Agents, How to Research Agents, Pitching, Querying, Research, Writing

How to Research Agents: Querying Strategy and Hitting Send!

Earlier this week I posted on how to create a detailed spreadsheet, and I realize most people aren’t going to get as detailed as me :). But one of the reasons I have so many columns in my spreadsheet is because I consider a number of factors when I decide how I’m going to approach querying. There is no right way to do this. I wish that querying were a science, but it’s not. I have approached it differently with every manuscript. The manuscript I’m polishing for Pitch Wars will be the sixth manuscript I query. Fingers crossed it’s the final one (eternal optimist here!).

Because I revived this series as a result of Pitch Wars, I’m going to angle it a little more that way. First of all, I’d make sure all of the agents (who accept your age/genre) participating in Pitch Wars are on your list. On my spreadsheet, I went through and marked these agents as Round 0 because I have not yet queried this manuscript. That way when I am finished updating my agent list and sort it, all of the PW agents will rise to the top. But, a few words of caution about the agent round in a contest:

  • Just because an agent doesn’t request your manuscript in a contest doesn’t mean he/she isn’t interested. There are A LOT of entries to go through. They may not get to yours. Or, your entry may shine better with a full query/sample. I’ve had agents request from me later when they skipped over my entry in a contest.
  • An agent participating in a contest may not be the best agent at the agency for your MS. I’m not saying you should ignore a request from them in the contest. But don’t assume a no-request from that agent in the contest means you shouldn’t query someone else at the agency.

Once all PW agents are accounted for, it’s time to start organizing the other agents into querying rounds, and this is even a little more tricky if you’re involved in a contest. (For PW, keep in mind you can’t query other agents until after the agent round.) If you have a ton of interest from the contest, you may want to go big and query the top agents on your list in case you have an offer from one of the contest agents. If you don’t have as many requests, you may want to be more cautious and test out your query and pages with smaller rounds. It’s really a matter of your confidence in your manuscript.

If it’s your first manuscript and you’re at all nervous about it, I’d start out with smaller rounds to test the waters–perhaps somewhere around seven queries at a time. If you’re more confident and know your materials are ready, you might want to do larger rounds of ten or fifteen. I’ve seen writers who do even more. Once you’ve decided the number, you can go back to the main question …

Who should you query first?

The million-dollar question! Here are some possibilities, along with pros and cons:

  • Your top-ranked agents
    • Pro: You’ll know right away if the agents you think are the best fit are a match.
    • Con: If your materials aren’t ready, you’ve lost your chance at your top picks. Here’s the good news if you’re a Pitch Wars mentee: You’ve already had a mentor (or two!) vet your materials, so hopefully they’re in great shape. But that doesn’t mean you should assume they’re perfect. There’s always the chance you need to make additional tweaks.
    • Other consideration: Keep in mind there’s no such thing as a dream agent. You might think someone’s a perfect fit based on what you read online, but you won’t know for sure until you have The Call and hear his/her vision for your book, so don’t let it get you down too much if that one agent you think is perfect rejects your query. Also remember there are many amazing agents out there without an online presence who are making deals and working hard for their clients. The right agent for you might be one of those you couldn’t find a lot of information about online and so didn’t rise to the top of your list.
  • Agents with the most requests
    • Pro: They may be more likely to request yours as well. Even if they do eventually reject, perhaps they’ll give you valuable feedback.
    • Con: You might feel worse if they don’t request yours. BUT, always remember: subjectivity.
  • Agents who respond
    • Pro: You will get an answer.
    • Con: None. This one’s a no-brainer for your first round in my opinion, unless you feel super-confident and there’s a no-response agent you just have to query right away.
  • Agents who respond quickly
    • Pro: You’ll know quickly what’s working.
    • Con: Faster rejection.
  • Agents who want a query only
    • Pro: This can tell you that your query’s effective. (You should do this with other writers before querying agents to make sure the query is clear, but agents still react differently than writers since they’re looking at the market as well, so it can be an effective strategy.)
    • Con: You can’t rely too heavily on this as tastes are still subjective. You may still get rejections that have nothing to do with your query needing work. (See my post on what I learned in a year of querying. I have a section on this.) My best advice here is that if you send out a round that is entirely query-only and they all reject, it’s probably your query. If you get at least a couple of requests, the other rejections may be due to tastes.
  • Agents who want a certain amount of pages
    • Pro: This may help you test out your pages, if agents are consistently requesting more.
    • Con: Again with the caution about tastes being subjective. Plus, you can’t be sure whether an agent requested/rejected based on the query.
  • Agents with whom you’ve had contact (met at a conference, requested from you before, etc.)
    • Pro: Having a previous relationship with an agent can get you in the door, although it still comes down to the right fit.
    • Con: It might hurt more if they reject you. Plus, having a previous relationship with an agent could blind you to another agent at the same agency who could be a better fit. Even if an agent has requested from you before, they might not again, as I’ve commented on before.
  • A combination
    • Pro: You don’t burn through all of your top-ranked agents at the beginning of your query list if you discover the MS needs a revision.
    • Con: If you get an offer, you may miss some of your top-ranked agents. Including some slow responders in early rounds may cause longer waits.

