QUERY WEEK! And…Question of the Week: When Were You Ready For Querying?

5 Feb

So, next week is going to be pretty special…want to know why? Because it’s QUERY WEEK!

Monday, Sarah J. Maas will discuss her querying experience for QUEEN OF GLASS, and what made it successful (or not); Wednesday, Savannah Foley will be doing the same for her ANTEBELLUM query; and Friday, Mandy Hubbard—YA author extraordinaire and literary agency intern—will be analyzing their queries from an agent’s POV.

But what’s the purpose of all this?

To help you. To learn from our mistakes—and our achievements. To get a sense for what works, and what doesn’t work. To know what catches an agent’s eye, or what repels them.

We hope you’ll join us!

And, in honor of Query Week, this week’s QotW is:

When did you realize you were ready for querying?

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I THOUGHT I was ready for querying in 2005, when I finished my first ever full-length novel. Naturally, I sent queries out immediately. At the time I thought revising/polishing meant running spell check andmoving a few periods around. I’d done that, so I thought I was all set. I queried twelve agents and wrote their names on a single piece of paper, tacking it above my computer on a cork board.

Turns out publishing is a little harder than that. 😉 It wasn’t until 2006 that I had a book that was truly ready.

The Writer with a Book on Shelves

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I realized I was ready to querying in the summer of 2008. I had met my fiance, Chris, in April that year, and we were already pretty serious and knew that one day we would be married.  Therefore, we needed to prepare for this future together and upgrade our jobs (at the time I was working at a Cashier in a garden nursery called the Enchanted Forrest).

I got a job as an Administrative Assistant, and Chris also got a better job as a programmer. I figured that with all the positive changes I was making in my life, it was time to get serious about getting a literary agent. I was 18, and it had always been my goal to be published while still a teenager, and time was running out. Therefore, I began doing what I had put off for so many years: researching and learning about agents and the process it takes to get one. I discovered agentquery.com and basically used that site as my guide for the entire process. I submitted tons of queries and by December 2008 I was signed with the Bradford Literary Agency.

The Writer Also Waiting on Submissions

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I’m not querying yet, but I hope to in about a year or so. I feel like I’ll make the decision while looking through all the drafts and revisions, getting annoyed and impatient, and finally just taking the leap. If only school didn’t take up so much time…

The Writer Revising Her First Novel

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My manuscript wasn’t “perfect”. I knew I could improve the novel by holding onto it for fifty more years. But I reached a point where I was just exhausted after a year and a half of revising. That was when, one night, out of the blue, I decided to begin querying. I switched on the lamp and began writing out the rough draft of my query letter. I thought it was awesome! Mandy Hubbard, our dear published YA author, reviewed my query letter and gave me some nice critiques on how to improve it. Agented writer, Sarah Maas, then contacted me and offered to help me out. I’ll just say one thing–The first draft and the final draft ended up being completely different.

The Writer Who Got Two Partial Requests

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To be honest, I’m not sure when I want to query. I’m currently editing the first draft of my novel and suspect it will need to go through many, many, many other drafts and editing.

The Writer Who Finished Her First Novel

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I knew before I finished writing QUEEN OF GLASS that I wanted to query agents—but I also knew that QoG needed at least two rounds of heavy revising before I could begin. Turns out, I needed at least five rounds of revising.. But with each passing round, I knew the manuscript was growing stronger and stronger, and after the last major revision (the one that took the manuscript from 240k words to 140k words), I knew I was getting close. A few smaller rounds of editing later, I wrote my query. I think—after a certain point—you just know it’s ready. But it also helps to have some great feedback from critique partners—who will often give you a good sense of whether or not it’s ready.

The Writer Waiting on Submissions

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Thanks so much for stopping by–and don’t forget to check back on Monday to kick off QUERY WEEK!!!!

Vlog: Failing Better

1 Feb

This week Savannah J. Foley discusses failure and rejection as a writer, and what to do about it:

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And for those who can’t watch the vlog at this moment, or just plain don’t like to watch vlogs, here’s a quick and dirty transcript of what I say:

Failing Better:

Failure is the constant companion of writers, whether it’s failure from agents, editors, publishers, reviewers, your friends, or the muse itself.

Rejection has a negative connotation, but today I’m going to challenge you to think about rejection in a new light. Rejection is like the game Battleship. You throw out your shots, and maybe you won’t hit anything. But that’s good. That shows you where your target isn’t.

It’s the same with submissions. Whether you’re submitting to a literary magazine, an agent, or a publisher, all a rejection means it that your target isn’t here. Now, the choices are narrowed and there’s one less possibility of where your success is residing.

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
-Barbara Kingsolver

Also, just because you get a rejection doesn’t mean that the writing itself is bad. Perhaps it wasn’t to the editors taste, or perhaps your writing was good, but it wasn’t the right fit for the place you submitted it to.

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to get published in a literary magazine because I had heard that you should build up your writing credits for when you start to query agents so that you’ll be taken more seriously. So, I had this short story that I thought was pretty awesome, so I sent it to the Paris Review. And I got a form rejection.

