Querying and the request for an exclusive submission

Hello gentle reader,

While querying, you may be faced with the situation of having an agent request “an exclusive”. It’s when you send your manuscript to this agent alone and stop querying other agents until she gives you the green light.

Does this happen often?

According to a completely unscientific Twitter poll of my own doing, it seems to happen more often than you might imagine. Therefore if you’re querying, you might want to think about what you’ll do if/when faced with this situation.

How do you respond?

First, you celebrate, because this is a request!

Then you have three options. Panicking isn’t one of them.

Option 1: Your manuscript is already on the desk of one or several agents, so you can’t actually grant this exclusivity. In this case, you have to inform the agent who requested an exclusive and she’ll decide whether she still wants to read your manuscript or not.

Option 2: You don’t have any material out but you want to keep your options open, i.e. keep querying. This is what’s usually advised. Granting exclusivity means you stop querying for at least a couple of weeks, which many see as a waste of time, especially since there’s no way to predict the exclusivity will result in an offer of representation. In this case, be honest and let the agent know you’re not willing to grant anyone exclusivity. Again, she’ll either choose to request anyway or she’ll step down.

Option 3: You don’t have any material out but you’re willing to grant to the requesting agent the exclusivity she asked for.

Now, why on earth would you do this?

Since the consensus seems to be that granting an agent an exclusive isn’t to your advantage, when and how should you decide to say yes to this request?

  • The agent is your Dream Agent: in this case, you might not want to risk saying no to her. You might decide granting exclusive is worth it, even if the agent ends up rejecting your manuscript.
  • The agent is from a Big Agency: there are agents from big/famous agencies who ALWAYS request exclusives and refuse to read if this exclusivity isn’t granted. On the plus side, it often means they request material they’re really excited about: they believe in it and they want to have the chance to make an offer before anyone else. It’s flattering. On the downside, they might not make an offer in the end and you’ve wasted time. Again, it’s up to you to decide if you think it’s worth it.
  • If you grant exclusivity, make sure you set a deadline of no more than 4 weeks and make sure the agent agrees to it. If you haven’t heard from the agent after 4 weeks, nudge and feel free to start querying again (unless the agent replies and asks for more time… or makes an offer!).

Whichever the case, GRANTING AN EXCLUSIVE SHOULD FEEL LIKE THE RIGHT DECISION AT THE TIME. Dahlia Adler has a great post on querying red flags, and she explains that if it feels like an agent is making an unreasonable request, they most likely are making an unreasonable request.

To finish this post on a personal note, here is my own experience with exclusives:

I had one request for an exclusive in my querying life. I said yes. Here is why:

  • I had no material out at the time. I hadn’t even started querying. I met the agent at a writers’ conference. She read the first 10 pages of my manuscript, and asked for the rest – as an exclusive.
  • She was from a Big Agency, and she was used to requesting exclusives when she loved a project.
  • She was one of my dream agents.
  • I asked for a 4-week deadline. She replied to me within 2 weeks.
  • She didn’t offer representation, but she did give me valuable feedback.

To this day, I don’t regret granting this exclusive. So my advice on this topic is: do what feels right and what you think is best for you and your manuscript at the time of the request.

What do you think? Have you experienced a request for an exclusive while querying? What did you do? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Successful Queries – Day 8 – Marieke Nijkamp

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Marieke Nijkamp, aka The Queen of Queries, is sharing her advice on how to write an outstanding query. Marieke writes YA and MG fiction and she’s represented by Jennifer Udden of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Marieke Nijkamp

GUEST POST

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m one of Those People who loves to write queries (and occasionally, even synopses *gasp*). I love the clarity in brings when you have to sum up a story in roughly 250 words, when you have to force yourself to get to the very core of a tale. I love the structure of queries and synopses, I love writing them, and I love critiquing them. I’ve probably critiqued close to a thousand over the years.

I know. Annoying, isn’t it?

But I also love to talk about queries, so when Eve asked me to talk about advice for querying writers, I knew I couldn’t pass that opportunity up.

First of all, learn the formulas

Query formulas are amazing to understand what works, and why. Whether it’s by perusing the archives of Query Shark, subjecting yourself to AbsoluteWrite’s Query Letter Hell, or workshopping queries at a conference, you have to get an ear for queries. Know the rules, read a lot and critique more, because all those things will help you a great deal in writing your own perfect pitch.

