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Category : Proposals
I recently had an online discussion with a writers’ group, and they had several questions for me…
What are the three most important things you look for in a query?
A strong writing voice, clarity of argument (if nonfiction) or story (if fiction), and author platform.
How important are queries to your agency?
I use them as ways to look for talent. Of the queries that come in cold (that is, not introduced by authors I already represent, and not someone I met and spoke with at a conference), the percentage of queries that turn into clients is very, very low.
What experience is worth mentioning in a query?
Anything you’ve had published is worth mentioning. Anything that reveals a big platform is worth mentioning.
Do you think going to conferences and making connections is a better way to meet agents than querying them?
Absolutely. Being face to face with someone, in order to gauge personality and likability and trust, is far more important than choosing someone off the web. I think going to conferences is a GREAT way to connect with agents and editors.
What subjects and genres are currently overdone in the queries you see?
I don’t know that anything is overdone at the moment. Tastes change. Every generation needs its own voices. We see new ideas break out, and we’re always surprised. I know some people will say “dystopian is overdone,” or “Amish fiction is overdone.” They might be… until somebody creates one that sells well. (Having noted this, I’ll admit I hate the question, which get frequently. The fact is, we’re always surprised at the latest breakout hit.)
Which genres do you think deserve a comeback? What genres would you like to see in queries?
Beats me what deserves a comeback. Chick-lit is making a comeback, now known as romantic comedy. I suppose I’d like to see westerns and spy novels make a comeback.
Guest writer Holly Lorincz is a professional editor and owner of Lorincz Literary Services. New York Times Bestselling author Vincent Zandri says of her, “A great editor not only points out the gaffs in a manuscript, but also helps you, as a writer, realize the enormous possibilities that exist within the text. That is Holly Lorincz.”
Are you getting ready to send a query?
Attending a conference?
Has a literary agent or acquisition editor asked to see your book?
Here’s a list of tips on how to whip your manuscript into the right shape.
Agents and acquisition editors often have specific format settings they require on manuscript submissions. Sometimes these paradigms are listed, but, more often, the editors expect you to have ESP, assuming you will magically know what they want (just like you should already know what is expected in query letters and proposals). There are a ton of websites and books devoted to formatting advice, including how to make those changes, so I’m just going to give you a quick and dirty list of things I know, from experience, will be helpful. Please note, these are not the same settings you use when formatting an ebook—just one more example of the war between publishing houses and Amazon.
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS WORD, AND IT HAD SETTINGS. AND IT WAS GOOD.
And, boy, have these settings evolved. This is not the double-spaced, stretched justification from your (technological) youth. Of course, it’s best to set up your document before you begin . . . but who really does that? You usually hammer out least forty-five pages before you realize you forgot to set chapter headings or change the font from Cambria. So, let’s say you’re a good chunk of the way into your masterpiece, or you’re done. Just “select-all” and make the following changes to your Microsoft Word doc., which you will be sending as an email attachment.
We’ve been spending the month of October doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent…
I had an agent at a conference request my full manuscript. That was five months ago, and he hasn’t read it yet. I’ve made some revisions to my original manuscript… do I send the “new and improved” version to the agent, or is that a red flag that my original submission may not have been strong enough?
Sometimes it takes awhile for an agent to read and respond to queries — even requested ones. The focus for an agent is usually on serving the clients he or she already has, rather than on finding new people, and events (such as the busy fall book season) can slow things down even more. Still, five months is a long time, in my book. I think you’re fine sending an email that says, “You’d asked to see this one several months ago. I know you’re busy, but I’ve been spending my time rewriting and improving my manuscript, so I think it’s much stronger now. Would you prefer to replace the existing version you have with my new, improved version?” Some agents will probably hate this, but to me that seems a fair question to ask.
USA Today bestselling boxed sets are the “hot new thing” in the indie world. Do publishers care?
From my experience, every publisher likes to see that an author has hit the USA Today or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, and if you’re in a boxed set that hit the list, you can legitimately call yourself a “USA Today bestselling author.” So that’s great! Do publishers care when it’s a boxed set of twelve titles selling for 99 cents? Um… not very much. As I said, they’re always glad to see a proposal from a best-selling
We’re going to take the month of October to focus on “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to talk to a literary agent about. I’ll tackle a bunch of the questions that have come in so far, and you can feel free to add more questions in the comments section below. Let’s get started…
When you send a proposal to a few publishers, how long do you wait until you send to somebody else? Do you wait for an answer before sending to others? Is there a grace period?
I get this question frequently, and while I can’t give you any definitive answers, I can offer some guidelines… If you send a proposal to an agent, most will tell you they try and get back in touch with a response within a couple of months, so depending on the time of year, let’s say it will be six to twelve weeks. Of course, all of us go on vacation or simply get into a busy season, and sometimes projects back up — but remember that “looking at proposals from authors we do not represent” is almost always going to fall behind “working on a project from an author I already represent.” Still, that’s a reasonable time frame. As far as waiting before you send to someone else, I can honestly say that I don’t care if another agent is looking at your work. I mean, I’m not the agent for everyone, so if you want to talk to another agent and let them review your work, that’s fine with me, though I realize not every agent will take that approach. That said, I do think if you haven’t heard from an agent in a couple months, it’s fine to check back and ask if they’ve had a chance to review it. And, let’s face it… if an agent has had your proposal
The month of April is set aside for “Ask the Agent” — your chance to finally ask that question you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent. In the comments section the other day, someone asked, “If you’re writing a series of three books, how do you find an agent and publisher that will take on all three if they only have the manuscript for the first one? Are there things they look for — outlines of the two remaining books, rough drafts, notes on where you’ll be going with the series?”
