If you’ve ever wanted to publish a book traditionally, then you know (or maybe you don’t) that getting an agent is an essential part of the process. There’s no formula for querying effectively, some of it is hard work, some is luck. But I think if you do everything you can to make sure the parts you CAN control are as good as they can be, it’ll go much better than just winging it or throwing queries out there without researching the process.
I’ve put together a video with all the tips I picked up along the way to signing with my own agents, and I hope it helps you! If you find the video helpful please like, and subscribe to my channel for more writing and book related videos 🙂
Recently, I saw a writer on Twitter asking for advice re: her agent rejections, to which someone replied she should “just self-publish” and focus on getting readers instead of getting an agent. They said this was her job. I understand the temptation to self-publish, and I think it’s a great path for certain writers, but it is by no means as easy as people make it seem. There are so many things to take into account, so many things you have to do, and even if you do all of them right, there’s no guarantee that your book will do well, in fact chances are it won’t. That’s because there’s a lot of competition out there, and because unless you have loads of time, experience or money to spend on marketing — the only thing that will make your book stand out is luck.
Getting the book ready:
Before you self-publish you need to do what all writers have to regardless of the path they choose, and that’s produce a solid book. You shouldn’t be publishing your first draft if you care at all about quality, and you should give the book a few rounds of edits, work with a critique partner, get feedback from beta readers and (if you’re self publishing) have it professionally proofread. This takes time, a few months at the very least. Hiring an editor can also be expensive, so be prepared to do the research to find a reputable one and have the funds to pay them.
Oh so important, considering how many bad covers are out there and trust me there are a lot. I work with many self-published authors during my day job, and it’s a shame how many have decent stories but awful covers. Think of how many books you see on Amazon. First you have to break through the popular and well known authors, then the ones who are new but getting a big boost from social media, marketing and buzz, next there are the smaller authors who have their own fan base, then there’s you. Nobody knows who you are yet (unless you’re famous or already have a platform) so getting people to look at your book, to look at it instead of all the others I described above is akin to this level of Mario:
It’s not impossible, but it’s FUCKING HARD. And that’s one thing that the “just self-publish it” people forget to mention. Because sure you can do it, anyone can, but doing it well, getting noticed and having a book that sells well, is a giant challenge. You need to know that going into it.
This is where things get really difficult. If you have marketing experience, a social media platform, or the time and willingness to learn you are ahead of the game. If you don’t have any of those things, prepare to spend money for a publicist. Self-promotion, especially for writers who consider themselves introverted, is an uphill battle. I have a fellow writing friend who did it all one her own, and three books later got a publishing contract for a novella as part of her series (and more books to come.) It’s not impossible — building a readership, selling books, and doing it on your own is not this mythical beast that only the gifted can tame, but it’s also not a walk in the park. I can also tell you my friend has a knack for marketing, she’s smart, she’s hardworking, and she writes FAST, so she can get books out quickly which helps when you’re self-publishing. It’s a great path for those willing to put in the work, for those with the skill and for those who know what it takes to make it work and accept that even if you do all those things, it might not.
A few of the things to consider in terms of marketing:
- Making sure you’re promoting the book at least six months ahead of your release date. Building buzz is not just important, it’s essential. This can include anything from a Goodreads giveaway to a book blog tour to a cover reveal and should ideally include all three plus more.
- Having a Twitter, Facebook, blog or website (that you update regularly). Twitter especially is super important for the writing community, but make sure you don’t become a buy-link-tweeting bot who only sends out links about where to buy your book/reviewing your book etc. Social media should be used for networking first, and the rest should be a bonus. Also, it should be noted that having 70K followers, when you follow 70K people is not so much a platform as a follow for follow strategy that does not work. For the most part those followers are not genuine ones. Everyone is tweeting into a giant abyss of other authors, and unless your tweets are actually gaining traction in likes and retweets, they’re most likely getting lost in the fray. Slow and steady, but real, is better.