Second, less is more

Once you’ve figured out those bare bones, the easiest step is to try to fill the out with the entire story. Far too often, I see queries that try to do and be everything. Introduce ALL the characters. Explain ALL the plot points. Mention ALL the themes. And often it’s a matter of overkill—and of the writer overthinking it.

I love specifics that make the story come to life, but if you pick up a book in the bookstore, do you want the blurb to explain everything that happens in minute detail? Stick to what entices.

Thirdly, trust your readers

The best way to know if a query still makes sense and hits the right spots? Ask a CP or beta who’s read the manuscript. The best way to know if a query entices? Ask a reader who hasn’t.

So take your time, reach out and get feedback. And revise it until it shines.

And finally, break the rules

And with that in mind… trust your own gut, too. Because formulas are amazing. But, sometimes, when we turn them into a tight set of rules, they can get very overwhelming. Use a tagline. Don’t use a tagline. Start with personalization. Don’t even bother. Use comp titles. Have a good bio. Explain the story in one paragraph, three paragraphs, two, four… When really, formulas are also just a means to an end.

In the end, your main goal is simple and very straightforward: to hook your reader. Nothing less, nothing more.

So don’t be *too* intimidated by those 250 words. It’s only one page! You’re a writer, just tell the story! After all, as a reader, I read to love a story, not to hate it. I only want to know three things:

Who is the main character?

What choice do they face?

And above all, why should I care?

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Marieke is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to THREE lucky winners! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 16th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 7 – Juliana Brandt

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Juliana Brandt is answering a few questions and giving away a query critique! Juliana writes YA Fantasy and she’s represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency.

Juliana Brandt

INTERVIEW

Tell us about the manuscript that helped you land an agent…

I signed with Emmanuelle Morgan of the Stonesong Literary agency with a YA dark fantasy titled CADAVER DOG that clocks in at just under 80k words.

How long did it take you to write your query?

I actually went through a gazillion drafts of my query–at least it felt like that many. I queried my novel for about four months before moving on, and during that time, I reworked my query many times depending on what sort of response I was getting (or not getting) from agents. My query actually sat in my agent’s inbox for about six months before she contacted me. It just goes to show that you never know what will happen! The benefit of working on my query so many times is that I ended up having a pretty decent eye for what makes a strong query/pitch.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

Yes! I had many beta readers and CPs check out my query. I entered contests and had writing friends off twitter read it and even sent it to my family to see what they thought. I’m sure that almost everyone I knew at the time read one draft or another of my query.

What was the hardest part to get right?

For me, I think the most difficult part to get right was the world building. Fantasy elements are hard to detail in such a short span of time. Balancing that with not wanting to bog down the query wasn’t easy to get right.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help! The writing community is such a supportive one, there are always people out there willing to give a hand 🙂

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Juliana!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Juliana is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 16th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 6 – Rhiann Wynn-Nolet

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today Rhiann Wynn-Nolet is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Rhiann writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates. 

RhiannWynnNolet

QUERY

Dear Agent,

TENDRIL is a dark YA Rapunzel meets The Collector story, set in present day Maine and complete at 67,000 words.

A family curse. Albinism. Hair that moves according to feelings and desires of its own. These are the heirlooms Opal MacBride inherits. The curse is painfully clear on two points—Opal will never find true love, and MacBride men may become indecently obsessed with her magical hair and alabaster skin.

When her grandmother dies, Opal’s uncle becomes her entirely unsuitable guardian. While seeking solace at her grandmother’s grave, she attracts a lonely, angry sixteen year old ghost. Shortly thereafter she meets his equally lonely, slightly sullen living brother. Despite unfavorable first impressions, romance blossoms. Soon she questions everything she was told about love and the curse.

Though the curse may be wrong about love, it is dreadfully accurate regarding Opal’s uncle. His obsession leads to a depraved scheme to make her a prisoner in his lighthouse. To save herself, Opal must foil his plot. To ensure a happy ending, she must choose between the two brothers she loves, and life in this world or eternal life in the next.

 INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I worked on this query during the summer of 2012 and probably had 4 versions (The only one I saved was Query4 in my Word docs).

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query? 

Honestly I didn’t know query-writing advice was available when I started querying. I didn’t know about CPs or betas either. Sad, but true. “Social Media” was on my To Do List right after “Query TENDRIL”. But as soon as I stuck my toe into the Twitter stream, I heard about WriteOnCon 2012. During contests in summer/fall 2012 people gave me feedback. Besides WriteOnCon, there was GUTGAA, a Curiosity Quills contest, Agent Trick Or Treat, and some whose names I don’t remember. Several provided query advice.

