QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ready . . . Aim . . .

Courtesy of LarryLens
Trying to get your foot in the door of commercial publishing can be a daunting task. There's so much to do and to learn, and writing a publishable level manuscript is only the first step. (The newbie writer that I once was had only a nebulous idea of what happened next, but believed that once you wrote The End, the hard work was over. Ha!)

Anyone who's ever spent any time in the querying trenches can tell you that it's rife with big hopes and a lot of rejections. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Getting rejections isn't simply an agent or editor saying no, it's also a sign that you're getting up and doing more than daydreaming about getting a book published. And that's an important step.

But still, rejections can hurt. A lot. And they will come.

So how do you deal with that? And what can you do to minimize your rejections?

The first step is to try to keep things in perspective. The rejections aren't personal, no matter how much they feel like it sometimes. As I discussed in my other post, an agent or editor only has so much time, so they have to choose the things they love out from among the things they really like. (There are also times when a manuscript just isn't ready, but for the purposes of the post, I'm going to assume that it is.)

The second step is to arm yourself. Knowledge really is power. When I'd finished my first, serious book that I'd revised the heck out of, I had no notion of how publishing worked. At all. I'd never heard of agents, never heard of this thing called a query, and had no idea how to go about figuring out how to get my story from my hard drive to the bookshelf. Fortunately, I had Google.

Through Google, I found Miss Snark. Her archives are filled with very blunt advice and information on how publishing in general works. They gave me a solid foundation as I learned about the business side of writing. (Yeah, who knew? Prior to this point, I'd always thought writing and writing careers consisted only of, well, writing.)

Which brings us to the query. It can be scary knowing that the fate of your book could very well rest on your ability to squish all the pertinent info about your novel into a space no longer than a page. And not only do you have to condense, but you have to condense in a snappy, hooky way that makes the agent *have* to read more. So part of arming yourself is learning how to write an excellent query letter. Many people have written great posts on how to do this, and Elana Johnson has an incredible (and free) ebook that walks you through step by step. But don't fear the query. Really. As weird as this sounds, you don't have to get it perfect, you just have to get it right. (Getting it right only entails making it enticing enough for an agent to want to read on.)

So you've got your query written and polished and shining. Now it's time to fill in the salutation with a real agent's name. But how do you choose? QueryTracker.net has a database full or reputable agents (you can check reputability for agents and publishers at Preditors and Editors.) and the genres they represent. Querying agents that represent your genre is only the first part of targeting appropriate agents and thus decreasing your rate of rejections. Ten agents may represent fantasy, but they will all probably have different tastes as to what type of fantasy they like best. This is where researching really comes in handy. Find out who they rep and read as many of those books as you can to get a fair sampling of their tastes. Read their blogs, their tweets, their interviews, and anything else you can find about them. Casey McCormick has an awesome blog that has interviews and quotes from agents that can help you narrow your search.

Following agent blogs and tweets can also help you get more of an idea of what the agent it like as a person. This can also help you as you determine what agents you think would be the best fit for you.

The third step, which should really be the zero step, is to be professional at all times. On your blog. Through your tweets. In your comments. When you find an agent that connects well with your manuscript, they're going to google you. They want to get an idea of the person behind the name too. Make sure what they find is you putting your best foot forward. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and move on. Learn what's okay and not okay to do in the publishing world. (CCing 50 agents, for example. Don't do this.) As part of being professional, you're also going to want to make sure you keep on top of what you've sent where and when. QueryTracker makes this really, really easy.

For the last step, start working on your next book. Not every book is picked up at first, or at all sometimes. And time and practice will only help you improve your aim.

What about you? Any tips you want to share on helping improve your aim and reduce rejections?

Danyelle writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog.  


Author Joshua Hoyt said...

I think being professional is so important. If we are rejected and throw a fit about it we are never going to get in. On the other hand if we are professional then they see that and it will benefit us in the end.

Jo Schaffer Layton said...

Great refresher. Time to get back on that horse. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Commiserating with other writers helps too--professionally, of course. I found Absolute Write Water Cooler to be one of the best places to go. You realize you're not alone, and you'll find so much encouragement and support!