It wasn’t that my story was bad. My story was -and is- kind of kickass, but it wasn’t right for the Paris Review. It was a dark, coming-of-age horror story and I think the editors at the Paris Review decided it wasn’t a tone or topic that fit with their magazine.

Almost the same thing happened to me again last week. For those of you who didn’t know, my first novel, Antebellum, which was published at Fictionpress under the name of Woman’s World, has been out on submissions with editors for a few months now. And last Friday my agent emailed me to tell me that we had gotten a rejection letter. And the only reason she wrote to tell me this is that it was an awesome rejection letter.

The editor who read my book adored it and the characters, and said she couldn’t wait to come to work in the morning and read it, but she felt that perhaps the issues dealt with in that book were a bit mature for it’s targeted audience of Young Adults, and while she loved the book, ultimately it wasn’t right for her YA publishing house.

Now, my question to you is… did I fail? Yes, I failed. I got a rejection. But that rejection is the closest I’ve come to being published ever in my life! So, you might say that while I’m failing, I’m failing better than I ever have before.

And that’s the way to deal with rejection and failure. I was thrilled to receive that rejection letter. It made my weekend. It told me I was doing something right, even if I wasn’t going to be published right at that moment. And you know what? I was thrilled to even receive the form rejection letter from the Paris Review. It told me that I was doing something right. I was already writing, already submitting, and that rejection letter told me that I had come farther along in the publishing process than I ever had before at that time.

To all you young writers out there, keep your rejection letters. Cherish them! They show that you’re already doing something amazing! You are a young, talented writer who’s clued in and already beginning the process of getting published! Some people don’t start that process until after they’re thirty, and lots more start even later!

As Stephen King wrote in his autobiography/instruction book On Writing, when he began the submissions process he nailed a giant nail into his bedroom wall, and every time he got a rejection letter he pushed it through the nail so pretty soon he had this huge stack of rejection letters coming out of the side of his wall. And they inspired him. They showed him how much he’d already done, and gave him the inspiration to keep going until he finally got an acceptance letter.

And while I may not advocate hammering a hole into your wall, I do advocate using your rejections as inspiration. They show you how far you’ve come, and how far you have left to go. Remember, rejection is like the game battleship. It shows you where your success isn’t, and creates sort of an outline over where your success is and will be.

So, my challenge to you is to not think of failure as this one big, end all pit of despair. Failure isn’t always bad. Failure is like a ladder. You get a form rejection, form rejection, do a re-edit, form rejection, then a form rejection with a comment. Then a page of comments. Then an acceptance. It’s a process.

In conclusion, you can’t take rejection personally. Publishing is a business. It’s not like you asked the Publishing Industry out on a date and they looked you up and down and said no way. They’re trying to find the best fit for their publication. Remember, it may not be that your writing is bad, it could be that the editor was in a bad mood that day, or has bad taste, or just wasn’t feeling it, or they were full up on stories that month. There are a million reasons why your story could be rejection that are unrelelated to anything you’ve done.

Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bad writer, or you made a bad story. It simply means you got a rejection. And that’s it.

Rejection happens to the best of us. Not nearly enough to the worst of us (I could name some names), but definitely to the best of us. Consider the following  (List came from InkyGirl.com):

  • John Kennedy Toole was told that his novel “isn’t really about anything.” He won a Pulitzer
  • John Le Carre was told that “he hasn’t got any future.”
  • Yasmine Galenorn was rejected 600 times before her first sale!
  • James Patterson was rejected 26 times.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin was told that her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, was ‘unreadable.’
  • William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, was rejected 20 times.
  • James Patterson was rejected 26 times.
  • Let’s not forget J. K. Rowling, who wrote Harry Potter and was rejected over 100 times before HP sold.
  • And finally, Ray Bradbury and C. S. Lewis were rejected 800 times before his first sale!

So you know what? Until you’ve been rejected 800 times, I don’t want to hear about it! After that 800th rejection we can talk, but until then you are on the hook to keep trying!

“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the worst failure.” -George E. Woodberry.

If you’re a young writer who’s already submitting, then you’re already a winner in my book. Maybe it’ll take you a couple of years more to get published. Maybe your book needs a couple more revisions, or maybe there’s not an agent out there who’s a good fit for you, or maybe there’s not a publisher revolutionary enough to take your work.

But, success will happen, IF you’re dedicated to being a writer. I don’t know how many times I can keep saying this: It will happen! It will happen!

Failing is okay. We all fail. But today I challenge you to fail better than you ever have before.

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Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

Our Very First Vlog Post: Should You Mention FP in Your Query Letter?

6 Jan

By Sarah J. Maas

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Hey everyone!

So, thanks to our dear friend Anthony’s wonderful suggestion, we’re changing it up a bit today. Instead of writing an article, I decided to vlog about my topic: “Should You Mention FictionPress in Your Query Letter?”

Check it out!

I hope you all enjoyed it! Feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel: we’ll hopefully be posting vlog entries on a frequent basis. Make sure to return on Friday for our Question of the Week: “What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?” And don’t forget to enter our Book Trailer Contest!

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Sarah J. Maas is the author of several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA fantasy retelling of Cinderella. Her agent currently has her novel on submissions to editors. Sarah resides with her fiancé in Los Angeles. You can visit her blog here.