Archives for category: Agent Query

This weekend I attended the Atlanta Writers Conference at the Airport Westin. This conference is very basic in its layout, and if you sign up for the right events, you can get some really great industry feedback. I’ve attended AWC twice so far, and I’ve found that the most worthwhile events are the mixer, the query letter critique, and the pitch sessions.

The mixer is free with your registration for any other conference event, and the agents and editors are obligated to attend. For the cheapest access to the mixer, attendees can sign up for a 30.00 Q&A panel and pay the required Atlanta Writer Club fee, which is 40.00. That would get you into the mixer for 70.00. Yes, for just 70.00 you can spend 3 hours nursing a martini while mingling with 6-8 industry professionals. I’ve made more contacts, and I’ve gotten more requests at this informal event than I have at any other formal pitch event that I’ve attended. Not to mention, I’ve met some of my best writer friends at this mixer.

Another great event is the query letter critique. For 50.00, participants get feedback on their query letter, and at the end of the session, you can always ask your industry professional if s/he would like you to email them your revised query letter. If s/he says “yes,” then you’ve just tacked a successful pitch onto your critique. Way to kill two birds with one stone. Also, when I attended the query letter critique, there were two industry professionals present, which doubled my chances of getting a request.

Lastly, the pitch sessions can be helpful. I had a mixed experience with this event, as the written instructions didn’t match up with what the industry professional was expecting. The person who pitched after me had the same experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many others did as well. I’m guessing there was a miscommunication in the written instructions that we’d received. It’s really unfortunate to be in a situation like this, as it can sour the tone for everyone. Even so, the feedback from the pitch sessions is generally helpful.

On the flip side, I’ve talked with conference attendees who’ve expressed feeling disrespected or misinformed by their industry professionals during the pitch events. I’d imagine that this happens a lot at conferences everywhere. Think about it: A handful of weary, travel-worn agents and editors are in constant contact with droves of aspiring writers. Someone is bound to get cranky. It is unfortunate when feelings get hurt, and in my opinion, disrespect of any kind is inexcusable. But who am I?

There are some events at this conference that could benefit from improvement, namely the workshops. I usually pay for these because the titles sound enticing, but I have yet to be impressed by any of the speakers or the content.

I have never attended the manuscript critique, which is the most expensive event, at 150.00. I have nothing to say about this event as of yet.

I also have yet to attend the Q&A panels, but I’ve talked with other attendees who have said that the panels are helpful.

A word of advice to writers who are planning to attend an AWC event. You will maximize your time there if you research the industry professionals beforehand. Chances are that of the 6-8 editors and agents who attend, only 1-2 will be acquiring projects in your genre. I highly recommend studying their Twitter pages, bios, and any other relevant information you can find. Know thy audience, right?

I had the pleasure of attending SCBWI‘s SouthernBreeze SpringMingle 2014 in Atlanta this past weekend, and I must say, this conference packed a lot of punch. Not only did SCBWI schedule some of the industry’s most renowned editors and agents, but also the very reasonable entrance fee included three great meals, Starbucks coffee, and cookies that fell straight from the ovens of heaven. Let’s be real; it’s all about the food. In all seriousness, this conference was rich, both in its format and in the support that it offered to its attendees.

SpringMingle is by far the most spiritual conference I’ve been to, with several faith-based books making slideshow appearances. The facilitators held a moment of silence for “thanks” before each meal. Even the regional advisor, Claudia Pearson, wore a wide-brimmed hat, one for each day, that brought me right back to the Easter Sunday mornings in the old Presbyterian church of my childhood. I still see a hat like that every now and then at the church I attend a in Atlanta, but those sightings are few and far between.

Enough about food and hats. What about the conference itself? I went to the conference to meet agent and author Ammi-Joan Paquette as well as editor Cheryl Klein, perhaps best known for her work on the last two Harry Potter books. In addition to meeting these two lovely ladies, I got to see an inspirational presentation from the prolifically talented Ruth Sanderson, and a heart-warming presentation by Cheryl Willis Hudson, editor and author of “My Friend Maya Loves to Dance.” I also got an inside look at what an art director does thanks to the lovable and humorous Lucy Ruth Cummins.

My interactions with the panelists were warm and cordial and the unspoken “no pitching” rule, as in no pitching your books outside of a formal pitch appointment, added to the nourishing atmosphere of this conference. “No pitching” may sound like a huge turnoff to writers looking to sell their book, but let me explain why it’s not. “No pitching” encourages attendees to be in listening, as opposed to talking, mode. Removing the possibility for pitching also makes the presenters less on the defense and, thereby, more likely to strike up natural conversations with attendees. They don’t have to worry about being put on the spot, and attendees can get to know them on a personal level.