So, basically, it all comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and that’s different for everyone. I can’t give you a magic formula. I wish I had one myself!

How do you sort them into rounds?

Once you’ve figured out that all-important factor of how you want to organize your first round, you can sort the spreadsheet in a variety of different ways to plan out the rest of your rounds. Sort by Rank to go with your top-ranked agents first, by [genre/category] requests? in descending order to go with the agents with the most requests first, by Sub note to test a particular submission material, or by Responds? to go with only agents who respond. Generally I don’t sort by that last one–I just scan for it as I’m looking at the other fields. (As a side note, I’ve generally accounted for the Looking for column in my Rank, so any agents who were specifically looking for something that matches my manuscript have a higher rank and would come up there, but I still scan through that column to see if I want to move any agents up to a higher round.)

Once you’ve sorted, just put the round number (1, 2, 3, etc.) and repeat it the number of queries you plan to do in each round (7, 10, 15) until you get through all the agents you plan to query. And, voila, you have your agents set to query! Although nothing has to be set in stone. My list is always flexible. I modify it as contests crop up or if I see an agent tweet about something relevant they’re looking for.

As far as when I move to another round, when I queried my first couple of manuscripts, I waited until I had answers from every agent in a round before I started another. Now when I receive a response from one agent, I send another query. However, it’s still helpful to have these rounds set up because I look back at them to gauge how my query is doing and whether I need to pause and revise anything. It’s up to you what you feel comfortable with.

A Pitch Wars side note: Any of those PW agents who didn’t request from you? If you still want to query them, just sort them into the rounds with the rest.

Once you start querying, what’s the best way to track queries?

If you’re not a spreadsheet-lover like me, you can just track them in QueryTracker, and I do use that resource as well, but I still use my spreadsheet since I go an extra step and estimate out when I should hear back from an agent. While it’s still a game of averages and an agent may reply to me sooner or later than someone else, it keeps me from watching the site daily or refreshing my inbox, waiting for that agent to reply. Believe me, that way lies madness.

In the Query Sent field I just put the date I sent the query. Then, I calculate when I should hear back from the agent by referring to the Response Time field. If the agent lists a specific number of weeks in which he/she will respond, I count it out on my calendar and plug that date into the Should hear back by: field. If it’s an agent who says “six weeks if interested,” then my note in that field will list the date followed by “–close if no response.” If, on the other hand, the agent has instructions to follow up after a certain number of weeks, I include the date followed by “–follow up if no response.” However, I do monitor the agent’s Twitter feed/blog to see if they note that they’re behind. If so, I hold off on following up. Some agents may have a date with no instructions; there’s no action to take but it’s just to give me an idea of when I might hear. Others might have a question mark if the agent doesn’t list an expected response time. This field is really for my own piece of mind so I already have reasonable expectations on when I should receive a response.

When I receive a Query Response, I include the date and then whether it is a form rejection, personalized form rejection, detailed rejection, or request. Or, as mentioned above, if it’s an agent who lists a specific time in which they’ll respond if interested, I close it out.

