Agents, Querying, Revising

Tracking Agent Responses & Knowing When to Revise

If you read my posts on Creating a Detailed Spreadsheet and Querying Strategy and Hitting Send, then you know I’m a bit of a statistics freak. Well, I actually take my statistics even a bit farther once I’m querying. I track how agents are responding to my query and pages so I know whether they’re working and I need to revise anything. It’s not an exact science because a rejection could be entirely based on premise and have nothing to do with the materials themselves, but if the numbers start adding up against a particular submission package, it’s worth taking a second look. Obviously I’m hoping that none of this will be necessary this time around thanks to the fabulous assistance of my Pitch Wars mentors, but it’s still smart to be prepared ;).

So here’s what I do.

1. Add a new sheet to my spreadsheet called Stats.

2. Create tables for Queries, Requests, and Submissions. Leave several columns between each. The total should be a sum.

 

 

 

 

3. Make pie charts for each of these. I’ll use one as an example.

a. Highlight everything except the total.

b. Select Charts, then Pie, and choose whatever type of pie chart you like, and voila!, a pie chart will appear. If you want it to show percentages, right click on the pie and select Add Data Labels. If you then right click on Format Data Series, you can choose whether those are the numbers or percentages. I personally prefer to see percentages.

 

 

 

 

 

c. A note as to how I fill these tables out: Queries start as No Reply Yet and move to requests, rejections or personalized rejections–just because it’s unique if you get a personalized rejection on a query. Partials sometimes get moved to the partial to full category because I like to track if a submission is upgraded. The third category is to track responses to the requests. If a request turns into a rejection, I move it there so that my total always stays the same as that total in the Requests table.

But this isn’t the only thing I’m tracking. Remember I said I tracked the types of materials as well?

4. Track what the agents are rejecting by creating a table and pie chart of submission materials. I usually add to the table with what the agents are asking for as I go, but I copied this table from my last MS, so it’s pretty comprehensive. You can create the pie chart following the same directions as above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a. You may be asking: Why the heck do you want to know this information, Michelle? So, I didn’t include the numbers in the table, but you can see in the pie chart that the two biggest chunks are 5 and 10 pages for my rejections. I ended up doing a major revision on this manuscript, and my pie chart for the revision rejections looks quite different. There’s also the factor that I received an R&R from an agent, but having these statistics to review factored heavily into deciding whether to pursue it.

5. Track positive/negative comments. If agents reject a partial or full manuscript, they sometimes send feedback. It’s not a guarantee, but when it happens, it’s golden. But it’s important to remember one agent’s opinion may differ from another’s, and so I also try to track this graphically. Sometimes it’s not possible because it doesn’t line up at all, but other times the comments will start matching up, and that’s when you know you should stop querying and revise. I make two tables as below.

Then, instead of a pie chart, I make clustered bar graphs so I can compare. In this example to the left? I was getting conflicting opinions on X and wanted to chart agent opinions. Ultimately an agent asked me to rewrite it without X and I did. Actually, now that I look at this chart, I’m realizing the second R&R I did addressed a couple more of those negative comments. Hmm …

I realize this post may seem like a downer because it assumes you won’t land an agent as soon as you start querying. Well … the odds of that just aren’t very high. It could happen, but if it doesn’t, don’t let it deter you. There are so many agents out there, and if you’re smart about querying, your yes may still happen with your fiftieth or hundredth query. There are many stories like that!

Contests are amazing. I’ve been involved in several over the years with various manuscripts, and each time I was hopeful, but even when your entry is a hot property (and I’ve been there!), it’s still your actual materials that have to keep the agent’s interest. No matter how sexy your pitch and first page are, every page then on has to hold the agent’s interest for them to offer representation, so it’s a good idea to have a strategy in place to keep an eye on whether you’re on track. It doesn’t have to be my strategy–because I realize I’m a bit over the top ;)–but be aware of what you’re sending out and if you’re getting positive feedback.

Good luck as you go forth and query. And to my fellow Pitch Wars mentees, whether it’s your first manuscript, your sixth (like me!), or your tenth, you have so many cheerleaders ready to applaud your successes and pick you up when a rejection comes. Some of my closest writer friends are from a contest I participated in five and a half years ago–The Writer’s Voice. It’s actually why I started this blog :). I’m so grateful for those friendships and the new ones I’m making every day in this community.

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, How to Research Agents, Querying

How to Research Agents: Creating a Detailed Spreadsheet

Thanks to my participation in Pitch Wars, I’ve met many wonderful writers through our Facebook group, and we’re in varying stages of the querying process. It’s reminded me that while some, like me, have been doing this a while, others are just starting out. A few years ago I did a series of posts on How to Research Agents, but I thought it might be helpful to compress those into fewer posts.

