Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Becoming a Slush Pile Hero- Part Four: "Full" Disclosure

So, you've sent your query out to Johnny McAgent. Now, it's time to wait. And wait. And wait.

Check your clock. It's been five minutes since you sent it. Time to refresh the inbox.

The first 24 hours are the worst. You are sure you will never make it the time period listed on the agent's website (you checked that before you submitted, right?), but to general surprise, you make it.

Then, the unthinkable happens. You get a response. Yay? You're not sure if you should rejoice or not. With trepidation, you click on the open button.

Cue the trumpets. Mr. McAgent is requesting the full! Jump for joy! Cry out to the heavens in exaltation! Then, sit down quickly, because you remember you're checking your email using the free WiFi in Barnes and Noble, and people are looking at you oddly.

Once you calm down and are sure they aren't going to throw you out, it's time to think. What now?

First, the manuscript. You've formatted it into proper manuscript format, haven't you?

What, you didn't?! Why'd you send out a query without first making sure you have your book in manuscript format?

Ok, you really did have it in manuscript format. Sigh with relief. What's next?

Second, you calm down. This person is trying to come work for you. Remember this before you begin, because although you are so excited, you want to be sure to act with professionalism. Be grateful, but not bubbling. Also, not to pour cold water over your happy dance, but sometimes agents only request fulls. As well, sometimes agents will request fulls for anything that sounds interesting. It doesn't mean that they've begun writing your name on the contract. Still, you have a foot in the door. Now's the time to shine.

Next, check the email from old Johnny boy. Did he ask for exclusivity? He did? Ok, now here's what you do.

Begin your reply to Mr. McAgent. Be courteous and gracious. Thank him for his time. Then, tell him that he has the novel for an exclusivity period of _______ weeks (the email may say a time period, or if not, then try to suggest something that won't be insulting or rushing, but is something you can live with and isn't 6 months either). Don't forget to mention that if they need longer, that is obviously perfectly ok, and that they should reply back letting you know how much time they need.

You're not setting a deadline for the agent. You aren't saying, "You must have this back to me by this time." What you are doing is signifying that the agent does not have the novel indefinitely. Do not let an agent hold your novel hostage by not setting up an exclusivity period. What can happen is that the agent gets bogged down and doesn't get back to you for months on end, and you can't submit to anyone else in the mean time (the idea behind exclusivity). Exclusivity is fine and is a good thing as long as you have a period in place.

Just don't get too caught up in that part of it. If the agent replies back later on needing more time (possible, perhaps even probable), then give it to them. Their desire to spend more time considering is often a good thing, if you know they are considering.

It is also a good idea to send a reminder email if the agent is getting close to the end of the exclusivity period, just reminding that exclusivity expires on X date (a few days after the email), and saying that it's fine if they need more time. Thus, the exclusivity has allowed you a reason to retain contact with the agent.

Other than the above email, DO NOT BUG THE AGENT! They are busy. If you send them an email every couple days, they won't thank you for it. Be professional, and above all else, be patient.

It's hard. I know.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Becoming a Slush Pile Hero- Part Three: Querying with Guts

Sorry for the slight delay in posts this week. Between the guest post on Casey's blog and discovering Inkwell, I've been a bit distracted.


So you've found an agent you like and have researched their reputation and tastes. Now comes the easy part. You just write a stellar query letter and win them over will your brilliant novel. No problem.

Ok, maybe a slight problem.

Now, the first thing you'll need to do is to learn how to format a query letter. I'm actually going to skip that section, because you can find a plethora of information on the web about it. Believe it or not, I've found the article on SoYouWanna.com to be the most clear cut, even if it is written towards nonfiction writers. However, don't get too stressed on "proper" format. Everyone has a different opinion on the format. The most important thing is that you include all the proper information. However, if you see that an agent has written about the proper way to write a query letter, be sure you format your query to them in that manner.

Since you can get information about proper query formatting from other sources, I will discuss how to write the query letter. Not the mechanics, but what actually to include. That's the real hard part, isn't it? Well, to do it right, it all goes back to a proper attitude.

