Queries

General

The Call

Okay, first, today is my agent’s birthday, so go tweet at her. Second, today also marks a year from me getting a phone call from Elana where she offered to represent The Selection. I was remembering that conversation this morning, and it’s a little comical to me now because I was way nervous.

This is what I remember:

It was about two months into the querying process, and I’d sent out about thirteen letters. There was one other agent who was already reading the manuscript, and she’d had it for over a month at the time. This other agent has some pretty good sales, and some of those books are on my shelves. I also remember that after reading Elana’s sales, I had a good feeling about her tastes, and I liked her so much that I actually bumped her just out of my first ten queries. After everything with The Siren, I just assumed my first ten would be rejections, so I moved her back thinking that would somehow change her answer. Writer’s superstitions? Whatever. It worked.

I remember hearing back from her after she’d actually read my manuscript and said she liked it and wanted to talk to me, and I thought Oh, crap. Because I’d read a lot about querying and learned to be patient, but I’d never actually prepared myself for the possibility of someone wanting to take it on.

I also had another huge concern. I had a three-month-old, and I was terrified he was going to be the worst version of himself, screaming in the background as I tried to convince this person that I could really do both, be a new mom and an author… I swear I can… honest. I don’t know why, but that was one of my greatest worries, that motherhood would somehow knock me out of the race. I now know I’m in good company, but I didn’t really think about that at the time. Two notes on this: One, I’m not sure what made me decide to start querying while I had a baby that was a few weeks old, but no one can blame a woman for the decisions she makes under that degree of sleep deprivation. Two, you can bet your butt that Jeanette (along with a host of others) is getting a shout out on my acknowledgements page for watching Guy while I talked to Elana.

And, even though I had a list of questions for her and I wanted to talk to the other agent and there was no guarantee that she was going to even offer to represent me, I wanted to give her a hug when we started talking and she said something like “This book is kind of like Cinderella meets The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor,” because those very words went through my head the night before. It wasn’t some huge revelation, but I knew she got it and I might have even went “YES!” really loudly in her ear because I thought it was so cool.

We talked about her sales and how she worked, and we went through the trilogy and I had to spoil her. I honestly hated that. I wished with all my heart that I’d had all three books written so I could just send them to her instead of flounder through saying what I was kind-of-almost-maybe-pretty sure was going to happen. And then she told me everything she thought needed to be worked on. Maybe that’s some kind of scare tactic to see if you’re really up to working with her because Elana kept worrying she was overwhelming me. In truth, that was the best part. I knew it would have to be polished up, and I was grateful to have a set of professional eyes look at it and see ways to make it better.

At the end of the phone call, she offered to represent me, and we both agreed I had to talk to the other agent first, and we hung up. Later Elana would tell me I seemed very serious, which we all know is NOT what I am, but I kind of suck on the phone. And I was nervous. Still not sure how I talked her into this… Anyway, had it not been for the other agent, I would have said yes right away. Elana has good juju, and I like her.

It’s been a year, and The Selection is coming out next summer, Brave New Love will see daylight this winter, and I hope that there will be lots of other awesome projects in the future.

I’m not sure if there’s any wisdom for you to glean from this… Look for good juju? Yeah, look for good juju. Because, if you’re lucky, this is a relationship you’ll have for a long time.

advice

The Joys of Rejection!

Seriously, there is something wrong with me. Today, for no reason I can conceive, I went back and looked through all my rejection letters. Oh, yes, I’ve got them all. For The Siren & The Selection both, and honestly, it’s a big fat pile of ouch.

I’ve heard of authors who took their rejections and hung them around the room, saying those words actually inspired them to do better. I think while I was going through it, I tried to tell myself the same thing, ya know? Screw them! They’re missing out!... But now that I look back, I can feel freshly just how bummed I was each time I got a rejection letter. The worst were the ones where they asked for more, so I had a little string of hope to cling to, and then *snip snip* bye-bye, hope!

The words all kind of melt together: Sorry, unfortunately, doesn’t resonate, shows promise but, declining, doesn’t fit, (and my favorite) our present incarnation just isn’t right for it. There’s also the rejection that came nine months after I sent my query (a lifetime if you’re a fetus!), and the guy who rejected me for someone else’s manuscript... Do I really suck that bad?

But then there also the joy of the one letter that led to the one phone call that made the rest of that just stuff I happened to have saved. Yay for history!

What’s the point of all this? Excellent question!

