Hello, Evil Readers!
This post is a hybrid of a couple of much older posts. Both bear repeating at this time for various reasons.
For those doing NaNoWriMo, it’s the halfway point today. You should have somewhere around 25,000 words under your belt. Some may have more, some less. Some have already given up. I write this post to you today because NaNoWriMo brings up a lot of issues. Namely queries. Lemme ‘splain.
DO NOT QUERY AGENTS WITH THE SHIT YOU WROTE DURING NANOWRIMO.
Seriously, folks. NaNoWriMo is an exercise in discipline. It’s a motivational tool to get you to meet a daily wordcount and write to a deadline. IT IS NOT ABOUT FINISHING A NOVEL.
Once you’re finished with NaNoWriMo, you take what you’ve vomited on the page and REVISE it. Tweak it. Hone it. You don’t just run to Publisher’s Marketplace on December 1st to look for an agent that represents ninja-alien-pirate fiction. (Nor do you run straight to Popular Self-Publishing Platform to upload your opus for OMG!moniez either, but that’s not something we here at the ELEW endorse anyway. There are protocols you should follow.)
Nor do you put the whole thing out on your blog, or any other website out there. Snippets, sure. Go wild. Tease your audience. But if you’re planning on seeking commercial publication with your NaNoWriMo novel (hint: 50,000 words doth not a novel make – you’ll need to add about 20k more for a YA-length novel, and about 35k more for a standard commercial novel), don’t “publish” it anywhere, in any fashion.
So when do you query with your NaNo novel?
Well, given that you’ve finished the thing (proper wordcount), waited at least a change of the seasons (say three months, others opinions say as long as six) after it’s complete, revised it, had it beta’d (read by more than one person outside your immediate family and friends – like a writing partner or professional critique), revised it again properly based on their feedback…I’d say a year or so, minimum. Maybe never. As I said above, NaNoWriMo is about motivation and discipline, not finishing a novel. NaNoWriMo is about getting the bones of your Frankenstein into place, not bringing the fucker to life. It’s not ready yet! Dude needs a brain before he’s ready for the lightning.
Now, when you’ve done everything above, and you’re ready to query, how do you go about it? Here’s a basic primer:
In order to understand what prompted this
rant week’s blog post, go give this post a quick read. Go on, I’ll wait.
You see the part down at the bottom there, where some douchebag is fighting with the autoresponder to his query?
It shouldn’t need to be said, but apparently it does: DO NOT FIGHT WITH THE AUTORESPONDER.
Honestly, if you bothered to research enough to find out where to send your query via e-mail, you should be smart enough to recognize an autoresponse when you get one. In addition to that, you should be GRATEFUL that you received an autoresponse – it means the email address you used was not only working, but correct. Writers are a paranoid, impatient bunch and we like to know things just haven’t disappeared. Autoresponders give that sort of psychological reassurance. It’s nice of an agency or business to have an autoresponder set up for that very reason.
Now, we’re not going to talk about writing a query. You should already know how to do that, and if you don’t, there are some great, free, reliable sources out there online that you can follow. This is more a list of do’s and don’ts.
INCLUDE YOUR NAME AND CONTACT INFO. For snail mail queries, this goes right at the top of the letter, just like professional letterhead. You’re trying to be a professional, this is how it works. For e-queries, make sure again that your (correct!) contact information is there, but only once. This usually goes below your signature. If you have your contact info in your signature line, don’t junk up the email with it everywhere. Also, they’re going to reply to the email address you sent it from, so if you want your reply (autoresponse or not!) to go to a certain email address, send your query FROM that email address. Agents don’t have time to compare email addresses, so don’t send your query from your work email then wonder why you didn’t get a response to your home email. Again, this shouldn’t need to be said, but…yeah.
KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE. A query letter is just that – a letter. The synopsis or first five chapters or whatever the submission guidelines ask for will tell the story for you, so you don’t need to put every character and plot point in your letter. Narrow your pitch down to a paragraph or two. You get 30 seconds max to make an impression. Don’t waste time by telling an agent how you were inspired to write this. They don’t care. Get to the good shit.
FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. They might not make sense to you, and you might not agree with them, but they’re written the way they are for a reason and it’s not your place to question it.
Here’s the deal: You’re asking an agent for the one thing that they don’t have a great deal of – their time. DO NOT WASTE THEIR TIME. I hear you over there. You’re saying, “Well, I put so much time and effort into my query and they didn’t bother to give me the same.” SO THE FUCK WHAT. Cope. Deal. Stop crying. They aren’t your babysitters. Also, a QUERY letter is just that. A query. QUERY – question, inquiry.
Your query letter is basically a formal way of asking this agent if they will represent you/take you on as a client, but really, you’re asking for much, much more than that, so show a little fucking respect.
INCLUDE THE WORD “QUERY” OR “SUBMISSION” IN THE SUBJECT LINE OF YOUR EMAIL unless the agency wants you to put something specific there. If you’re sending a query via e-mail, this helps the agent. Remember, helping the agent save time is a good thing.
