Closing to New Submissions

Temporarily Closing to New Submissions

I will be closing to new submissions as of October 10th. I need to work my way through an enormous backlog of submitted work right now. Plus a tall pile of client manuscripts threatens to kill me daily. (Or maybe that’s my clients waiting for comments/edits.) Please note that my coworkers at The Knight Agency will still be accepting new material. As always, you can find our agency submission guidelines and other information at The Knight Agency’s site.

If I request or have requested material from you already, either by email or at a conference, please do send it. Previous queries do not count as new submissions, nor do conference pitches. If you are waiting to hear back on a query/partial/manuscript, thank you for your patience. I’ll be getting back to you as soon as possible.

I will reopen to new submissions once I have the current landslide under control. Keep an eye on this blog and/or social media for additional announcements. Thanks!

Webinar Reminder: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis

This is just a quick reminder for those of you interested in attending my Writer’s Digest webinar: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis. The course takes place online tomorrow, August 2nd, at 1pm ET. You can sign up right until the class begins and still be eligible for the critique synopsis that’s available to anyone who registers ahead. Full details on the course and information about sign up can be found here. Hope to have some of you in class tomorrow!

Tips for Navigating the Submissions Process

Writers often ask how they can improve their chances of getting an agent interested in their work, and of course the most important response, always, is to write a great book — fabulous story, strong hook, beautifully crafted prose, satisfying ending. That’s easier said than done, and it’s not something an agent can really help a writer with other than to encourage them to hone their skills, to get feedback from trusted sources, and to keep on trying. But not all advice requires such time-intensive, career-building effort.

I offer up for your benefit the low-hanging fruit of the submissions process — the advice that is easy to follow. In many cases these morsels are common sense, things that should not even need to be said, but for some reason still get ignored all too often, whether because the writer has gone half-blind staring at their manuscript, nerves make them careless, or the task just hasn’t occurred to them. Most of these things should be done after you’re finished tweaking your manuscript, and in most cases repeated if you go back in for additional revisions. Others apply to your query letters and should be handled on an as-needed basis.

Run spell check. I understand you might have a lot of wiggly red lines in your manuscript and/or query letter. Fantasy writers especially deal in made up words and names that set spell check into a tail spin. If that’s the sort of writing you do, it’s worth the time it takes to create a custom dictionary for your project where you add in the correct spelling of your characters’ names, fancy spells they throw out, the names of countries and rivers and mountain ranges you’ve devised, etc. That way you can not only minimize those wiggly red lines, but you’ll find out if you have a typo in the words you’ve created as well as the more standard varieties. But in this day an age, there is no reason for an agent to face a query letter and/or manuscript with multiple misspellings. If my spell check catches them, yours will, too.

Save edits and eliminate markups. All too often I open a manuscript to find that the writer’s critique partner made extensive edits and comments using Track Changes or some other system, and the writer has left them in the file for the world to see. Even if I have Track Changes turned off, Word presents me with the Final Showing Markup. It’s important to go through all those comments and edits and physically accept or reject the changes in order to have a clean manuscript for submission. If you want to keep track of your critique partner’s or your editor’s notes, simply save a new, clean copy of the file for submission purposes only. You really don’t want your prospective agent to find a sea of colorful revisions the first time they look at your work.

Read the submission guidelines. Agents will repeat this until they go hoarse, and yet I constantly receive queries that show without any doubt that the writer failed to take two minutes to visit the agency site and read over the guidelines for submissions. Take the time. It’s in everyone’s best interests. Why would you want to query an agent who does not handle the sorts of stories you write? Guidelines are there to streamline the submissions process and to help both writer and agent make the best match possible.

Proofread your query letter. This is the first thing an agent will read, so give it the same love and attention you would give your manuscript. The easiest way to handle this is to write your query in Word or another word processing program with a reliable (or customized) spell check, review it carefully for any clunky phrases, missing words and so on, then copy and paste the final version of the letter into your email.

Personalize your query letter and check for errors. Yes, it’s nice if you tell me why you’re submitting to me, specifically, but by this I mean make sure the email address and the salutation match. There’s nothing worse than opening an email query only to see it says Dear [Name of some other agent]. Most agents expect that you’re submitting to multiple people, but don’t let that turn the process into an assembly line. Take the time to double check that you’ve updated all parts of your query letter before you hit send. And by no means should you send a single email to a long series of agents. If the wrong name in the salutation will annoy me, the site of one hundred agents in the to: field will cause me to auto-reject. And no, hiding the list by putting the addresses in the blind copy filed doesn’t change my poor impression. Again, take the time to query each agent individually.