  • For the first two, I put [date] – form/personalized form rejection, then I move the entire row to a new sheet within the spreadsheet labeled rejections. For me, keeping rejections in the same sheet with active queries is both clutter and sort of depressing.
  • For a detailed rejection, I put [date] – [pasted copy of the agent’s comments]. Once again, I move the row to the rejections sheet in the spreadsheet.
  • For a query past the agent’s stated response time if interested, I put [date] – closed due to no response. Then, you guessed it, I move the row to the rejections sheet.
  • For a request (yay!), I put [date] – partial/full request; [date] – sent. If the agent replies that they received the request, I note that in parenthesis. Not all agents do, though. Then, I have more fun playing with statistics. Remember I mentioned the Agents with Similar Tastes report in QueryTracker in the last post? Well, when I receive a request, I do the following:
    1. Go to the agent’s profile and click on Reports.
    2. Under Select a Report, choose Agents with Similar Tastes (must have a premium membership).
    3. To the right, a new pull-down menu will appear. Under Select a Genre, select the genre/category for your manuscript, and then click View Report.
    4. For each agent listed in the report, make a tally mark in the Note column (third from the left). Does this mean that because these agents have requested the same manuscripts before they’ll both request yours? Not necessarily (who knows what those other manuscripts were??), but it doesn’t hurt to track the information. I’ve been tracking this for five manuscripts now, and I’ve noticed that many of the agents with numerous tallies have eventually turned into requests for subsequent manuscripts, so I keep doing it!

For Partial Response, I use a similar system to the above–the date followed by the type of rejection or request (probably a full at this point!). And for Full Response, again a date and the type of rejection or, dare we hope, an offer! Perhaps you receive a revise and resubmit, but that’s a whole other post I’m not getting into here. If you get an offer, you’re probably done with the spreadsheet :). Well, maybe if you get more than one you’ll still take some notes.

So here are a couple of last-minute tips.

  • You’ve spent the time researching the agents, so pay attention to what they want! Don’t think you’ll be the exception to their guidelines or what they’re looking for. Don’t query more than one agent at the same agency unless they say you can, and don’t query an agent who is closed to queries.
  • Don’t query and tell. No matter what querying strategy you choose, agents want to feel like they’re your first choice. Who doesn’t? So don’t tweet or blog about how many agents you’ve queried or how many submissions you have out. Now, Pitch Wars is a unique situation, so in that case they’ll know the competition, and if you mention PW in your query to non-PW agents, they might check out your entry (although I doubt many would take the time). Just don’t put anything more out there than you have to. This is a time to be demure and keep your lips sealed. If you want to share with a friend, do it privately. (Like in the PW Facebook group :)).
  • Your spreadsheet is a living document. Keep updating it whenever new information crops up about agents who interest you, whether it’s a tip they share about something they’d like to represent or a book you’ve read from their list.

I think that’s it. Any final questions? Any other veteran queriers have tips to add?

Agents, Conferences, Pitching, Querying, Writing

How to Stalk WriteOnCon Ninja Agents 2017

If you’re in the kidlit community, you probably know about WriteOnCon and missed it as terribly as I did in 2015 and 2016. Well, hallelujah, it’s back! I don’t have anything to query at the moment, but I do have a work-in-progress ready for some feedback in the forums, so I’ll definitely be dipping a toe in. And of course I’ll be soaking in all the amazing knowledge to be gained from the blogs, vlogs, and live sessions starting tomorrow. Woohoo! (If you haven’t already registered, what are you waiting for??)

But back to the title of this post. In case you are new to WriteOnCon, you may be wondering what a Ninja Agent is. Basically, it’s a literary agent who sneaks through the forums leaving comments. Their identities are closely guarded, even after the conference is over. The only way you find out who they are is if they send you a private message with a request.

Anyway, you want to stalk these agents, whether they comment on your query/first 250/first five pages or not. The knowledge you’ll gain from their critiques of others can often be applied to your own materials.