Just because you can’t pitch your project in person, does’t mean you can’t pitch via email later. In fact, all attendees were given special pitch instructions for each panelist. The message behind this pitch-later approach is clear: The quality of your writing is what really matters. It’s true that agents and editors might sign with you because you’ve successfully sold yourself to them, but when your book comes out, it’s the writing that sell its. Your book must sell itself. Unless you’re a celebrity, it usually doesn’t matter how charming, smart, or witty you are. Having thousands of Twitter followers is great, but numbers won’t impact the quality of your writing. The agents/editors at this conference are serious about publishing, and when they’re considering your book, they want to know that it can stand up on its own.

If you are planning to attend SCBWI conferences in the future, which I highly encourage you do if you write children’s books (all ages through YA), here are a few tips that I hope will help you to maximize your experience:
1) The Southern Breeze website is buggy. Be diligent and follow up with anything you sign up for.
2) The email list is hard to find, and if you’re not a SCBWI member, you might miss out on important instructions. Try to get on the listserv, if you can find it.
3) Follow the instructions (if you can find them) for anything you submit to the conference. The facilitators are strict about this.
4) Sign up immediately for critique sessions and one-on-one meetings with panelists because these slots fill up FAST.
5) Don’t expect questions or materials you’ve submitted for group activities to get addressed during the conference. You might be one of the lucky ones whose material/questions reach the top of the pile first, but think of any such feedback opportunities as icing on the cake.
6) Be patient. Almost all of the activities are run by volunteers, and things don’t always go smoothly.

Don’t let these minor glitches stop you from missing out on the wonderful opportunities awaiting you at the next SCBWI conference. Also, if you’re not a Christian, no worries. The faith-based touches are subtle and the quiet moment of “thanks” before dinner is religion-neutral. This group is truly all about the writing and the nurturing of that writing. For me, attending SpringMingle was like getting a big warm hug from a Southern grandmother who loves her pastel hats.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all misjudged someone at some point in our lives. Fact: I have. Yes, I’m sorry. Yes, I’ll try not to do it again.

As a writer, I’ve also been on the receiving end of several misjudgments, five of which I’ve listed below. If you’re writer, then I hope you can laugh at this list. If you’re a friend of a writer, then please bring your sense of humor along and read the list below. Hopefully, it will help you to avoid saying or implying any of the statements below to your writer friends.

1) “You’ve been trying to publish your book for years. Maybe it’s time to do something else with your life.” Let’s breathe some perspective into this statement. Many bestselling novelists spend years, sometimes decades, shopping their books before a publisher takes interest. Yes, some writers break into the market right away, but many many many others have to tough it out. Bear in mind the nature of the product that writers are selling–books. I don’t know about anyone else, but it usually takes me 3-10 days to read a book, shorter if I have a day off and nothing to do but read.

When writers query agents and editors, we’re asking our recipients to take several minutes, sometimes hours, out of their obscenely busy lives to sit down and read our book. Bottom line: Sales in the publishing industry move slowly. Books take eons to write, eons to sell, eons to edit, and eons to get read and reviewed. That’s a lot of eons.

2) “You should stop complaining about your rejections. Think positively.”  Writers talk about their rejections because they learn about the market through those rejections. We hear “no” a lot, and each “no” helps us to get closer to “yes.” Sometimes we need to talk through those “no’s.” For writers, “no” isn’t always a bad thing. It hurts to hear it so much, but it helps us in the long run. Thanks for listening as we talk through the pain.

3) “I read your first draft. It was bad. Your book will never get published.” Writers sometimes get overly excited when they finish a project, and they want nothing more than to share that project with their friends and family. But, alas, they oftentimes end up sharing early drafts, and these tend to be raw and in need of polishing. Good writers will rewrite their drafts, but sadly, their friends may forever have the early versions burned into their minds. We’re sorry. Please don’t judge us by our drafts.

4) “I’ve heard freelance writers actually make money for what they write. You should give that a try. ” Freelance writing is a legitimate life pursuit, but telling a fiction writer that s/he should try to freelance is like telling a neurosurgeon that he should quit his job and take up aerospace engineering. Okay, my analogy isn’t exactly balanced, and some fiction writers actually do freelance on the side. But many times, success in either of these fields requires complete dedication to one or the other, not a part-time dedication to both.

5) “Writing, that sounds like a fun hobby, but don’t you think it’s time to get a real job?” Non-writers, kindly lock yourselves inside a room, one that has a bathroom in it, and generate 2-5K words a day from nothing but your God-given imagination. Then, come out of that room when you hit 80K words, but only for a day. After this day of freedom, return to your room and edit all 80K words into a sensical novel. When you have something sensical in hand, I’ll ask you if you still think that writing is a hobby. I’m not a psychic, but I’m pretty sure I already know what you’re going to say.