BUT, before I get into this, I do want to refer to one other post that was in the original series. It asks: What are you looking for from the publishing experience? Because this is an important question, and I don’t think it deserves to be shoehorned in here.

Now, back to researching agents.

Create a spreadsheet

My spreadsheet has 26 columns. I realize this may sound overwhelming, but I’ve been querying SIX YEARS, so I’ve added to it as I’ve gone along. I’ve listed the columns.

  • Rank
  • Round
  • Note
  • YA Requests?
  • Sub note
  • Responds?
  • Agent
  • Agency
  • Website
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Represents
  • Looking for
  • Books to Read
  • Books I’ve Read
  • Notes
  • Query Tips
  • Submission Guidelines
  • Response Time
  • RQ
  • Auto Response?
  • Query Sent
  • Should hear back by:
  • Query Response
  • Partial Response
  • Full Response

I’m going to explain most of these in this post, but I’m not going to explain them in order. The basic information is in the middle of the spreadsheet. Most of the information at the front end is what I use for sorting when I’m actually ready to query, so I don’t fill it in until the very end. Some of these I’ll explain in a second post.

Find the agents

The two most popular databases to research agents are QueryTracker.net and AgentQuery.com. I personally prefer QueryTracker, so I’m going to use it as my primary source. You’ll need to sign up for a free account in order to follow some of the instructions. However, if you plan to create an agent list, you’d want to do that anyway.

Let’s say you’re making a list of young adult agents in QueryTracker.

  1. Sign in.
  2. Click on the Agents tab in the upper left-hand corner.
  3. There are several options on the right-hand side. In the Genres option, select Young Adult from the pull-down menu. (Yes, I know YA is an age category, not a genre, but whatever.)

A list of agents will appear to the left.

Populate your spreadsheet

Fair warning: this is going to take a LOOONG TIME! If it’s your first time researching agents, we’re talking weeks if you’re thorough.

Agent, Agency, Website, Blog, Twitter

Click on the first agent and either copy/paste or type all available contact information into your spreadsheet. Some agents might not have a website, blog or Twitter. If they don’t, I put N/A in that column.

You might wonder why I don’t include the agent’s email address in my spreadsheet. Sometimes agents don’t use their direct emails for submissions. As a result, I prefer not to keep those on my spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally use the wrong one in communications. However, if you want to add it to yours, that’s up to you.

Represents, Looking for, Notes

Next, I visit the agency website. Generally an agency website will have a section titled Our Agents, Who We Are, etc. Under the Represents column, I list all of the categories the agent covers. For example, if Agent A represents picture books through young adult plus some adult non-fiction, I write “PB to YA, plus adult NF” in that column. You can create your own shorthand :). Personally, I think it’s important to know everything the agent represents, so I include all of the age categories in this column. I might decide to write in a different category at some point, so I want to know if that agent would be able to represent me in a different category. If they don’t, I may put a note in the Notes column to the effect of “May not be a good fit due to no PB” or whatever.

The Looking for column is where I put details related to what I’m writing–anything an agent says that clicks with my current project or what I’m planning to write. That might be as simple as a genre, or it might be very specific. It’s more than a list. I cut and paste in whole phrases and sentences so I don’t forget exactly what the agent said, and then I put a date behind it so I know when they said it–because that’s important, too. If the reference is too old, they might not be looking for it anymore. For example, my notes in this column might say:

  • Huge Stephanie Perkins and Meg Cabot fan, so please send me contemporary stories in that vein #MSWL (03/17); I am addicted to ID TV so any murder mystery/thrillers in #YA. #MSWL 06/16

Here are some resources for tracking down these gems.

  • Agency websites – A few very detailed agency websites that give agent wishlists.
  • Agent websites/blogs – You’re much more likely to find specifics on an agent’s personal blog or website. If it’s a blog, I recommend subscribing through a reader (I use Feedly) or via email so you can update your spreadsheet as new information is available.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace – These are maintained by the agents themselves. Sometimes they’re very basic, but often they include wishlists.
  • Twitter – Many agents tweet ideas.
  • Literary Rambles – If you write for children (PB through YA), LiteraryRambles.com is a great resource. It compiles information on agents and links back to interviews with agents on everything from what they’re looking for to how to query them. Just be aware that sometimes the linked interviews are a few years old.
  • #MSWL – Agent Jessica Sinsheimer created this wonderful hashtag on Twitter that stands for manuscript wishlist. Agents tweet it off and on, and then there are scheduled events. There also is a website with longer MSWL paragraphs. When available, QueryTracker has a link to an agent’s MSWL tweets and paragraph.
  • Google – I like to click on the Google link in QueryTracker because it does the search for me. Then I scan through the results for the most recent interviews. If you’re researching for the first time, you should probably read them all to get a feel for the agent. Just keep in mind that the older the interview is, there’s a chance the agent might not still be looking for that exact thing. I mean, if Agent B said in 2012 that he was looking for a YA ghost story set in futuristic Texas, and you have one of those, go for it. Just be prepared in case he already found one.

