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How this writer got a literary agent.

A few weeks ago Lacey Wolfe, a wonderful romance author, contacted me. She has a lovely series on her blog called Writers Words of Wisdom, and she asked if I would write a guest post about how I found an agent. You can find the original post here. Be sure to check out all the other words of wisdom on her blog while you are there!

Anyway, here is what I wrote!

 

“I have an agent.”

As any writer knows, those are magic words. If you’re anything like me you’ve spent a good deal of time working toward being able to say those words. You’ve probably even fantasized about what it would be like to have an agent. I know I did. Let me tell you a little secret; it’s just like your fantasies, but even better!

My journey toward acquiring an agent started way back in 2008, when I finally finished my first complete manuscript. It was a little romance novel, that will probably never see the light of day. I queried Harlequin with it and it was rejected, so I moved on.

Next, I wrote a YA fantasy, which was published by a small press. And it was exciting, but I wanted more. I wanted the big time. So I kept writing. I wrote a historical romance that’s buried on my computer somewhere. I never even queried that one. And then I wrote a dark, contemporary YA. A novel that spilled out of my heart and onto paper (and yes, sometimes I actually do still write on REAL paper! Shocking, I know!). I knew right away that this novel was different. It was the best thing that I had ever written.

The agents seemed to think so too. Once I started querying, the requests poured in. I got a few rejections, revised based on their rejections, and sent out more. Then something shocking happened. I got an offer of representation.

Those words still give me a chill. An agent likes MY work enough to offer me representation! And she wasn’t the only one either! Suddenly, I had a choice of agents to pick from! I chatted on the phone with them, and two agents really stood out. Michele Rubin of Writers House and Bree Ogden of D4EO. It was a hard decision because I felt like I really connected with Bree, but in the end I went with Michele because it had always been my dream to work with Writers House.

We worked on revisions and were just starting the submission process when Michele told me the sad news; after 22 years in the business, she was leaving. I’m not going to lie, I cried, ate a bunch of ice cream, and then got to work. Yup, I had to re-query agents and do the whole process all over again.

Having Michele as my agent certainly opened doors for me. This time when I queried agents I only had one single rejection. A part of me couldn’t forget Bree, so of course, I included her too. In fact, I’d thought about her many times since I had signed with Michele; I had really felt like we clicked. She quickly got back to me. And joy of joys, she still wanted it!

I knew right away that I would probably turn everyone else down, but I went through the motions, giving everyone time to reply. No one had impressed me as much as Bree. And so last week I signed with her.

It was a great decision. Her ideas for my work and my career, mesh with mine and make them stronger. I know she’s in my corner and willing to fight for me and my work. Not only that, she’s put up with my millions of questions and concerns, and been nothing but patient and understanding.

Yesterday, Bree submitted my manuscript to the big publishers. In less than 24 hours, we’ve had five requests! Five! Even if they all reject it, it’s so exciting that they liked my premise and writing enough to request my novel. Okay, honestly, I’d be crushed. Secretly, I hope that they all love it and there is a huge bidding war for it! But if I wasn’t a dreamer, I wouldn’t be a writer, would I?

How to Nudge an Agent

So you’ve sent your requested materials off to an agent. You’ve waited like a good little child, but it’s two weeks past the amount of time they asked you to allot them to read your work. You’ve heard nothing but crickets. What’s a writer to do? (No, I’m not talking about me- not yet anyway. I still have WEEKS to go before I get to the nudge stage!)

Thankfully, Vickie Motter, a real, live literary agent just did a post on this very topic! The helpful Ms. Motter even provides a template for that hard-to-write note! You can find it here.

Here’s another article, entitled “Nudging Know-How” from the wonderful QueryTacker. (If you read my blog, you know how I love them!)

As a side note, while I was researching how to nudge an agent, I found several sites that suggest you should call said agent to check in on the status of your manuscript. NO! NO NO NO! DO NOT DO THIS! EVER! Email or snail mail only, folks. You never want to put an agent on the spot like that. Not only is it uncomfortable, you might very well make them think you are pushy, and who on earth wants to sign a pushy, impatient client?