The list goes on, but I’ll stop there. Yes, people have actually said, or strongly implied, these statements to my face. No, I’m not mad at them, and I hope they’re not mad at me for the–many–silly things I’ve said over the years. And just so I’m crystal clear on this, I love my non-writer friends. I need them. I hug them. I love them, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Writing is one of the few professions out there in which rejection is an everyday–and sometimes every minute–occurrence. I figure that’s the tradeoff for getting to spend your days cozied up to a computer, tapping out tales. If that’s the case, then I’ll take my rejection and eat it too. But I’ve still got to deal with it. All writers do. The question is, How?

I hear lots of writers say that you’ve got to be thick-skinned to endure the deluge of rejection that litters your manuscript’s journey from hard drive to hard cover. I agree, as long as thick skinned means resilient. All too often, thick skin gets confused with a hard heart. That is, writers become so “tough” that they’re hearts become hard and they grow cynical. Cynicism takes many forms, like anger toward agents, a complete lack of faith in the publishing industry, and the despairing belief that one will never get published. How do I know this? Let’s be real. I’ve been there, bought the t-shirt. But I had to overcome all of those thoughts–and many others–if I wanted to truly become rejection tough.

I’ve found that the key to becoming rejection tough is to to let the rejection sting and to push through the sting. I know, it sounds counterintuitive, to let yourself feel any degree of pain. But it’s this pain from rejection that keeps you humble and, if you allow, it pushes you deeper into your pursuit. When experiencing rejection heartache, it’s important not to wallow. And NEVER allow feelings of rejection to keep you from writing. Keep going, and trust that the pain will fade.

Basically, make like an olympic ice skater. When you fall, get up, and keep moving to the music. You can cry when the performance is over, but you better show up on time for practice the next day if you’re going to try for gold again.

Remember, a feeling heart is necessary for any form of artistic expression, and fiction writing is an artistic expression for many writers. You can’t, and shouldn’t turn your heart off, no matter how much rejection you experience. As paradoxical as it sounds, if you want to survive in this profession, you’ve to get strong and stay soft.

Also, keep in mind that you’re not alone in your rejection. Here is a list of some of the most initially rejected best selling books of all time. Some of these books have 100+ rejections! Imagine if these authors had stopped writing at rejection number 99.

It’s been my experience that learning how to query an agent is almost as grueling as learning how to write a novel. Querying properly requires a lot of research and a whole lot of trial and error. If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, I’m querying once again. This time around, I’m using a tactic that was presented at the New York Pitch Conference. At the conference, those of us who got editorial requests were instructed to query agents in small batches, small meaning three queries at a time. My knee-jerk reaction to this suggestion was “Oh, my gosh, this is going to take forever.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that small-batch querying might actually be an efficient tactic in the long run.

Reason being, each time you query an agent, you are more likely to get rejected than accepted. From what I’ve been hearing (from agents and writers. Take it or leave it.), many agents receive about 10,000 queries a year, and most of them sign 2-3 clients per year. Many times, they sign clients they meet at conferences, which means that odds of getting discovered via a query are something like 1 in 10,000. Don’t panic. Just accept the bottom line: these are bad odds, but patience, wisdom, and good writing can up your chances.

Anyway, each time an agent rejects a query, it becomes harder to re-query that agent, especially if you’ve sent sample materials. Yes, you can re-query the agent, but when you do, you’ll probably want to mention that you’ve queried before, and this may make the agent even more skeptical of you than s/he already is. Plus, you’re probably going to want to wait 6-12 months (and significantly edit your manuscript) before re-querying, which is a long time. So, sending queries in larger batches, though it may feel more productive than querying in small batches, might actually cost you more time and stress in the long run.

Also, as you target agents in your genre, you will realize just how small your pool of agents actually is. I’m writing middle grade fiction right now, and although many agents say they’re interested in working with middle grade writers, very few of them have. Maybe, they’ve sold a middle grade project here or there, but that’s the extent of their experience with middle grade. When I really dug into my research, I discovered that there are only 20ish agents who seriously sell middle grade titles. Querying in small batches means that I can polish my materials as I work through this list without burning up all twenty chances at once. If the first three agents reject me, I have the opportunity to edit my query for the next three, and so forth and so on.

Yes, the small-batch process is going to take a while, and it’s not always going to be clear when I should send the next batch, as many agents simply don’t respond to queries that don’t interest them. I may be wrong, but I’m going to assume that ten weeks without a response from an agent is a rejection.

Again, there is no formula for landing an agent. If there were, I’d have used it already. There are an infinite number of routes to the summit of the mountain. Plan, prepare, and think before you climb. Your chances of survival will be that much better. Oh, and do climb!