- Advanced reviews on Amazon are a big help ahead of release. If you have a good chunk of reviews online it will up the chances of readers finding and buying your book once it’s released. Sending out ARCS, beta copies and giving away the book pre-release in giveaways and raffles can all help in this respect.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also book trailers, interviews and contacting your local press, book signings and more. It all sounds exciting (and honestly it is) but remember you will be organizing this all yourself unless you spend money on a publicist, and even if you don’t you will still be paying for promotional material like book marks, postcards and copies of your book for signings and giveaways. To say it’s a lot of work is a colossal understatement. I would never want to discourage someone who genuinely wants to self-publish, because I really do think it’s a fantastic option. But just like traditional publishing, it’s not easy. Neither option is. My hope is only that those who do choose to self-publish know what it takes to make their book succeed , that they know what is truly involved with the process, and are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.
As a bonus, here is a video on why it takes so long for books to get published:
Claribel is one of my favorite writing buddies. She’s always optimistic and has a work ethic that would make even the most productive people jealous. For the last year and a half she’s been editing her full-length manuscript in order to prepare it to send to agents and publishers. I’ve been in awe of the amount of time and effort she has put in to making her story just write. I asked her if she’d be willing to share a bit about her thorough (and admirable!) editing process. Take it away, Claribel!
When you write your first book, for the most part, I think you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. You just get an idea, and sit down and write, and write and eat some twinkies and then you’re finished. You think, “THAT WAS HARD” and you think you’ve done the bulk of the work, because it can’t possibly get any harder…*awkward chuckle* right? *loosens collar*
Everybody’s editing process is different, but mine was (and still is) a long, and difficult one.
Here is a timeline of my work so far:
A few weeks ago, I had what I thought was a nearly finished manuscript. I’d worked on it for a while, had three betas read through it and was generally happy, so it was totally ready for the writing contest I entered (Pitch Wars.)
Except it wasn’t. Do you ever have a moment where you forgot to do something? Like when you’re home from work and forgot to send that one email, or you forgot the one textbook you needed to do your homework in your locker? That was me as I helped a fellow writer with her own chapter one. I found myself saying, this is wrong, too much of this, too little of that as I edited and it slowly dawned on me that I was making some of those same mistakes in my own MS. But I had already pressed enter, I had already sent it, it was too late to take it back.
I realized something then. Had I been swapping chapters with someone before, I probably would’ve caught these mistakes. I probably would’ve had a better book going into the contest. So as you might’ve guessed I didn’t get into Pitch Wars, but I did gain something valuable from entering: the community. I know everyone says that, and no it’s not to placate you, it’s the reality of it for the majority of entrants – you probably won’t make it in, but if you play your cards right you can still gain writing friends and critique partners that will completely change your journey. In a totally awesome, kick ass kind of way. Aside from being a writer, I work with authors for a living, and one of the biggest mistakes I’ve noticed is impatience and unwillingness to take critique.
A lot of this comes from sitting with your manuscript for months/years/whatever and letting friends or family read and give you their feedback. Maybe you have a harsh uncle who told you it was just okay but if he’s not also a writer, how can “just okay” help you to fix it? How is that feedback constructive? How is it helping your writing become better?
Now comes the part where you have to be really, really honest with yourself. Don’t tell me the answer, don’t even tell your friends who’ve read your book. Ask yourself honestly – have you gotten unbiased feedback from people who are not related to you? More than one person? Have you applied any of said feedback effectively (as in sent it back to them or others and gotten a better response)?
If not, you’re most likely not ready to query agents. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, I’m not saying people who write on their own, with no help, and query don’t make it. It happens sure, but it’s hard. It’s nearly impossible to catch everything on your own when you’ve already read it 700 times, to make sure the story arc works, that your characters are well defined and sympathetic. And if you have been querying agents and getting rejections without the benefit of CPs beforehand, that could be your problem.
Having CPs and readers more far along than I am is transforming my manuscript from something I liked to something I adore, something that might actually have a shot. I knew going in that there was something not quite there yet about my MS, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was but with the help of the friends I’ve made, I’m not only identifying these things but fixing them.