Understanding an Agent’s Response to your Query Letter and Replying Appropriately

There are several different responses you can get when you send out a query letter to an agent. They are:

  • A form rejection- This is the least helpful response. It means absolutely nothing, other than the agent felt like they couldn’t take your project on at this time. They have lots of different reasons for this, such as; not wanting to take on a client that will compete with one of their own, not representing the genre that you write, not connecting with your writing, not liking the premise, worrying that they can’t sell it, etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad or that there is a problem with your novel. It just means that particular agent doesn’t wish to represent it.
  • A personalized rejection- These are sometimes only a line or two, but can contain nuggets of helpful information. For example, if they mention there was too much action or they had trouble identifying with the characters that should help you with any revisions you might make. Pay attention to what they say, because often, they’re right.
  • A partial request- This is usually the first three chapters or the first fifty pages. It means they liked what they saw and are hoping you can sustain the same level of writing throughout the next fifty pages. If they like your partial, they will request a full. If not you will receive one of the two forms of rejection described above.
  • A full request- This can mean one of two things, one- The agent is in the habit of requesting fulls and does it for every query that even remotely sparks her interest. Two- They really, really liked your query and sample chapter. A good way to check this is to use QueryTracker. If you go to the agent’s page and click on the reports and statistics button, you’ll see a drop down menu. Click “queries” and then “generate report.” For example, one of the agents that currently has my full has request 138 partials, but only 49 fulls, so that’s a good sign. However one of the other agents has requested 3 partials and 32 fulls, so that makes me think that I don’t have as much of a shot with her. Of course, it’s all speculation until you actually hear back from them, but the statistics do help.

So you’ve had a full or partial request, now what? You send it to them, of course, in exactly the manner they ask for it. If they ask for it as an attachment you do it. If they ask for it snail mailed you do it. Follow their instructions exactly. For an email, make sure you put “Requested Materials: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT” in the subject line. Some agents also suggest you put your name in the subject line as well. If they asked for an attachment, save the file as “Manuscript_NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Don’t just save it as requested materials. That’s an easy way to cause confusion. Make sure you include a copy of their request and a copy of your original query letter in your submissions package to remind them of your story. Then, write a letter that looks like this:

February 17th, 2012

Dear so-and-so,

I was delighted to receive your request for a partial/full copy of my manuscript, NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I have attached my manuscript in MS Word format as you asked. You will find a copy of my original query pasted below. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your name

Your mailing address

Your phone number

Your email address

Your website

 

Then, you wait! Good luck!

What to do When More than one Agent Requests your Full Manuscript

When I started getting requests from agents, I had one large question looming over my head. Do you let the agents who had already requested your full know that you’ve had more requests? I couldn’t find the answer anywhere, not on the internet or in any of my writing guide books. So I put on my big girl pants, screwed up my courage, and asked Linda Epstein of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, which was named one of the top twenty-five literary agencies in the country (by Writer’s Digest).

You can find the whole conversation here, in the comments section. She was extremely helpful. Basically she said that you should notify agents who have your full or partial manuscript, but not to bother the agents who only have your query, as they my find that pretentious. (Gosh, I hope not! I think I might have ignorantly done this in the past! I can tell you, I won’t be doing that again!)

She was very kind and helpful and my fear of irritating her and getting blacklisted from all literary agencies forever proved completely unfounded. And, I emailed the agents who had requested my manuscript and already got a very nice reply back from one of them, thanking me for keeping her notified and that she would do what she could to move it up in her reading list!

As long as we’re on the topic of helpful advice from agents regarding full and partial manuscripts, Vickie Motter has a new post up on her blog, Navigating the Slush Pile. It’s a FAQ where she answered questions from her readers pertaining to agent requests. It was very interesting reading. I would highly recommend checking it out.

In other news, I plan to start writing my new WIP (work-in-progress) today. My plot is mapped, my characters charted, and I’m ready to go!  I hope to put a little ticker up soon, tracking my progress. This will be my fifth manuscript.

Querying a Literary Agent

I was reading over my series on querying an agent and realized I forgot to cover two very important things; one- How to actually query the agent and two- What the various responses might be and how to handle them. We’ll cover the first today and the second topic tomorrow.

So, you’ve got your polished, sharp query letter in hand, along with your revised and polished manuscript, and succinct synopsis. Now what? Compile your list of agents, and get started!

You can query either by snail mail or email, but make sure you check each agent’s specific preference. Many will only accept email query letters and a handful will only accept snail mail. Make sure you follow their guidelines to a T. You don’t want to get automatically deleted just because you made an avoidable mistake.