What was the hardest part to get right?

Definitely plot. A number of well-meaning advisors told me I needed to figure out what the MAIN plot was—the love story or the MC vs. her creepy uncle. To me both were equally important and inextricably entwined plot arcs. I gave them equal time in my query.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Yes!

 a. Avail yourself of all the “free” help out there, but don’t rush to make every change someone advises. In the end it’s YOUR query, YOUR chance to get an agent’s attention. Analyze who’s suggesting the change, whether it provides you with an “aha!” moment, whether more than one person makes the same suggestion, etc.

b. Experiment with a couple of different versions of your query –send out a small batch of Query 1 and a small batch of Query 2 to see which garners more interest.

c. Query in batches, because if you’re lucky enough to get requests for fulls/partials you can add that in to your next round of queries. In my experience, nothing makes an agent sit up and take notice faster than an indication that other agents are interested. If you find yourself in the enviable position of receiving an offer, then BY ALL MEANS nudge outstanding queries and query anyone you haven’t already (as long as it’s someone you’d like as an agent).

d. There is no “secret recipe” for writing the perfect query, and really your query doesn’t have to be perfect, just good enough to make the agent want to read the story.

 Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Rhiann!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Rhiann is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and include the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Saturday 15th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 5 – Kate Brauning

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the very knowledgeable Kate Brauning is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Kate writes contemporary and speculative suspense, both YA and adult, and she’s represented by Carlie Webber at CK Webber Associates.

kate-brauning

QUERY

HOW WE FALL, a YA suspense, is complete at 88,000 words.

Making out with your cousin has its pitfalls. Seventeen-year-old Jackie hasn’t been able to end her secret relationship with Marcus since he kissed her on a dare. He’s her best friend, which only makes it harder to quit their obsessive relationship.

Except she has to, because she’s falling in love with him. It’s not like it’s illegal to date her cousin, but her parents would never approve and the families would split up their multi-family home. Afraid of losing her best friend, she calls it off. She can’t lose Marcus right now: the cops just found her missing friend’s body.

Hurt and angry, Marcus starts dating the new girl, Sylvia. But with Sylvia comes a secret and a stranger. The stranger starts following Jackie everywhere she goes, and Marcus is nearly killed in a car accident. When Jackie finds out Sylvia lied about not knowing her murdered friend, Jackie’s certain Sylvia is connected to the man threatening Marcus.

The more Jackie finds out about Sylvia, the bigger the wedge between Jackie and Marcus, but she doesn’t have long to figure out what’s going on. She may have lost both her relationship and her friendship with Marcus, but she couldn’t handle losing him for real.

If she doesn’t act fast, Sylvia’s secrets may mean their bodies will be the next ones the police dig out of the Missouri woods.

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query? 

This query is the product of 3 or 4 drafts and a lot of revisions where I cut a line or changed a phrase. It was hard to write because it has two main conflicts, which was difficult to show clearly.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

My CPs helped a ton. I couldn’t do it without them! I didn’t use workshops or contests for critiques for this query, but I did for the first MS I queried.

What was the hardest part to get right: the voice, the plot, the worldbuilding, etc?

Showing the kind of story it is was the most difficult. It’s part thriller, part dark contemporary romance. The taboo element was hard to address. So basically, the toughest part was having the query show the agent what to expect from the pages– which is probably true for most queries!

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Read agent blogs to get a handle on what they’re seeing too much of and what to avoid both in query issues and in issues like the structure of your opening pages and cliche plot elements; get someone to critique your query who knows nothing about your book so you know if it will be clear to agents; start a new project to keep your mind off your inbox while you query!

Most of all, keep at it. Query the MS you have now, write a new one, query that one. Learn how to improve with each one. Persistence gets it done. 🙂

If you want to read my full agent story, and what happened before I got signed, you can read the whole story here: My Agent Story and Before I Got My Agent.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Kate!

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 4 – Dahlia Adler

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the very wise Dahlia Adler is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Dahlia writes YA Contemporary fiction and she’s represented by Lana Popovic at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth.

DahliaAdler

QUERY

Dear Ms. Popovic,

Thank you so much for expressing interest in my query during PitchMas!

Reagan Forrester wants out–out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in–in to a fashion design program and a sorority, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn’t go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won’t stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re going together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective… only to learn she’s set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria realizes everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they’ve sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don’t know about each other’s pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they’ll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.

