Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Searching for Agent? One Writer's Update


- Queried 35 agents
- Received 8 rejections, including 1 agent who requested and read the full manuscript and then rejected it.
- One agent currently reading the full manuscript.
- No responses yet from remaining agents. (10 agents have had my query for less than a week; average response time is supposed to be a month to 6 weeks. What, Me worry?) 
Last week, I paid $700 to attend a writers' conference and meet with two agents ($300 for a day of lectures, plus $200 per agent.) The agents read my query, synopsis, and my first 20 pages. Each agent met with me for 20 minutes.

Here's what I learned:

The good news:

- my query letter is solid.
- the first 20 pages of my novel are solid and reflect the tone of the query letter.
- it can take 6 weeks for an agent to respond to a query.
- it's ok to query agents over the summer. (I read somewhere that agents take the summers off. The agents I spoke with at the conference said that's not the case anymore: agents check email even when on vacation.)
- agents do check their slush piles.

The bad news:

- my novel is going to be a tough sell to agents and publishers because it features a male protagonist, meaning the audience will be predominantly male, and guys don't buy many novels. (by some estimates, women buy 75 percent of all novels. But I've had women read my manuscript -- some liked it.)

- I should seek out male agents, preferably in their 20s and 30s -- most agents are middle-aged women. (Not sure I agree with this advice. One of the agents who requested the full manuscript was an older woman -- my query makes it clear that the book includes scenes in which the narrator has sex with prostitutes and the agent still wanted to see the book. Here is a video of me acting out one of the prostitution sex scenes in front of a live audience. Warning: do not watch video if you are offended by this kind of thing!)

- fiction is highly subjective: one agent loved my writing, said it was very funny. The other agent found it very offensive: One character uses the word "fag" when referring to someone in his company's human resources department. The protagonist hates uptight Massachusetts liberals. He's also a middle-class, middle-aged white male who whines that he's a victim because women no longer want him because of his age and skin color. (poor guy...)

- I should pitch at least 120 agents before giving up. (One agent said one of his clients had to pitch 120 agents before he found one.)

- I need to tweak my query letter: I referred to my book as a "a satiric novel." I should use "comedic novel" instead. Apparently, the term "satire" is the kiss of death. I had already sent my novel to about 15 agents using the term satire. New version of query letter.

Recent Articles on Searching for a Literary Agent

- Find An Agent: One Writer's Strategy

- The Query Letter and Synopsis: Lesser Known Tips

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Monday, April 20, 2015

The Query Letter and Synopsis: Lesser Known Tips

Last week, I shared my strategy for searching for a literary agent. This week's post includes lesser-known tips for writing an email query letter and advice that I followed for writing the dreaded one-page synopsis.

I) The Email Query

There's plenty of good stuff out there on how to write a query letter, but I didn't find it that useful. So I took classes at a Boston writing center called Grub Street and my letter went from "needs a lot of work" to something the agent teaching the class held up as an example of a good letter. (Apparently it wasn't that good because she hasn't offered to represent me.)

Here's a link to the query letter for my novel that includes the basic components:
- The positioning of the book and comparative titles.
- The hook and story.
- My qualifications to write it.
- Some humor to reflect the writing style of book.

Small Stuff I Didn't Learn in Any Class:

1) Subject Lines for EMail Queries
- Check the agents Web site for specifics on what to include in the subject line.
- If the site offers no details, I've been going with either:  "Query: agents name to whom I'm directing the query" or "Query and title of novel and category"

More than you want to know on this subject
"How to format an email query for literary agents"
"Subject lines are your bffs"

2) "I'm Querying You Because": Opening Sentences in Your Query

To some writers and agents, letting the agent know why you're querying is a good idea. Reasons you're querying them can include:
- One of their authors recommended you query them.
- You met the agent at a conference.
- You saw them on a manuscript wish-list site and your book fits their needs.
- You read their author's book, liked it, and wanted to query.

A great article on opening sentences for your query letter

On the other hand, some agents don't care if you have a good reason and will read your query anyway.

II) The Synopsis: A Huge Pain

My synopsis took me a week to write. The experience kind of sucked. In my agent research so far, it seems that a one-page query is the norm -- which is fine, I don't want to write a longer one.
In my synopsis I tried to focus on:
- Succinctly describing the main story, eschewing any subplots.
- Including a brief description of the protagonist.
- Injecting some humor, when appropriate, because my book is supposed to be funny .

Some good links on how to write a synopsis
- On Jane Friedman's site
- From


III) Other Tips

1) Once your email query is done, send it to yourself to see how it looks and to check for weird formatting.

2) Create files that include different packages that agents are likely to request. Here's what I've seen agents requesting:
- a query only
- a query with the first five pages of your novel,
- a query and synopsis
- a query and the first 10 pages,
- a query and the first chapter,
- a query and synopsis and first 10 pages.

Note: By having ready-made files, I can simply copy and paste the required text without having to assemble each one on the fly. Unless, requested otherwise, most agents will want you to paste the text into your email as opposed to sending documents as attachments.

3) Unorthodox querying advice from agent Janet Reid

- Consider querying agents who don't profess interest in your particular category or genre.
- If one agent at an agency says no, query other agents at the same agency.
- If you don't hear back from an agent within 30 days, query them two more times.

4) Typical Strategy for Finding a Publisher
- First, query literary agents.
- Then try small publishers, university presses, and publishing contests where the prizes include having your book published.
- Then, if you have the time and budget, self-publish.

*Note: I am not attempting to pass myself off as an expert on these topics. This article is a compilation of advice that author friends have followed. The advice seemed to make sense to me, so I'm following it. I am two weeks into the agent-querying process. So far, I've queried 15 agents: Three told me to take a hike, one requested a full manuscript, and from the others, so far just hearing crickets.

Photo credit: Me performing scenes from my novel at a fringe theater festival in D.C. shot by Paul Gillis Photography,

Related Links

- Read your work in public before you get published

- Social Media Tips and Links for Writers

- Create a Web page for your as-yet unpublished novel (my current page)

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