This post was originally published in the December installment of my WITCHES & WONDERMENTS newsletter. To sign up for future newsletters, go here.

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Like just about everything writing related, there is a lot of bad advice out there on the internets about how to utilize social media as a writer/author. I’ve made meaningful connections on Twitter and even found my agent on there, so it can be a powerful tool for your career. It can also be a powerful tool for making a complete fool of yourself.

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Want to avoid making a huge mistake? Here are a few tips I’ve learned in my time on Twitter, I hope they’ll help you avoid being a butthead.

1. Follow, don’t stalk:

It’s painful to watch one person liking and replying to every last thing someone, who is clearly not their best friend, tweets. Twitter is made for interaction, yes, but there are also limits and boundaries. When you’re querying, it’s tempting to follow agents and try and decipher clues from their tweets about your MS (more on than later) but it’s also important to remember that A) You are not the only person querying them and B) hanging on an agents every word is not only not effective, it can get super annoying super fast.

Same goes for authors. I understand the impulse to tweet excitedly to and about your favs, but you should also be careful you’re not flooding their mentions everyday and becoming a nuisance.

Pay attention to how many times they interact with you. If you’re always tweeting someone and they never respond, scale it back. This could mean they’re busy and didn’t see your tweets or that they don’t want to respond to you, especially if you’ve tweeted them multiple times: take the hint and utilize your time and effort with someone who’s interested in interacting – but display the same respect for their boundaries as I mentioned before.

2. Don’t be Generic

This sounds meaner than it is, but what I’m really trying to say is unless you have something funny/meaningful/important to add to a conversation – you should probably stay out of it. When an agent tweets about yet another querying author being rude to them, you can be sure there will be at least five, “PEOPLE DO THAT?” comments from querying authors.

This comes off as desperate, because it is. We want to show agents WE would never do something like that, so we respond with manufactured shock, with a question that you already know the answer to. Yes people do it, that is why they are tweeting this. It sucks, but you don’t have to respond unless you have something that’s actually adding to the conversation. If your tweet is the same as ten other authors, you’re not adding anything but clutter.

This also applies to conversation on more sensitive topics like racism in publishing. I’ve seen authors who, likely trying to be good allies, reply about that one time an agent rejected them too because they wrote about an old woman and isn’t that just so ageist and when will our plight as women end? (yes I have seen this exact thing play out) in response to a black, brown or Asian writer expressing their frustration at the state of publishing. Not everything is about you, so it’s okay to like something and not respond or, even better, boost the voices of marginalized writers instead.

Lastly, there are the people who tweet things like “Just had coffee,” or “Just picked my kid up from school.” I am sure these are all thrilling events for you, but at least give us a gif, or something to make the tweet interesting. For example, “Just had coffee,” would be a lot more interesting if it read something like, “Just had coffee and I’m ready to tackle my day/revisions/not fall asleep at my desk.” Add a cute gif like this one:

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And your tweet will be fun, easier to relate to and not…pointless. Think of your tweets as a line in your book, unless it’s moving the plot forward (contributing to the conversation in some way) then cut it. That doesn’t mean every tweet has to be some deep, meaningful thing, trust me I tweet ridiculous things all the time, but it does have to serve a purpose, otherwise why did you tweet that particular thought as opposed to the 5 billion others floating around in your brain. Filter it out for us so we see the good stuff 🙂

3. Find Friends Who are on Your Level

I know the writing community can seem cliquey at times (& yep sometimes it is) but there’s a logical reason for this: Writers often come up together. Meaning, writers who become friends before they have agents/are published can sometimes form little circles and stick together. Usually this isn’t for any of the stuck up or exclusionary reasons we might suspect, but more like when you’re in school and have a graduating class. It’s just something that happens naturally because going through the querying process and going on sub are stressful experiences that lead to lots of crying together and bonding.

So how do you “break in” to what seems like a super closed off circle of people chatting with one another? Make friends with authors who are on the same step as you. Interact with authors who are querying too, who are still revising, who are plotting out a new book because they had to shelve the old one. It can be a lot easier to relate to someone who is in the same place you are in your career, especially since the problems don’t end when you reach certain goals.

I’ve run into situations where some of my writer pals get angry at their more established friends for complaining about something like a slow submission process or issues with their cover. How can they complain about that when I don’t even have an agent! You might think. Or I’d be happy to just be published, they’re so ungrateful! But the truth is there are problems no matter where you are in the process and it’s hard to understand being frustrated over a badly timed cover reveal when you’ve been working on chapter seventeen for the past nine weeks. I get it. But remember that there will be pressures and problems in every phase of your publishing career. That doesn’t make those issues more established authors face better or worse, they’re just different.