I know that a lot of people around me are about to begin the querying process and that rejection will soon be upon you. So, here are some things to think about while life is slamming doors in your face:

  1. This is small potatoes. One day, when your words are in people’s hands, they’ll be judging you on a lot more than a one-page letter in a far less professional manner. This is good practice. Treat it as such.
  2. Make sure you have at least one person in your life who can be your cheerleader. I have many, and I needed all of them to get through the waiting.
  3. If you get so far in and nothing is happening, tweak your query letter. With The Siren, I had a long string of no’s, reworked my queries, and got a much better response.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the sun. Or anything that keeps you from checking your inbox every five minutes. It’s okay to live while you’re querying.
  5. Rejections can be a good thing. Getting any old agent isn’t going to help you. You want someone who is just as excited about your work as you are. We’re kissing frogs and finding princes here, people.
  6. It only takes one yes. And every no gets you that much closer to it. So don’t stress too much.

 

There’s probably better advice out there, but this will tide you over until you find it.

In other news: I am hoping to post a blog soon about self-publishing. If you have questions please leave them in the comments. And happy querying to all of my soon-to-be published homies.

advice

The Odds

Hello, my lovelies!

So, I’ve been realizing how lucky I am. My agent, Elana, has been violently angry with her query pile lately, and I’m sure with good reason. Every once in a while, I think about what it would be like to dig through tons of letters— some good, some bad, some obviously not my taste, some addressed to the wrong person… some showing no sign of understanding basic English— and have to pick out ones that I thought showed promise.

I think I lack a certain patience and toughness it would take to be a literary agent. Bravo to anyone who takes on that job and manages to make it through the day without pulling out their hair.

That said, I was thinking about what it’s like on our end, the writer’s end. Elana has been helpful enough to post some of her query stats on the CJLA blog, and based on those numbers, it looks like Elana got at least 3,000 queries last year. And I think she took on only 3-4 new clients. And not all of them from queries. So… yikes!

I’m genuinely counting my blessings and am so thankful she saw something worthwhile in my writing, and I hope, once The Selection is in all of your hands, that you feel the same way. But I look at those numbers and think that if I was starting out now, I’d feel kind of depressed. To be one chosen out of thousands… what are the odds?

Well, here are some things you should know. 1 out of 3,000, right? You’re odds of finding an agent are better than:

The odds of you drowning in the bathtub this year (1 in 900,900)

The odds of you winning an Olympic medal (1 in 662,000)

The odds of you dating a supermodel (1 in 88,000)

The odds of you winning an Academy Award (1 in 11,500)

The odds of you becoming a professional athlete (1 in 22,000)

The odds of getting struck by lightning. (1 in 567,000)

So be encouraged. There are harder things to do out there. And I also just discovered the odds of me writing a New York Times best seller are about 220 to 1...

Oh yeah, baby. Oh yeah.

General, advice

How to Query

These are some of the questions I regularly get about querying, so here they are in one place for your viewing enjoyment!

Q: How do I get an agent for my book?

A: Whoa, Vanilla. First thing to do is figure out if your manuscript's even ready. Have you completely finished it? Gone back and fixed all the spelling and grammar errors you can find? Shown it to some trusted friends, teachers, or mentors to get advice on how to make it better? Told yourself it sucks and given up on it and then come back to it again? Twice? Then you might be ready.

Q: Ok, now how do I get an agent for my book?

A: You need to decide what genre your book is (young adult, fantasy, romance) and then go to a site like agentquery.com and look for agents that represent the kind of book you’ve written. You can also pick up books like the one you're writing & check out the acknowledgements page. Authors usually thank their agents.

Q: What next?

A: Now you write a query letter.

Q: What the crap is a query letter & how do I write one?

A: A query letter is a letter telling the agent all about your book and then a little about yourself. Helpful things to include are:

+ Your book's genre

+ The word count

+ A short pitch (like what you read on the back of a book that makes you pick it up)

+ Any writing experience you have

+ Any platforms you have

That's a good place to start. I can't tell you how to write a great query letter, but you should try to tailor them to the individual you are writing to. Also, spell their names right and call them by the correct gender. Also, SlushPileHell is a nice way to see what not to put in your query. Basically, try not to be an idiot.

Q: What's a platform?

A: Any way you have of promoting yourself. Social media like twitter & Facebook are good, starting your own website is nice. I have a YouTube channel, which is weird & awesome, & I put that in my query. Also, I've heard any links to media are nice to mention.

Q: What if I don't have any experience?

A: Say so (briefly) and move on.

Q: What if I'm 16... or 13? Should I mention that?