Trust me, I get how scary it is to have someone tell you that your writing doesn’t work. But not exploring how your MS resonates with others is the easy way out. It’s the best way to throw away all the other work you’ve already done. It’s quite easy to stare at your words lovingly, convincing yourself that others will see in it what you do, that agents will see it. Until the rejections begin rolling in and then what? You give up, or blame it on everyone else, or keep querying despite the rejections piling up when really the problem is you’re afraid to face the truth about your writing. This might seem harsh, but being a writer is hard. Fucking hard. And if my words save you from sending out a manuscript before it’s ready that’s fine with me. Your story deserves a chance, but it’s best chance comes from you letting others help you along the way.
Need a CP? Check back here for the next CP Match date announcement (the last one *just* passed on 9/12) Or reach out to writer friends on Twitter for help finding one!
You just spent weeks, months, years writing and revising your book. You have poured every bit of time you could spare, spent restless nights and coffee riddled mornings clanking away on your keyboard. You have finished that fucking novel. Finally.
So it’s normal to think that now, it’s time for people to read your genius, to throw a parade for you and your book and also give you a movie deal. It’s time to fire up your Gmail and query the hell out of your novel, because that was the whole point, and you have to do it NOW because you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, & patience be damned. You’ve waited long enough. Your work will speak for itself, right?
Well, not really.
I hate to break it to you but you’re not the only writer who has worked hard on their manuscript. Sure there are hundreds (thousands?) of us who have just sort of thrown something together and are hoping for the best, but a lot of writers work HARD on their books. The thing is, hard work does not put you above the fray or mean anyone owes you anything. Working hard on your book is uh sort of expected.
Where I’ve noted a lot of writers falter is what comes after you’ve finished that first draft, or even the fourth. There is so much more that goes into making a book not just not terrible, but truly great.
- Revise, rewrite, and rewrite some more
Never, and I mean NEVER send a first draft out to agents. Unless you’re Stephen King (which you are not because he doesn’t read this blog) you don’t have it like that, not yet. You need to edit, you need to rewrite. THIS is when the hard work begins, where the good writing comes out of what’s probably just an OK first draft. I finished the first draft of my manuscript in September of last year (2014), and had I sent it out as it was, had I sent the SECOND draft out (or even the third) I would’ve been hard pressed to find an agent who would take me on. The writing just wasn’t there yet. I needed to flesh scenes out, re-read chapters and make my character arcs work better. There was just so much to improve on that had I not let myself step away from my manuscript to let it breath, then jump back in and begin revisions I would’ve been doing my story, and all my work up to that point, an injustice.
2. Beta Readers
Once you’re past the revision stage, and you feel your book has been edited and worked over enough for readers, it’s time to send to your CP (critique partners) or beta readers. Listen, you wrote this damn thing so of course you think it’s good. IT’S YOUR BOOK FFS. You need outside perspective, you need someone who’s going to tell you what works and what doesn’t. As my good friend and beta reader Megan from Extra Ink Edits pointed out, three is a good number for beta readers.
If you have a friend who likes to read, and also happens to be that one friend who is brutally honest, pick them. If you write YA like I do, and have a sixteen year old niece/nephew that is willing to read your book, pick them. Pick people who represent your audience, people who will be as impartial as possible, people who will encourage you, and above all people who will help make your book better. You don’t have to take all the advice they give you, but if all of your betas point out the same things it’s probably worth looking into. You also have to be honest with yourself during this process. Really look over your novel, is it the best it can be or are you glossing over obvious problems because it’s too much work or seems scary to fix them? When you’re not honest about the state of your own work, the only person you’re fooling is yourself.
3. Researching The Business of Writing
One literary agent I follow on Twitter mentioned on her blog that about eighty percent of the writers in her inbox didn’t follow submission guidelines and therefore eliminate themselves from the running automatically. That’s a high number, and chances are if you’re not taking the time to research the business of writing, your part of that group. What do I mean by the business of writing? I mean anything related to what happens after you’ve truly (see above) finished your book. The querying, submission and publication process. According to a a blog post on Writers Relief, several industry professionals mentioned not following submission guidelines being amongst the worst mistakes a writer can make. Here are a few quotes from that blog post:
Diverse Voices Quarterly: “This may seem like a no-brainer, but not following submission guidelines is the worst thing.”