This is not to say that you can’t make friends with established authors too, you totally can and you can learn a lot from them! But don’t think you have to be friends with JK Rowling to be part of the writing community. The community is what you make of it.

4. Don’t be Precious, Be humble

So, there is a big difference between interesting and special snowflake. Lots of new writers crash into the Twitter scene expecting to make an impact immedietly. They pitch agents at inappropriate times, tag people they don’t know on their blog posts over and over again, and have a general disregard for Twitter etiquette because they think rules don’t apply to them. They think they’re super special.

I know your mom probably told you you were special and she was likely right, but you’re also just one voice in a sea of voices that have already been talking for years before you arrived. Respect the space and read the room. Follow the example of other writers who are well regarded in the community, they usually have their own “brand” which really just amounts to their personality. Make sure your personality is not being misinterpreted as “annoying AF.”

This can apply to authors who have already achieved some level of success too. If you are constantly tweeting about how you got your agent and how, “YOU CAN DO IT TOO!” or how, “I’m so lucky!” your feed is gonna get real old, real fast. I can already guarantee you’re muted by at least twelve people. I’m probably one of them. It’s totally cool to help authors and tell your story, I do it all the time, but try not to come off as a humblebrag either. Publishing is a wild ride and that person you’re condescending to could lap you before you can say New York Times Bestseller.

5. Stop Thinking Everything is About You

I know it’s hard not to think things like:

“Omg this agent just followed me and I queried them last night that means they’re gonna sign me!”

or

“Omg this editor just liked my tweet about my dog and I am pretty sure this means they are going to buy my book!”

or

“Omg this agent just tweeted about a manuscript with a weak ending that they’re rejecting and I KNOW FOR A FACT IT’S ABOUT ME!”

I have done all of these things and more and trust me none of it leads anywhere good. You’re stressing yourself out for likely no good reason. The only news you should rely on as accurate, is the news you receive via your inbox. Don’t read into tweets, follows, likes or subtweets. Every time you feel the urge to, get off Twitter and go write for ten minutes, or take a walk. Seriously, it’s good training for the future because being on submission doesn’t make the temptation to read into things any easier.
6. Be Yourself. No, Really.

The big secret to success on social media really amounts to this generic piece of advice right here: be yourself. OH NO I BROKE MY OWN GENERIC RULE! Jk I made it funny with this sentence. It sounds simple because it is. Do you like video games? Tweet about them. Are you angry that they cast some ugly troll as one half of your OTP? Yell about it. Did you get a beautiful new lipstick that looks amazing on you? Snap a selfie and post it. Social media for authors isn’t about books and writing all the time, nobody wants to follow a book robot.

If you feel passionate about the things you’re tweeting, it will show. When someone treats Twitter like an awful task, that shows too. Have fun with your account, talk about the things you enjoy as well as writing and you’ll have a much easier time of building a platform.

7. Bonus Tip: Don’t tweet agents links to your book on Amazon.

When an agent tweets that they’re searching for a certain kind of book, they mean in their query inbox not an already self-published book. Responding to an agent with a link about how great your book is will not help you unless it’s already a run away bestseller and I’m guessing if you’re tweeting it at agents, it’s not. Similarly, you might want to hold off on tweeting at them about the book you plan on querying them with too. If they ask for something on twitter using the MSWL hashtag for example, mention that in your query but not on Twitter. It can work on very rare occasions but the truth is the only way to truly know if an agent wants your book is to query them.

I say this with love, stop being annoying and good luck!

This post was originally published in the October installment of my WITCHES & WONDERMENTS newsletter. To sign up for future newsletters, go here.

 

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What querying feels like sometimes

DVpit happened this week and a big high five to all the authors who put themselves out there and gave it a shot. I hope you got some likes! If you didn’t that’s really okay too (unless you were a jerk to me bc in that case 😊. ) But for the rest of you non-jerks, pitching contests are not the only path. Cold querying has worked for many more writers than contests have. But no matter which path you take, there’s one thing nobody should skip out on: researching agents.
I did a small thread on this on Twitter a few days ago, which got a lot of traction because of the idea that “No agent is better than a bad one.” That’s still true and although I know how hard it is to say no when you have an offer from anyone, signing to a questionable agent will only hurt and not help your career. Not only do you run the very high risk of not selling your book and having to shelve it, but you might also become distrustful of everyone in publishing, which is a hard thing to overcome. It sucks to work with someone who is not the right fit for you, and although this can also happen with a “good” agent, you should take every possible step to avoid it. How? I’m about to show you!

