Monday, July 21, 2014

My thoughts on the query process...

I queried to early. At the time I thought I was ready, but seeing what happened to the manuscript while it was on query and after feedback from agents... it wasn't ready. I'm not sure there's a way to fix this. JANE DOE was the first novel I wrote, finished, and edited until I felt it was submission ready. My gut instinct is that almost everyone will query their first novel too early. That's why most I Have An Agent! stories mention the first novel that was trunked and how they found an agent with the second novel.

That being said, I think you need to query anyway. If the novel you've written is the best you can make it. If you've gone to critique partners and writing groups and gotten feedback, go ahead and send that sucker out. Worst case scenario: nobody wants it and the books doesn't get published. Since this is the exact same result of not querying, it's a zero sum game. Send it out and try to learn something. Change your query. Consider all feedback a blessing. Be courteous.

And get yourself some social media.

I was really surprised how many of those requests came from Twitter interactions. This is why I keep harping on the idea of having a submission packet. Two of my full requests came from query critique contests that were literally an agent tweeting, "First five people to send me a query with the title HONEST CRITIQUE will get feedback." That's one third of my full requests. Both agents read the query, and got back to me in under 24 hours with a full request.

Now, the key to making that work is stacking the deck in your favor. I queried 63 agents total. Before I sent them anything I made sure of three things
1) they were open to queries, 
2) they represented all the genres I write in (SF/SFR/UF), and
3) they'd sold books in those genres recently.

Querying an agent who doesn't rep what you write, and who hasn't sold who what you write, or who isn't even open to queries is a waste of time. At best, it's an auto-delete because the query email isn't being checked. At worst, it's a rejection and some agent griping to their publishing buddies how authors who can't read query guidelines while you weep over a rejection. Don't beg for rejection.

If you find the agents who rep what you write, follow them on Twitter or on their blogs, and keep track of what they're requesting (Agent and Editor Manuscript Wishlist anyone? It's on Tumblr. Read it.)

The reality of modern publishing is that you will be expected to have an internet presence. Your publisher will want you to help market the books. Your fans will want to be able to contact you. It may not be your favorite thing, but rummage around on the web until you can find a place where you are comfortable being social... and then go to all the other major social media sites and start following agents and writers you love. If you don't interact, fine. You're listening and learning. If you do interact, great, it means the agent can match you to an avatar when they read your query.

By the way, be prepared for them to follow you back. The first time I realized an editor was following me I nearly died. I checked every day to see if she was still following me. Agents will follow you, check out your author's FaceBook page, maybe even skim through your instagram photos to get an idea of what you're like. Sometimes they stop after they reject you, sometimes they stick around and congratulate you when you sign. Anything could happen. Just be yourself (the normal, public self that doesn't scare the neighbors) and you'll be fine.

Last but not least, be patient. I was on submission for a year before I received the revise and resubmit from Marlene. I spent six months redoing my novel, stripping out a subplot I didn't need, and tightening the story line with her suggestions. I was on query for over eighteen months before Marlene asked to talk to me.


You could have two children in eighteen months without having twins (although your doctor might yell at you)! When people say this isn't a fast business, they aren't joking. It takes time for an agent to read the queries, read the pages you send, and make a decision. Sometimes, sure, they'll know right away. But sometimes they really have to think about it. And if they send notes it'll take any more time.

But it's going to be worth it. Query the agents you love, who love what you write, and go work on something else while your novel is making the rounds. With any luck, you'll be so busy with your next project you will forget you have something on submission and stare in confusion when an agent says they want to talk about that title. It's a good kind of confusion. :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Query Stats Post You've Been Waiting For

It's really weird being off the query trail. I never even thought about that before I hit this point. No one tells you that after spending months watching every agent like a starving hawk watches the field mice scurry that you won't know how to stop watching once you have an agent.

This is a post for the hungry hawks out there. For those who are counting queries, looking at averages, and trying to get a handle on the madness that is the query trenches. If numbers and publishing aren't your thing, go ahead and skip this post. I'll return to what passes for normal around here on Monday...