Inkwell: “The worst thing a writer can do when making a submission is to disregard the submission guidelines. We receive submissions from too many writers who state they don’t have computers so please excuse their out-of-date submission or forgive them for handwriting the entire manuscript, they simply didn’t know what to do because they can’t visit our website—or worse, say nothing at all. Not adhering to the guidelines torpedoes a submission.”
Philadelphia Stories: “The very worst thing an author can do when submitting work for publication is to ignore the submission guidelines. It’s really that simple.”
Softblow Poetry Journal: “The worst things: submitting without reading the instructions given by the editors or the guidelines set down by the journal…”
Notice a pattern? Every place you submit to has different guidelines, and thinking you are the exception to the rule when it comes to these guidelines will only get you swiftly rejected.
Another reason to research the querying process is to see the etiquette involved. The uninformed writer might think it’s perfectly fine to call an agent the day after querying them (or at all), to stop by their office, to email them a week later and nudge on your submission. But if you’ve taken the time to research, to follow agents on Twitter perhaps or read blog posts about their likes/dislikes when it comes to the querying process, you’ll know all these things are a big fat oh-no-no.
I get it that you’re excited, and that it sucks to wait, but usually you only get one chance to query an agent and if you ruin that chance, you’re most likely f’d for life when it comes to them. Not to mention:
It’s not worth it! Just be patient, take a deep breath and start reading about the process, work on your writing, talk to a fellow writer, expend that nervous energy elsewhere, but not in getting on an agent’s nerves.
Another thing to take into account is some agents like when you personalize their query by saying why you choose to send them your work. If you don’t research them you won’t know this, and it could help get you extra brownie points. Also make sure that personalization doesn’t equal = “your agency has a proven track record of…” anybody could say that. Instead, you should mention specific things the agent has said in interviews, maybe on their #MSWL even, but always be sure the information is still accurate. Don’t quote a blog post from 2008 since their wish list might (and probably has) changed since then.
It’s tempting to stay holed up in your writing nook, and just blast that query letter the moment you’ve typed your last word, staying blind to the outside world, to the advice of blogs and literary agents and other writer friends. After all, they don’t know your work, or how hard it was to get to this point. You just know that once an agent reads those first few pages, they’ll be hooked. You’re going to go with your gut, do what feels right, and just jump in head first. But this is a mistake. One that could potentially cost you getting an agent, and after all that hard work, is it really worth it?
Since I’m not a jerkasauraus, here is a list of resources for all you non-researching writers looking to convert:
- Literary Rambles : Informative interviews with agents broken down by what they rep, and links to other articles/interviews with said agents.
- How To Write the Perfect Query Letter: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter
- The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests: http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/
- Query Shark: A site dedicated to the revision of query letters http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
- The Writing Excuses podcast: An excellent show with great advice on the writing process, querying and more. http://www.writingexcuses.com/
- Carly Watters Blog: One of my favorite literary agent blogs. Informative, clear and incredibly helpful. http://carlywatters.com/
- A list of literary agent blogs: http://www.sharischwarz.com/p/on-writing.html
- Publishers Marketplace: A great place to research agents. http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
- Manuscript Wishlist: Research agents, what they’re hoping to see in their inbox and cool features that let you search by genre and tags. https://mswlparagraph.wordpress.com/
Immerse yourself in the writing community you are hoping to break into, do your research, be honest with yourself about your novel, work hard on your writing and hope for the best!
Click the picture below to follow me on Twitter!
My good friend Megan is one of the best writers I know and I’m lucky enough to have her as a beta reader for my projects. If you’re currently working on a manuscript follow the cool infographic below to make sure your story isn’t full of plot holes! Also make sure to visit http://www.ExtraInkEdits.com for more tips from Megan and if you need help on your WIP she’s a fantastic resource! My book certainly wouldn’t be the same without her input and I am sure she can do great things for yours 🙂
A few months ago a monthly Youtube show called PubTalkTV launched, much to my delight. Like anything I get excited about I started tweeting about it, sharing it on Facebook and sending it to my writer friends. Many of them responded with, “What is this?” Or later on, “Oops, I still haven’t watched this!”
