Agents: How to Cut Your Slush Piles in Half


 
Maybe the title is a tad hyperbolic. Nevertheless, there is a useable nugget of truth here. I promise.
 
Sometimes, a writer has to take a chance on a query letter. I have tried a few things–nothing outlandish–but perhaps a little out of the tried-and-true norm. I know, I know. Gimmicks are almost always an instant turn off. I haven’t used dancing baby videos or written a query as though one of my characters was doing the pitching.  Confession: after a conversation regarding what makes Freeborn unique, I did use this subject line for a few queries:
 
Query – FREEBORN – YA Sci-Fi (With pregnant dudes? What!?)‏
 
Yeah, well, I recovered from that moment of lunacy.
 
Sometimes, writers don’t feel like they’re taking a chance; it just happens. An example of this is querying agents who may/may not rep the genre the writer is submitting. I thoroughly research each agent before querying: agency sites, interviews, twitter, random internet searches, client lists. No matter how in-depth this fact-finding mission, it is often hard to discern exactly what an agent is looking for. Some have a very quiet e-presence, while others throw themselves out there loud and proud.
 
When in doubt, I send the query out.
 
Much love to the agents who spell out their wants/likes/dislikes in crystal clear terms. Unfortunately for the slew of querying writers, there are plenty of agent profiles which merely provide the wide-open, vague “YA/MG” market with no specific genres noted. With these agents, I will take a chance and send a query anyway.
 
***Note to agents with vague ‘What I’m Interested In’ declarations: Want to cut the number of ‘Not Right For Me Queries’? Give us details of what IS right for you.***
 
Both you and your interns will thank me for it.
 
One of my best rejection letters came from an agent who simply listed the “YA/MG” market. This rejection is inserted below. With the Dear John opening address, it starts off sounding like my girl back home is breaking up with me while I’m crawling around in muddy, wartime trenches. After that, there are amazing statements every writer likes to hear. But then it hits–the dreaded asshole-of-a-word–however.
 
Dear John,
 
Thank you for your query. I thought this was a really creepy, interesting concept and that you executed it very well. The writing was super compelling and the pace was great. However, I’m afraid that I don’t do all that much with Sci-Fi, as I’m not a big sci-fi reader and don’t feel I know the market well enough. I wish you all the best and encourage you to submit your query to other agencies. Thank you for thinking of me!
 
Best,
Agent with Vague Profile
 
Let’s recap the key terms and play-by-play reactions:
“really creepy, interesting concept” – [Yay! It’s not a form letter! Perfect compliment. That’s my brand.]
“you executed it very well” – [:: Heart flutter :: We’re off to a great start here.]
“writing was super compelling” – [Wow! This is going really well! This agent ‘gets it’. :: heart rate increases ::]
“the pace was great” – [I agree. And thank you. I worked hard to make sure of it. Where is this email leading…? :: heart skips a beat ::]
– “However” – [F#^k!!! :: heart shrivels and dies ::]
 
After the however, my eyes glazed over. My blood pressure rose. My finger instinctually slid over the mousepad and selected the “Move To: Rejections” icon. Fantastic. Agent read at least part of my sample chapter, liked it, but rejected it.
 
I double-checked the agency website and online info for the agent. Yep. Just as I suspected. Vague market with no genres listed. Don’t get me wrong. I am very appreciative of the customized letter and feedback. I understand that the effort was a gift and took time for the agent to compose. The agent could have simply form-rejected Freeborn since my submission was not in a genre s/he represents. However…
 
 
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Two More Publisher Requests


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So many creative possibilities to draw from for a post today. It’s funny though. When a health concern pops up, everything else turns into scatter noise on the radar. Yes, I’m nervous about something. Yes, I am being intentionally vague. This is a public blog, not a private journal.

Now that I have gotten that out of my system…

I have two new full requests for Freeborn to announce!
– Jo Fletcher books upgraded from 3 chapters to a Full
– Entangled Publishing requested a full via Brenda Drake’s ‘Entangle an Editor’ contest

That’s as much excitement as I can muster at the moment. Stay tuned, though. I’ll be back on track soon enough.

Bad Writing Tips Immortalization Project – #BadWritingTips


This is a random pic of a Barn Owl. It has nothing to do with the actual post. I have been sitting on it for a while, and decided today is the day to use it.

I suppose tweets are meant to be temporal. Apparently, I am adverse to letting that happen. I’m not the only one. After a world-trending day of #badwritingtips, many writers & authors have salvaged their witty remarks from the wastelands. I am one of these determined bloggers working on the [unofficial] #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project.

