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!


Agent Q&A Day!

Usually I run these over at The Knight Agency blog, but we’re experiencing some technical difficulties over there, so I’m going to do a Q&A here instead.

For those of you unfamiliar with these, it’s very simple. Just leave your questions about publishing, writing, getting an agent, etc., here in the comments of this thread. I will return late tonight or early tomorrow morning and answer at least three of them, though I try to do more if time allows.

So, what would you all like to know? Go ahead and ask! And don’t forget to check back to read the answers, even if you don’t have a question of your own. Someone else might ask something you never realized you wanted to know.

ETA: Q&A closed for this session. All answers are posted below each of the questions. Thanks to everyone for participating!