Include pertinent information with all correspondence. Remind the agent who you are and what you’re writing when you send any follow-up emails. If you meet an agent at a conference and they request material from you, be sure to remind them of that when you follow through. Include your name, where you met, the title and genre of your work, and what you’re sending (three chapters, 50 pages, synopsis, whatever). If the agent has requested attachments, be sure they’re actually attached and that they are the correct files, and that they include your name and the title of the work as well. When you write an agent to check up on a project, include your previous email in the thread or, at minimum, use the same email address to make yourself searchable.

Are any of these a magic bullet that will land you an agent or get you published in a heartbeat? Of course not. But they are all basic good-business practices that you should make a habit as you travel along your career path. Agents look for great projects, but they also look for writers with whom they will enjoy working. A writer who takes a few moments to make sure they’re sending the cleanest possible work, with clear correspondence accompanying it, will be a much more appealing prospect than a writer who is sloppy and creates extra work for the agent. Take a professional stance and you will already shine more brightly in the crowd.

Referrals, or The Art of Giving Yourself Away

I never thought this was something I would need to explain to people, but recent trends in my inbox suggest otherwise. So I am taking a moment here to discuss how referrals work in terms of sending me a query for your project.

If you begin your query letter by stating that so-and-so referred you to me, then I need to actually know that person. And by know, I mean they are my client or an editor I work with or a friend with whom I chat at conferences/online/by phone/in person on a fairly regular basis. Just because I spoke with someone once at a conference eight years ago, does not make them a valid connection. It needs to be a person with whom I’m comfortable confirming that referral, as in, “Hi, did you send such-and-such author my way?” Because I will do that. I will check up on you. So do not name drop if it won’t stand up to my verification.

Also, please understand what a referral actually is. It is when someone who knows both of us specifically suggests that you drop me a line. It is not a referral if someone you know read my name in a round up of agents who represent a specific genre. It is not a referral if your critique partner (who does not know me personally) suggested you add my name to your submissions list. Nor is it a referral if we know someone in common, but they never actually suggest you query me. Referrals are based on real-world connections, and involve a suggestion that we might work well together.

Now, I realize writers talk among themselves and brainstorm and share information, and it’s wonderful if your fellow writers or industry friends give you lists of agents to check out because they represent your kind of book, or represent some author you love. This is how the business works, how you come across people to query. But suggestions and recommendations are not the same as referrals, and it’s important to keep them separated in your mind, and in your query language.

Every writer hopes to find that foot in the door, the trick that will help get them to the next level, and referrals, when genuine, certainly qualify. As an agent, I’m always looking for ways to weed through the material coming my way for a clue as to quality, so if a writer or editor I know and admire suggests that I take a look at something, I trust their judgment and give that writer’s work a chance. That doesn’t mean I’ll sign someone just on someone else’s say so; I still need to love the writing and feel I can sell it. But a true referral definitely serves as a short-cut to my desk.

And that’s the key. It has to be real. Because no agent wants to work with a writer who lies to get a foot in the door, and there’s no quicker way to find yourself with a rejection letter than to pretend a connection that does not exist. I’ve seen a sharp increase in name-dropping in my inbox the last few months, and maybe it’s something I should simply ignore — shake my head and send the rejections and let the writers in question struggle on. But I suspect some of these are honest mistakes, a misunderstanding regarding the terminology that results in some writers giving an incorrect impression, so I’m putting this out there in hopes of setting them straight.

Quick Query Advice

Today I bring you a few quick tips on writing and sending out queries. This isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing how-to post. Rather, this is me looking at some of the things sitting in my inbox, shaking my head, and plopping down in front of my keyboard to throw out some key points.

  • Follow submission guidelines. I’ve said it before and I will no doubt have to say it again. Go to the website of the agency you’re interested in submitting to and READ THE GUIDELINES. Then follow them. Do not follow guidelines on some aggregator site that is “helpfully” providing information for multiple agencies. Chances are they have at least some of them wrong.
  • Make the bulk of your query about your book. If you’re writing fiction, this means your very short story synopsis/blurb about the story should take up the most real estate in your query letter. Probably one or two paragraphs. Yes, feel free to include something about you — any publishing history or whatever. But remember that the purpose of the query is to get someone to ask to read the manuscript. So talk about the story. I see more query letters with two paragraphs about how the author has self-published the book and had twelve sales, while only including two sentences about the story…. Don’t do that. Sell me on the story. Everything else is icing.
  • Query more than one person at a time. Be clear that you are doing so. Then let agents with your query/material know if someone has offered you representation. In other words, don’t waste anyone’s time — yours or the agent’s. Nothing makes me sadder than an email checking on the status of a submission that’s been in my box for two months, which casually informs me that I (unbeknownst to me) have it exclusively. Except perhaps reading a project and getting excited about it, only to learn the author signed with another agent three weeks prior and never let me know the project was no longer available. Please communicate. It’s far better than the alternative.

