Monday, April 23, 2018

Pt 2: Debut Novelist's Rocky Road to Getting Published

In the previous "Rocky Road" post, I described efforts to position my book. I thought it should be a travel memoir, a male version of Eat, Pray, Love. Then I spoke to three agents who thought otherwise:

Over eight years, I received advice from agents on how best to position my book.

In the end, I decided the hell with it: The novel has been the most fun, I'm sticking with it. Around this time, I also hired an editor, a woman I met in one of my writing classes, who knew more about creative writing than the instructor.

The Query Letter

Another 1.5 years, a new draft of the novel and a query letter that I vetted in a class on how to write query letters.

click to enlarge image

In image above, I followed the basic query format:
1) Why I'm writing you, Ms. Agent. (as I started to run out of relevant agents, I started used very generic intro lines like this one.)

2) The positioning of my book, the market, and comp titles and authors. A web site called Literature Map was helpful.
3) A description of the book using the tone and writing style of the book. (Yeah, this section is a little long.)

4) Why I was qualified to write the book. (Yeah, I had no real qualifications or writing credits.)

Querying Agents

How many agents did I query? At one writing conference, I met an agent who had sold a book for a debut author who had queried 120 agent -- the agent I was talking to was number 120. The book was picked up by a large publishing house and made into a movie. Works for me.

My stats:
1) I queried 110 agents:
- half didn't respond
- of the remaining agents, seven asked to read all or part of the manuscript and none wanted it. (My manuscript request rate was about 6 percent or one out every 16 queries resulted in a request.)
- reasons given for rejections:
"It's a guy's book and, except for sci-fi, guys don't buy a lot of fiction."
"Humor is a hard sell."
"Not enough action."
"It's offensive."
"You suck and you're a worthless human being." (implied)

2) I queried the 110 agents over eight months.
- Initially, I sent out ten queries to agents with whom I had a legit connection: one of their authors gave me their agent's name or I had met the agent at a writing conference.
- Then I would send out five email queries three mornings a week.

3) Midway through the process, I realized that I may not get an agent so I did two things: I started a second novel and began querying small presses who took email queries.

4) Around month seven, I began querying agents and small presses who didn't take email queries, the old-school folks who wanted a snail-mail letter.

Be sure to read submission guidelines!

5) One of the small presses, The Permanent Press, bought the book.

6) Worth noting: Six months after signing a contract with The Permanent Press, an agent contacted me and wanted to see my manuscript.

Querying Tips (from someone who didn't get an agent)

My blog posts on how I found 110 agents and other things I learned about querying agents and small presses:
- The Query Letter and Synopsis: Lesser Known Tips

<to be continued next week>  

Don't want to wait till next week? The end result.


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