A snail mail query is a standard business letter. If you don’t remember how to do one of those, get a good writing reference and look it up. An email query is just as formal. I know a lot of people think email is more casual, but in this case it isn’t. Make sure you date it and include a polite greeting. Also include as part of your signature your name, phone number, mailing address, email address, and website if applicable. In the subject line put “Query: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Yes, I’m telling you to write the name of your manuscript in all caps. I’ve heard agents say they prefer it because italics often get reverted back to plain script in the process of emailing.

Send out your query in batches to your chosen agents. I try to send ten at a time, with the ten being a mix of dream agents, and those that I feel are more attainable. Always check out the agents on Preditors & Editors and make sure they’re legit before you mail your query. Be aware that some agencies have a policy where querying one of their agents is like querying all of their agents. If that’s the case, and you get a rejection, you are not supposed to query any of the other agents in that agency. This is another reason you need to check the guidelines. Also, some agencies want to be informed if your submission is a multiple submission. Make sure you tell them if it is. If they don’t specifically request it, leave it out. The minute you get a rejection, OR a request, send out another. Yes, that’s right; even if it’s a request, send out another. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Then, after it’s sent write down the agent’s name, the agency, and the date you sent it. Then, congratulate yourself. You’ve just accomplished one more step towards becoming a published author!

Literary Agents give Advice on Writing Synopses

Over the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve come across a few posts from agents detailing what a synopsis is, what they expect from it, etc. I thought I would share these posts with you.

  • Nathan Bransford used to be a literary agent. Now he’s an author. This is a very helpful post when you’re writing a synopsis. You can find it here.
  • BookEnds, LLc- This is the MOST helpful post about writing a synopsis I’ve found. It gives explicit details on what you need to do with a synopsis and what the agent is looking for. You can find it here
  • Miss Snark (who’s an anonymous literary agent) gives a good description of why an agent asks for a synopsis. Find it here.
  • Carly Watters is a Canadian literary agent. She has lots of good info on here blog. Here is post with a few tips about writing a synopsis.
  • Chuck Sambuchino is actually an editor. Here is an example of a synopsis that he wrote.

I hope some of these are helpful! What resources do you consult when it’s time to write your synopsis?

Writing a Synopsis: Dos and Don’ts

Writing a synopsis can be tricky. Most writers do not enjoy doing it. Here is a list of dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you slog through your synopsis.

DO NOT:

  • Do not write it in the form of a list, like an outline. A synopsis is NOT an outline!
  • Do not include a detailed breakdown of each chapter.
  • Do not include every scene in your story.
  • Do not include most (if any) of the subplots.
  • Do not include minor characters.
  • DO NOT include dialogue.
  • Do not write it in anything other then third person, present tense, even if your book is written differently.
  • Do not ramble. Give the agent or editor what they ask for, whether it’s a one sentence synopsis (yes, they ask for this!), a one paragraph synopsis, a one or two page synopsis, or the “long synopsis”, which is generally three to five pages (double spaced) or one page for every 25 of your novel.

DO:

  • DO write a summary of your novel, in narrative form. (It’s basically a dry story, with NO dialogue. Occasionally, people will include a few lines of dialogue, but it’s really better to avoid this.)
  • Do state the premise of your novel.
  • Do tell your ending. DO NOT leave it out, thinking that you will hook the agent by doing so. They ask for a synopsis so that they can see if you know how to plot. If you leave it out, they will only be irritated with you.
  • Do make sure you cover the high points of your plot in the synopsis.
  • Do remember that a synopsis is a sales tool and try to make it as exciting as you can.
  • Do try to show your characters’ emotions and motivations for their actions.
  • Do introduce you main character first.
  • Do include age and gender if it isn’t obvious.
  • Do give a sense of time-period, setting, and mood (Serious, funny, snarky, etc.).

Tips for writing a synopsis.

Here’s what I know about writing a synopsis. I HATE it. I mean it. There is very little I hate in this world. I am extremely easy-going and have been called happy-go-lucky by many people, but I truly hate writing a synopsis of my own work. Other people’s work is no problem. I think it’s like that for a lot of writers. We’re too close to our own work to see it clearly.