One of the links that will always come up on a Google search is Absolute Write Water Cooler. This is a forum where writers discuss agencies and experiences they’ve had with them. Some writers also use it to track queries or submissions they’ve sent to agents. I’ve found it most useful to spot questionable agents. You should definitely click on this link and read through the comments. It might send you to an older date and you’ll have to click through to a more recent post, but see what people are saying and make sure there aren’t any red flags about the agent or agency. If there are, that’s the kind of information I put in the Notes column. Something like “Sketchy comments on AW.” Most of the time it will just be comments about submissions.

If, as I’m going along, something in particular stands out about an agent, I’ll stick it in the Notes column. Like, Agent C mentioned she really loves opera and my character gets sucked into an opera (happened with one of my previous manuscripts!). Or, Agent D’s favorite movie could be used as a comp title for my story. The Notes column is the place where I keep those interesting tidbits. I don’t have notes for every agent, so this column might remain blank for some.

Books to Read, Books I’ve Read

I have a whole page on my blog dedicated to middle grade and young adult books agents represent. If you’re searching for agents in those age categories, feel free to refer to it. I also have a post dedicated to how to find books agents represent. I include these columns on my spreadsheet in case I want to read any books represented by an agent before I query or to track books I’ve already read so I can mention them when personalizing a query. As for books you’ve already read, go look through the acknowledgments pages in your personal library. You may be surprised how many books you’ve already read by the agents on your list!

Submission Guidelines, Sub Note

Always go to direct sources for Submission Guidelines. While databases do their best to keep submission information up to date, they still rely on agents and/or users to supply the information. To find submission information, go to the following sources:

  • Agency websites – Usually there’s a tab labeled Submission Guidelines or Submit to Us. If not, submission information may be located under Contact Us. Sometimes there are general guidelines for the agency as a whole, and other times the site will direct you to an agent-specific page.
  • Agent blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages
  • If you are unable to locate any of these direct sources, refer to a database or interview.

Submission guidelines vary greatly. You could be submitting by pasting into an email, through an online form, or in rare cases sending attachments. The agency/agent may even be closed to submissions. You could paste all of the individual guidelines into your spreadsheet, but what if they change before you’re actually ready to query? You’re essentially creating your own database, and the information is only current the day you enter it. Instead, paste in the URL for the submission guidelines* so that you can review them carefully when you’re ready to query. Here are a couple of notes you may want to include in that field along with the URL:

  • If it’s an agency with multiple agents on your list, note whether you’re allowed to query multiple agents. Some agencies have a “no from one is a no from all” policy, meaning that if you query one agent, you cannot later query another agent. The idea is that if one agent feels a query is not a fit for him/her but might be for another agent at the agency, he/she will pass it on. Other agencies say not to query multiple agents simultaneously. This means that if one agent says no, you could later query another agent at the same agency because they do not pass queries along. But NEVER query two agents at the same agency at the same time.
  • Also make a note if the submission guidelines list any specific requirements the agency has once they request. For example, some agencies require an exclusive. They might waive this requirement if you already have requests out, but they might not, so you should keep it in mind if you plan to query them. I’ve also seen a few agencies that request something like a marketing plan.
  • If you find conflicting guidelines–for example, the agency website lists general guidelines, but the agent has a separate personal website–include both links, although you should ultimately follow the agent’s personal guidelines. I know of a few cases (ICM is one) where the agency website says it does not accept unsolicited submissions, but you can find guidelines for individual agents elsewhere.

*While I don’t include full submission guidelines in my spreadsheet because they often change, I do put a brief note at the front end of my spreadsheet for when I’m ready to query and want to test out different pieces (query, first pages, synopsis, etc.). I’ll explain more about this in my next post about querying strategy. For example, the Sub Notes column might say: query only, 5 pages, synopsis + 3 chapters, online form, etc. However, I always go back to the link in the Submission Guidelines column when I’m ready to prepare my submission.

Response Time, Auto Response, RQ, Responds?