The latter statement always leaves me scratching my head. Why? Well, if you’ve been a part of any writing community, especially on Twitter, the topics of agents and querying are always popular ones. Writers always have a lot of questions and frustrations about the querying process. So why then wouldn’t you grasp every opportunity to learn as much about it as possible? Let me rewind and tell you what PubTalkTV is all about.
Three agents (Jessica Sinsheimer, Monica Odom and Roseanne Wells) and two authors (Summer Heacock, Kelsey Macke) get together in their respective homes (except for Jessica and Rosie who have been sharing a screen) and chat with us the audience about all things publishing. From querying, to pitching at conferences, to the first three pages, every topic I have ever wondered about is covered. The best part is, you can actually submit your own questions for them to answer on air. Yay!
So many times I’ve spoken to author friends who are mystified by the querying process, who are intimidated by agents, and terrified of asking questions. First, agents are people too. I am lucky enough to count a few as friends and they are probably some of the nicest people I know. Second, I know I always say this but it’s not enough to just write your book and hope something good happens. That’s really only part of it. Becoming an author is full of seemingly scary tasks that you have to overcome. It’s a rite of passage, especially for the less than extroverted among us. I remember when I had my first book signing, I had to pinch my own leg to stop from shaking I was so nervous. It was scary! But I did it, and now seven book signings under my belt, I really look forward to meeting readers at signings – it’s one of the fun parts! And I know I’m going to sound crazy here but…isn’t querying sort of fun too?
I mean I know it’s hard, the rejection, the waiting, and repeat. But it’s also filled with moments of excitement, there’s so much possibility in that waiting, and even with rejection you sometimes get advice that can help turn your story around completely. There’s also a tremendous sense of community. You can connect with fellow authors while you’re querying, share success and horror stories, insecurities and questions.You can vent to one another without the drama a twitter rant will cause (DO NOT), and you can cry on each others shoulders, virtual or otherwise, as you receive yet another rejection. There’s something to be said for having the support of those going through the same thing as you. I know my non-writer friends wouldn’t quite understand the pain that comes with querying. No, it’s a special kind of suffering that really only a select group of people understand.
And on the flip side, there is nothing better than seeing a fellow writer get a yes from an agent. Especially after months (or years) of waiting and rejection. It’s a wonderful feeling, especially when you realize you could be next.
So, what’s my point? In PubtalkTV, the panel of agents and authors have given us writers a chance to ask questions, to listen to them talk about and explain things that could otherwise cause hours of agonizing (like “how exactly can I make sure my query formatting translates from my word document to the the email without getting all messed up?” Or, “should I send a rewrite on my MS before I’ve received a response from an agent?”) It’s also pretty fun to watch, and I find myself laughing along with their jokes and silly antics (query squirrel anyone?). It’s a way to feel like a part of the publishing community which can sometimes feel so out of reach, a chance to see agents for who they are, taking some of that scare factor off your plate as you send your babies (aka your MS) into the world.
I think it’s super important to use all the resources we have at our disposal to make sure that our manuscripts get their best possible chance of being read and considered. I think it’s unfair to bash the publishing industry, agents, and the querying process (which I see writers do A LOT) unless you have really put in the time and effort to learn the business of writing, and how to take your book to the next step by finding an agent. If you don’t read the instruction manual, don’t get upset with the manufacturer when you break the machine, know what I’m saying? And I know, I know: THE BUSINESS OF WRITING doesn’t sound anything like a passion, or calling, or glamorous career, but guess what? If you’re going to be any sort of author, there is business involved. There are contracts, and percentages, and conferences and meetings. And waiting. So.much.waiting. So if you can’t take a few hours out of your day to learn not just about how to write well, but what to do with your book once it’s finished, to be patient enough to let the process work without thinking it needs to happen on your time then what are you really doing it all for?
Are you okay with blindly jumping into something, knowing you might not get a second chance to take that leap? I know I am not. Although I do want an agent, I also want to understand what it is they do, how we will work together, and what I can do to increase my chances of getting one. I want to build a career, have longevity as an author. This is not my hobby, it’s what I want to do with my life, and I want to put in as much effort into that as humanly possible. I just see it as part of my work and journey as an author and if you want agent representation you should too!