Step One: The Internet is Your Friend

Update: Although I still consider Publisher’s Marketplace a useful tool, I’ve moved it down on the list since sketchy agents sometimes manipulate rankings (by submitting to lists other agents never submit to) in order to appear more successful. Therefore I would suggest going to this site LAST, and factoring in sales but only to reputable publishers. Please do not be fooled by agents claiming to be #1 in anything.

Some of my favorite research websites are:

Absolutewrite: A forum where authors can dish on agents, publishers and more.

Query Tracker: A fantastic resource for, you guessed it, keeping track of which agents you’ve queried and also see comments left by other querying writers.

Literary Rambles: Helpful interviews with kidlit agents, great for finding specific agent wants to include in your query letter!

Manuscript Wishlist: See what agents and editors are looking for!

Jim suggests questions to ask a prospective agent! : Once you have an offer, these questions from agent and legendary-beard-haver Jim McCarthy is the go-to list of questions to use for the call.

Twitter! Yes really, search that agents name and see if anyone has said anything you’d want to know about them. You can’t take this as gospel, but if everyone is publicly saying an agent is no good, you should probably listen.

Publisher’s Marketplace lists agent/agency sales & ranks. It’s an incredibly useful tool if you’re trying to figure out if an agent has sales in your genre and to which houses. If any agent has multiple sales to the same house it can be also be an indication of strong relationships with editors. Publisher’s Marketplace is where I got my “Most Beyoncé List of YA-Agents” List from and I’m sharing it here for any of you who’d like to take a look! *Please note this list is based solely on PMP sales which I talk more about below
Download List

Now, while all this information can be very helpful it’s also important to keep in mind what literary agent Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch expressed on Twitter: ” …not having a sales record ≠ being a schmagent…”
Saba went on to say that many established agents took years to get to where they are and that many newer agents are also sitting on book deals which they haven’t been able to announce yet. This is all so important to keep in mind and in my opinion, when faced with a lack of information for an individual agent, looking at what agency they’re with and what support they’ll have in turn, is a great way to gauge if these newer agents might be a good fit for you. Publisher’s Marketplace costs $25.00 a month and I would definitely recommend signing up for a month or two at minimum if you can afford it. You should also, always, check an agent’s agency website. This is where their submission guidelines, emails and sometimes updated wish-lists are posted.

Step Two: Google It (aka Google is also on the internet and also your friend)

When an agent is considering signing a new author, many times they Google them. You should do the same for agents you are querying. Aside from the dedicated websites above, many authors blog about their experiences with signing to their agent and sometimes though not as often *gasp* horror stories. Doing an in-depth google search might help you find a helpful interview or information about prospective agents. Also, you wanna make sure they’re not a vampire. Or maybe you want to make sure they are. Listen, I’m not judging you. Edward Cullen would’ve made a great agent, he watched Bella sleep and everything! #Persistent

Step Three: Gossip!

Okay so maybe not gossip per say but word of mouth is a crucial step in the agent research process. Why? Because as I said above, horror stories aren’t often shared out in the open. There is always a fear of stepping on toes or retaliation against your career (especially for marginalized authors) so often times the most useful information is the one shared in private settings. Reach out to former clients if you can, join private Facebook groups (like this one I set up specifically for people of color!) and reach out to other writers who have been around longer in the community. It’s likely someone you reach out to either has information or knows someone who does. The writer grapevine is essential and you should definitely take advantage of it.

Step Four: Listen.

Steps one through three don’t matter if you don’t listen to the warning signs. If you have a bad gut feeling, if you’re getting bad information from multiple writers, if you aren’t happy with multiple aspects of a prospective agents profile and career, it’s better for everyone involved that you not query or sign with them. As I said in the opening, no agent is better than a bad one, and although it takes incredible self restraint to say no to a lone offer it won’t be the last time you’re forced to wait in publishing and you should consider it practice for the future. You should also consider it an investment, in yourself. In your writing and the time you put in to finish your book. Don’t put all the hard work and time into the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate it as much as you do. Do not sell yourself short & good luck in the query trenches! I’ll be rooting for you.

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I’m very excited about this post.

New series alert! I’ve been hoping to feature literary agent interviews on my blog for quite some time and I finally have my first post to share: an interview with Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency! Like anything I do though, Gifs are involved, so below you’ll find out more about Molly’s career as an agent, what she’s looking for now and a few choice Gifs to describe her job. Enjoy!


 

1. I know it’s different for almost every agent I’ve ever spoken to so, how did you get into agenting?

I worked for years in various roles in children’s publishing, and then I took a few years off and had children, moved from New York to London, and thought about what I wanted to do next. Jenny Bent and I are old friends, and she approached me about joining the Bent Agency. I had no experience as an agent, but I had plenty of publishing experience, and the idea of trying something new was really appealing after being away from the industry for a few years. I joined the agency in 2012.