Number of Queries Sent: 63
Number of Page Requests: 21
Number of Full Requests: 6
Number of Revise & Resubmits: 1
First Query Sent Out: October 1st, 2012
Last Query Sent Out: May 29th, 2014
Quickest Turn Around on a Rejection: 3 days
Quickest Turn Around With Page Request: under 24 hours
Longest Wait: 200 days
Average Response Time: 44 days
Average Response to Requested Pages: 19 days 
Number of Agents Queried With a "No Response Means No" Policy: 9
Months With The Slowest Response: November and December
Months With The Quickest Response: September and February
Where I Found Agents To Query:, Writer's Digest, Query Tracker, Twitter, and the dedications of books I love

Other Observations of Note:
- Approximately half of the rejections came back with a personalized note saying why the agent passed.
- Agents who requested pages with the query were less likely to ask for a partial. They either rejected off the sample pages or asked for a full.
- Most common reason for rejection off of partials and fulls was "I like this, but I don't love it enough to rep it."
- 7 of the 21 page requests came from Twitter pitch parties
- 2 of the 6 full requests came from Twitter pitch parties
- 2 full requests came from query critiques that were "send a query and get honest feedback" deals
- Only 1 agent failed to get back to me after requesting pages. I nudged the agent twice (3 months and 6 months after pages were sent in) before giving up.
- No agent wrote back to tell me my writing sucked, suggested I give up, or otherwise made fun of me. The rejections were all encouraging and helpful.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Missed Calls

Sunday afternoon I had a really weird message on my phone. All I saw was an email with the subject line: You Did It

Of course my first thought was utter denial. I did not do it! What it are you talking about? Who have you been talking to? What do you know?

Now, my phone isn't very good for reading emails on. It likes to truncate messages, but I read any way. The message was, "You did it! I love THE DAY BEFORE.  Can we talk tomorrow morning (Monday)?" And all I saw in the From part was "Marl". 

THE DAY BEFORE... what was this person talking about? Isn't that a James Bond movie. I was lost and confuseed. So I ate lunch, took a nap, and decided I would deal with the email later. 

After a lovely nap, I sat down to the computer, opened the spammy email, and recognized the name of agent extraordinaire Marlene Stringer. THE DAY BEFORE was the query title for JANE DOE. I always think of it as JANE, and I was tired, and I was born blonde so forgive my stupidity.

I read the email twice before I realize this was it! THIS WAS THE CALL! There was an agent who loved my work and she wanted to talk and she loved my book and she loves my characters and she wanted to talk!!!! It was so exciting it fully warrants the extra exclamation points. 

I emailed Marlene and we scheduled to talk at 10 o'clock Monday morning. I was over the moon. I explained everything to my husband and kids. Since I needed to have a business conversation and sound like a professional I told the kids they could have a My Little Pony marathon in the basement while I talked with Marlene (don't judge me). As an extra bribe, I promised to go grocery shopping before the phone call so they had plenty of snacks downstairs with them.

ProTip: When scheduling important business calls always make sure you know what time zone you are scheduling for. 

Monday morning I arrived home from the grocery store at 9:06. My phone was upstairs charging, and I felt calm and in control. Then I looked at the clock again, remembered that Marlene lives in Florida which is an hour ahead of me in the Midwest, and ran upstairs.

Yeah.... two missed phone calls.

I had an agent who wanted to talk representation, and I missed her phone calls. Not so professional.

This would have been a good place to break down and cry about lost hopes and dreams, but I like my Happily Ever Afters darn it and I was going for it. So I called back. And Marlene answered. And we laughed over the silly mistake. And we talked for two hours. And, well....

I am now officially represented by the fabulous, patient, and talented Marlene Stringer of Stringer Lit!!!

JANE DOE has a home! I have an agent! All this craziness, and editing, and worrying, and hard work... it pays off! And, you know what? This isn't where the story ends. This is where the adventure begins. There is a whole, wide universe just waiting for me. And as River Tam says...