I originally posted about how to stalk Ninja Agents in 2013 and updated it in 2014. Since the forums are on an entirely new platform this year, I decided another update was required. I’m just digging into the forums in earnest today, so I may make adjustments to this post as I learn more, but here we go.

1. Log in to the forum.

2a. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see who’s online (Users Online or Users Online in the Last 24 Hours). Unfortunately, these aren’t in any kind of order. I recommend doing Command+F and searching for “Ninja”–it’s quicker than scanning by eye.

2b. If there are no Ninja Agents online at the moment/in the last 24 hours, scroll back to the top and click on Members. Using the search field on the right-hand side, search for “Ninja” and a list of all Ninja Agents will come up. This list shows you how many posts each ninja has made and how recently.

3.  Click on a Ninja Agent to go to his/her profile.

4.  Click on “View this member’s recent posts” and, voila!, you can see everywhere the agent has commented. To see the post he/she is responding to, click on the title of the thread.

If you want to get even more stalkery, you could keep a Ninja Agent’s profile up on your computer and watch his/her current activity. Or you can locate someone on Twitter who’s already doing that and giving updates. In previous years, there’s always been someone giving Twitter updates once a Ninja Agent was spotted. The hashtag for the conference is #writeoncon.

I tried several different options in the search function to see if there was a way to pull up all of the Ninja Agents at once since you could do that on the previous platform. It doesn’t appear to be possible, but if someone else figures it out, let me know and I’ll add it.

Another option is to go through and follow all of the Ninja Agents individually. Once you do so, if you click on Following in your Profile, it will show you their activity. However, it will mix the Ninja Agent activity with that of everyone else you follow, and it’s not just what they’ve posted. It also lists anyone they follow or become friends with. I did notice that the Ninja Agents tend to follow all of the other Ninja Agents. So, for example, if you click on Ninja Midnight and then Following, it will show you the activity of other Ninja Agents. But again, there’s a lot of activity other than posts mixed in (like “Ninja Dusk changed their avatar”), so whether you go that route depends on whether you want to wade through the extras.

If you’re already in the forums, come find me! My username is michelleimason. My work-in-progress is a young adult contemporary titled YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Tweeting Tomorrow

Last fall I wrote a popular post featuring two contests that were happening on the same day–On the Block and #PitMad–and I’ve revived it the last couple of times #PitMad popped up, but I decided it was worth updating the post to only cover #PitMad, so here goes.

In case you’re new to the Twitter pitching circuit, #PitMad is a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in the past and received requests. It’s a great opportunity to discover agents who are interested in your premise–since that’s all you have room for in 140 characters :). On the eve of this opportunity, here a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have three solid tweets–or one amazing tweet–prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run these tweets by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure they make sense and will draw interest. You are only allowed to tweet three times. It can be the same tweet, although if you’re only using one, it had better be so spectacular it’s worth not trying out two other variations. Because you never know how a different wording might strike one agent’s fancy and not another’s.
  2. Your opening pages are solid. Rarely does an agent ask for a full from PitMad. It’s likely that if an agent or editor likes your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages first, and as with any querying experience, that first impression is all-important.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. As with the opening pages, agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent likes your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every like you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best opportunity ever. I get how much of a thrill it is to have your pitch liked by tons of agents–or even just one. I think every contest or pitch opportunity that’s coming up seems like the most important, best ever–whether that’s Pitch Madness, Query Kombat, PitMad or the other Twitter pitch fests out there–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Make sure it’s ready. Agents will assume it is if you put it out there.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. Since I’m not in a position to pitch tomorrow, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Twitter, Writing

5 Signs You Should (or Shouldn’t) Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

So there are a couple of amazing opportunities out there tomorrow for writers who have a manuscript ready to query. One is the incomparable Authoress’ new On the Block contest, a progression from her very popular Baker’s Dozen contest. The other is #PitMad, a twelve-hour pitch session that happens four times a year, dreamed up by contest queen Brenda Drake. I’ve participated in both of these in the past (well, Baker’s Dozen) and actually received quite a bit of interest on my last manuscript for both. I may even still be waiting on a few agents to respond … ahem. Anyway. On the eve of these opportunities, I thought I’d throw out a few words of both encouragement and caution.