 

2. What are the top three things you look for in a query/any tips for querying authors?

Well, thoughtfully-chosen comp titles are always really useful. Obviously “for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and HARRY POTTER” isn’t helpful at all, but if the comp titles are books that were original/unusual themselves, or books that I’ve said I particularly enjoyed, I’ll always be intrigued. I always appreciate when authors use the query letter to tell me more about their book than about themselves — I see a lot of queries are more life story than pitch. And if there’s a specific reason an author is querying me, I like to know — whether it’s because they enjoyed a book by one of my clients, or they feel they have something in common with me, or they remember something useful/amusing/embarrassing that I said on Twitter.

3. What are some things that will make you stop reading requested material?

Just one thing will make me stop reading: feeling bored.

4. What do you look for in a story? What really grabs your attention?

I look at writing even more than I look at story. I love language; I love feeling like a writer has chosen every word carefully. Craft is important to me as plot. That said, I like stories that make me forget that I’m evaluating them. Anything that draws me in to the point where I’m just enjoying the ride is special. 

5. Anything in particular you’re looking for right now?

I’d love to find a witty MG adventure or fantasy that will appeal to both American and overseas publishers. And for a long time, I’ve been interested in writing from the South Asian diaspora — I’d love to find a YA project that feels like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

6. Do you have any trend predictions for what’s next in the kidlit world?

I think there’s a real openness right now to perspectives that feel fresh and different to publishers, and a desire to think about the readers who don’t often see themselves in MG and YA fiction. Books that would have been considered ’too niche’ a few years ago are getting a lot more visibility. My hope is that that’s not a trend, but a shift in the way we think about publishing. It’s long past time.

7. Describe your ideal client.

Talented, patient, resilient, responsive.

8. Anything exciting coming up for your clients?

Too many things to mention! I’ve been sitting on a bunch of deal announcements for various reasons (did you know some publishers won’t let a deal be announced until the contract is signed? And I’ve sold a few on proposal that I’ll announce when we have full drafts to share with foreign publishers). I sold one at auction to an editor who described it as ‘the meta-YA project of my dreams’; another is from one of my clients who already has a wide audience for their YA fantasy. My client Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (I’ve been practicing pronouncing that) in Germany, which is hugely exciting. Kendra Fortmeyer’s debut HOLE IN THE MIDDLE comes out in the UK this summer, and I think it will establish her as a really powerful new voice in YA. And much more. I could kvell all day about my clients!

9. What’s your favorite/least favorite part of being an agent?

The day I forced myself to admit that I will never, ever catch up on my reading was a tough one. There will always be more submissions to read. For someone like me, who basically gets high on completing tasks, this is a grim fact.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding gold in my submissions. I remember reading an incredible manuscript on a flight from London to New York once — with no wifi on the flight, and none of those seat-back phones you used to find on airplanes — and asking the stranger sitting next to me to read a page of it, because I had to share my excitement with someone. I wish I’d got her address so I can send her an ARC when it comes in.

10.   Describe being an agent in three GIFS.

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To query Molly, please review The Bent Agency’s submissions guidelines
Then email hawnqueries@thebentagency.com

Molly Ker Hawn represents authors who write for the young adult and middle grade market.

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Heyo! It’s been a while but I am back with another post for the #Amquerying series, with the always sassy and super-amazing, Kosoko Jackson! For those of you who don’t know, querying is the process of procuring a literary agent and it can be equal parts soul crushing and fantastic.
You can follow Kosoko on Twitter here and read below to find out how he got his agent, how he actually misses querying (WHAT?!) and why anything is possible in publishing!
1. How did you prepare for querying? Did you use query tracker or any similar tools?
I was a huge fan of query-tracker and I used the paid service obsessively. It was a great site to have everything in one place and made the information easy to find. QTs search feature isn’t the best (for example, if you are looking for an agent that does “Young adult” and “thriller” it gives you agents that do “YA” only, “thriller” only AND “both” instead of just the both), so I also used MSWL; the hashtag & the website. I then would spend several minutes searching for interviews to help personalize the query letters.
2. Was the book you got your agent for the first book you wrote/queried? 
Ha. Nope. A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER is the 3rd book I queried. Effectively, this is the 3rd iteration of this novel, so you could say it’s my 5th novel written.
 
3. What was the process like for you? Can you share stats? If not, can you tell us a timeline of how long it took for you to get your agent? 
Sure! If you include all 3 version of A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER, and even the R&Rs from patient agents, I sent 257 queries. From those I got I’d say in the ‘upper 30s’ for full requests. I ended with 3 offers.
My agent timeline was long. I got a “Favorite” from Louise Fury in #DvPit in 2016. She sat on the full, and then I nudged her saying I go into Pitch Wars in August. She then got the revised version in November, and I nudged her again when I got an offer in March. It was about 11 months from when I sent her the first query, to when she offered. This goes to show anything can happen!
 
