Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chapter Seven: Using Print or Online Guides

I’m ready to start selecting literary agents to query about representing my Young Adult Mystery. This is an exciting milestone in the journey I began when I typed the opening sentence of my novel onto a blank screen. I’ve written, edited, and rewritten my manuscript uncountable times. Changing a word here or adding a word there, a tendency I have trouble overcoming, isn’t going to make any significant difference in its publishing prospects - it’s time to send it out into the world.

Now that I’m ready to look for agents, I have to choose between doing my agent search in book form or online. The 2011 Writer's Market and 2011 Guide to Literary Agents are on sale now. 2011 Hermann’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents will be available October 1. Generally considered three of the best book guides, each is around $20 on If you go the book route, one should be sufficient. I strongly recommend you take time to check them out at a bookstore or library before you buy because some index agents by name only, not by the kind of material they represent (Romance, Science Fiction, etc.). Skimming through hundreds of agent write-ups looking for one that’s interested in Young Adult zones me out.

Since I don’t have the patience to read through book guides, I'm using online agent databases. The quality, quantity, and scope of these directories are pretty amazing.

Free to use and so easy to navigate, I'm starting with AgentQuery, WritersNet, QueryTracker, and 1000 Literary Agents. These offer a wealth of information about agents, publishing, writing query letters, manuscript formatting, submission protocols, scams, and royalties. Determining which agent handles what type of material is as simple as typing in the genre of my novel. Some provide services to track queries, provide data about agents’ responses, and offer forums for writers to exchange information.

Others sites such as,, and offer similar, sometimes even more, information but require subscriptions. Generally, the fees are quite reasonable and memberships are available by the week or month. I tried in my previous attempt to find an agent and found the key to getting my dollar’s worth was being ready to search when I joined, identifying and making a list of agents who interested me, and canceling my membership as soon as I finished. This time, I'm going with the free directories and keeping the fee-charging ones as back-ups.

Most books and online directories make an effort to vet the agents they list. However, that doesn’t guarantee that a scammer doesn’t slither into the listings so precaution is in order. As I’m selecting my first batch of agents to query, I go to each agent’s website to determine if he/she belongs to AAR as well as to familiarize myself with the agent’s query guidelines and follow them. Sending the wrong kind of material to the wrong agent the wrong way wastes my time. That approach guarantees me a negative response or no response.

I'm going with e-queries because they're so fast and hassle-free. Most agents accept them now and their submission guidelines clearly state if they do. Since most agents specify they want material in the body of the email, don't send attachments unless specifically asked to do so.

The processes of writing/perfecting a query letter and selecting agents to query are time-consuming and slow. As much as I want to rush to the end of this, I need to be deliberate and give this as much thought and research as it takes.

Let’s get published!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chapter Six: Re-reading My Old Query Letter

I re-read my query letter of a year ago over the weekend. Sad to say, it falls short of being "totally fascinating." To my credit, it's not "too cutesy" either. It's somewhere in that nondescript middle wasteland of not too good but not too bad. It's got to move way up on the Intriguing Meter!

I've decided the letter needs a rewrite so I'll be searching online for advice and samples of outstanding queries that grabbed the attention of a literary agent and got their authors book deals.

So keep reading all those ideas and recommendations about writing query letters until you find a formula that's right for you. I'll be right there with you for days and weeks to come!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chapter Five: Writing the Query Letter

It’s time for me to make some decisions about the query letter I wrote a year ago when I did my first search for a literary agent. I started the letter during the period when I was editing my manuscript, scrutinizing every word and nuance in it as I am prone to do. Focusing on the query during breaks from editing gave me a sense of moving forward, my first real-world step toward getting published.

I got into a pattern of working on the letter, letting it cool off for a week or two, re-reading it, and revising it, a process that went on for months. Sometimes I decided it was all wrong, deleted everything, and started over again. For what amounts to a one-page document, writing a query takes a lot of work. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. The letter needs to be as perfect as I can make it.

Agents receive hundreds of queries each week, a discouraging reality. That means I only have seconds to attract an agent’s attention and convince him/her my manuscript is dynamic enough to warrant asking me to submit some pages or chapters to read. Making a favorable impression in a sentence or two means they must contain that special something.

What is that special something? What can I say to make my query spring out of a stack of hundreds of other hopeful letters? I wish I had the magic formula. Unfortunately I don’t so my Plan B is visiting some of the dozens of websites of literary agents who give advice about what grabs their attention and what turns them off. I like it when agents include successful query letters and analyze them by sentence and paragraph, pointing out what makes those particular letters stand out. I especially look for letters that have a tone that suits my mystery and me personally. Sample queries are a lot more helpful to me than the vague advice to be totally fascinating but not cutesy – lots of interpretations in those extremes.

