There are Turnips, and There are Turnip Trucks

When last I wrote, I was on a query sending frenzy. Believe me, just one a week is a frenzy for me, seeing that I’m rather lackadaisical (lazy is probably not the correct adjective) about doing anything. Perhaps we can blame it on winter. The first few weeks of January were *excuse my French* awful damned cold, with lows in the single digits, highs in the teens and windchill in the nether regions. I don’t call this the Tundra for nothing.

I am happy to report that I’m on track with my goal of one query to one agent per week. It’s very hard to stay on the turnip truck, but I appear to be doing quite well, thank you.

In the meantime (yes! there is a meantime), I have submitted my work into a few contests (not hoping against hope that I might place, for I am a pragmatist). It’s jolly good fun. No, it’s not, but I thought I might as well get the taste of rejection out of the way. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. This way if someone throws me a bone, I will be delighted. I don’t just mean happy, I mean happy-dance happy. (You all saw how reacted when I only placed in a contest, right?) If and when the news is good, I’ll be spreading it around so quickly…I can’t even think of an appropriate metaphor, but it’ll be fast.

I have entered this contest; if you write and haven’t entered yet, I strongly urge you to do so. There are only spaces for 5,000 entries, and while that seems like a lot, in this world where everyone is a scribe, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Best of all, there’s no entry fee.

I’ve also decided to give the manuscript another edit. I know. I cannot leave it alone. I’m fleshing out what needs it and deleting what it doesn’t need. After this final (I hope) pass, I plan on putting it away for a while and continue my querying, maybe take up with the other pieces I’ve been diddling around with and get them query ready.

Not bad for a turnip, huh?

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Queries and Agents

Now that the novel is finished (I think…if I can keep my hands off it, finally), I’ve spent the first week of the new year adjusting my query letter. I actually sent one off too! My goal for this year is to send one out each week. However, the entire process of querying agents is often overlooked by fledgling published author-wannabes, who send out mass email blasts to every literary agent from coast to coast.

That’s right, querying agents is not so easy.

In fact, I spent a couple of days researching agents before I sent off my first letter.

Before that, I spent a year following agents around online. This is easily done on Twitter and Facebook. OK, so it’s professional cyber-stalking, but it’s a necessary task before the clueless writer sends the work off to the great beyond. This because there is a protocol, and God forbid if Clueless Writer does something totally tacky. You can gain a lot of insight by reading the pet peeves of various agents. They are sometimes funny, sometimes informative, and sometimes downright scary, as in you don’t want to mess with this person kind of scary.

Twitter is a wonderful resource, because you can eavesdrop on agents as they talk to each other. The agent web appears to be quite huge. After a while, you get to know them by their responses. I know you don’t really know them, but it gives you a feel for their personalities.

As luck would have it, I happened to see this online yesterday – talk about timely. This article is a must-read for anyone who is contemplating sending out a query letter. It’s long, but there is so much information packed into the post that I have bookmarked it for later use.

I use the Query Tracker website (if you do not, you should check it out), where you can search for agents according to genre. This, my friends, is a very good thing to do. Agents who only represent non-fiction are loathe to answer a letter from a romance novelist, and there is probably similar annoyance going the other way.

But it’s not only finding the agent to fit your needs, you must find the right agent for the genre, for the type of book you have written. For example, in the world of romance, there are many sub-genres. Agents who represent historical romance usually stick to that sub-genre. It’s the same with chick-lit, steamy traditional romance, Christian romance, alternative romance, etc. I can imagine an agent of Christian romance opening up a query letter from someone who has written erotica. Oops doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I also took some time to research where my favorite authors are represented. Yes, it’s painstaking. I know a few authors (some by name only and others more personally) but I would never think to ask them who their agent is. I could be wrong, but that shouts TACKY in 120 decibels. Besides, a good Internet sleuth can find the information with a little perseverance. Take copious notes, because if you’re like me, you could lose your place among the hundreds of agencies you are looking at.

Query letters are business letters, and aspiring authors should remember that. In my Day Job, I write business letters all day long, so I realize the need to be concise. It’s just a little different with a query letter, in that you are trying to sell your work using as few words as possible. There has to be a hook, something that will keep the agent reading. Be pleasant, be respectful, and try not be cliche. Agents are looking for a spark of creativity. You’re a writer, right?

Be prepared to have a synopsis in your back pocket as well. I have a huge, detailed query letter for those agents not asking for a synopsis, and a shorter one for those who do. (A confession: I am not good at writing synopsis. I know. I should take a class.)

I may not be an expert, but I know how to follow those who do.