 4. How did you feel during the process of querying? Anxious, stressed, cool? 
I liked querying (and I kinda miss it?). It was fun to learn about new agents, seeing and learning about agents and such. It felt a little like a scavenger hunt. I think there’s a querying learning curve; with any novel you query. The first full is an exceptional feeling; the first full rejection stings, and the same with queries. I strongly believe in the “you need to grow thick skin” mentality when it comes to querying. Consequently, with 250 rejections, I learned to breeze through them and not really feel any sort of personal hate or pain. This is a business, and the quicker you learn that the better. Sometimes, you write something that’s good–it’s actually great–but not great for the market. It happens.
I will say my emotions went through the whole spectrum, as I feel all querying authors emotions do. That’s normal, and that’s part of the fun. I’d suggest embracing it. You learn a lot about yourself during querying–and how you deal with stress. Publishing is a slow game. Querying, is the fastest part.
 
5. How did you cope with the emotions involved with querying? Did you keep busy doing anything else? 
Personally? I bury myself in my work. When I got a rejection? I sent out 10 more queries. Not 1. not 4. 10. I just push through. I’m stubborn. It’s adorable, to be honest. (bold by me, Claribel, because this is both true and hilarious) I would NOT suggest this to anyone else. Reason why? When I had to nudge agents I had to nudge 78 of them. That was a lot of manage.
And like any author, I worked on other things while waiting.
6. Anything unexpected about the querying process for you? 
I think what was unexpected was the kindness of strangers. When I first wrote this novel, it was a speculative ‘what if’ version and far more political. I had a line in my query letter that suggested parallels to a specific war. An agent who asked for a R & R she suggested I base the novel in that war, instead of making a reference to it. That simple change got me where I was today. It made my novel unique, insightful and tapped into something no one really talked about in YA. This agent didn’t have to tell me that. She didn’t have to write a whole page note from my 10 pages. But she did, and I’m here–with an agent–because of it.
I should note that though this was from the kindness of the agent’s heart, I know it came from my social media presence. Be kind to everyone, folks. Engage. Agents are people too. They like what you like. They love what you love and they will chat with you like a normal person if you don’t view them like some Gods on high. It can help and make an agent put in that little bit of effort.
 
7. If you could give querying authors one piece of advice what would it be? 
Throw caution to the wind! Many people will disagree with me but when I say query widely, I mean like VERY widely. Here’s how I did my novel. To its benefit or detriment, my novel is Historical, a Thriller, LGBT, And a little more lit-ficy- than most YA. So I searched for agents using those parameters. If they OPENLY said they were looking for any of those 4 factors in YA, they were ‘tier one’. If they said,  “I like WXY but not Z” Tier 2. Tier 3 were people who never openly said no to any of the genre’s mentioned, but didn’t say yes. This not only made a priority list in my mind, but also helped to see how agents worked.
8. Did other writers comes into play in terms of helping to manage stress/share good or bad news/revise your query or opening pages? 
 
I participated in every critique or pitch event I could to help hone my first pages. I also have a very loyal friend who pushes me, challenges me, and really helps me to be the best I can. She was amazing and instrumental in this novel getting to where it was now, mainly because of her ingenuity of turning tropes on their heads and her knowledge of the market and trends. ADVICE: don’t be afraid to make friends with people you never thought you would. Sometimes, those people have the best advice.
9. When did you get the call? Can you describe that day or moment for us?
Louise wasn’t the agent who got the ball rolling. She was actually someone I nudged and was my last call (12 hours before my deadline). I was on the way to a conference and pulled over to have the call with her. Off the bat, Louise flying back from South Africa to call me was really a good sign. Additionally, she had amazing insight about the novel, how to fix it, what to make better, me and my career, the type of writer I wanted to be and the type of person I was. Yes, an agent is a business partner but, especially being a young author, someone who I can grow with, challenge me, help me expand, and take what I think are my strengths and capitalize on them while bolstering my weakness, was important. Louise brought me all of that and more. We talked for 2 hours and I haven’t looked back.
10. Describe the querying process in 3 gifs. 




11. Tell us a little about your upcoming book
 
A KISS OF BLOOD AND GUNPOWDER follows seventeen-year-old James Mills, the adopted son of 2 USAID parents, on his family’s final humanitarian mission, which takes them to Kosovo. For James, this is the first trip without his older sister, Anna, and he expects it to be a fairly dull one. But when the Kosovo-Serbian war breaks out, and he becomes separated from his parents, James must navigate a war-torn country and unearthed familial secrets, if he hopes to get him and his Brazilian boyfriend back home safely.