You may be able to easily fill out the Response Time and Auto Response? from the agent’s submission page. Many agencies/agents list their expected response time and whether you may follow up after that time passes. Others have a no-response policy and may give you the amount of time within which they will respond if interested. Some agents even give updates on where they are with queries and submissions on Twitter or their blogs. Make a note in the Response Time field, along with where you found the information. Here’s how some of these options may look:

  • [number] weeks per agency website (resend after [number weeks/months])
  • [number] weeks per agent blog – Notice this one does not have a note about resending because the agent doesn’t invite check-ins.
  • [number] weeks if interested per Publishers Marketplace – If I haven’t received a response from that agent after the specified number of weeks, I close it out.
  • Only if interested per agency website – The agency doesn’t give a response and also doesn’t give a time frame in which they respond if interested.
  • Response times updated on blog/Twitter

Or, the guidelines might not say anything at all about how long they take to respond or if they do at all, in which case you’ll leave that field blank. You do have one other resource, but before you leave that submission page, take a quick look to see if it says the agency/agent has an auto-responder and just put “Yes” or “No” in the Auto Responder? field. I don’t spend actual time researching this, but I like to make a note of it.

Now, back to that other resource: QueryTracker. I LOVE the statistics in QueryTracker. Here’s the deal. TONS of writers have logged their queries and responses in the system. QueryTracker uses this information to create a wide variety of reports, one of which is on query response times. I like to know this about every agent I might query, regardless of whether the agent states a response time or not. That way when I’m ready to query, I can base early querying on who I know will respond quickly in order to test my query. Here’s how to get the report:

  1. Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
  2. Click on the Reports tab.
  3. In the Select a Report pull-down menu, choose Query Response Times.

And, voila! You have your results. I add a semi-colon behind the agent’s suggested response time and plug in the average times from the QueryTracker report. And if there’s a significant difference between requests and rejections or some other trend I notice–such as very few rejections–I’ll note that, too. Or, if you don’t care about that much detail, on the main page of each QueryTracker entry for an agent, there’s a percentage rate for the agent listing his/her Reply Rate. Possible completed entries might be:

  • 2 weeks per agency website; 15-20 days per QT; 85% reply rate
  • 8-10 weeks if interested per auto-reply; 24-60 days per QueryTracker (longer for requests, few rejections logged); 45% reply rate
  • 6-8 weeks per agency website; 1-4 days per QT; 75% reply rate – Some agents reply very quickly!
  • Request status update after 4 weeks if no response per agency website; 47-64 days per QT; 5% reply rate – And sometimes QueryTracker shows that the agents take way longer than the stated times. That’s when you know to hold off on that follow-up.

You may also be able to fill out the Responds? column to the left based on the Response Times column. I just put a simple yes/no in this column. As with the Sub Notes, I have this column to the left for purposes of deciding which agents to query first.

Query Tips

Query Tips are agent-specific tips they’ve mentioned in interviews/online–how they like queries tailored to them, such as:

  • State the book’s theme, or “hook,” in one concise sentence in the first paragraph. The author’s credentials should be included in one brief paragraph, along with his contact information. Thanking me for my time is always nice.
  • Likes personalization; word count/genre info at the end; don’t query around Christmas
  • Prefers word count/genre as first sentence.
  • Let [agent] know if you’re querying multiple agents. – Most agents assume this, but some want you to state it in the query.
  • There’s a sentence that sums up the plot, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.
  • The letter should be two short paragraphs: one that describes your book and one that describes you. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
  • No need to tell me how you came to query me, especially not as your query opener.
  • Being able to open your query letter with why you are approaching me and being aware of what my deals or book interests are can go a long way.
  • I like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

Notice how they don’t want the same thing? Tell me why you’re querying me! No, don’t! Word count at the beginning, the end … why not stick it in the middle? Just kidding :). You may want to leave this column blank until you have a query and are ready to personalize it to each agent then search for their individual tastes. You won’t find this information for every agent–only the ones who are active online or grant interviews. But when you do, it’s golden.

RQ

If you really like math (which I do), you can have fun by figuring out the agent’s reply quotient. It’s something a writer friend and mentor of mine, Krista Van Dolzer, came up with. You can just refer to her post on it, A New Way to Build a Query List, if you’re interested :). I built a formula into an extra sheet on my spreadsheet to make it easy. All of the statistics are available in Query Tracker, and this would fill in the RQ column on my spreadsheet.

YA Requests

The YA Requests? Column–or modify to whatever category you’re writing–is a major time suck but very interesting to know which agents are really into your category. However, it does require a premium QueryTracker membership. The premium membership is $25 but totally worth it for the statistics. While you can track some agent response times to queries through the comments section on each agent’s profile, you can see real-time responses within the Data Explorer with the premium membership. I use it as a tool to see how much of my genre/category the agent has requested in the past year. There are two easy ways to get to this report in QueryTracker.