Some online sites offer forums for writers to post their query letters and receive critique and feedback from peers. Sounds a little out there for me but I may suck up my trepidation and try it.

Although I didn’t get an agent to represent my novel last time, I got a couple positive responses so the letter must’ve had something going for it. With the passage of time and a fresh perspective, maybe I’ll revise my query or maybe I’ll find a sample letter that inspires me to start all over with a different approach. It took me months to write the first letter so this one won’t be quick and easy either. My goal is to entice an agent into reading the entire query and then asking to read the entire manuscript.

Let’s get published!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My blog received a nice write-up on Netwest, a chapter of the North Carolina Writers' Network. Netwest serves the western-most part of the state (my beautiful mountain home area) as well as bordering counties in South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. This is an amazing group of active, talented, and enthusiastic writers! I met several of them at a North Carolina Writers' Network conference a couple years ago and have enjoyed getting to know some of the individual members as well as following their many activities and accomplishments. Check out Netwest as well as the NC Writers' Network. See why North Carolina is called "the writingest state."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chapter Four: Starting the Search

In today’s publishing world, finding a literary agent to represent my Young Adult Mystery is my first step toward getting it into print. Most publishing houses read only agented material so I’m wasting my time approaching them directly. An agent, familiar with the needs of various publishing houses, is the intermediary who weeds out submissions and forwards the most promising to appropriate publishers. Sounds simple except for the part about actually finding an agent. Since I wasn’t successful the last time I tried, I’m hoping for a better outcome.

I think every how-to article I’ve ever read says the easiest way to get an agent is through a referral from a successful author. Suffice it to say if J.K. Rowling was my BF, I wouldn’t be going through this process. Since she’s not, I’m on my own.

I’ve finished my manuscript and edited it within an inch of its life so I’m “starting the search.” If your manuscript is completely or partially finished, you need to start looking too. It’s a long, laborious procedure that takes a lot of research.

From the beginning of this process, I want to make certain I’m dealing with a reputable agent. One way I check is by reading his/her professional information in agent guide books or in agent lists on the internet. Affiliation with the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) is noted in the write-up. Belonging to AAR is important because its ethics code prohibits members from charging for services such as reading fees. Last time around, an agency offered to represent me. Turned out the agency only considered manuscripts that had been professionally edited. Guess what? They were primed to hook me up with an editor whose fee was considerable. Since I’d heard about fee-charging scams, I was wary.

To verify my suspicion, I went to the quick and easy to use online site of Preditors and Editors. On their home page, I clicked on Agents and then clicked on the first letter in the agency’s name. (Note agents and agencies are alphabetized by first name, not last name.) In a few seconds, I found a listing for my would-be scammer with the comment “Conflict of interest. Not recommended.” End of exchange between me and that agency. Agents earn their money from commissions from selling books to publishers, not squeezing fees out of their writers or getting kickbacks for arranging questionable services. If an agent/agency asks for money upfront, move on!

As I locate agents who represent Young Adult fiction, I’m going to double-check their reputations before I submit my queries. Then if an agent shows interest in my novel, I can proceed with reasonable assurance that the agent’s goal is to get me published, not rip me off with unscrupulous fees.

Let’s get published!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter Three: Writing as a Second Career

In conversations with writers, I find that many of them have full-time jobs and busy lives but they love writing enough to get up early in the morning or stay up late at night churning out pages of that novel in their heads. Others, like me, become writers after having another career or sometimes several careers. What we all have in common is a passion for writing and the optimism that we’ll find an agent who loves our work and sets us on the path to getting published.

To illustrate my point, I want to tell you a short story about Betty Neels, my writing heroine. One day by accident, Betty overheard a woman in her local library complaining about the lack of good romance novels. Betty, a retired nurse and a voracious reader with time on her hands, decided to fill the gap. She was fifty-nine years old when she published her first novel. The remarkable part of her story is that she went on to complete 134 romance novels, often writing four a year. She wrote until her death at the age of ninety-one in 2001. Her sweet, chaste books are still on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Betty rocks!

I’m not advocating you read Betty’s novels or turn to romance writing unless it’s already your thing but her writing career inspires me, and I hope it will inspire you. At any stage of our lives, pursing our passion for words and getting them into print can be a reality. It happened to Betty – why not us, too?

Let’s get published!

Have a safe and wonderful holiday weekend. Happy July 4th!