12. Anything else you’d like to share??

Really enjoy the process. It all seems like a lot of wall hitting and annoyance. It’ll feel like you’ll never get there, but no ones road is the same. I know people who got accepted on their first novel, some on their 12th. Some after 1 year of writing and subbing, some after 5 years. No story is the same…but make sure you don’t lose what makes you who you are in the quest to follow your dreams. Because the right agent will love you for you, and when you find them; it’ll be amazing.
kosoko
Kosoko is a Washington D.C. native who has been writing novels since 9th grade. With a goal of bringing marginalized voices to the forefront of all genres of literature, Kosoko finds beauty in addressing complex questions & themes for young adults, aided by complex prose. Kosoko is a digital media associate for Rock the Vote and finishing his BS in Public Health with dual minors in History & Communications. When not writing or working, he is trying to finish his 100 movies in 2017 goal, walking the streets of DC, or trying to convert believers to the Cult of Wonder Woman.  He is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency.

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Querying, a Gif

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 🙂

 

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Hello nerds! Today I have my third guest of the #Amquerying series, the very ass-kicky Michelle Hazen! For those of you who don’t know, querying is the process of procuring a literary agent and it can be equal parts soul crushing and fantastic. I am smack in the middle of my querying journey and thought it would be great to share stories from already agent-ed authors with you all. Michelle will be an adult/new adult mentor in this year’s PITCH WARS so look out for her if you’re hoping to enter! You can follow Michelle on Twitter here and read below to find out how she got her agent, the deal with her science-tortoises and more!

How did you prepare for querying? Did you use query tracker or any similar tools?

For the first book I queried, my only resource was an outdated Writer’s Market that I got from the library. For the second book I queried, I researched more widely on the internet at large. For the third book I queried, I joined Twitter, and suddenly the world exploded into a fountain of publishing information and contests, and I learned REALLY fast how many things I was doing wrong.

Writers? I hate social media, too. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the internet-less wilderness and most people’s great-grandparents got a smartphone before I did. But if you want to be an author, repeat after me…Just. Join. Twitter.

Was the book you got your agent for the first book you wrote/queried?

Nope. I wrote 13 and queried 3 before I landed an agent.

I know you have a background in fan fic writing, can you tell me about that? Did it affect your querying process at all or help you stand out to agents?

Fanfiction helped me learn to write, and it gave me a chance to connect with readers and know how heart-swellingly awesome that could be, which helped me through the heartbreak of the querying process. However, I’m an odd fanfic writer in that Amazon Kindle Worlds gave me an opportunity to legally publish my fanfic and share my royalties with the copyright holder. So I had some publishing credits, sales numbers, and marketing experience in my back pocket before I started shopping my original fiction around.

What was the process like for you? Can you share stats? If not, can you tell us a timeline of how long it took for you to get your agent?

I queried my first book in 2005, to somewhat less than trumpeting fanfare because I was making a lot of noob mistakes I didn’t realize were mistakes. I queried Book 2 for several months in 2014, and I meant to write its sequel but instead I guiltily wrote this other book that was jockeying for my attention. I hadn’t exhausted my options for Book 2 yet, but I was SO excited about Book 3, so I started querying it and entering it in contests. Right away, it got more requests than I was used to, and I had my offer in hand within 6 weeks of sending my first query.

 

How did you balance querying with your other activities? I know you climb rocks and work with large tortoises for science.

Small tortoises, actually. For science. LOL! I have a load of hobbies, and I’ve never gotten super good at any of them because I have so many…and then writing came along and ate my life. It’s even harder to keep up with all my other interests now because I devote an incredible amount of time to writing. But I find that one of the kindest things I can do for myself during either the querying process or the being on submission to publishers process is to GET AWAY FROM THE INTERNET.

I just got back from a week long, girls-only rock climbing trip, and seriously, it is so wonderful to not be thinking about if you have writing news or if you don’t have news, and why you don’t have news, and if you don’t have news because maybe you’re a terrible fraud and a hack and should maybe drown yourself in Cheez Whiz and White Out. Plus, if you go to the wilderness, not only do you get away from the refresh button (irony), but you remember that you have a whole life and a lot of talents that aren’t at all connected to writing. So maybe when you get that next rejection letter, you’ll remember there are parts of you the publishing industry is not even ALLOWED to pass judgment on. That can feel really good—almost like being a stable, well-balanced person. Almost.

How did you feel during the process of querying? Anxious, stressed, cool?