  1. Click on Search for Literary Agents.
  2. In the Search field, type in the name of the Agent or Agency Name if you’d like to search for multiple agents at the same agency.
  3. Click on the symbol that looks like stacked discs to pull up the report of all queries logged in the system.
  4. To narrow the report by your genre or category, click on the arrow to the right of the “All Genres” pull-down menu and select the desired category or genre.
  5. Go through and count the number of requests for your category or genre. I generally do the past year. Whatever you decide, use the same cut-off date for all of the agents so you have the same sample.
  6. In the Requests? column, type in “[number] requests in last [time period]”.
  7. At the top of the page, click on Literary Agents and it will return you to the page with the list of agents at the agency you searched for.

Alternatively, you can navigate to each individual agent’s profile, click on the Reports tab, click on the “Data Explorer” link, then follow steps 4-6 above.

You can use this same report to determine if an agent responds to queries for the Responds? column. Depending on how quickly they respond, you may need to click back through a few pages, but this report will show either requests, rejections or closed due to no response.

Note

You may have noticed there’s column called Note in those columns to the left, even though I already have a Notes column. I know that’s lame, and you can call it something else if it’s less confusing for you. This column is basically my catchall for any information I don’t want to miss as I’m organizing agents into querying rounds. Here are a few things I note in this column:

  • If I’ve met/will meet the agent at a conference. In the latter case, I might want to hold off querying them until after.
  • If they are participating in an online contest that I plan to enter, I list the contest’s name. That way I also know to hold off querying until after.
  • If the agent has requested one of my previous manuscripts.
  • If the agent represents someone I know personally.
  • If the agent requests exclusives.
  • If an agent is closed to queries, I mark it along with the length of time if that’s mentioned.
  • Once I’ve started querying and receive requests, I use this column to track statistics from another fun report in QueryTracker: Agents with Similar Tastes.

Rank

After researching these agents and their tastes, you should have a pretty good idea of which agents you’re most interested in. I assign each agent a Rank based on how likely I think they are to be a fit for my current manuscript. My rankings range from 1 to 4 with .5 increments; you can use whatever system you want. But because this column is one of the ways I sort the spreadsheet when I’m ready to start separating the agents into querying rounds, it’s also necessary to mark agents I can’t query. So if an agent is closed to queries, I put N/A (not applicable) in that column. I also use this column to make a selection for those agencies where I can only query one agent. By assessing all of the data–what they’re looking for (most important!!), how many requests they’ve made, whether they respond, etc.–I choose which agent at that agency is the best fit, assign him/her a ranking, and put N/A for the others at that agency. You may even want to move those agents to a new sheet in your spreadsheet labeled N/A to de-clutter it. That’s totally up to you, though. I’d keep the ones who are closed to queries on your main sheet as they may re-open before you finish querying. If they do, you can assign them a rank and make them active.

Querying strategy is too long to cover in a paragraph, and there isn’t one right answer, so it’s going to have to be a separate post on how I create my querying Rounds. I’ll cover how you might approach ordering the agents on your list. I’ve done it differently with every manuscript, so don’t expect a step-by-step process. What you can expect is to have a lot of information from which to develop your own strategy. I’ll also cover how I track my queries and submissions.

If you made it to the end of this post, I salute you. But I thought it was worth compiling everything into a single post. Obviously your spreadsheet can be as detailed or simple as you want it to be. Feel free to ask any questions you may have about my process!

Giveaways, Interviews, PitchWars, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: CATALYST & FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

As promised, today I’m featuring an interview with the second of my Pitch Wars mentors, Kristin Smith. Her debut, CATALYST, came out in 2016, followed by the sequel, FORGOTTEN, just last month. I’m thrilled to be giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding swag–signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet! Here’s the description of the first book to whet your appetite.

Catalyst by Kristin SmithIn a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

And here are Kristin’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most–in this case, about both books :).

1. The premise for this series is so cool (and a bit scary)! A society where the rich genetically modify their children? Where did you come up with the idea?

Why, thank you! 🙂 The spark of the idea came in the form of a vivid dream. This idea then led to a lot of what if questions. What if there was a society of people who were matched according to their genetics? Then taking that a step further, what if these people were genetically modified and matched according to their genetics? What would a society like this look like? What might be some challenges for a society like this? And through this, the idea for CATALYST was born.

