Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cyberstalking 101. (Advice for aspiring writers: Part 4)

Today, we wrap up my series on advice for writers by talking about stalking agents and the querying process. But before I get to that, I promised you I’d give away one first chapter and query critique a week from now until my two year agent signing anniversary on September 23rd. This prize is fully transferable and never expires, so even if you’re not quite ready for a critique, go ahead and enter. I give good critique. Just ask my crit partner, Andrea Cremer :p To enter, fill out the form at the end of this post by noon (PST) on Friday, September 2nd. You can earn one extra entry for Facebooking or Tweeting a link to this contest and more extra entries for following this blog and following me on Twitter (@LisaDez). One winner will be chosen and posted here after noon on September 2nd. And remember, if you don't win there will be more chances to enter in the coming weeks! =)

Now, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast...

This is the end of my four-part series on writing and querying for aspiring writers. If you missed any of the previous posts, just click on the link or the blog header above and scroll down to Thursday's post on how to know if you should even be writing.

So, you've written a kickass novel that's polished to a high shine (see Monday's post) and a killer query letter (see yesterday's post). Now you're ready to query. It’s not as easy as downloading a list of agents and sending a bulk email. There’s a lot more to the process. I had a fairly high request rate (12 manuscript requests of 21 queries sent) because I was very careful who I sent my query to. Here’s how to optimize your chances of getting read:

Do your research.
1)      This is one time in your life where internet stalking (to a point) is acceptable. You want to find out everything you can about an agent. (Well…almost everything.) You want to be SURE that they are interesting in representing the genre you’ve written in. DO NOT query an agent with your middle grade project who only reps women’s romance. You are wasting everyone’s time and effort and it demonstrates a basic lack of motivation and professionalism on your part. After all, if you can’t be bothered to spend a reasonable amount of time searching out the right agent for your novel, how much effort did you really put into the novel to start with.
2)      There are several places to find information on agents.
a.      Agency websites will usually have basic information on all their agents, including what genres they rep and what they’ve sold. Also, there are often pictures of the agents, which is helpful if they have a gender neutral first name, such as Pat. You want to make sure your salutation is correct. Ms. for women is always safe. NEVER send a query to "Dear Agent," or "To Whom it May Concern." Ever. You’re totally getting off on the wrong foot.
b.      Sites like querytracker.net, agentquery.com, writersdigest.com, and publishersmarketplace.com can be helpful in compiling a list of agents, but remember that these sites are not updated frequently and can sometimes contain erroneous information, so don’t rely on them exclusively.
c.      Once you have your list (at least 20), stalk each agent. A google search is always a good place to start. Things you might not find on the agency website sometimes come up, such as blog interviews they’ve done describing what they’re looking for.
d.      Some agents have blogs. Read them if you’re thinking of querying. This is where you’ll find the most updated submission guidelines, as well as get hints at what they're currently looking for.
e.      Many agents also Twitter or Facebook.
3)      Generally, agents don’t want to take on a project too close to something they already rep, so if you’ve written a YA novel about a girl named Stella, who moves to a remote town in, say, the Pacific northwest, and meets a sparkly vampire named Edmund, then maybe you shouldn’t query Jodi Reamer. #justsayin’.
4)      Once you have your list of 20 or so agents, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt they're looking for exactly what you wrote, you’re ready to query.

Do NOT sent out your queries in one big mass emailing.
1)      You’ve done your due diligence and stalked these agents. Now show them you’re a Class A stalker by personalizing your query. A few cautions here:
a.      If you found out on your stalkerish quest that they love chocolate covered espresso beans, restrain yourself. DO NOT sent ANYTHING with your query. That crosses the line from stalker to sociopath.
b.      Do not mention that you think your book is similar to something they sold and gush all over the book unless you actually READ IT. This WILL come back to bite you on the butt. Start off your potential agent/client relationship with honesty and integrity, not just trying to get into their pants…I mean inbox. If you don't have anything meaningful to say on a personal level, just keep it basic. The query I posted yesterday was my standard query. It went out this way to all but three agents, who I'd either met in person, or had spent extensive time on their blogs, which I mentioned.
2)      So, you have this killer manuscript and an awesome list of agents and a totally kickass query letter. It’s soooo tempting to just click that send button over and over and over. Because, lets face it, they’re all going to want to represent you. You ROCK! But the thing is, so do a lot of other people, and these agents get more than 200 queries a week. That’s a lot of queries. So, here’s what I suggest. Pick five. And, honestly, you may not want it to be your top five. Send the query off to them and see what sort of response you get. If you get five manuscript requests, HAZZAH! You truly do have a kickass query. But if you don’t, you may want to consider revising your query (and your first however many pages you sent) before sending it to five more. In other words, if you shoot your wad all at once, you have nowhere to send your new kickasser query when you realize it’s not as kickass as it could have been.
3)      Only send the number of manuscript pages they specify. NEVER send unsolicited manuscripts. Most agents ask for either five or ten manuscript pages to be pasted into your query. They will not open emails with attachments, so don’t attach ANYTHING. And, if they ask for five pages, it’s because that’s how long you have to hook a reader. If you don’t think your first five pages are strong enough to make them HAVE TO OR OH MY GOD I’LL DIE read the rest of your manuscript, you may need to rewrite those first five. (See Monday’s post for my writing advice.) If they don't ask for any pages in their guidelines, I doubt you'll make any enemies by pasting in the first two or so, which is what I did. More than two felt pushy, and honestly, you should really hook your reader in the first page of your mss, so two pages should be plenty.

Wait.
This is the hardest part. It’s also when you need to STOP stalking. Once you hit the send button on your first batch of queries, it’s out of your hands. But I can tell you a surefire way to get your query deleted, unread: Pester the agent. Please for the love of God, resist the urge to follow up your query with a query as to whether they received it. Some agents/agencies have the “no response is a no” policy, which truly sucks for the aspiring writer, but they’re super busy with their existing clients and they just don’t have time to respond to each of those 200+ queries they get every week. I haven’t queried in a few years, but I found at that time, most agents were still responding. When I sent my first bundle of five queries, I heard back from every one of them (four requests and a rejection—but I love you anyway, Nathan ;p) within four days. If after six weeks, you haven’t heard anything, revise your query letter and move on to the next group on your agent list. While you’re waiting, write something else, revise more tension into your first five pages, or research more agents. Stay busy.

And that’s it. Obviously, there are no guarantees. But, if you’ve written the best novel and query letter you can, and you query responsibly, you’ll know you’ve done everything in your power to make it happen.

So…who wants a first chapter (up to 20 double-spaced pages) and query critique from yours truly? If you or someone you know would like to have your work critiqued, fill out the form below. One winner will be drawn by randomizer.org at noon on Friday and posted here. Good luck!!! And, next week there will be another contest! To celebrate my two year signing anniversary I'm giving one critique away each week between now and September 23rd! :p

Don't forget to spread the word for bonus entries!


9 comments:

  1. As always, great advice! I can't believe you head such a wonderful success rate though with a query letter like yours, I guess I'm not too surprised.

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  2. Yay! Loved the advice! Thanks~! <3 :)


    *~` http://rockielove.blogspot.com/ `~*

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  3. Thank you for the awesome contest and invaluable advice, it is much appreciated!

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  4. Great advice and thanks for the contest!

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  5. Great advice! And thanks for the contest.

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  6. Thanks for a great opportunity and the good post. :)

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