Remember what I've said about the agent/client relationship. You are a headhunter. That's your task when you send out a query. You're saying, "Hi. I know you graduated from Yale and are highly qualified to work anywhere in the country. This is why you want to move to Scranton, PA and work for me."

Since few of us are headhunters in our daily life or have written job opening descriptions to post on monster.com, then we'll need another comparison. Although it completely ruins the "you're the person doing the hiring" message I've been expressing, the best comparison that you may be familiar with is the resume cover letter.

If you've ever applied for a full-time job, then you probably have written a resume cover letter. If you haven't that's ok too. The idea is simple. Essentially a query letter, like a resume cover letter, is self-marketing. It is a single-page description of "you" as it applies to the person to whom you are sending it.

When writing a query letter, write with confidence. You are exactly the person they need. However, if you are the right person, then you don't have to tell them that. Instead, show them. Yes, it's that same show vs. tell issue we all deal with when writing. It doesn't change when it comes to query writing. Show them why you are what they want. You know they're looking for strong female leads, and you have one. Don't say, "Jane Doe is a strong female lead." Instead, show that she's strong. Tell them the diversity she faces and how she overcomes it.

(Ok, not to interrupt the flow here or anything, but I just typed "how she overcombs it." If you have a story about a girl with a combover, I want to read it."

Another important part about writing a good query letter is to inject it with voice. Not that writers with voice necessarily have any idea how they have voice. What you read online about it is really unhelpful. What's voice? It's the tone of your story. Is it humorous? Arrogant? Dark and sinister? Imagine a voice actor reading your manuscript as an audiobook. How would they read it? Find that element in your story and channel the attitude you had while writing the novel. Another good tip is to find particularly "vocal" portions of your description/narrative and use them as part of your query.

Here's a good case in point. Let's imagine you're JK Rowling, writing a query for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone to Johnny McAgent:

Dear Mr. McAgent,

My Name is J.K. Rowling, and I have written a manuscript titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first in a 7-part YA fantasy series about a boy who goes to a school of magic. The manuscript is complete at 75,000 words. Thank you for your time.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They shuddered the think what the neighbors would say if they knew that their good-for-nothing nephew, Harry Potter, was, well... as unDursleyish as it were possible to be. They'd never told Harry about his abilities or the real reason for the death of his parents, which sent Harry to live with them when he was only a baby. He lived forgotten and unwanted, living in a small room under the stairs and never knowing that there could be more... until the letters came. Finally, a giant named Hagrid, a man simply too big to be allowed, arrives on Harry's birthday to tell him that he is, in fact, a wizard, and not only that, but one of the most famous wizards alive. His parents were killed by the Dark Lord Voldemort, and he was The Boy who Lived. Harry was to attend Hogwarts, a school of magic housed in an ancient and mysterious castle. However, as Harry studies and makes friends, there is a darkness growing. There is more waiting for him at the school beyond flying broomsticks and potion-making lessons. He just hopes he can survive the encounter.

Of course, there would be more beyond this, and I'm sure Jo could write it much better than I did, but you get the point. Now, there are several parts I took directly out of the book:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
This is a slightly condensed version of the first line in the book.

They shuddered the think what the neighbors would say if... their good-for-nothing...
These two sections are from a passage, but are actually talking about Harry's parents. Still, it works when discussing Harry.

as unDursleyish as it were possible to be.
Again from the same passage, about Harry's parents.

simply too big to be allowed
I don't know that she uses this line in the first book, actually, but I would say use it if she did. A great simple (voice-filled) way of describing him.

The Boy who Lived
That's just too great a descriptor of Harry not to use it. If you have anything clever like this and you can work it in, by all means do. You're showing off, after all.

The rest I just added (though I did steal the last bit from the back cover). However, if you notice, I didn't retell the entire story. I just gave enough for you to become interested and have an idea of what is contained in the book. You know what sort of magic they learn, you see a glimpse of the fun in the novel. However, you also see that there is darkness lurking, which is important too. It's not about telling everything that happens in the book. It's about showing all the book's positive qualities. In this case, the clever language, the suspense and humor, the mystery, and the downtrodden boy with hero potential. We get all of that, but none of the later plot is ruined for us.