2. I love how it’s set in a futuristic Las Vegas. The gritty city and surrounding desert, then the new setting of Pacifica (a futuristic L.A.?), are so well drawn. How did you research? How did you decide what to keep from the present and what to change?

I lived for a short time in Las Vegas so I’m very familiar with the area, which really helped when writing CATALYST. And yes, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, I do picture the Capital of Pacifica (Rubex) as a futuristic L.A. area. I’ve been to L.A. and up and down the Pacific coast, so it wasn’t too hard to draw on personal experience, like how cold the ocean water is no matter what time of year.

I did take some liberties when it came to buildings and structures that may or may not exist in 100-120 years. I think that was the most interesting thing about writing a story set in the near future. I was able to play around with things like architecture and buildings, while staying true to landscape and landforms like mountains, oceans, and deserts that shouldn’t change too much over time. It was a good balance between research and imagination.

3. There are so many twists in these books. Do you have a strategy for planting twists, particularly across a series?  

Um, I wish I could say that I have this magical formula, but the truth is, I really don’t. I generally know the direction the book or series is going, but sometimes I even surprise myself. If there’s a big twist (or several), then during the revision stage, I go through and make sure there have been enough clues sprinkled in so it doesn’t feel too farfetched. I’m a firm believer in the saying that “books are not written, but rewritten.” I do like to keep my reader always guessing.

The other key thing for this series is the backstory, which the reader doesn’t really know much about until the 2nd book, FORGOTTEN. I had to fully flesh out characters we don’t see or know that much about in order to be able to do these twists. I think that’s what made this story such a big undertaking. I couldn’t truly delve into Sienna’s story until I had completely fleshed out her dad’s story, which is what leads the reader to a lot of questions and a lot of twists.

4. The boys! You have two strong love interests with Zane and Trey, and I don’t even know whose team I’m on. I was leaning one way after CATALYST, and FORGOTTEN tipped me the other direction. Did you start writing the series with a clear ending in mind for the love story? Any suggestions on writing an effective love triangle?

Ahh, this is such a great question! When I first started writing the series, there was no question in my mind who Sienna would end up with. But now, I’m not so sure. They are both incredible guys, each with their own strengths, and Sienna loves them both in different ways. And I think that’s the key to an effective love triangle. Each love interest must stand on his own, meaning, each one should offer her something different. Perhaps in one the MC finds adventure and security, but the other provides compassion and companionship.

In addition, a good love triangle should be about more than just the three characters trapped in the triangle. It shouldn’t be a plot in and of itself. But when you can weave it into a story that has bigger stakes, then I think you’re on the road to creating a successful love triangle.

5. In FORGOTTEN, you tell the story from both Sienna and Zane’s viewpoints. What tips do you have for writing from two different POVs?

Don’t screw it up! Lol. No, really, I think it’s all about finding the voice of your characters. It requires you to dig deep and really get to know your characters better. Sienna was easy because I already knew her voice. Zane was a bit trickier because A) I had to tap into a male voice and B) I had to tap into the voice of a guy who has been bred since birth to be this poster child for his father’s genetic modification company. He’s well-bred, well-spoken, and well-rounded.

I would suggest doing character sketches or character interviews to really get a feel for the mind of your character. It may take rewriting chapters if you find your voice drifting. The main thing is to stay true to your character.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet. United States only, please. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a19/?

Contests, PitchWars, Revising, Writing, Young Adult

Tackling a Major Revision, or How I’m Revising for Pitch Wars

In addition to promising to talk about my Pitch Wars mentors’ books (I’ll feature Kristin Smith’s books next week!), I said I’d share my revision process, so here goes.

A week after the Pitch Wars announcement, I received a thirteen-page edit letter from my mentors, as well as an invitation to view a Google Doc with line edits on the full manuscript I submitted for consideration. Neither of these documents were really as overwhelming as they might seem. I have two mentors, so the length of the edit letter had a lot to do with two writers making comments on it, I think. Both mentors wrote an introduction, followed by comments on chapters as they saw issues (some chapters didn’t have comments–yay!), and then there were character notes and miscellaneous thoughts at the end. As for the line edits, they’re super helpful as I’m revising because many of them point out places my mentors love and I should definitely keep, not just areas I need to fix.

So how have I approached this?

1. A huge sigh of relief. My mentors are amazing! I knew this manuscript wasn’t there yet. It’s why I entered Pitch Wars. Kristin and Beth’s recommendations for enhancing my manuscript and taking it to the next level were fantastic. We emailed back and forth on a couple of suggestions where I had reservations and brainstormed alternate solutions. But the thing was, I wouldn’t have come up with alternate solutions if they hadn’t pointed out they had an issue with the way things currently stood.