HAVE THE CORRECT INFORMATION AND A COMPLETE QUERY PACKET. Again, you might not understand why they want a synopsis and a letter and the first five pages, but that’s not for you to question. It’s for you to follow. And honestly, if you can’t follow simple directions and put together a proper query packet, what is there to make them think you could follow the directions for anything else? An editorial letter or a deadline? If you can’t manage a simple request when they’ve gone to the trouble to outline what you’re supposed to do for them, that doesn’t exactly bode well for any future relationship with you. A little research goes a long way, and you’ve spent all this time getting your book ready to fly. Don’t fuck up the landing. And speaking of research-
RESEARCH THE AGENT/AGENCY. They have all the information out there you need. If you found an agent in the Writer’s Market, make sure it’s a current edition. Go online and make sure that person is still with that company and is still looking for what you’re querying with and are actually open to submissions. If they have a blog, go read it and make sure you don’t have any of their pet peeves or red flags going on. Like this: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2011/07/red-flags.html
FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. Make sure you send what they ask for AND NO MORE. Do not “save them time” by sending the whole manuscript when all they want is the first five pages. Remember learning about following directions in elementary school? There’s a reason. Querying isn’t like cooking – you can’t just improvise the recipe and hope you make something edible. Do your homework and follow the guidelines and you’ll stand out, I promise.
REPLY TO A REJECTION. Just don’t. (See the part about fighting with the autoresponder.) Agents get hundreds if not thousands of emails a day, and as you can see from the link above, a lot of those emails are rude responses to rejection. You don’t need to add to their plethora of mail to wade through. If you simply MUST reply, be sure to include “Thank You For Your Consideration” or something in the subject line. EXCEPTION – If the agent you’re querying has been corresponding with you or has met you at a convention or something and you have some kind of less-formal relationship, go ahead and send them a POLITE thank you in response to a rejection. Keep it short and sweet. Just say, “thanks for your time, I’m disappointed we won’t be working together on this project, I appreciate your consideration” or something and leave it at that.
BEG THEM TO RECONSIDER. This is extremely bad form, and they won’t remember you. If they do, it won’t be in the “good way.” Once an agent sends you a rejection, you’ve been removed from their consideration. They’ve moved on to the next query letter and you’ve been forgotten because they’ve already decided which “pile” you’re in. You’re dealt with and done and pitching a fit about it isn’t going to help you. They rejected you for a reason, and unless you’ve changed something dramatically, they’re not going to reconsider the same query, either immediately or in the future. Rewrite the book or the query or something. If they said no, there’s a reason for it, even if it’s not given. Which brings us to, don’t-
ASK FOR CRITICAL FEEDBACK/THE REASON YOU WERE REJECTED. If it’s not given in the rejection, don’t pester them about it. They don’t have time to go back and look up why they rejected you (if they even have that information – many agencies don’t keep old queries on file for long, if at all), and if a specific reason wasn’t given, suck it up and move on. It could be something as simple as the genre not being right for their agency at the time to an overabundance of that particular storyline. If you’re lucky enough to be rejected with a reason, learn from it, fix your issue and go on.
ASK FOR A RECOMMENDATION TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO MAY BE INTERESTED. If an agent rejects your work for whatever reason but they have someone else in mind it would be perfect for in their agency, they will usually say on their website that they share queries with people they think might be interested in it, and they’ll tell you that. That’s usually inter-agency though. This does not mean it’s okay for you to ask them for an outside recommendation and expect them to suggest you query Agent X with Other Publishing House. They don’t have time to do your research for you. It’s not their job to tell you who might be interested in your work and it’s HELLA RUDE for you to ask them to. It’s your responsibility to find out who might be interested.
ASK CONSTANTLY FOR STATUS UPDATES, ESPECIALLY THROUGH TWITTER OR FACEBOOK. Just. Don’t. Do. This. Just don’t. If you see an agent anywhere online or out at a restaurant or whatever, they’re on their own time. They’re not at work, so you shouldn’t ask them about it. They don’t have their work in front of them, and it’s not fair of you to ask them to recall something on the spot. Also, they don’t know. Okay? They just don’t know. Again, see the part about hundreds or thousands of messages a day. You honestly expect them to remember your name out of all that? Can you? Name every person who has sent you an email in the last 8 weeks off the top of your head. Go on. If you can do that, you shouldn’t be a writer. You should be working as some kind of smarty for a government organization somewhere. If you’re NOT a superhero like most of us and can’t name every person who has sent you an email in the last 8 weeks, why would you expect an agent to do that? Also, why would you expect them to take time (remember the “time” thing we’ve been talking about?) to find your note out of all those? I know you want special attention and are impatient and all that, but don’t. Just sit and wait. Why? Because if you make a pest of yourself, chances are you’re not the kind of person that agent wants to work with. Just sayin’.
EXCEPTION: If you haven’t heard back from an agent within their stated response time, a POLITE follow-up mail is acceptable. NOT a Facebook or Twitter message!
SAY ANYTHING LIKE ANY OF THESE LETTERS:
So there you have it. Basic query etiquette. Be nice, be polite, do your homework, and read up on things.