Of course, once you have that, you customize for the agent. Do they love clever language? Perhaps you bump up the quotes. Do they like letters to be really professional? Be sure you have a good professional intro like the one I illustrated. Do they like romance? If you have it in the story, then be sure to mention it, and infuse it with whatever romantic voice you use in those sections. I could go on forever here, but hopefully you at least have an idea of what I mean.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Post at Literary Rambles

We stop your regularly-scheduled programming to note that I have written a guest post for Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles blog.

You can find the post here:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Becoming a Slush Pile Hero- Part Two: Know Your Ally

Author's note: I'll say again for the record that I do not claim to be an expert on finding an agent. I currently do not have representation. However, I hope that you'll find my comments helpful nonetheless.


I know that I said last time we'd move on to query letters, but I realized that I was jumping the gun a bit. I'd love to say that it was intentional, that I did that because it is the very mistake many of the "aspiring published" do. However, it would be an utter and complete lie.

The truth is I realized I was missing a couple very vital parts to the process, parts that are key to being heros rather than dying before the first commercial break and known in the credits as only "aspiring author #6."

The first step is actually one I can't provide much guidance on: write a brilliant novel. Got that part done? Of course you do. I have a bunch of them piled up in my closet, and burn the extra sheets when firewood is running low. For those of you who don't warm yourselves in the evenings using the remnants of the next great American novel, perhaps I will post on the writing part of things in a future post. At the moment, we're talking about the slush pile, so let's move on to the next stage in the process, which is picking the right slush pile to conquer.

Ok, hold on and back up. Conquer is so the wrong word. Notice how I phrased it in the title. This isn't "know your enemy." This is "know your ally."

There is a big difference there. When I start talking about researching agents, I could extend the "hero" metaphor and get all of our adrenaline flowing with some exciting language about heroics and bravery and slaying the dragon, but it's not right. That's no way to go about doing research.

You should definitely research the agent to whom you're submitting. If you've done any searching at all about the querying process, you've probably heard that. However, you are NOT looking for information to exploit. This is not a game and this agent is not someone you are trying to "beat" or trick or manipulate. Quoting a sentence from the agent's website back at them isn't cute or clever. It's silly and ultimately an attempt to "beat" the agent at the "submission game."

Trust me, they've seen it before. They won't be fooled.

It all goes back to what I said last time. The agent you are submitting to is someone you are recruiting to come work for you. You are trying to find out information to see if they are a good match for you. You are also trying to find out what type of clients they want. This lets you know a) if they would even be interested and if you should waste everyone's time, and b) how you should shape what you are submitting. You want to show them why you are the type of client they want (assuming you are). They might not see that just from reading a plain, boring query. Ok, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Next time, I promise!

So that's why you should research. But where do you research?

Well, first, you need to find a particular agent to research. If you are luckily enough to do children's literature, then Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles is a great place to start. She's done a lot of the legwork for you. I also highly recommend finding an author of works similar in genre to your own and finding out who is their agent. A simple Google search along the lines of "J.K. Rowling agent" often does the trick (oh, and by the way, don't bother with that particular example. They aren't taking on clients). You can also find many agents on AgentQuery or using one of the many books available at Barnes and Noble.

Once you find an agent, begin your research. Visit their website if they have one (many more do these days than in the past). See if they have a blog (again, there are a lot more than you'd expect). See if you can find interviews and read them. You don't have to spend days on each query, but put enough time into it that you get a feel for the agent.

Here are some things to look for (other than the obvious likes/dislikes):
  • How do they treat the "aspiring published"? Are they helpful and cautionary, or do they treat them like riffraff? Does their submission page have a long list of rules written with enough annoyance that you can pick up the teeth-grinding in their prose? This doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't good with their clients. In fact, often times the agent in question is simply so good and in such a high demand that the incessant querying is getting to them. However, you should definitely make note of it.
  • What do their own clients say about them? Are their raving reviews? Is there a suspicious lack of raving reviews? Again, it is hard to know what to make of this information, but it is good to know.*
  • What do they say a good query letter should be? Everyone has a different opinion. If they like it really professional, then keep it short and to the point. Do they like the query to grab them? If so, make the query exciting. You get the idea.
Obviously, there are a lot more things you can and should look for. These are just a few. However, I hope you get the idea here. You're not looking for weaknesses to exploit facts you can "use." You're looking for proof that you are the client for them and that they are the agent for you. If you can do that, then you're on your way to becoming a slush-pile hero.