5 Signs You Should Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You have a solid logline/tweet prepared. I’m not just talking something you’ve come up with off the top of your head. I mean you’ve run it by people who’ve read your manuscript and people who haven’t to ensure it makes sense and will draw interest.
  2. You have a solid first page/first pages. In the case of On the Block, being selected rests on that first page, so it’s very important where that 250-word sample ends. But the first pages are important for PitMad, too, because it’s likely that if an agent or editor favorites your tweet, they’ll be asking for sample pages before a full.
  3. You have all of the necessary querying materials prepared. This point is more for PitMad as On the Block will end up being a certain number of pages, but agents could ask for a synopsis or even a bio, so make sure you’re ready.
  4. You are 100 percent confident in your manuscript RIGHT NOW. If an agent favorites your tweet tomorrow, they expect you to send your manuscript right away. It’s not an “I’m interested in seeing it whenever you have it ready” kind of thing. And maybe with On the Block you think you could get away with submitting your logline and first page tomorrow and then tweaking the manuscript before the go-live date. Well, perhaps you could, but what if you get into those tweaks and discover there’s more work to be done than you realized? You shouldn’t be gambling with those agent opportunities that way.
  5. Your readers/other writers have told you it’s ready. Chances are you’ll never think it’s ready on your own, but if other people are telling you it’s the best thing you’ve written and agents are going to jump on it, that’s the best recommendation you can have to start testing the query waters. Might as well start with PitMad or On the Block!

5 Signs You Should NOT Be Submitting/Tweeting Tomorrow

  1. You are still waiting on feedback from someone. If you still have your manuscript out with a beta reader or critique partner or–since I expect this may be the case for a number of writers out there–are waiting on feedback from a PitchWars mentor who promised it, WAIT FOR IT. I know this is hard, guys. Believe me. There’s this fantastic opportunity to get in front of agents and it won’t happen again for months and … I’m going to stop you right there. Never rush sending out your manuscript. Getting a complete picture of what it needs is more important than a pitch contest, no matter how exciting it is to dive in.
  2. You don’t have a strategy for your manuscript. This particular point is more for PitMad than On the Block, which is agent-focused. Do you want an editor? An agent? What kind of agent? PitMad is open to all kinds of industry professionals, so you should know what you’re looking for before you participate. You don’t have to respond to every favorite you receive, particularly if you think a publisher or agent may be sketchy. I recommend knowing what you want before you participate, but if you decide to test the waters anyway just to see who’s interested, make sure you research them all before you submit anywhere.
  3. You just want to see if agents or editors are interested in your concept. Another PitMad comment here and just … no. If they ask you for more and what you send them is not query-ready, you’ve just wasted a first impression. You can’t go back to them later and say, “But I fixed it now!” You also can’t say, “It’s not ready yet but I’ll send it to you when it is.” By the time you have it ready, they might not be interested anymore. So much of this industry is catching the right person at the right time.
  4. It’s the best contest ever. I get how much of an honor it is to be selected by Authoress for one of her contests. I was there last year in Baker’s Dozen, and it was an honor–but I also was ready with that manuscript. I’m sure this new contest will be equally prestigious and exciting to see your entry singled out and bid on by more than a dozen agents. I think every contest that’s coming up seems like the most important, best contest ever–whether that’s PitchWars, The Writer’s Voice or this new On the Block–but not if you’re rushing things to submit. I can’t stress that enough! Authoress (and I assume Jodi Meadows again) only see your logline and first page, so they don’t know if the rest of your manuscript is ready. YOU are the only one who knows that. Don’t submit if you’re only doing it on the strength of your first page and not the entire manuscript.
  5. Everyone else is doing it. I can understand this temptation tomorrow, when you see everyone else tweeting pitches. It would be so easy to dash off a tweet, just to see … but don’t do it unless you’re ready. Like your parents always said, if everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you do it? Don’t be a lemming!