There are so many submission guidelines, rules, etiquette to follow and it often changes from agent to agent, agency to agency, but one thing, in my opinion, remains the same: If you do the research, you will have a better chance of getting a solid response based on your writing and not a mistake you made during the querying process itself. So, long story short
Watch PubTalkTV tonight 8PM EST, have some laughs, learn a little something, and get one step closer to your next step as an author.
Not sure if any of you know, but I work for The Combined Book Exhibit, a book marketing company in NY. I always write blogs about author tips and I’ve just made a tutorial on making graphics for free using Picmonkey. If you’ve ever wanted to make graphics or promo material for your books, but have no idea where to start, read on below!
My first book, The Skinwalker’s Apprentice, was self published and the next book in the series was picked up at a twitter #pitmad event. I wasn’t expecting to get signed (I only had a partial MS for crying out loud) but a small press signed me almost immediately. That was a few months back, and now I find myself contract-less. What happened? Things didn’t work out. It sucks, but it happens. In my rush to get a contract, I didn’t stop myself for that oh so crucial moment of asking ” Is this the right choice?”
Turns out it wasn’t, not for me, so now I find myself sort of back to square one. While I don’t have a contract, I have gotten much closer to finishing my book (two weeks from editing phase woohoo) and I’ve met a lot of amazing readers who’ve gotten their hands on the prequel and loved it. Does anyone know who I am ? Not really but Big Ang follows me on Twitter. Has J.K. Rowling called me for a lunch date. No freaking way. Do I have publishers knocking down my door? Negative.
None of that really matters though, because it was doubtful I would get any of those things with the path I was on ANYWAY, so why not follow my gut?
I made a tough choice for the good of my (crosses fingers) longevity as an author as opposed to something that felt more like instant gratification. It was hard & yes I feel slightly embarrassed for some reason even though it was my choice.
Despite feeling slightly defeated at first, I now feel a lot happier with where I’m at, and know I made the right decision. I feel I am doing the right thing for my career as a writer, as I embark on something I’ve only ever done twice during #pitmad…querying agents. It wasn’t nearly as scary then because those agents REQUESTED my MS. Now I am just going to find someone (or a few someones lets be honest) who I think would be the perfect match for me, and send them a “please love me” email. I am nervous, and know from my author friends that rejection is as imminent as it is un-pretty.
In the wise words of Coldplay, “If you never try, then you’ll never know,” or something akin to that, so I’m going to join the throngs of crying authors and query my little heart out.
So, for any authors who are at a similar crossroads, I want to tell you you’re not alone (cue cheesy music). Sometimes it’s hard to swallow your pride and take that step backwards. Sometimes that step backwards is the only way to get on the right path. So, here’s to finishing Emerald Kipp & The Riddle of The Timekeeper, to writing an awesome query letter, and to getting my dream agent. (cue slow claps)
My day job is pretty cool. I work for a book marketing company (The Combined Book Exhibit) as their social media manager. It means I get to tweet, and post things on Facebook all day and blog. My latest blog is about gaining readers via Instagram for authors. If it’s something you’ve wondered about, read on!
With over 200 million active users and 1.6 Billion likes daily, Instagram is perhaps one of the most powerful social media apps available for authors to market their eBooks.
However, how can something used mainly for sharing pictures help readers find their way to you?
It’s true there are limitations to Instagram (or IG as it’s sometimes abbreviated), most glaring of all the inability to share hyperlinks.
When setting up your profile, you are able to add one link which can be reserved for your official website or a link to purchase your book, but beyond that your followers will need to copy/paste any links you share…something they’re not likely to do.
The key is making and sharing content that will get them interested in your book, so interested, they will go to your profile and find the one link you are allowed to share, or search for you on Amazon using your book title. The secret to driving traffic via Instagram has to do with engaging your audience, and using visually appealing pictures to help sell your story. Below I will share a few ways that have helped me reach more readers, and some great examples I’ve seen other authors use on Instagram as well…