A: There is no rule saying you have to disclose how old you are. That said, if you're that young, your youth will probably read through in your writing. You seriously might want to take this project and wait a while. You really need to write a lot to get good at it. I mean, you have no idea how much you suck right now. Look at anything you wrote this time last year, and you'll see how bad it was. If you don't think it's bad then one of these things is true: One, you are a lying liar, or, two, you haven't grown at all in the last year. Either way, it's bad.

That said, if you really want to press on, if you get a call from an agent, you should let them know you're not legal.

Q: What else should I send? The whole book? A picture? Virtual confetti?

A: Seriously, if you do any of that I will pretend I don't know you. Every agent has on their blog, agency website, or query profile what they want. Send them that and ONLY that. If you disobey that simple instruction, what reason do they have to trust you with more? If they say "I want a query and the first 5 pages", send that. If they want a 2-page synopsis, send that. It's really that easy. And do not include fluff. Most queries are done via email these days, but I've heard of agents who got queries via post with tea bags and a request that they read the manuscript while drinking it to get the full effect. They're busy, so don't do that crap.

Oh, and don't call query. That's a bad idea.

Q: What if I mix up who wants what?

A: The smart thing to do is to make a list. I made one with each agent's name, her literary agency (because sometimes a rejection from one agent is a rejection from the whole agency), her email, and what she wanted. Then, as I started sending things, I put the date by it as well as the date I was rejected or asked for more. It helped a lot.

Q: Now what?

A: You know that query letter you wrote? It sucks. Throw it out and start again. Trust me.

Q: Ok, my manuscript, query letter, and agent list are ready. Do I just start sending them?

A: Yes. Prepare yourself for that top-of-the-rollercoaster-I'm-going-to-pee-in-my-pants feeling. It's scary sending your work into the world, but it's very exciting, too. As a rule, send out 5-10 queries at a time. When you get a rejection, send another out so there are at least 5 floating in space at any given time. Agents aren't typically exclusive over queries, but it’s nice to mention that it’s a multiple submission. Just pick your faves and send to them first.

Q: Hold up. Ten at a time? Rejections? How many people are going to turn me down?

A: Probably a lot. It's all about finding the right fit. You don't want an agent who isn't excited about your work, and there's no way to tell how long it’ll take to find the right person.

Personally? I sent out over 70 queries for The Siren and even approached some small presses over the course of 6 months before I fully committed to self-publishing. For me, that was the right decision at the time. But for The Selection I sent out 13, had 2 agents who were interested in less than 2 months of querying, and I got to choose who I work with. It's all about finding the right idea for the right person.

Q: What do I do in the meantime?

A: Work on something else, continue to research, have human interactions. You know, normal stuff.

Q: What do I do if everyone rejects me?

A: Look at you! You bravely navigated the high school bathrooms of querying. That's a heck of a lot farther than most people get, so be proud. You do have a couple of options at this point, so don't fret.

One, you can move on. Hopefully, you should have another project. That's kind of crucial, since you don't want to be a one-trick pony. Work on that project or work on brainstorming.

Two, you can take this last project, work on it, maybe rename it, write a better query letter and try again in a year. If an agent read it and said no, listen to why they said no and work from there. If you feel like you must stick with this project, wait a nice long time before querying again.

Three, you can self-publish. Anyone can do it. I did. And that is why it both rocks and sucks. You can get your book to anyone if you want to, but since anyone can do it, there's A LOT of crap out there. If you choose to self-publish, prepare yourself. It's hard to do it right. I'm proud of my work, but it could have been better.

Or, four, you can quit. If that whole experience was too taxing for you, get out now. It's hard to get rejected like that, and it's even harder when lots of people read your books and not everyone thinks you're awesome. If it hurts too much, there's no shame in stepping away.

Q: What do I do if an agent wants more!?

A: After you do your happy dance, take a few breaths and come back. If an agent asks for more, then you give them what they ask for and wait some more. It's always nice to let other agents know that someone else is reading your manuscript. If they've just been a little busy and weren't 100% sure, they might ask to read it as well, so be courteous. If things go well and you get "the call", then you're out of my hands, little butterfly. Fly free! Your agent will guide you from here.

If you're ready and are feeling really brave, my literary agency (Caren Johnson Literary Agency) is having a twitter pitch session on Janurary 6th. Follow them on twitter (@cjlitagency) for more details. Feel free to leave questions for me in the comments or come visit me tomorrow on BlogTV at 2 PM EST for a LIVE Question Tuesday!