Best of luck to everyone submitting to On the Block or pitching during PitMad tomorrow. And if you decide to hold off, remember that many, many writers have found their agents the old-fashioned way through the slush pile. When I have this current manuscript ready, that’s the route I’ll be taking!

Blog Hop, Critiquing, Pitching, Revising, Writing

Thoughts on Revising from Public Critiques

Two weeks ago I was privileged to participate in #BLOGPITCH, a blog hop hosted by Authoress for the purpose of gathering critiques for my Twitter pitch and first 250 words. First of all, I want to say how much I appreciate everyone who stopped by to comment on my post. I really appreciated the critiques. They were very constructive and supportive!

While critiques are a part of Authoress’s popular Secret Agent contests, this was different because people were visiting my blog and so I wasn’t anonymous. To be honest, that’s one of the things I’ve always liked about those contests. The comments pile up, you collect them, and make your changes afterward without anyone–except your critique partners–knowing who you are. So when this opportunity came up, I debated whether or not I should reply to people as they commented. I tend to feel like if I reply to one person, I should reply to all, and I might just end up with a lot of, “Thanks for stopping by!”

Even in forum situations I tend to err on the side of less is more. I’ve realized it doesn’t do much good to try and explain a short sample–whether that’s a pitch, query, first page, or even first five pages–in a public forum. If something isn’t working, I’m better off fixing it than trying to explain why I did it that way in the first place.

I didn’t always have this philosophy. It’s something I’ve learned over the last few years. I quickly realized that by trying to explain my reasoning, I usually just went deeper down a rabbit hole that made things even more confusing for the people I was trying to explain it all to.

Ok, so that was all a lot of background on why I didn’t respond individually to the critiques I received during the blog hop. But the real purpose of this post are my thoughts on how I applied the critiques to revising my pitch and first page. Once again, thank you all!

The Pitch

This particular opportunity focused on a Twitter pitch, which meant there was a character limit. In the past, I’ve found the best success juxtaposing two comparison titles and then specifying how my story diverges. Doing so maximizes the limited space because it immediately gives the audience an idea of the story by drawing on an already familiar premise. It was interesting to me that several of the critiques I received said they didn’t recognize the comp titles, and that’s a fair point. However, when it really comes down to it, other writers are not my audience for a pitch, and I think the odds are agents would recognize them. Even if they don’t, the positive thing about most Twitter pitch opportunities are that you get to use more than one pitch! So, I’ll keep my comp title pitch but also create a separate pitch without them. Comments noted and filed :).

The First Page

Overall, the comments I received on my first page were very complimentary, so thank you! I really appreciated the specific details commenters left telling me what worked for them. Here are a few questions I asked to determine what I needed to tweak:

Are they questioning something that will be answered within a page or two?

Something to remember about a first page is it’s only one page! Sounds obvious, right? And yet I think sometimes we get hung up on trying to cram too much into it, particularly for the purpose of shining in contests and forums where we’re trying to catch the eye of an agent. Yes, these can be great opportunities to get a foot in the door with an agent, but the pages that follow have to widen that opening. So, what’s my point with that? You don’t have to answer every question commenters ask about that first 250 words. There’s a reason you’re writing a novel. There are things readers can wait to find out. It’s called tension :). Now, I’m not talking about something that’s downright confusing. Anything like that you should fix. But if the person’s just asking something out of curiosity, you don’t have to work that into your first page to appease them. If that information shouldn’t be revealed until page three–or page fifty, for that matter–save it for the right moment. If an agent is intrigued enough by your writing and voice, they’ll stick with the story to get those answers when the time is right.

Did multiple people mention the same issue?

Did anyone hear a doorbell ring? If you didn’t read my sample, this won’t make any sense. Suffice it to say, I heard you! I had a similar issue with my pitch and the name Gid (short for Gideon) confusing several people. If it’s a stumbling block for more than one person, it needs to be fixed.

Did people disagree on the same issue?

Here’s where things get tricky. If you receive differing opinions, you have to determine whether you really have an issue. Maybe one person loves it and another hates it. If you’re ambivalent, you should probably nix it. Either way, take a closer look because it’s a point of contention.