Oh, super cool. I was fine, thanks, totally expected rejection, was super zen, practically spouting green tea from my ears and thoughtfully pruning bonsai trees with machetes to pass the time. Ha freaking ha.

No, honestly through most of the querying process, I was teeth bared, JUST TRY AND STOP ME I WILL WRITE BOOKS UNTIL YOU ARE BURIED IN BOOKS AND THE WORLD RUNS OUT OF PAPER FOR YOU TO WRITE REJECTION LETTERS ON. My life story is a long list of pulling off crazy, unlikely shit because I was too stupid to give up. Writing is sort of perfect for me.

How did you cope with the emotions involved with querying? Did you keep busy doing anything else?

Yes. See Number 5: Backing Away From the Internet.

Anything unexpected about the querying process for you?

I didn’t expect it to end so soon! LOL. Honestly, there are so many blow-your-mind talented authors in the querying trenches, some of whom I’ve seen get agents lately and some of whom are still looking, and I sort of expected to be the one who had to query 20 books over a period of 35 years while selling baskets on eBay woven of my graying hair and lined with the tear-moistened paper of rejection letters.

But I suppose in another way, the querying process is never over. You have to land a book deal for each book you write, even after you get an agent, so the process continues: you just happen to have the support of a seasoned industry professional who deeply and truly believes in you. Which, I’m not going to lie, is awesome.

If you could give querying authors one piece of advice what would it be?

RESEARCH! I mean, as an ex-counselor, maybe I should be giving you some emotional management tips, but really, you wouldn’t need nearly as many of those if you would RESEARCH. If you’ve never had anyone read and give you feedback on your work, stop querying right now. If you haven’t done dozens of hours of research on querying and what agents are looking for and what the most common errors in querying are…stop querying right now and start researching. I’ve seen too many really promising books burn all their agent chances because they were making some small, fixable errors. Don’t do this.

The piece of advice I usually give querying authors is this website:

https://chasingthecrazies.wordpress.com/

Did other writers come into play in terms of helping to manage stress/share good or bad news/revise your query or opening pages?

When I was writing fanfiction, I found a really talented author and basically bullied her into being my critique partner. She’s helped me with every line I’ve written and every day I have dragged myself through ever since. I hit the jackpot with her, and then spent YEARS testing out other CPs and beta readers. I now have a great group of beta readers and two flat-out amazing CPs who are a huge support to me in my writing and personal life. Those girls are funny, sweet, crazy talented, and they know when to kick my ass and when to send me Texas coffee or tree air fresheners.

I think you really need writing friends, because the world at large doesn’t understand the agonies and ecstasies of the publishing industry, and you need people who GET what you’re going through. Plus, their good news is just as exciting to me as my good news, so really it’s like you multiply the amount of good news you get, and that’s badass.

When did you get the call? Can you describe that day or moment for us?

I was in New Orleans, eating bbq while a construction crew jackhammered the sidewalk next to us. When I saw the email from my future agent wanting to schedule a call, I froze. I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t think because of the freaking jackhammer, or maybe because my entire life had changed.

Describe the querying process in 3 gifs.

 

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Writer sobbing under desk

 

Seinfeld happy dance

Tell us a little about your upcoming book/what’s next for you.

Right now, my agent is shopping around a NA rocker romance series, I’ve just written a Thing that no one can pin a genre on that shows an interracial couple’s journey through trauma and love mirrored in the city of New Orleans. And I’m about to start a romantic suspense series about female Spec Ops soldiers. Can’t wait for that one!

 

About Michelle

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Michelle Hazen is a nomad with a writing problem.

Years ago, she and her husband ducked out of the 9 to 5 world and moved into their truck. She found her voice with the support of the online fanfiction community, and once she started typing, she never looked back. She wrote most of her books in odd places, including a bus in Thailand, an off-the-grid cabin in the Sawtooth Mountains, a golf cart in a sandstorm, a rental car during a heat wave in the Mohave Desert and a beach in Honduras. Even when she’s climbing rocks, riding horses, or getting lost someplace wild and beautiful, there are stories spooling out inside her head, until she finally heeds their call and returns to her laptop and solar panels.

Michelle was awarded first place in the 2015 NTRWA Great Expectations Contest, New Adult genre. Her work is represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary. Michelle is the Amazon bestselling author of Kindle Worlds titles: the Desperate Love Trilogy, the In Time We Trust Trilogy, Happily Ever After: Salvatore Style, and Sanguine Veritas. Find her on Facebook or Goodreads as Michelle Hazen, or follow her on Twitter @michellehazen.

Official site: http://michellehazenbooks.com/

 

 

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.

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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?

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Well, not really.

