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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.).