Here are the others on the growing list:

@IbecameMyDad – http://ivebecomemyparents.com/2012/06/25/barmys-bountiful-bag-of-bad-advice-for-writers/
@nimbuschick – http://www.amyleighstrickland.com/2012/06/the-best-of-badwritingtips/
@BenMyers1 –  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2012/jun/25/twitter-bad-writing-tips-improved-writing?CMP=twt_fd
@saphirablue84 – http://thiswritersworldplotbunnies.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-tried-to-find-something-with-bad.html
@BookRiot – http://bookriot.com/2012/06/25/the-best-badwritingtips/

If you know of more, please post a link and Twitter handle in the Comments. I will be sure to add them to the list.

My #badwritingtips are immortalized below. If you are a writer, you may enjoy these. If you are a bad writer, you will most likely hate them. Fix it.

Let’s kick things off with an homage Tweet to the originators of the idea. Then, we’ll roll gently into the @gypsyroots version of sarcasm.
 

1)      All hail the almighty @MeganWhitmer & @andimjulie. Goddesses of the #badwritingtips hashtag phenomenon.

2)      Every chance you get, use a big-ass word: e.g. Bunyanesque, fecundity, preposterousness #badwritingtips

3)      Short sentences. Pop. Staccato lines good. Fragments rock. All the time. All the way through. Keep em short. It is good. #badwritingtips

4)      Your first 3 chapters should be 100% backstory. No action. No dialogue. Readers love that. #badwritingtips

5)      Kill your MC halfway through the novel. Once you establish a new one. Kill her, too. #badwritingtips

6)      Run-on sentences and wordy paragraphs show readers you can hold long thoughts in your head so they should learn how to do it #badwritingtips

7)      Similes and metaphors should be so convoluted that your reader has no idea what you were actually trying to convey. #badwritingtips

8)      Put your climax in the 2nd chapter, then let the final 48 chapters slowly f a d e a w a y . . . #badwritingtips

9)      Each and every amazingly lovely noun & deliciously simple verb should have a minimum of 2 modifiers. To make them sparkle. #badwritingtips

10)   Every word has at least one synonym. USE ALL THE SYNONYMS. #badwritingtips

11)   Writers know best. Especially new ones. Editors and agents are stupid. #badwritingtips

12)   There are no original ideas. Regurgitate what has already been written. #badwritingtips

13)   Your surreal poetry is highly marketable. #badwritingtips

14)   Long-winded titles are best. It works in the music industry. http://www.listal.com/list/ridiculously-long-song-titles #badwritingtips

15)   Subplots are like seeds. Plant 10x more than you actually need. If they spring up, good. If not, don’t dig them back up. #badwritingtips

16)   All your characters should possess the same personality. This makes it easier for readers to keep up. #badwritingtips

17)   Three-dimensional characters are for movies. In novels, they should be as flat as the page they’re written on. #badwritingtips

18)   Uber-Niche markets are the key for non-fiction. “Holistic Skin Care for Manx Cats” will definitely hit the bestseller list. #badwritingtips

19)   Chapters of 10k words or greater are highly desirable. #badwritingtips

20)   Agents prefer phone calls over email submissions. Never relent. Keep trying until you get through. #badwritingtips

21)   All agencies really prefer snail-mail queries. Their guidelines lie. Perfume, stickers & glitter are all highly recommended. #badwritingtips

22)   Chapter breaks should end with a whimper, not a bang. #badwritingtips

23)   Absolutely! Include your 1960’s band and movie references. Your YA readers won’t get it, but who cares? #badwritingtips

24)   Continuity of storyline is overrated. Mix it up. Non-linear is good. Confusion is great. Keep it up. #badwritingtips

25)   Semi-colons and exclamation marks change things up; use them often! #badwritingtips

26)   Commas are like confetti. Toss them into the air and let them fall where they will. #badwritingtips

27)   When you get stuck, abruptly end the scene. Then, fast-forward to your character waking up the next morning. #badwritingtips

28)   Invented words will help get your complex points across. Include them on every page. #badwritingtips

I have no doubt that this hashtag will continue to reappear. Kudos to the creators for sparking a new meme—even if it is short-lived and only breathes within our writers-on-Twitter subculture. Hopefully, the positive peer-pressure of the #BadWritingTips Immortalization Project can make a difference.