Agent blogs I love

While I continue querying (and thinking about book #2), I thought I’d post a few links to my fave agent (or previous agent/turned author) blogs. I have spent many hours perusing these, and gathering helpful hints and tips. With everything from query letter deconstruction, to industry insights, to wish lists, to writing tips, these blogs are worth a look.

Nathan Bransford

Marie Lamba

Adventures in Agentland (Natalie Lakosil)

SlushPile Tales (Lauren Ruth)

Query Shark (Janet Reid)

Carly Watters *Canadian agent

Agency Gatekeeper Jessica Sinsheimer

Confessions Suzie Townsend

Glass Cases Sarah LaPolla

Have a favourite agent blog to share? Would love to find more!

Tough skin

Well, it’s Friday. Otherwise known as ‘rejection day’ for my inbox. Must be a day where agents clean out emails and slushpiles, because I always seem to get rejections on Fridays.

So my stats after this latest reject: 7 queries sent. 5 rejections. 1 still out in email la-la-land. And 1 request for a (hip hip hooray!) full manuscript. With my one positive response, I’m running just over a 10% success rate, which apparently puts me in the ‘normal’ querying category; some might even say ‘good.’

Honestly, the rejections haven’t broken through my thick skin (yet). I never expected every agent to say yes. I’m thrilled one did, but I know there are plenty more rejections coming to my inbox. In the meantime, I’ve made some big changes to my manuscript. I’ve added plot, and cut out cheesy writing and anything that felt excessive. I’ve completely changed the first, and last chapters. I’m toying with a title change. I’ve added a character. Increased the bad news factor for a few others. I’ve killed a few of my ‘darlings’. I’ve revamped my query, yet again. I’ve listened in on two webinars, one about writing awesome first pages (hence the first chapter changes) and one about the dreaded synopsis (which I will blog about shortly, if I survive the process).

Both the webinars came with a critique element, so my first two pages (before I revised, though) are sitting with an agent, and my synopsis is getting a critique next week. I’m also entering this query contest, where I expect (hope) to be torn to shreds. I welcome it. Otherwise, how will I learn? How will I become a better writer?

I remember an interesting convo I had on a few months ago. It was around receiving feedback on WIPs. I was amazed at how many writers didn’t want to be critiqued, or felt they weren’t ready. Bottom line? Take the feedback and make your work better. Ask to be critiqued, even if you have one page complete and you think it kind of sucks.

Because no one is born with tough skin. You have to grow the layers.

Query, Query, quite contrary…

Uncooperative. Defiant. Insolent. These are other words I’d use to describe the query letter. Two hundred and fifty words. One page. Should be easy, right? After all, I just wrote 70,000 words. But as I’m learning the things that should be easy are, well, often not.

I read a lot about how to write a query before I ever put one word down. I obsessively read through queries on sites like Query Shark and Slush Pile Tales – both places where brave wanna-be authors can submit queries for (torturous) helpful critiquing. I learned some key things, like you should never (EVER) start a query with a rhetorical question (Seriously, never do this. This is a guaranteed way to get an instant rejection). That 250 words is not many, so use those words wisely (don’t mention sub characters or the fact you have a dog named Earl, which also happens to be the name of your protagonist…). Never write ‘Dear Agent’ as your salutation. And for the love of G_d, never send a mass query out. All these things make agents prickly. And a prickly agent is not going to give you a second glance.

But I also left my ‘research’ confused. Some agents say a four-paragraph query format is best (title/word count/genre, hook, synopsis, author bio); others long for the ‘unorthodox’ query. As long as you don’t write it in your main character’s voice. They hate that. Even if it’s a most clever book about a crime-fighting parrot. Or a vampire who is allergic to blood (also, vampires are out).

So after I couldn’t possibly cram any more query stuff in my brain (I was dreaming about it, for reals), I started writing. And re-writing. I emailed my writing buddy and critique partner with each version. She kindly gave me feedback. Multiple times. Then I rewrote some more. And more. And then a little more. Finally I had something I thought worked. So I sent a few query letters out (happy to report out of my first three I received two instant rejections and one request for a full manuscript) and let the words marinate a little more. Then I rewrote it again. And you know what? I bet it isn’t the last time.

I think I’m on version number 123 of my query letter. It’s better than version 90, and definitely WAY better than version 10 (if I can even remember that far back…). The other piece of advice I gleamed on queries is to make each one custom to the agent you’re querying. This is obvious, of course, but I have a feeling many don’t do this (see ‘Never send a mass query out’ above). I have a spreadsheet with all the agents I’m going to query, with links to interviews and articles where they delve more deeply into what they’re looking for, and other tidbits helpful in customizing a query letter. I have a word doc for each and every agent I’m querying. And I send one email at a time. Not only does this help me keep track, it ensures I’ll never send the wrong letter to the wrong agent.

Because the number one thing agents have to say? You have one chance to make an impression. (So don’t screw it up).