Does the comment resonate with you?

Sometimes, even if only one person says it, a comment will hit you in such a way where you say, “Yes, you’re right!” But even if you feel the complete opposite, don’t reject it out of hand. Every comment has merit. If one person thinks it, chances are there’s another person out there who will, too. Maybe you don’t care about that person :), but keep it in mind and reject it with caution.

What’s your philosophy on public critiques? Do you try to hash it out with critiquers? Are there other questions you ask yourself before revising?

Thanks again to Authoress for hosting this blog hop and to everyone who commented! It was a great experience. If you commented and you had a question about my pitch or sample you really wanted answered, ask it in the comments on this post and I will answer.

Conferences, Middle Grade, Pitching, Querying, Writing

Make Your Pitches Specific and Other WriteOnCon Takeaways

Another WriteOnCon is over, and once again I feel energized and ready to get back out there with my manuscript. It’s amazing to me how different the conference is from one year to the next. The organizers do a great job coming up with new topics and presenters. In case you missed it, here is my post from last year as a comparison before I jump into this year.

Live Google Hangouts

I loved the addition of the Live Google Hangouts, during which agents reacted real-time, on-screen, to Twitter pitches. I attended three–Suzie Townsend/Kathleen Ortiz, Danielle Smith, and Tamar Rydzinski.

Here are some of the takeaways:

  1. If your pitch could apply to dozens of stories, i.e., “She must figure it out before it’s too late,” it’s too generic.
  2. Avoid cliches.
  3. If you can, use comp titles. It’s a quick way to give a sense of the story, particularly when you only have 140 characters.
  4. It’s still a matter of taste. The Suzie Townsend/Kathleen Ortiz hangout was particularly great on this point, as one could be totally intrigue by something while the other would shrug and go, “eh.”
  5. Be clear, specific and inject voice.
  6. Make sure the pitch includes a plot in addition to a premise. Agents want to know what’s going to happen, not just the situation.

Danielle Smith also mixed in great info about the market for picture books and middle grade. I admit I was a bit distracted after she talked about my pitch (!!!), but here are a few things I caught:

  1. PBs about princesses are a hard sell
  2. The market is saturated with PBs about farm animals
  3. MG science fiction is a hard sell (:() but can still be done if the voice is fantastic

Whether you plan to query Danielle or not, the info she shared was fantastic, so I recommend you watch the replay.

Middle Grade

As primarily a middle grade writer, I’m always interested in the posts/events that focus on middle grade, and two stood out to me this year: the vlog by Frank Cole and the Q&A with Peggy Eddleman. Here are a few of the points they touched on:

  • Violence–Scary is good, but creepy is better. Although there are exceptions, if you start killing off characters, it’s no longer MG. The more violence you include, the more you narrow your audience, and fewer gatekeepers will buy the book.
  • Romance–Younger MG boys make fun of girls they like, while older MG boys will do things to try to impress them. However, boys are more likely to guard their crushes closely, while girls will tell their friends.
  • Relationships with adults–Most 8 to 12-year-olds have a lot of respect for adults, so if your character doesn’t, it should be noticed as out of the norm by other characters.
  • The market–Middle grade doesn’t generally have the saturation / burnout on genres like YA does. With MG, platform doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does for older age groups, although you will need a website post-deal. There’s less of a market for upper MG for girls because many of them are already reading YA.

Agent/Editor Thoughts

The agent and editor chats are always enlightening as well. Here are a few of the things I tweeted during the conference.

  • On breaking rules in queries: “Is the voice, character, or concept good enough to get away with the rule break?” Victoria Marini
  • Common query problems: “Often a query is soooo vague it could apply to 3-4 books…that have already been published.” Katie Grimm
  • On queries for books with dual POVs: Generally, one character per paragraph. An Inciting incident. Wrap-up. Victoria Marini
  • On how to write a strong query: Grab our attention with a compelling or witty logline then explain the larger conflict. Brooks Sherman
  • On what an editor will take on: “You can fix a plot, but it’s…hard to fix something as subjective and as personal and intrinsic to a writer as voice.” Sarah Dotts Barley
  • On world-building: “You need a hook or a voice that pulls readers in and makes them ask questions without feeling lost in this new world.” Andrew Harwell
  • On pop culture: “If your references are all pulled from the headlines, your book will become dated very quickly.” Andrew Harwell
  • On the same issue, Lindsay Ribar added that it depends on whether the references will be relevant when the book comes out in 2-5 yrs. Disney and Elton John are probably ok, but “Call Me Maybe” not so much.