2. Create an outline listing how I proposed implementing the suggested changes in the manuscript. The nice thing here is that I already had all of the outline information in my Scrivener file. I set it up before I drafted the novel, so all I had to do was export my outline and update it according to the changes I planned to make.

In addition, I included extensive revision notes. For the few new chapters, the revision notes were pretty much a step-by-step guide through the chapter. This outline took me about four or five days to complete. Here’s an example from an early chapter, since I don’t want to give too much away :).

3. Send the outline to my mentors for approval. Even though my outline addressed all of my mentors’ suggestions, either incorporating them or explaining why I felt another solution worked better, sending in the outline had me biting my nails. Was I suggesting enough? Would I need to go back to the drawing board and come up with different solutions? But it turned out I had nothing to worry about. My super-supportive mentors loved my outline, and while they had a few tweaks and additional suggestions, they gave me the go-ahead to start revising.

4. Input the outline changes and revision notes into Scrivener. It may seem like extra work to output the outline and then put it back into Scrivener, but it took maybe an hour of cutting and pasting, and I like to have everything in my Scrivener file as I’m working. So as I’m revising, that same chapter you saw above looks like this in Scrivener. (When I’m tackling a revision on my own, I skip straight to this step and put all my revision notes into Scrivener, except with this particular manuscript I did go through this outline-with-revision-notes process on an earlier draft with two of my critique partners. That’s how I knew it was such an easy way to approach explaining what I planned to change.)

5. Start revising! Once I had my Scrivener file all ready to go, I started revising chapter by chapter. My system is:

a. Tackle chapter revision notes.

b. Incorporate line edits from my mentors.

c. Complete a repeated word search for the chapter. Yes, this slows down my revisions a bit. However, everyone who’s read this manuscript has commented on pacing as a strength, and I think one factor is that I weeded out repeated words chapter-by-chapter early in the revision process. Since I’ve done it before, I’m not doing it as detailed during this revision, particularly on the chapters that don’t have a ton of changes. But for the brand-new chapters (I’ve already written two), you bet! Because I still tend to use the same words over and over, and searching for those repeated words ensures each character sounds unique and that I’m using the best word in each instance. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now, but you can refer to my post on why you might want to change a word, even if you only use it twice in a chapter.

So where am I now?

Making great progress and excited about how the changes I’ve already made are positively impacting the manuscript. This process is fantastic, and no matter how the agent round pans out, I’m confident YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will be a much stronger manuscript. I’m so thankful for Kristin and Beth’s insight and support, as well as all of my CPs who got me here in the first place.

While I’m applying this process to Pitch Wars revisions, it could be used to tackle any major revision. As I mentioned above, I used it with my CPs when working through some issues on an earlier draft. Also, if you have a revise & resubmit with an agent or editor and they’re open to seeing what you plan to do with the revisions before you start on them, you could use this sort of system. It just depends on how much detail they want.

Now I’d better get back to revising!!

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d be sharing more about my Pitch Wars’ mentors’ books, and today I’m thrilled to host Beth Ellyn Summer with an interview about AT FIRST BLUSH. Even better, I’m giving away a copy of her book, and Beth is adding on swag–makeup and a signed bookmark! First, here’s the description.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn SummerWho would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

And here are Beth’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most.

I love the inside look at life as a YouTuber, especially since it’s becoming more common for teens to have channels. Did you experiment with your own channel? Talk to YouTubers? How did you research?

This was definitely a case of binge-watching tons of beauty tutorials and calling it research! I’m deathly camera shy so making my own channel was never an option. YouTube beauty videos have this really fun, sleepover-with-your-best-friends vibe that’s so addictive. I spent months studying how gurus interacted with their subscribers, how they conducted giveaways and handled dramas and scandals. What shocked me most was just how much hate these girls deal with on a daily basis. When pop stars and movie stars get hate, they can avoid social media and Google. But YouTubers literally make their living off interacting with subscribers, so reading hateful comments is all part of a day’s work. I admire anyone who can look past all that to do what they love and make a career out of it.

Lacey’s makeup expertise is so ingrained it’s obvious it originates with you. After reading this book, I feel like I’m probably doing it all wrong and should go watch some tutorials myself. Any tips for those of us who might be in a makeup rut? Who should we watch since Lacey Blushes is fictional?

So, confession: I was always pretty terrible at makeup. Like, awful. My mom did my makeup for me up till college. But then one day I realized I’ve got to figure this out for myself, and I got really hooked on tutorials! These girls made it look so easy, and it’s because of YouTube tutorials that I learned the key to flawless makeup application: a thorough and moisturizing skin care routine, and the right tools. I didn’t realize that you need good quality brushes (you can get really inexpensive ones), otherwise the products don’t apply well. Good brushes are game changing.

