Friday, January 23, 2009

Back to the Drawing Board...

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the road to publication. This week I want to talk strategy (and it’s interesting after reading Anita’s post yesterday that everyone has a plan for making it in this business – this is mine). For those of your submitting, ready to submit, or thinking about submitting, I’ll post links (at the bottom) to blogs and websites that offer great information.
First up, finding 100 agents. Yes, according to the late Miss Snark(and I reference the fact that the blog is no longer active, not due to a death), dated 03/09/07, she suggests querying 100 agents that represent work similar to yours. So I began my research and created a spreadsheet (The Husband was so proud). And I decided to split my agent list into 3 categories.

Why? Let me explain.

A query letter is usually the only piece of correspondence you will send to a prospective agent. Some agencies allow the inclusion of the first five pages, but not many. A query letter is a one to two paragraph pitch of your book. Agent Nathan Bransford suggests that pitch should come in around 250 to 350 words. Now my manuscript is 100,000 words (I write long). Hmmm, condensing might be a difficult task (Reader’s Digest, eat your heart out). A lot of pressure is hanging on that one page letter and if you can’t squeeze the gist of your book into that tiny word count, you’re going to get rejected. Thanks, but no thanks.

I tried writing that letter – over and over and over again. I would scribble ideas on scrap paper at work, on napkins at restaurants, on my hand if no paper could be found. I searched the web, researching and reading until my eyes felt like sandpaper. Query letters, pitches, premises, themes, and then I tried again. I think the various members of SRW would cringe when they saw e-mail from me with another request for a critique. And poor Arty, she knew that our coffee time would be spent discussing my query letter. I thought a sounding board would help me focus. I knew that letter was the proverbial foot in the door, and it had to be good.

It did not take long to realize that if it was such a difficult task and I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, then it would make sense to not send it out to everyone on my agent list. Imagine sending out 100 dreadful queries – 100 rejections on that horrible summary and you’re done. You don’t get second chances. So, I split my list into "OMG, She’s the Bestest" Agents, "I am So Proud to be Represented by" Agents, and "Look at me, I have an Amazing Agent" Agents. If any one of the 100 agencies picked me up as a client, I would squee with delight.

Then I picked two agencies from each category and sent out my query letter. All rejected.
Back to the drawing board. My second round of queries, with a much stronger letter, did better – a request for a partial (synopsis and first 3 chapters). So, I sent out another round. Another request for a partial! Then despair – both partials rejected. Something wasn’t working. So, what did I do? Yep, back to the drawing board.

I took a four-month hiatus from submitting. I have re-worked my query letter, again. And after posting my opening scene for a critique on RWA’s Online Chapter (and receiving some excellent comments/suggestions/concerns), I rewrote the first three chapters. I can see the difference. It’s tighter, cleaner, and ready to go. I was pumped, so I opened up my spreadsheet and chose an agent from my first list (daring, I know). I sent that query off and within 24 hours had a request for a partial. You have no idea how excited I am (OK, if you’re a writer going through this process, you do. OK, if you know me personally, you do. OK, that probably involves everyone reading this…)

My partial is on its way. I’m reworking the rest of the manuscript this week for BIAW (and it’s almost done). And I’m getting ready to send out 6 more queries. Perhaps that drawing board strategy is working after all. Or, I’m wasting my time and will look back on this experience and go "What was I thinking?"

Great links: Nathan Bransford has a FAQ sidebar that is amazing for those with questions about the submitting process.
Miss Snark’s blog is a wealth of information about agents, queries, and submissions. And it’s funny – go look around, you’ll love it.
Bookends Literary Agency blog is a must read for new writers. Go back in the archives for the pitch sessions – and right now, Agent Jessica Faust is doing a query letter session, with great comments and insights into what works for her.
Nelson Literary Agency has a pitch workshop in their archives. As well, Agent Kristen Nelson posts queries from her clients and tells us what drew her attention, what made her request more.
Query Shark is the brainchild of Janet Reid of Fineprint Literary Management. If you’re brave, send the Shark your query and be prepared for critiques. Not so brave, go have a look around, you’ll learn a lot just by lurking.
Evil Editor is another blog where you can post your query (and beginnings) for a critique from EE himself, and from those that call themselves his Minions.
There are tons more, but these will get you started. If there’s interest, I’ll hijack the blog one Sunday and post some more links to sites I found invaluable in my education.


Karen said...