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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.

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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.

  1. Revise, rewrite, and rewrite some more

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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!

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Manuscript wishlist for Thao Le of of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates!

Submissions email : thao@dijkstraagency.com

Twitter handle: @thaole8

Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sandra-Dijkstra-Literary-Agency/204596008168

Manuscript Wishlist

Thao is currently looking for Adult Sci-fi/Fantasy, Young Adult, Middle Grade, and is selectively open to Romance/New Adult, and Picture Books by authors who are also illustrators.

For Adult and YA SF/F, she enjoys stories rooted in mythology, fairytales, and legends with atmospheric settings and strong world building.

For contemporary YA, she’s seeking witty, heartfelt writing with an authentic teen voice. Think Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han, or Sarah Dessen.

For Middle Grade, she’s looking for fantastic adventures and clever heroes/heroines the likes of Lemon Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, and Soman Chainani’s School of Good and Evil.

She’s a fan of picture books by Jon Klassen, Kate Beaton, Cale Atkinson, and Liz Climo and would like to add picture books in the same vein to her list.

For Romance and New Adult, she’s drawn to strong, memorable characters whose individual journeys brings…

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Manuscript wishlist for Brent Taylor of Triada US!

Brent’s websites:
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/brenttaylor/

http://triadaus.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/naughtybrent

Manuscript Wishlist

Middle grade:
I’m probably most actively looking for something fairly light with a commercial voice, or a classic-feeling story. I love retellings, especially of familiar plotlines like THE PARENT TRAP, THE LITTLE PRINCESS, etc. Some MG books I’ve recently read and loved: THE WITCH’S BOY by Kelly Barnhill, RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen, and A SNICKER IN MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd. I absolutely loved HOOK’S REVENGE by Heidi Schulz.

Young adult:
I’m mostly looking for contemporary stories, romances, and friendship stories. When I say romance, though, it would have to be in the vein of ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven, which I think is brilliant. Offbeat, voicey, engaging, and well-written. YA is probably where my tastes are the most diverse. Some of my favorite authors: Nova Ren Suma, Sarah Dessen, John Corey Whaley, Lauren Oliver, Andrew Smith, and Barry Lyga. I also really like YA that rides the…

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Me handing over my book
Me handing over my book

Big manuscript milestone today! I finished the edits on my book (after about four rounds) and sent to my beta readers for feedback! This is the first time anyone has read the book in it’s entirety & I’ll be honest, it’s kind of  terrifying.

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I had one of those, “wait, wait, wait” moments today, thinking if I just read it over ONE more time ( I PROMISE) it would be a good idea. The truth is, I have to let it go sooner or later, and my book will never be perfect. The point of beta readers is to get feedback, improve the book and make it the best it can be before agent submissions but if I never send it I will never get to that step (and ultimately never get a chance to publish my book traditionally). I have some awesome beta readers (including my friend Megan from Extrainkedits.com who you should totally contact if you need editing help!)

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While they read, I will be getting my query letters sorted for my first round of agent queries. I have already chosen which agents to query first, but I want to make sure they each know I did my research on them (as should you if you are querying) beyond “I admire your agency and your proven track record.” It should be more specific than that.

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So wish me luck on these next few weeks, waiting is a biatch, but it’s part of the process (a big part of it). If you need me, I’ll be with Spongebob.

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Me, querying my book.

If you’re an author looking for agent representation make sure you are following the #MSWL tag on twitter! There’s a new session coming up this Tuesday, July 28th. It’s also coinciding with an updated website launch which you can visit here: https://mswlparagraph.wordpress.com/

MSWL stands for Manuscript Wish List and this is how it works:

  • Agent/editor Tweets type of MS they’re looking for, followed by the tag #MSWL.

    Example of a #MSWL tweet
    Example of a #MSWL tweet
  • You find a tweet which mentions a MS similar to yours, send to said agent (following their submission guidelines) and mention you saw it on #MSWL!
  • If you don’t have a finished manuscript do not send! If you’re close to finishing you can send to the agent in the near-future with a note about #MSWL (Like: “I saw your tweet calling for XYZ on #MSWL last month but I had yet to polish my manuscript at the time. I was hoping you were still looking for XYZ as I have a project I think matches well with your request,” OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT).
  • Make sure you don’t pitch anyone using the #MSWL tag! It’s for agents and editors ONLY. You should be silently watching them, like writer ninjas.
  • Follow their submission guidelines! If they don’t state it on their Twitter timeline today, find their agency website and they should be there. #MSWL doesn’t preclude you from the rules man.
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A helpful graphic guide for #MSWL participants:

mswlguidelinesPlease feel free to reblog and share! Best of luck!