My advice if you’re in a makeup rut (and I literally just dragged myself out of one) is to experiment with new brands. Also: play with vibrant eyeliner colors! I have a tough time working with colorful eyeshadows on my lids, and I never have the patience to blend properly, so I tend to stick with my usual neutrals. By adding a pop of teal or turquoise or purple eyeliner, it takes things up a notch without going too far out of a comfort zone.

I highly recommend these beauty channels: Emily Noel, Lisa Eldridge, Pixiwoo, Ingrid Nilsen, Tanya Burr, FleurDeForce, Carrie Rad. I have so many favs but I learn the most from these girls!

I love how Lacey and Cynth’s friendship is portrayed in the book. What suggestions do you have for writing a great friendship?

I’m the biggest sucker for strong friendships in YA. I think a good best friend helps a MC figure themselves out, but I really love it when the friends learn something new about their friendship within character arcs. My favorite way to write a best friend is to make them a polar opposite of my MC. It usually makes for some laughs, all while helping the MC step out of comfort zones. I usually take conversations and silly moments I’ve had with my own best friends and play off that!

Lacey grows so much in the story, figuring out what she wants to stand for and what she wants out of her YouTube career. Did you plan out her arc in advance, or did she reveal herself to you along the way?

I’m a pantser, so a lot of Lacey came to me as I was writing her. But I always knew Lacey would come to the conclusion that dreams can change, and she’d want to do something different from YouTube. I just kept thinking…what would it be like to have a girl who dreams of being a big YouTuber and the true conflict comes when she does get everything she wished for?

The romance! The famous boy who just wants a girl to like him for himself is one of my favorite tropes. I love that he cooks and has major weaknesses where his family is concerned. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one, but was there a particular inspiration for Tyler coming from a family boy band?

Ha! Haha. Yes! My favorite thing about post-publication has been reading the guesses from bloggers and readers about who Tyler Lance is based on! It was kind of a huge mix in my head, to be completely honest. I’m a Hanson girl. I grew up going to their shows, and with walls covered in their posters, and I still adore them. I’m really just fascinated with family bands in general. I watched a feature on R5 once where the focus was solely on Ross Lynch and I just wondered…what would happen to the family if the band broke up? There’s some Jonas Brothers and R5 influence in Simply Complicated as well. Despite all the family drama stuff, I also took plenty of inspo from Harry Styles. I based Lacey and Tyler’s romance off of the media firestorm that was Taylor Swift and Harry Styles’ relationship, and Taylor’s 1989 album was my At First Blush playlist. Hardcore Swifties will probably notice references to Out of the Woods and Style!

Thank you, Beth!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away an e-book of AT FIRST BLUSH, and Beth is adding on an e.l.f. shimmering facial whip and signed bookmark. United States only. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a18/?

Contests, PitchWars, Revising, Writing

I’m a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentee!!

Based on this title, some of you are probably wondering whether I’ve been drafted into an a cappella group (I was tempted to break into song) or some sort of strange cult. Don’t worry–well, the a cappella group wouldn’t be cause for concern–it’s an amazing, wonderful, exciting opportunity! (I could continue adding on adjectives, but I’ll stop.)

Basically, Pitch Wars is an annual contest to which writers submit a not-quite-there manuscript to mentors for consideration. These mentors are industry professionals (usually agented and/or published authors or editors) who provide detailed feedback on the manuscript and work with you to get it ready for querying. But not only that, there’s an agent showcase at the end of two months, and because of the mentoring aspect of the contest, it holds a lot of weight with agents.

Friends, I am so thrilled to be selected this year with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. I’ve tried before, with three of my previous manuscripts, and I’ve gotten close. I know because I received emails afterward from mentors telling me I was among their top choices. I even had a potential mentor tell me I should probably go ahead and query, and that project ended up getting really close with agents too, but as any of you who follow my blog know, I haven’t yet found the right fit. So I’m absolutely ecstatic to have this opportunity.

Even better, I get to work with TWO fabulous mentors–Kristin Smith (CATALYST and FORGOTTEN) and Beth Ellyn Summer (AT FIRST BLUSH). I can’t wait to see what plans they have for my manuscript, but I know I’m in good hands because I read their books (technically still reading Kristin’s sequel :)), and you should too! Don’t worry, I plan to tell you more about their books later because, of course, that’s what I do :).

I’m sure I’ll end up blogging about the revision process too, because that’s also what I do. For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of my new puppy, Rey, playing with bubbles. Because why not?