It sounds like a vary solid plan. I'll admit I was a little panicked by the number 100, and the words 'spreadsheet' and 'categories'. (Inexperienced writer here!) There was some great information and links in your post. When I get to the point of writing a query letter I will be sure to go back to it. Also, I believe I have a better understanding of the process. Thanks for the great info, Janet.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great post, Janet. I like your strategy, it sounds very solid.

I've been trying out different forms of synopses lately to see how effectively I can condense my plot into a 5-minute, 1-minute or 5-second pitch, etc. It's been surprisingly helpful for getting my teeth into precisely the central turning point of the plot.

There have been challenges going around on Twitter to write a 'twitter-pitch' too, which is your book in 140 characters. Brevity is the soul of wit, indeed!

Thought I'd throw another link your way:

I love Ray's floggings, and they are immensely informative. He'll read over the first chapter (and prologue if there is one), but only posts the first 16 lines publicly -- which is about the amount of time a person has to get an agent's attention. Very enlightening, and his approach is a lot of fun!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, I can see why you were so excited yesterday. It must've been hard to keep this in because your post is excellent.

You've presented the quest for an agent in a very scientific method. I read Miss Snark's blog a few times but didn't really like it. She was too cold and calculating for my tastes. Again, vive la difference!

Whereas my method was more about dreams and heart.

Oh, this is very interesting!

Again, great post and thank you for all the web addresses. You've done a fine job, Janet.

Suse said...

Hi Janet,

Great blog. I do like your approach to finding an agent. It actually mirrors the recommendations in the book I mentioned in Anita Mae's blog yesterday - "My So-Called Freelance Life" by Michelle Goodman, only she was talking about finding freelance clients. The concept is the same though.

Yesterday in the mail, I got my latest issue of "The Writer" magazine. There is an article called "Inside Advice from Top Agents." Very informative. One of the editors provided a great link for the Association of Authors' Representatives ( I highly recommend people check it out. You can search their database for agents by category, there is an FAQ, as well they provide links to articles and related websites.

I am excited for you, Janet, and your agent request. I wish you all the very best!

Janet said...

Hayley - I've seen you over there at Flogging the Quill (great discussion on naming his book, eh?). That website is bookmarked - as are a number of others - and I visit everyday. I know he only flogs on MWF, but with all of these sites I learn so much from the comment section as well.

Good luck with the pitches - if you need to bounce those pitches off anyone, I'm available.


Janet said...

And it's funny, Anita - I am the least scientific person there is! Born under the moon of Pisces, I am a dreamer, rose colored glasses and all that. But the more I read, the more I know I have to go about this in an organized manner.

I'm glad you liked the post. And Miss Snark is very snarky - but Bookends, Nelson Lit Agency, and Nathan Bransford are kinder and their information invaluable. I hope you check them out.

Janet said...

Hey Suse - I'm jealous,I haven't received my copy of Writers Digest yet. Darn Canada Post...

Thanks for the link. I'll add another one I use constantly in my agent research is Agent Query ( They too have agents listed in categories and give up to the minute (hour/day/month) information as to what that agent is looking for, the agencies website, address changes, and previous sales. Then I cross reference with Absolute Water Cooler - always a great place to go and see how other people's experiences with said agent.

Eww - it is sounding rather scientific, isn't it?

Janet said...

Sorry, Karen, didn't forget about you. I just got all excited about Flogging the Quill and science and agents. And I haven't had enough coffee yet!

When you get around to writing that query, let me know and I'll e-mail you other sites I found very helpful. Of course, they can't write the letter for you (the hardest part, I might add), but they can give you the tools you'll need to sell your novel.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I am so impressed! First, congratulations on the partial request. May the force be with you, my friend. And second, 100 agents?! Good grief! That is an amazing amount of research you did. But I think you're right. Organization is the key.

I have visited a couple of the blogs you mentioned. In fact I was at Kristin Nelson's blog the other day and got caught up in her archived pitching sessions. I thought they were very useful. There's tons of other information, and her blog is organized and easy to navigate.

Again, good luck.


Janet said...

Thanks for the well wishes, Jana. I'm looking for the force, the universe, and any stars that could get aligned - and the organization/stratey thing! I figure it's a matter of dogged determination! The tortoise and hare? I'm that tortoise - I will finish the race - I will reach my destination.

I really like Kristen's blog. She was on my 30 top agent lists, but I sent her one of my early queries. Very sad - those people who have her as an agent are very lucky.