Everything Else

Obviously I can’t recap the whole conference, so when you have time, I urge you to go through and read the other articles or watch replays of the events. Here’s a link to the full program.

If you attended, what were your biggest takeaways?

Contests, Pitching, Querying, Twitter

Contests, Contests Everywhere

The other day I participated in a Q&A for @MissDahlELama, and one of the questions she asked was: What are your feelings on participating in contests, and what are your favorite kinds?

I thought this was a particularly interesting question, especially with the crazy amount of contests going on at the moment. You’ll probably be able to figure out which anonymous answer was mine from the following, but I thought it was worth expanding further.

So, I love contests of all kinds. I’m going to break down some of the contests I’ve participated in and what I think the benefits are.

The contest where you’re vetted before you’re in. These are the contests like The Writers Voice, Pitch Madness, Baker’s Dozen, or Surprise Agent Invasion, where you submit your entry and the host–and sometimes others–choose their favorites to post for agent votes. What I like about these is that if you get in, you get validation that your concept and writing stand out from the pack. (Of course it’s still subjective, so not getting in doesn’t mean your story isn’t agent-ready. I’ve had CPs whose novels are amazing not get selected because their concept just didn’t interest the judges.)

There are a ton of contests like these out there. I like it best when they ask for your query/pitch and first 250 words because the judging agents get a taste for both where the story’s going and your voice. It’s also a better representation of what most agents receive in their inbox.

The query/first page contest where the first xx people make it in. These are the contests like An Agent’s Inbox or Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent. You submit your entry, and a certain number get in. What I like about these is that it’s a better representation of what an agent will see in his/her slushpile. Some of them will be excellent. Some of them will need a lot more work. Although the sample is probably still a bit higher quality than what the agent sees, you do get a feel for what else is out there.

In the two contests I mentioned, you also get critiques, and this is invaluable to those of us querying. These people haven’t read your whole manuscript and aren’t predisposed to like your work. For Miss Snark’s First Victim, it’s only your first 250 words, so the opinion is entirely about your writing and voice, independent of the concept. Those critiques can be brutal, but they’re so helpful in telling whether your writing can stand on its own.

The contest with a one-line or Twitter pitch. One line? 140 characters? These requirements might seem impossible, but it’s so helpful to boil your story down to this short description. A number of blogs host these contests on a regular basis (Operation Awesome comes immediately to mind), and it’s become a thing for the bigger contests to hold a Twitter pitch afterward.

What I like about one-line/Twitter pitches is that it forces me to think about the central hook of my story. I’ve received requests based on both of these. On the downside, it’s such a short sample that it doesn’t allow you to show much voice, so often an agent will like the concept and then not connect with the character. If you want to try one out, though, there’s one happening today :).

Should you enter contests? Well, my answer to this is obviously yes, but it’s up to you. I enter when the agents participating seem like a potential fit or when I think I can learn something new about the effectiveness of my pitch/query/first 250. Based on contests, I’ve tweaked my query letter and first 250 in ways I know make them better. So even if I don’t get an agent request, I’ve gained something from the experience.

So now that I’ve given you the longer answer to the contest question, here are a few blogs that host contests regularly:

Miss Snark’s First Victim

Mother.Write.(Repeat.)

Brenda Drake Writes

Cupid’s Literary Connection

Operation Awesome (first of every month)

Deana Barnhart (pitch contest tomorrow)

YATopia

I know there are many more. These are the ones that are top of mind for me as I’ve participated in them. If you have another contest to add, please include them in the comments. And I’d also love to hear your thoughts on contests!