Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lessons Learned at #tenqueries

Over the past four years, I've found a healthy, thriving community of writers on Twitter. In fact, it's a great place to find other authors - published or not - to share ideas with (and maybe some frustrations).  There are also a lot of contests and writing challenges. And to make Twitter even more appealing, there are agents, editors, and publishers tweeting advice, helps, and tips. You might even trip over the wish list of an agent or twenty at #mswl (manuscript wish list).

One of my favorite places to play is #tenqueries (followed closely by #askagent).

So, what is #tenqueries?

It's a peek inside the brain of an agent as they go through their inbox. It's an opportunity to see what agents are looking for, to learn the things that are likely to earn your query a 'no', and to see that moment when everything clicks for a 'request'.

But lately I've seen a negative response by writers to the #tenqueries hashtag.  While I understand that there is a lot of rejection in the timeline, I don't necessarily view that as a bad thing. This, my friends, is the reality of trying to be published.  Although we may be burning with a deep need to write, the publishing world is a business, and we need to understand the business.

#tenqueries has taught me a lot. Instead of seeing a pattern of rejection, I see a pattern of mistakes that writers (myself included) make.

I'd like to share some important truths I've learned by watching the #tenqueries feed.

  • Research agents before you query. There are countless passes in the feed with the explanation of 'I don't rep that genre'. That is an immediate 'no'. And really, do you want an agent who doesn't have a passion for the genre you write? I want an agent who gets it, who loves the genre, and who will be a fantastic representative of my work.
  • Personalize your query based on your research.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen the 'dear agent' get a pass.  Studying an agent's website will give you a feel for their personality and likes. Choose agents who will represent your work well, and let them know you would like to work with them specifically.  This means spending time on each and every query, but it's time well spent.
  • Follow the submission guidelines.  Every agent has them on their website. Most agents won't open attachments (can't blame them). Some want a synopsis, some don't. Some ask for one chapter, others want five pages.  Give 'em what they ask for - usually pasted into the body of an email.  Your words won't make it past the 'no' filter if you don't follow the guidelines.
  • Study the publishing world. It's important that you have a good idea of how long a manuscript should be. This varies depending on the genre - for example, adult novels will typically be longer than young adult novels. It won't hurt if you have read a lot of books in the genre you write, either.
  • Edit, edit, edit, edit.  Messy grammar, punctuation, etc. usually results in a quick trip to the pass lane.  Your writing can't shine if the agent is distracted by mistakes. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to spark interest regardless, but do you want to chance it?
  • Find critique partners you can trust to be honest.  This means sharing your work with another person, and a yes-man isn't going to benefit you. Agents can't be worried about hurting your feelings - they are in this business to publish books.  If your crit partner can't constructively criticize your words to help you improve, they aren't helping you.  
  • Don't give up. If this means reworking a novel, starting a new novel, or researching other agents to query, do it! Learn from your mistakes and move forward. You will never succeed if you quit.
And now that I've made my list (OCD person here), I can get back to writing. I've shelved my last project and moved on to something new and better.  I'm excited to apply this knowledge to the query process.

My goal? To find an agent who is a great fit, and who will have deep belief in my project.

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