Anyway, I tried something new with my latest manuscript. I started the way I always do, a scene by scene synopsis (15 pages, single spaced!!) Then, I made a one page list of all the points I thought were important to include, WITHOUT looking at the scene by scene. Then I wrote my synopsis from that list, NOT the scene by scene. That made it 7 pages single spaced. Then I had my sister (thank you, sister!!!!) cut it down for me. She cut it to four pages single spaced (at one AM in the morning no less!) This made it seven pages long, double spaced, which is really to long for a query letter, but oh well. It’s tight and interesting, and I really don’t think I could cut it anymore. My plot is kind of intricate. I will say this though, every other synopsis I’ve ever sent out has been no more then two pages double spaced. In fact, some places (like Harlequin) don’t want a synopsis over that, so you really, really need to try to get it cut down.

I really liked this way of doing it. It was much easier than my normal way which is to take the scene by scene and cut. How do you do your synopses?

The actual query letter that landed me my agent.

Okay. I know you’ve all been waiting for this. This is the ACTUAL query letter I sent to Brianne Johnson of Writers House. She requested a partial based on this, then a full. Then, she passed my manuscript on to Michele Rubin of Writers House, who ended up signing me! I’ve deleted personal information and a few names, but otherwise, it is untouched.

May 29th, 2012

Dear Ms. Brianne Johnson,

I am seeking representation for my dark, contemporary YA novel, BELOW THE SURFACE. I chose to submit to you because in your Publisher’s Marketplace page you said you were looking for “beautiful, literary works that explore the coming-of-age theme.” I feel my novel embodies that description and may be a good fit for your list.

For Sammi Colton (16), going to high school in Portside, a small town on the shores of Lake Superior, is comparable to a painting by one of the old masters; dark, grim, and completely depressing. When her father leaves her family for his pregnant girlfriend, Sammi loses her creative spirit, her ability to paint, and her sense of self. Soon, an unlikely friendship develops with Kayla Ryan (16) who is the complete opposite of Sammi’s own dark personality. Under Kayla’s direction, Sammi takes on a new identity, complete with a set of pom-poms, parties with the popular kids, and a romance with Kayla’s brother, Austin (17). This new persona is a façade, spread over her like a suffocating, thick layer of paint, and Sammi soon realizes she must find the courage to scrape it away and discover who she truly is before she loses herself forever.

BELOW THE SURFACE is a 73,000 word contemporary YA novel that deals with the loss of Sammi’s father, the loss of her identity, and the loss of her whole world as Sammi tries to make herself into someone else, someone her father can love. In the end, Sammi must make a choice; do you change who you are for love, or do you learn to love yourself? I feel it would appeal to readers who loved Sarah Dessen’s LOCK AND KEY, Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, as well as Stephanie Perkins’ ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.

I have been writing for twelve years and have written several novels. My YA fantasy, DRIVE BACK THE DARKNESS, is scheduled to be published in September. I am currently working on a revise and resubmit request I received from a publisher for one of my romance novels. I have also developed a following through my blog, which details my daily life as a wife, mother, and aspiring writer. I have completed three years of my Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing. I have also worked with a critique group for five years, and worked with published author and University of ****** professor, ****** *****. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Amy M. Newman

Mailing address

Email

Phone number

http://www.theliterarymom.wordpress.com

Enc: first five pages

The Last Paragraph of your Query Letter: the Author Bio

This is the section (one paragraph ONLY!) where you tell the agent a little bit about yourself. And by “yourself” I mean any publishing credits you have, your writing background, any platform you might have, etc. Most new authors don’t have any publishing credits, so it can be hard to know what to put here. Do include the following:

  • Any writing education you have (i.e. a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, an MFA, any classes taken with prestigious authors or writing instructors, etc.)
  • If you have a mentor, particularly if that mentor is a published author or professor
  • If you work with a critique group, and if so, for how long
  • If this isn’t your first novel, say so. Agent’s actually like to know you have other projects finished and tucked away.
  • If someone referred you
  • If the agent requested pages or a full of your last manuscript
  • How long you’ve been writing seriously
  • Anything that might make you an expert on the subject you’re writing about (i.e. if you’ve written a medical thriller and you’re a doctor)
  • If you have a following through a blog or twitter (Only include this if you post regularly. Agents like to see that you can make a schedule and stick to it.)
  • Include if you’re a member of a professional writing organization such as RWA or SCBWI

Don’t:

  • Lie or stretch the truth
  • Say it is your dream to be a writer (If you’re bothering to send in a query, they know it’s your dream.)
  • Don’t say you’ve been writing since you were a child.
  • Don’t list self-published projects unless you’ve had large sales
  • Don’t include unrelated publishing credits unless they are very prestigious
  • Don’t include any personal information unless it is pertinent to your book