Now, go forth and submit your little hearts out. Happy writing!

 

The Autumn Agenda

Welcome to a new week! I hope you all had a lovely weekend. As promised last week, I’m here to make a few announcements regarding business in general and this blog in particular. Today is just the beginning, so be sure to keep dropping by for all the updates.

First and foremost, and I suspect most anticipated, I will be reopening to submissions as of next Monday, September 23, 2013. Please note that standard submissions guidelines will apply, so if you’re interested in submitting materials to me, please do head over to the agency site and read over the rules carefully before you send anything. Submissions that fail to follow guidelines are routinely deleted or relegated to the circular file. You’ve been warned.

In addition, I’ve got some giveaways coming up. The first one will be announced tomorrow and run through this week. In the past, all of my giveaways have been open internationally, but going forward I’m going to be making announcements on a case-by-case basis. I’d love to be able to open them to everyone every single time, but the cost of postage and the time it takes to deal with customs forms is making that less than practical. So please be sure to read the giveaway announcements in full, and I’ll do my best to make sure there’s fun stuff available for everyone from time to time.

Finally, those of you who participate in NaNoWriMo know that November is suddenly on the horizon. With that in mind, I plan to look at different ways you can prep ahead of time if you’re disinclined to just fly by the seat of your pants. So keep your eyes open in October for some discussions of plotting, characterization, and other building blocks for your NaNo-novel.

Regular, informative posts will be resuming, and Friday Links will continue as always. I’m looking forward to a great autumn season of writing and book chatter, so I hope you join me!

A Few Thoughts on Rejection

I am neck deep in submissions these days, which means I’m writing a lot of rejection letters. This is the reality of my job. Even if every single manuscript that crosses my path is fabulous — beautifully written, a compelling story, fresh material — I can’t say yes to everyone. It’s a numbers game; I’m just one person, and there are many talented writers out there, and far too few hours in the day for me to take on every marketable manuscript that captures my imagination.

I hate to say no. This is another truth of my job. I love making people happy. There’s not much better than calling a writer and offering representation, unless it’s calling a client with an offer from an editor. But again, it’s a numbers game. I say no far more frequently than I say yes, and it can make me a little sad.

Some days people make it easier. There’s the occasional rude or ridiculously presumptuous submission, those writers who don’t bother to do any research before sending their material and either don’t follow submissions guidelines or query a genre I don’t represent (or both). But mostly writers are earnest and hardworking and wear their hearts on their sleeves, and I understand that no matter how much I try to impress upon them that I’m not rejecting them, it will still feel like I am just a little bit.

I get rejected, too. Agents hear no from editors all the time. We take out our clients’ projects, sing their praises, play matchmaker with editors, and hope for the best. But each editor has only so much room on their calendar for new projects, and so often they tell us no. And while the manuscripts are not mine in the sense that I did not write them, they are still in my hands, given over to me for safekeeping and matchmaking by their proud authors — my godchildren if not my actual children.

But there is always another opportunity around the bend. Rejection is not a closed door, merely a redirection. As an agent I constantly reassess the market, what editors are looking for, the types of material I’m looking to represent, what my clients are interested in writing. Writers need to take stock in the same way, and not allow themselves to be bogged down by rejection. If your dream agent does not take on this manuscript, they may take your next — or suggest ways of making this one better. Another agent might love the project that this agent turned down. If the genre you’re writing isn’t selling right now, try something else on for size. I’m not saying write solely to the market, but maintain flexibility and allow yourself to experiment. You might surprise yourself and create a new opportunity all at the same time.

Writers write. They don’t pigeon-hole themselves, and they don’t let a few rejections prevent them from pursuing their dreams. Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving, keep dreaming. And in the meantime, count rejections as badges of honor. The only people who never get rejected are the ones who never dare to try.

PSA: State of Submissions

Greetings, all. This is just a quick announcement regarding submissions. I’m in the middle of digging out of a backlog right now, so I am going to be closing temporarily to new submissions. This is just me — I don’t speak for the rest of the agents at TKA. I need some time to play catch up and lately I’ve been getting new material in far faster than I’ve been able to read it, which has made it impossible. So…

I will be closed to new submissions starting June 1, 2013. While this will be temporarily, I’m not yet announcing a date when I will resume taking new material. I’ll post additional details both here and on Twitter when I have decided.

