Sometimes I get questions that I think would be good to add here. This is a quick (non-exhaustive) reference guide to querying North American literary agents, and intended for people looking to publish fiction traditionally.
1.Writing a good query
Is your book finished and edited? Now you’ll want to write your query. It’s a letter that captures what your novel is about, and hopefully entices the agent to read more. The goal of a query is to get a request for a partial (50-100 pages) or the full manuscript. That’s it 🙂
2. Putting together a list of agents
You’ll want to make a list of agents who represent the genre of novel you are trying to sell, and who might be a good fit. Some good references:
- Manuscript Wish List ~ Agents and editors post what they’re looking for, and the types of books they like.
- Writer’s Digest ~ Another way to find literary agents, especially newer agents.
- Search #MSWL on Twitter. ~ If you find a good match, make sure to mention #MSWL and refer to the tweet in your query!
- Check the acknowledgements in the back of your favorite novels. You can sometimes find out who represents your faves.
3. Making sure the agents and agencies you are querying are reputable
There are scammers out there. Some good places to figure out if an agent is legit:
4. Getting ready to submit
- Figure out how to track your submissions. You can use Query Tracker, but a simple spreadsheet works too. If you’re making your own spreadsheet, it’s useful to note what agent, agency, the date you submitted, and when / if you get a reply, along with which version of the manuscript you sent.
- Next up, you’ll want to double check each agent/agency website for what they require and how to contact them. Follow the guidelines. Yes, they’re all slightly different, but it’s worth the trouble.
5. Troubleshooting rejections
This is completely my preference for queries… but I suggest sending out batches of 5-10 queries at a time.
- If you’re not getting requests for more pages, then your query might need fixing before you send out the next batch.
- If you’ve gotten requests for partials and get rejections on those, you might want to consider that something might be wrong with the opening pages of your novel. The first 100 pages usually determine if the reader will go on reading. You need to hook them.
- Full manuscript rejections usually come with a bit of feedback. Some agents give more, and some give less. Feedback is very subjective, but if you get multiple agents making the same suggestions, they might be on to something and you might want to consider fixing your novel before you send it out again. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit – and that’s fair. You want someone who is enthusiastic about your novel to represent you!
- Don’t give up too soon. I would recommend submitting to at least 50 agents or even 100 if you’re getting a good request rate. As long as there’s still someone out there and might be a good fit, don’t give up. It only takes one yes.
5. Wait, what if they’re not rejections?
There are tons more resources out there. Google is your friend here 🙂 And do check out the extra links here. Good luck!
I wrapped up draft #3 of the gothic novel, and spent August getting organized for round #4. There are character and setting details that need changing, and that means pretty much reworking the entire thing. It’s daunting, but that’s what a plan is for.
CRAFT TALK TIME – Revision Tips and Tricks
So you’ve finished a draft or few. How do you figure out what needs changing? I picked up a few tricks that help with identifying plot problems. Some of these tricks didn’t work for me before, but they do now, so YMMV. Writing tips are just tools, and here are few you might want to add to your basket:
- For each scene write out the main Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. – This can help you identify what a scene is lacking (a sense of purpose, why it’s happening, or tension)
- For each scene write what happens Plot Wise and Emotionally. Both require movement. – If nothing changes significantly, then maybe it’s just an extraneous scene, or maybe you need to make the purpose of the scene clearer.
- Check your scene transitions – If you can describe your current scene in one sentence and then begin the description of your next scene with “but” or “therefore” you likely have a solid case of cause and effect propelling your story, hooray! A scene can be a complication (BUT), or result of a choice (THEREFORE). If your next scene can be connected only with “and then” it might be a random diversion or coincidence, and you should look twice at whether it should be there or if the logic needs fixing. A rule of thumb (not an absolute) is that coincidences that make the story worse for characters can stay, but coincidences that make life easier for characters should go.
- For each scene write down who makes the decisions – If you have a problem with character agency, this can help point out where it goes wrong. Too many chapters where the main characters are forced to act instead of choosing a course of action can signal a problem.
- Sleep on your problems – This is a weird one, I know, but I swear it works once you train your subconscious. Before you go to bed, think of the plot problem you’re trying to solve. By morning, or in a few mornings, you’ll probably have an answer or at least an idea of how to start tackling it.
- Figure out the major plot and subplots, and see where they are introduced and where they end — First In, Last Out (FILO) tends to work in an overall sense, mainly because the more important a subplot is, the more time it should take to resolve. It’s a good idea to check if you’ve resolved all your subplots. I’ve also heard this technique referred to as ‘nested conflicts’, because smaller conflicts are sandwiched between bigger ones. Simple Plot Example:
- Main Plot (Introduced chapter 1) – We must defeat the evil king
- Major Subplot (Introduced chapter 3) – But we need an enchanted sword that’s guarded by a dragon
- Minor arc (introduced chapter 5, resolved chapter 6) – Figuring out where that sword is hidden
- Minor arc (Introduced chapter 7, resolved chapter 9) – Assembling the gang to help sneak past the dragon
- Major subplot (Resolved chapter 23) – We get past the dragon and find the sword
- Main Plot (Resolved chapter 25 – end of book) – We do battle and defeat the evil king
Of course, figuring out where the story goes wrong doesn’t mean you can fix it, but it’s a start. There’s also a certain point when you’ve done all you can and don’t know how much else you can fix, when it really does take another set of eyes on your writing to get it better. There’s only so much you can do on your own.
Here’s another post about tackling revisions that I have bookmarked.
I’ve been reading a lot – maybe too much? Is that possible (my parents would say yes)? I’m one of those people that likes to binge watch several seasons of a TV series at once, so I’ve funneled that slightly obsessive bent into my reading list. (Hello procrastination!)
My goal was to finally get through my TBR pile. I am failing. I keep adding more books to the list. SEND HELP. I also think I’m going to have to cut back the reading until my next draft is done. I really need to focus.
- Iron Cast by Destiny Soria (YA)
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee (YA)
- Tell me Something Good by Jamie Wesley
- MEM by Bethany C. Morrow
- The One You Can’t Forget by Roni Loren
- The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
- Sweet Nothings by T. Neilson
- The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Graphic Novel)
- Moonlight on Nightingale Way by Samantha Young
- On Dublin Street by Samantha Young
- Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
- Beats Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (YA)
- A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
- Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh (YA)