*Note that I didn't say what do rejected authors say. Take comments from rejected authors with, perhaps not a grain of salt, but rather a giant salt lick. If they're good with rejections, then great. If you see a lot of bad rejections, then they're an agent. People don't like being rejected.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Becoming a Slush Pile Hero- Part One: The Agent/Client Relationship

For the next series of posts, I will be writing about how to survive the slush pile. Querying is a stressful, sometimes painful task, and I will be the first to admit that, no, I haven't found representation yet. However, I have dealt respectfully and professionally, and I can show you how to make it through the process with your dignity intact.

I say that because it's an important thing to keep during the process. Several times recently I've seen posts by agents that have been painted, in the comments at least, to be examples of "agents behaving badly." But really, all of this agent/client animosity is not only disheartening, it's also completely avoidable if you have the right mindset and act appropriately. If the clients in these examples (no, I'm not going to link them) acted like professionals, then the agents would never had cause to get upset in the first place. There is a way to avoid the drama and even succeed, and it starts with understanding the agent/client relationship.

According to Merriam Webster, an agent is "one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another: as a representative, emissary, or official." A client is "a person who engages the professional advice or services of another."

So what does that mean in plain English? The agent works for the client. When you're sending the query letter, you're not applying for a job. You're recruiting.

Now, don't let that go to your head. You are recruiting someone who is talented and in demand. You're a headhunter, and the person you are seeking has other offers. You want to make a good impression on them. You want them to choose you.

Think of them as Harvard graduates (and some of them actually are), and you're a medium-sized paper company from Pennsylvania. How do you get them to take the job? You do it by showing them why they should want to work for you.

But that doesn't mean you beg. There are lines between persistence, pestering, and pathetic. Try to avoid crossing into pestering, and steer far clear of pathetic. If the agent doesn't like your work or won't respond, move on. If they really like your work, they'll let you know. This waiting a year for a response stuff is ridiculous.

The key in the end is to be professional. Treat them with respect, and they should treat you with respect. If they don't, then you don't want them working for you. Write them off and move on.

Keep your dignity. If you've written a great novel, then you can only try to help them see it. If they don't, then they aren't the person you want working for you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Howdy Partner (I'm from Texas. I can say that.)

So, Casey's post has gotten me thinking...................

(and not just about the fact that I need to get that stupid sticking period on my keyboard fixed........)

Maybe I need a critique partner. I've always heard about the benefits, but it's almost always mentioned as if its an assumed thing. Oh, of course you have a critique partner.

No, I don't, actually. Thanks for bringing it up.

Well, that's not really true. I do have my wife, who has truly excellent instincts. I say in my dedications for The Ledger Domain that she "practically wrote most of it," and it's pretty true, really. She's a great idea-maker and inspiration-generator. In fact, the entire concept for the series was generated out of a conversation with Wendy. She's wonderful at coming up with ideas and helping me overcome problems, especially with handling the romance in a way that won't alienate my female readers. My main job as an author is to make her swoon. If I can do that with my writing, I've done a good job.

Still, I'd like a critique parter. I'd like someone to read my work who could comment on phrasing, metaphor or lack thereof, and pacing of the action. These are things Wendy can't always provide, as great a reader as she is.

What I need is an author.

Unfortunately, the only professional author I vaguely know is my third-cousin, Jason Boyett, whom I've never even met. We've emailed, etc., but I wouldn't exactly say we're close. Besides, he writes (quite humorous) religious non-fiction. Not exactly an ideal reading partner. So, I can't think of what to do.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Trailers

Ok, so thanks to James Dashner, I've discovered what's a new concept for me.

The book trailer.

