Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Agent Q&A!

Have burning questions about how to get an agent? Wondering whether your manuscript is ready to submit? Feeling a little overwhelmed by the process? Well, ask your questions and I will attempt to answer.

Agent Q&A works like this: Post your questions on this thread, and I will come back later today or early tomorrow and provide some responses. I can't promise to answer all the questions--the thread can get a little long sometimes--but I will answer at least three and I'll do my best to get a good range of answers out there for you.

So? What would you like to know?



Blogger Francesca Zappia said...

Wow, this is great!

Okay, let's see...
In the query letter, how important is the author credentials/why my book isn't like the others paragraph? I have basically no credentials other than that I write 24/7, and I don't want to force my ideas or make my book sound like something it's not--I'd rather just let the writing speak for itself.

Thank you so much for this!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Katie L. Carroll said...

Thanks for offering to answer our questions.

I was wondering at what point in the querying process is it time to stop querying and maybe think about revising.

To be more specific, if your query seems to be working (meaning you're getting requests for partials and fulls), how many rejections on partials and fulls is enough to maybe think about rewriting?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 12:24:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous EGT said...

I have a question about the best way to approach queries for a book that could be the first of a series (like a trilogy). Is it best to pitch it as a standalone? Or is it a possible selling point that it could be the first in a trilogy? (To be clear, the book is written as the first in a trilogy that I am almost done writing, but it can be tweaked to stand by itself.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 1:48:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Denise said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this for us!

I won a contest to have the first 3 chapters and synopsis reviewed by a Senior Editor at a major house. The chapters are very strong (as is the ms--edited and very clean), the story is unique, and the synopsis...feels flat. How critical is it to impart voice in a synopsis? In a situation like this, what's the best way to write a synopsis to grab an agent's/editor's attention? Thanks!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 2:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Alta said...

Thank you for the Q&A session! My question's quick. How do I know when a WIP is done and ready for the querying process? I know that just because I get to the last page doesn't mean it's finished.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 2:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

Do you have any advice on how to step back from your novel and really pin point the important plot points for the query letter?

Thanks for this!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 10:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

Good questions! And some have a bit of overlap, so I'm going to combine a bit.

On querying: If you have no writing credentials, such as previous publications or a writing job, don't worry about it. Beginning writers generally don't and agents are quite used to this. As for why your book is special and different, that's something that should be conveyed in your short pitch/synopsis in the query where you highlight some of the more important story points or themes.

Which leads to the question about how to find your main story points to include in a query. Really, you should think of how you'd describe your story in a quick conversation at a cocktail party to someone you might want to impress. Give a general intro to the story/protagonist/theme, but then pick a couple of conflict moments that you feel give a good idea of the tone or the substance of your novel. It can be hard, but discuss with friends/critique partners who have read your manuscript if you want input.

Same goes for writing a synopsis. Take time putting this together and really try to hone in on the details that make your story stand out. Of course you need to include the basic bones of the plot, but also make sure that what gives your story life shines through as well. If you really have trouble writing a synopsis, I suggest you practice writing one for your favorite novel or movie to see how you do when you're not personally attached to the material.

Regarding queries on multi-book series, always pitch the first book only. You can mention that it is a stand alone with the potential to be first in a series, and that you have ideas for additional books, but you're only pitching one book at a time. Also, I generally recommend that unpublished authors don't go ahead and write the rest of a series before the first book sells. Outline your ideas, makes notes or whatever, but if you don't sell book one, you've spent a huge amount of time on work that might never go anywhere. Better to work on a different project entirely.

Continued in next post...

Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nephele Tempest said...

The question of when a book is "ready" or needs more revising: This is a tough one. Honestly. To some extent, you can always keep revising because that's the nature of the craft, and chances are good that even one your manuscript is as good as you think it can be, an editor will still have comments for you. When you're trying to decide if it's time to shop your manuscript to agents, my recommendation is to set the entire thing to one side for a few weeks and then come back and reread with fresh eyes. Then make one final pass. Really address your manuscript at all levels. Ask yourself if the entire thing hangs together with good pacing and logical plot development. Do your characters learn something/undergo a change? Are the characters' motivations understandable and do their actions follow logically? Does each chapter build suspense? Does each scene advance your story in some way (including sex scenes)? Read parts out loud. Do your sentences have varied rhythms? Have you avoided repeating words over and over?

Ultimately, most manuscripts I read from start to finish on submission--which means they were good enough to hold my interest to the end--and then reject, really needed one more set of detail-oriented revisions. But it's hard to see some of that need when you're very close to a manuscript, so a little time away from the work can really help. I know it's difficult, because you're excited to get it out there into the world, but the extra time is almost always necessary.

As for when you need to pull back on submitting and do some revising, again this is a personal decision. There's no magical number of rejections that trigger a rewrite. If you get requests for partials but no one asks to see more, I wouldn't wait beyond the first round of submissions, however many you sent out in that first wave. It seems that there's probably something about your opening that's not holding up to the promise of the pitch. Rejections on full manuscripts are a different thing, since they're much more common and are made for many different reasons, including personal taste. If you get plenty of requests for a full and still keep getting rejected, then perhaps it's time to find a new unbiased reader who can give you some critical comments. You want to make sure the bulk of the story is as strong as those first few chapters, and that the ending doesn't peter out and leave readers feeling disappointed.

Okay everyone, hope this was helpful. Thanks again for the great questions!


Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 12:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger mromero said...

I was wondering how did you become a book agent? How did you break into the business and what is your advice on how to have a successful career doing so?

Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 3:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Alta said...

Thank you! If I was sitting by you, I'd toss you an Andes mint to show you how grateful I was. Since you're not, I guess I get a treat :)

Monday, June 13, 2011 at 1:41:00 PM EDT  

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