This does not include materials I have already requested, either at a conference or through general submissions. If I’ve asked you to send something already, please go ahead and do so, just make sure to label your email accordingly.

Those Pesky Synopsis Things…

I’ve had several people ask me to blog about how to write a synopsis, but the reality is that it is far too complicated a subject to tackle in a blog post. Normally I do an hour-long presentation on the topic for conferences, but I realize not everyone has the time or resources to attend a conference.

So, when Writer’s Digest asked me if I’d be interested in doing a webinar for them as part of their ongoing series, I jumped at the opportunity to offer an in-depth look at synopsis writing that could be made more widely available. Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct Your Ultimate Sales Tool will take place on April 25th, 2013, at 1:00pm EDT. No — it’s not free — but it is still far cheaper than attending a writers’ conference. Registration includes attendance to the online session, access to the presentation materials for a year, and a critique of your synopsis (which I hope you will write or revise based on what you learn) following the session.

I look forward to seeing some of you in class!

Down-and-Dirty Query Letters

No one can write your query letter for you. You may be tempted to ask a friend, or to look online for some sort of query service to take the burden off your shoulders, but at the end of the day, you as the author need to suck it up and write the query yourself.

All of the things that make you nervous about writing the query are the very reasons why you need to do it. The query letter introduces you to an agent or editor, and provides them with the first idea of your writing skills and style. It sells someone on the potential of your story, sinks the hook and reels them in, making them anxious to read your manuscript. And beyond that, it can be an indicator of your professionalism and your personality, of the sort of person you are and whether the agent or editor will be able to work with you.

All of which can feel like a lot of pressure, I know. So here are a few things to keep in mind when you sit down to write your query letter.

Be sure to include:

  • Your full name and contact information.
  • Title, completed length, and genre of your project, for fiction; title, projected length, and subject, for nonfiction proposals.
  • Pertinent personal information, which includes any links between your life and your subject matter (such as, your book is set in Cairo and you lived there for a year, or your protagonist is paramedic and you have similar training, etc.), platform for nonfiction projects (career details, blogs, lectures you’ve given, expertise, etc.), previous publications, and contest wins.
  • Project pitch.
  • Why you believe this project might be appropriate for this agent/editor.
  • Status of your submission process, including whether any other agents have requested partials/full manuscripts.

In addition, it’s nice to add one or two stand-out personal facts that hint at who you are beyond your resume, such as what you do in your spare time, if you grew up in some interesting spot, have an intriguing day job, etc. It’s not required, but it humanizes the correspondence and you might just hit on something you have in common with the agent or editor.

Things to leave out:

  • Apologies for having no previous publications/contest wins, etc. Everyone starts somewhere. If you don’t have any of these to include, just don’t mention the subject at all.
  • Discussion of how you’ve dreamed of being a writer since childhood, an explanation of how many unpublished books you have in the drawer, the names and ages of your children, a dedication to your spouse for enabling you to take the time to write, etc.
  • Pitches for additional projects. If you have other works completed, you can mention the fact and even the genres, but don’t pitch multiple projects in a single query letter.
  • Promises that the project being queried will be the next New York Times bestseller, make a million dollars, change civilization as we know it, etc.

When it comes to writing your actual pitch, make sure to include specific details rather than providing a generic description. What makes your story different from others in your genre? Name the characters and locations, mention some of the steps leading toward the climax, and be sure to state the protagonist’s goal/journey/ambition. If you can also write using the tone of your book, do so. Pitch a comic novel with a humorous tone, fantasy with more epic language, etc. This does not mean you need to pitch it in the voice of your protagonist, just that you should keep the sound of the book — its emotions, level of formality, pacing — in mind.

Avoid mistakes that flag you as careless or unprofessional, including:

  • Sending the identical query to a list of agents as a mass email, with all of their addresses listed in the cc: field, or as an obvious blind copy addressed to yourself. Take the time to personalize the query and email agents individually.
  • Failing to follow submission guidelines. Make sure you check the agency’s site for how they wish to receive queries.
  • Addressing the agent by the incorrect honorific. Take the time to look them up and ascertain if you should use Mr. or Ms.
  • Claiming to include an SASE in an electronic query.

Treat your query with the same care you would your actual manuscript. Take some time to write it, then set it aside for a couple of days before going back to revise. Run spell check. Try reading the query out loud to catch missing words or awkward phrasing, and have your critique partner read it over, as well. Take a professional approach to your query, remembering that while it’s an important tool in your quest for publication, it is also just another piece of writing, and writing is your job. Good luck!