It's not the first time I've seen one. G. Norman Lippert did it to unprecedented success. But then, it helped that everyone thought his book was written by J.K. Rowling.

Still, the idea is intriguing to me. I've done what self-promotion an author who is not self-publishing can do. I have the technical expertise to make one. Why not?

Is it a good idea, though? Part of me thinks the whole trailer thing is stupid. Part of me thinks it's cool if your name is James Patterson, or if you've actually published your book.

I don't know. What do you guys think? Would you be interested in seeing a trailer for The Ledger Domain?

Comment back and let me know.

Be a Follower

"You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader."
-The Office

This is a quick note to remind you that there is a "follow" feature on the blog. Click on the button on the app on the right-hand side of the page to follow my blog. That will let you get updates to the blog, etc.


My Blog Title: What's a Slush Pile?

If you aren't deep in the publication/agent-seeking world, you may be wondering what I mean when I call myself a "slush pile hero."

It's a valid question.

A slush pile is the mountain of poorly written, vain-hope query letters doing a bad job of expressing the author's meagerly fulfilled plot concept that agents and publishers must "slush" through to find, in the words of Agent Ziva from NCIS, "the needle in the needle stack."

I do like that analogy. Imagine a stack of rusty, bent needles, and you're trying to find that one that is, ideally, straight and clean (though you'd settle for mostly straight and a small enough amount of rust that a good bit of CLR could set it right). The entire endeavor sounds painful, both literally and figuratively.

So, I'm a slush pile hero. I've sent my novel out into the pile, and fought through enough to be noticed. No offers yet, but maybe one's coming soon. If not, at least I haven't let the slush pile beat me down.

Sometimes, that's all you can ask for.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Waiting Game

So, waiting for a response from an agent isn't fun. Ostensibly, I know why it takes so long. It takes time for them to read through all the slush letters, much less read the actual manuscripts. Oh, and then they have to do their actual jobs. So I get it. It isn't fun, but waiting is part of the game. Any aspiring author could tell you that.

But then, there's that pesky title. "Aspiring author." I think it identifies the whole problem with the waiting game.

First, let me get this straight once and for all. I'm NOT an aspiring author. An aspiring author is someone who says, "Man, I'd love to write a novel one day." Or else, they're someone who is currently working on a novel. I've done that. I've written a novel. By definition, I'm an author.

What I am is an aspiring professional author. Or else, I'm an amateur author. I have not published the novel (although I'd like to, if you're offering. Hint, hint).

Still, we hear that term. "Aspiring author." It's our own fault. I use the term myself. We're not really "authors" until we're published, and published by a real publishing company. Self-publishing is "vanity publishing." See how much emphasis we put on this?

Oh, don't get me wrong. I want to be published. I would love to make money doing what I love. Nevertheless, even if I'm never published, I'm still an author.

That was the whole point of my switching from writing screenplays to writing novels. I wanted to accomplish something.

And I have. I've written a novel.

What I'll Write About

Ok, so here's the burning question: what will I blog about?

It's a good question.

I figure I'll make this somewhere between a personal blog and a writer's blog. If you don't like whiney comlaints about lack of agent response, this probobly isn't the place for you.

(Woah. I almost wrote "winey" there. Perhaps the posts will be a bit winey. That hint of merlot in my writing will really set it off. I'll be the upscale version of Hunter S. Thompson! Ok, maybe not.)

Ok, so that train of thought there proves that my posts will probobly have a good measure of sarcasm too. We need something to get us through the day, don't we? Who needs alcohol when I have a good dose of sarcasm?

Hello Blogger World

I've created a blog.

I don't know. Don't ask me why.

Nevertheless, here I am in (literally) the blogoshere. Yes, literally. I've printed out a bunch of blogs and made a giant papermache sphere from which I'm typing.

No, not REALLY! However, maybe I should. It would be a big hit, probobly. The writer from the literal blogosphere!

Ok, so I'm not writing from a literal blogosphere. I don't have THAT much time on my hands, but close. I am writing a blog, after all.

Still, I hope you'll find it enjoyable, whoever you are.

Oh, and don't expect daily updates. I doubt I'll be that commited.