Okay… What is easier to sell, a car or a fleet of cars? Normally I try to sell ONE book, then, at some point, see if we can extend the deal. It’s daunting to have someone sit down across from me at a conference and announce they’ve created a twelve-book series (which has happened to me), since something like that is going to be nearly impossible to sell. So focus on one book, and make the manuscript as strong as possible.
Make sure you understand that a true “series” is one continuous story, told over the course of multiple titles. That’s tougher to get a publisher to commit to, since it means they’ll have to do all the books to tell the whole tale. It’s usually easier for a publisher to commit to doing several related titles — not one story told over multiple books, but multiple stories that share a setting and some characters.
Of course, no matter which direction you go, each book in the series has to have a satisfying ending. Each book has to feel complete, so a reader can pick it up and enjoy the novel, even if they never read the other, related books.
Another thing to understand that novel series go in and out of vogue. For a while, everybody wanted series, so it seemed like every negotiation
I’m taking the month of April to do “ask the agent” — your chance as a writer to ask a longtime literary agent anything you want. Today’s question: “Can you give me some agenty advice on query letters? I think mine is good, but I’ve had eight rejection letters!”
Happy to chat about query letters. First, think very hard about what the goal of the query letter is. Sometimes I’ll see a letter that is all over the map, talking about the story, the characters, the platform, the author’s bio, etc. Your query letter really has only one goal: To get the agent or editor to read your proposal. So with everything you do in a query, keep that in mind.
Second, address it to someone specific. I don’t even read the “dear agent” letters that come in. And I want to know that the person writing to me has spent a bit of time researching me and my agency.
Third, keep the introduction short and clear. Often your query letter will open with one sentence – “I’m writing because you represented Susan Meissner’s Secrets of a Charmed Life and I think my work is similar” or “I’m writing because your client, Davis Bunn, introduced us.” It’s always nice if you can make some sort of connection to the person in your opening.
Fourth, your query letter is going to have a couple of paragraphs that offer a short description of your book, and a short description of yourself. So if you’re writing a novel, give me the basic storyline and don’t lard it up with all the subplots and minor character names. Maybe tell me something about the writing you’ve done. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, explain to me what the problem is that you’re speaking to, and what the solution is that you’re offering — and by all means, explain briefly why you are the person who
I regularly get people sending me notes asking, “Why haven’t you shared any bad proposals with us lately?” So this morning I sat down and gathered together a bunch of the great projects people have sent my way over the past several months…—I received a proposal that starts with this line: “A serial killer masquerading as a priest is brutally murdering convicted rapists….” He also notes that his killer “blots out child rapists.” It ends with these words: “This is a family-friendly story.” And he also notes in his proposal that “kids loved it.” (Yeah… nothing sells books like the family-friendly combination of serial killers, rapists, and children.)—And here’s a great bit of salesmanship from an author (the title and author’s name has been changed): “After reading MY BLOODY LOVER visual trailer, who do not like to see MY BLOODY LOVER made into a movie? Tell me now!!!!! I, Dong ValDong, have been told many times this is the greatest horror romance ever written and women around the world are in love or in lust with me that I am in no hurry to shoot MY BLOODY LOVER into a full feature. I will let them salivate and be romance for the taste of their dream man in the pages of MY BLOODY LOVER. Read the magic of the dialogues of what your lover should be saying to you, as my character in the world of MY BLOODY LOVER. BELIEVE IN TRUE LOVE AGAIN.” (I believe!)—Speaking of romance, I culled out this great line from a romance query: “Balloons don’t even scratch the surface of what you mean to me…” (Um… what?)—One of my favorite opening lines of all times in a query? “Ring! Ring! said the telephone.” (Yes. It’s brilliant writing like this that led me to drink.)—And another romance query came in with this biographical note: “I have written and illustrated a
I’ve had three different people ask me about query letters recently… specifically, “What does a query letter look like?” and “What goes into a good query to an agent?”
Happy to help. To query an agent or editor is to simply approach someone and introduce your book
idea. The goal of your query is to get them to read your proposal. (Let me repeat that: your goal in sending an agent a query is to get them to read your proposal. No industry professional has the time to look out the window, much less sit down and read your entire unsolicited manuscript.) So you entice them with your pitch, get them to want to see the writing, and then give them the details in a quick, industry standard proposal — then you walk away, praying they’re going to want the full manuscript. The goal of a query is not to move them from “I don’t know you” to “let me make an offer on your book.” The goal is to move them from “I don’t know you” to “hey, your book sounds interesting… I’ll have a look.”
If you are sending a query letter, it should be only three to four paragraphs long and contain your pitch, your writing bio, the manuscript status, and some comparable titles. If you are querying face-to-face at a conference, where you’ve signed up for appointments with editors and agents, your query will have these same elements, beginning with a verbal pitch lasting no longer than two or three minutes.
And, of course, before you even consider querying, you need to make sure your manuscript draft is honed and polished, including a developmental edit (i.e., has your novel’s plot or structural flaws been revised? In a nonfiction book, is your overall argument complete and logical?) and a final proofreading, preferably from a professional editor. If you are serious about publishing, you need to take yourself—and
Someone asked, “What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up on a proposal to an agent? And how do agents feel about writers following up on a query or submission? ”
I’ve answered this question a couple of time, so let me set some ground rules. First, I’m assuming if you sent me your proposal, we met somewhere, and I asked to see it. Remember that if I didn’t actually ask for your proposal, I don’t owe you a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read your query and give you a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing you a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I have current projects and authors, that are already making me money, and those are the priority. (Again,not trying to sound hard; just offering a reality check.) I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the new proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.
All right, so when an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for at a conference or because we met through a mutual friend, I try to get back to people within four to six
Welcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.
Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.
With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest