Giveaways, PitchWars

Pitch Wars Mentee Giveaway–THUNDERSTRUCK by Brenda Drake!

 

In honor of the conclusion of the Pitch Wars showcase and the upcoming season of gratitude, the 2017 Pitch Wars mentee class would like to thank our mentors and the Pitch Wars staff team for creating this incredible opportunity.

I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer. If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember I featured their books and gave away copies in September. So while these giveaways are no longer live, I encourage you to read about them again and grab a copy of their books!

AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

CATALYST and FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

Now that you’ve seen the fabulousness of Beth and Kristin, I have another giveaway! I don’t think I can express how thankful we all are to Pitch Wars founder Brenda Drake. Others have giveaways to thank Brenda as well. I’m giving away her latest book, THUNDERSTRUCK (paperback or Kindle, whichever the winner prefers).

Thunderstruck by Brenda Drake

Stevie Moon is famous…at least to the subscribers on her comic review vlog. At school, she’s as plain as the gray painted walls in the cafeteria. So when Blake, the hot new guy at school, shows an interest in her, she knows trouble when she sees it. Been there. And never doing it again.

As the son of the god Thor, Blake Foster’s been given an important mission—to recover the Norse god Heimdall’s sacred and powerful horn before someone uses it to herald in the destruction of the entire universe. But while Blake is great in a fight, the battlefield that is a high school’s social scene is another matter.

Blake knows his only choice is to team up with the adorable Stevie, but she’s not willing to give him even the time of day. He’ll need to woo the girl and find the horn if he hopes to win this war. Who better to tackle Stevie’s defenses than the demi-god of thunder?

To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a20/?

And go enter as many of the other giveaways as you’d like. You can find them all at: http://bit.ly/pw17gives There are books, gift cards, and even query critiques up for grabs.

GOOD LUCK!!

PitchWars, Writing

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Aesthetics

In the days leading up to Pitch Wars, mentees posted various novel aesthetics on Twitter, and I thought it would be fun to compile them all here on my blog.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my idea for this manuscript started with the setting in the middle of the novel. We were on our annual family vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer (2016), and I looked over and spotted this abandoned house. My writer brain started asking all these questions about it, and of course I took pictures. That was my first novel aesthetic for what would become YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME.

I knew I wanted my characters to be siblings, a sister and brother. I had come up with a somewhat sketchy plot, and then in September 2016 I attended a daylong Girl Scout event with my daughter, who was a Daisy at the time. Now, I should mention that I am not a fan of the outdoors, and this event involved all sorts of outdoor activities. So when the next event was canoeing and they said they needed a parent volunteer to stay in the knife safety pavilion while troops came through for the demonstration, I jumped at it. There were two teen Girl Scouts leading the demonstration. I helped out for an hour and was privileged to listen to these girls, both of whom were Girl Scout Ambassadors. I asked them questions in between troops, learning about what it meant to be a teen Girl Scout and how rare it is for girls to stick with it.

My main character, Dora, is modeled after one of these girls, although of course I didn’t take any pictures of her. Instead I searched the internet for a photo to stick in my character file. Then I searched out pictures of the other characters who feature prominently: Dora’s brother, Sam; the love interest, Jay; Dora’s best friend, Wren; and, of course, the babysitter, Marie. I love how her picture looks like a mug shot–or maybe a passport photo since they won’t let you smile anymore.

Dora
Sam
Jay
Wren
Marie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I originally made a novel aesthetic ages ago, I thought about the images that are most associated with YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, and the two objects that are always mentioned in my pitch are Dora’s fishing knife (the murder weapon) and the downstairs freezer (where they stuff Marie’s body in a panic), so it’s appropriate to include those in any photo representation of my manuscript. But even before those two objects come into play, there’s the matter of an ill-advised text Dora sends.

There was a prompt during the Pitch Wars countdown to show your opening scene. My novel opens with Dora working as a roller-skating carhop at the Cosmic Diner, which is loosely modeled after Sonic. She has an encounter with her ex that involves a blue raspberry slushy and his lap …

 

 

 

 

 

There was also a call for the final scene, but considering my novel has quite a few twists, I’m not willing to give that away :).

Do you have any stories behind your novel aesthetics? I love looking through them. It’s so wonderful to get a glimpse inside everyone’s story world.

Contests, Writing

It’s Pitch Wars Time!

The adult/new adult and middle grade Pitch Wars entries are already live, and the young adult entries are scheduled to post tomorrow, although the others have gone up the night before, so it’s very possible my entry for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME will go live tonight.

My mentors asked me if I was excited or nervous. Yes, bits of both emotions are swirling around inside me, but I’m actually pretty calm today. Maybe that will change once my entry’s actually up (I’ll update this post with a link once it is), but I doubt it. Because even though my ultimate goal is an agent and I’m pinning all sorts of hope on this manuscript, I’ve been on this querying hamster wheel enough to learn a few things. (If you want the full details, start with my What I’ve Learned in Six Years of Querying post, and there are links to the five previous years.)

Update: Here’s my post, but if you are not an agent, please don’t comment!

PW #311: Young Adult Humorous Suspense: YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME

So, I have a few words for my fellow mentees, whether you are getting many or few requests. And maybe it’s also a reminder for me :).

1.We did it!

I mean, this is the most important point! We made it through the revisions, and it feels like a sort of graduation. I am so grateful to my mentors, Kristin Smith and Beth Ellyn Summer, for the time they devoted to my manuscript, as well as both the public and behind-the-scenes cheerleading. No matter what happens with the agent round, my manuscript is so much stronger and, most importantly, I know it’s READY. I’m excited to send it out into agent-land, much like Elle ready to take on the world :).

2. Don’t let the number of requests you receive discourage you from querying and putting your work before agents.

Some entries will not have many requests, and there could be various reasons for that. Maybe you should’ve gone with a different pitch. Maybe the agents who participated weren’t the right fit, or maybe the agents who are the right fit didn’t get to it. Maybe your first page isn’t the best fit for a blog contest–which doesn’t necessarily mean that your first page isn’t what it should be. Maybe your manuscript will do better when you send a full query and sample. Sometimes a pitch and first page just aren’t the best way to showcase a particular manuscript, and that’s okay. I’ve had agents skip over my entry in a pitch contest before and then request from a full query and sample. It happens! So much of this journey is about timing, and there’s nothing you can do about that :). You might start querying and experience just as much success as that entry with twenty requests.

3. If you have a ton of requests, don’t assume you should blast out queries to your entire list.

Well, that sounds like a downer, so first of all, you should celebrate! Because it’s awesome you got a ton of a requests! But still, I’m a realist. I’ve been in a contest with a previous manuscript where I had agents fighting over my entry. It’s heady. It feels like THIS IS IT! But all it really means it that your pitch and first page are working. You still need to make sure everything that comes after works. And maybe it does. Maybe agents will be scrambling to offer on your manuscript. Based on the history of this particular contest, that will happen for some, which is so awesome! I will so be cheering for all of those success stories! Pitch Wars is unique in that you’ve been working with a mentor (or maybe two) who have helped you whip your manuscript into a fine shine. But publishing is a subjective business, which means the edits don’t end once you start querying. Agents–and later editors–will have more revisions for you. Unfortunately there’s no magic formula to knowing how many agents you should query once you send out to non-Pitch Wars showcase agents. It’s really a matter of how confident you feel. I would say that if PW agents request partials and quickly upgrade to fulls, you are probably in good shape.

Update: Since this is my first time in Pitch Wars, I had no idea thirty or forty requests were even a possibility. If you’re one of those mentees, you can probably send whatever queries you want! This point was more aimed at the ten to twenty request club. But still, congrats!!

4. Cling to your new writer friends.

The very best thing about contests is the connections you make. My first major contest was five years ago. One of those teammates is one of my closest CPs, and I stay in regular contact with several others. I even got to finally meet one of them in person last month when she came through town for her book tour. These writers are your best support system when rejections come through, your sounding board when you need to revise, and your cheerleaders when you have good news. So stay in touch and don’t be afraid to reach out when you need them!

I think that’s it. Remember, you’ve already done all the hard work of revising the manuscript. I know waiting for those agent requests is nerve-wracking, but it’s not the end game. It’s just the next step in the journey. So, I leave you with this:

 

Character, Writing

What I Learned Re-Reading the First Manuscript I Queried

I’m going to be completely honest here. I’m not really referring to the first manuscript I ever queried. Because that one was ten years ago, and it was this crazy adult time-travel Christian romance that I didn’t even let anyone read before I queried it (I know! Rookie move!). I had no idea what I was doing, and so I don’t consider that for real. What I’m talking about here is one you can see here on my blog–THE MODERN CAVEBOY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING BATS, BULLIES AND BILLIONAIRES.

I wrote this book like seven (or eight?) years ago now, and I started querying it on July 11, 2011. So when you see those milestone posts on my blog about how many years I’ve been querying, it’s this manuscript that started it all. The reason I’m re-reading it is because I’ve decided to self-publish a copy as a Christmas gift for my nine-year-old. I mean, it’s officially shelved for any real publishing purposes, but my son will love it.

I thought it would be interesting to share what I learned about my growth as a writer while reading this old manuscript. Overall, I still thought the story was fun, and I got a lot of things right, but the issues I spotted are issues many new writers encounter, even with the help of critique partners and beta readers. For most writers, it just takes time to learn the craft and trust your gut enough do what’s right for your manuscript (you’ll understand what I mean by that second part when you get to point number four). And for the lucky few who get published on that first manuscript, I salute you!

1. I hardly used any interiority.

There are action beats and dialogue tags, but if I really wanted to whip this manuscript into shape, I’d add a lot more thought from my main character. There’s some interiority (and if you don’t understand what I mean by that, check out Mary Kole’s post here), but I wanted so much more emotion and explanation from him.

2. So many questions!

When my main character does have interiority, he’s constantly asking questions. It’s okay to use questions sometimes, but in general it’s better to rephrase them into statements. They’re stronger and more active.

3. The story is so plot-focused there’s not much depth to the characters.

This goes along with the first point but also applies to the supporting characters. I gave each of the characters one or two things. The main character has an anger management problem. His sister is brainy. His best friend is bubbly and supportive. But other than that? There’s not much. I could’ve done so much more with it.

4. The early chapters are rushed.

I did some minor edits to the manuscript as I read through it–nothing major, just cleaning it up as I went. When I got to chapter six, I felt like the story had skipped way ahead. And I know why. I was new to working with readers for this manuscript, and the critique I received was to ruthlessly cut five chapters.

So, here’s the thing about that critique. I was new to critiques, and it sounded like good advice. In all actuality, the sentiment behind it–that I was starting in the wrong place and my pacing in the early chapters was too slow–was valid. However, in retrospect, just all-out cutting those chapters was not the right thing to do. As a more experienced writer, I’ve learned how to accept a critique, examine what the actual problem is, and find the right solution for my manuscript. Sometimes it’s exactly what the other writer has suggested, but often it’s an entirely different solution that I come up with–because I know my manuscript better than anyone. But as a new writer I didn’t understand that, and this manuscript suffered as a result. It wasn’t that other writer’s fault. She spotted the problem. I just didn’t apply the critique correctly.

My point with this is not to ignore critiques, just to incorporate them in a way that’s right for your manuscript. Because when it comes to pacing and story structure, you need to ensure your story makes sense and the reader feels grounded. As for my son? I’m sure he’ll just go with it :).

5. There’s too much summarizing.

There are a lot of passages where I summarize what happens instead of actively showing it, and that takes away from the experience. It still gets the point across, but I know it can be so much better. I think this is another area where as a more experienced writer I can tell the difference between when I should tell vs. when I should show.

6. Who’s talking??

This manuscript features three kids on an adventure, and in an effort to avoid too many saids, I apparently just deleted a bunch of dialogue tags. But as I was reading through, there were several times I wondered which character was supposed to be talking. If there are more than two characters, you need something, whether it’s a dialogue tag, an action beat, or an internal thought to signify who’s speaking. Even when I did have beats or tags, they were often after the dialogue when they should have been before. I did a lot of shifting for those. There’s not a set formula for this, but it does need to be clear who’s talking. I just try to find a good balance of tags, beats, and thoughts in a conversation.

Could I go back and fix these issues if I really wanted to? Sure. But as fun as it was to go back and read this manuscript, I don’t have any passion for it anymore, and that’s a necessary ingredient to whip a project into shape. So for now, I will just anticipate the joy on my son’s face when he opens his present.

Have you ever gone back and read your first project? If so, what did you learn about how your writing has improved?

Writing, Young Adult

YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME Watch List

Writers are always talking about play lists for their manuscripts, but with one exception, that’s never been my thing. (That exception would be my violin story, which totally has a play list, but it’s mainly classical music :)). I just find music too distracting while I’m writing. However, I’m a major movie buff, and so I often find inspiration from movies. As I was thinking about my current manuscript, YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME, it occurred to me there are quite a lot of movie references included in it. So I thought it would be fun to put together a watch list.

1. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

I mean, it’s just the obvious one. I use it as a comp title for the manuscript, but if you read my Pitch Wars interview, you’ll know my inspiration actually came from the setting featured in the middle of the book rather than this movie. Still, I enjoyed re-watching it as I was drafting. Yes, it’s a campy movie, and you have to suspend belief, but that’s the vibe I’m going for :).

Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead

2. Star Trek

Really you can choose with any Star Trek since my main character’s best friend is an all-out Trekkie and has brought her along for the ride. I think every one of my previous manuscripts has included a Star Wars reference, but I also grew up watching all of the Star Treks, and we own all of the new versions (love how they rebooted them!). I thought it was time I gave another corner of the sci-fi world some love!

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer

Confession: I’ve only seen this movie once, and it was when it first came out, but I remember the gist of it. Anyway, there’s a text that goes around in my manuscript that was inspired by the girls watching that movie. See, the main character’s best friend’s mom has all of these old movies from the eighties and nineties sitting around, so they’ve watched them all :).

4. Annie

Random, right? But my main character feels a close affinity for Annie once she meets the babysitter, who shares many evil personality traits with Miss Hannigan.

5. Adventures in Babysitting

There’s such a quick reference to it anyone who hasn’t seen it will miss it, but there actually was a reboot on the Disney channel (with Sofia Carson of Descendants fame), so maybe younger readers will still get it :). Basically the main character’s friends are teasing her about her parents hiring a babysitter and bringing up every babysitter reference they can think of, from the Baby-Sitters Club book series to movies.

6. Looney Tunes (Okay, it’s not a movie, but still …)

In particular, I describe the babysitter’s smile as a Sylvester-eating-Tweety smile. Don’t worry. He always escapes :).

7. The Bourne Identity

My MC feels like a spy when she goes to buy a burner phone while they’re hiding out–not that she racks up a body count like Bourne (OR DOES SHE??). Just kidding.

8. The Princess Bride

There’s a point where the MC and her brother yell out “Inconceivable!” together, but it’s actually in regard to a plot point even more pertinent to a storyline in “The Princess Bride.” I’m not going to say what it is because it would give away a twist :). Also, when giving examples of perfect couples similar to her parents, my MC lists Westley and Buttercup.

   

9. Star Wars

Did I say I was letting Star Trek have this manuscript? Well, despite the work of the reboot, which has added multiple romance storylines, it doesn’t have anything epic yet. So the other epic romance my MC brings up is Han and Leia. But hey, if there are any Trekkies out there who disagree and want to give me a Star Trek pairing people will recognize, I’m game!

I feel like I should have some specific horror movie in here with a cabin in the woods, but while my MC’s brother makes several references to feeling like he’s in a horror movie, he doesn’t say anything about a particular one.

So that’s my watch list for YOUR SECRET’S NOT SAFE WITH ME. Do you have a watch list for your manuscript?

As I was scanning through my manuscript, I realized I also have a lot of food in there. Maybe I should make a menu next! Although it would heavily feature Girl Scout cookies :).

 

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?