JUST VISITING is an 86,000-word contemporary YA novel that will appeal to fans of the upper-YA coming-of-age themes and dual perspectives of Sara Zarr’s HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and the layered friendships explored through travel in Nina LaCour’s THE DISENCHANTMENTS. I work as an Assistant Editor of Mathematics, as well as a Copy Editor, and am a member of SCBWI. My debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, will release from Spencer Hill Contemporary in June 2014, with two more to follow.

I’d love to send you material upon request. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Dahlia

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to write the query, but I think sum total was only a few days. It was the fourth manuscript I’d queried, and I think query-writing is one of those things that actually does get easier. There was definitely tweaking done to the original version, but it always looked a lot like this. (This is a little choppier, especially at the start, than most I sent out. If I recall correctly, it’s because I did it through the agency’s website submission system, which has a word count maximum.)

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

My CPs Maggie Hall, Marieke Nijkamp, and Gina Ciocca read and improve just about everything I do, and this was no exception! My wonderful friend Rick Lipman read it too, which was really helpful because unlike my CPs, he hadn’t read the manuscript. They all definitely helped tweak for better phrasing and clarity.

What was the hardest part to get right?

The hardest part was definitely writing it for a dual-POV. A lot of query advice says to only tackle one in the query, and then just mention it alternates at the end of the letter, and I definitely think that’s the right tactic in a lot of cases, particularly in Romance. But here, it was really important to me not to implant the idea in a reader’s brain that one story was dominant. This is a best friendship story, and I really wanted to give them as equal footing as possible. It’s definitely on the longer side for a query, but I think it’s right for the story. I agree that you have to learn the rules before you can break them, and I felt like I’d reached the point of learning that allowed me to buck conventional query wisdom.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

The number one advice I’d give to query writers out there is to have someone who hasn’t read your book read your query. It’s really hard to know what doesn’t make sense to an outside reader who has no story background other than what you’re putting out there. I’d also say, as someone who’s read a zillion queries in contests, don’t be vague. Every detail should be something that’s unique to your story. Nothing makes eyes glaze over like “And then her world turned upside down.” There’s a huge range between being vague and spoiling the ending – find something in there.

I’d also add that although I used comp titles in this query, I only did so because they really, really screamed to me as being just right for this book. But they’re not something to be forced. If you have nothing but bestsellers to use, or can’t think of anything at all, just don’t use them. They can be really helpful when done right, but really off-putting when not. Their absence won’t be noted anywhere near as much as poor usage will.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Dahlia!

Any questions? Ask below!

Successful Queries – Day 3 – Brianna Shrum

Hello gentle reader,

Welcome to the Successful Queries Blog Series! The idea is to share with you Queries That Worked and to find out what made them stand out in the slushpile. My hope is that it’ll help you, querying writers, to write an amazing query for your own manuscript and to find Your Agent.

Today the ever interesting Brianna Shrum is sharing her query and answering a few questions. Brianna writes YA and NA fiction and she’s represented by Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary.

Brianna Shrum

QUERY

Dear…

The kidnapping was a quiet one. In fact, most people mightn’t even have called it a kidnapping. You see, the victim went willingly, and his captor was only a child, a child the world knows as a hero.

On James Hook’s thirteenth birthday, Peter Pan entices him away to Neverland, a world made of adventure and built from children’s dreams. But very soon after, Peter Pan reneges on his promise to take James back home after his holiday. Trapped in Neverland under the harsh care of Peter, and faced with a future of shattered make-believe, little James can do nothing but break Peter’s number one rule: No growing up.

When Peter can no longer deny that James has rapidly grown into a man, Pan sentences him to death. James escapes and finds refuge among a band of pirates, stepping naturally into the role of their Captain. Despite that, James is obsessed with only one thing: returning home. Something Neverland does not wish him to do. His single-minded endeavor is thrown off course when he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Tiger Lily, a woman whose heart is torn between the pirate Captain and Pan, the boy Neverland has destined her to love.

Trapped against his will in a place where love is twisted, children are happily heartless, and dreams are killed, Captain James Hook struggles to not become consumed by hatred and revenge, and to survive as a man in a world that hates men.

Currently, most of my work has been hastily scribbled on a chalkboard and speed-read by the students in the middle and high school writing classes I teach.

Drawing from J.M. Barrie’s darker Neverland, NEVER, NEVER is an upmarket retelling of Peter Pan from Captain Hook’s perspective. It is complete at 78,000 words.

The full manuscript and synopsis are attached, as per your request.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

INTERVIEW

How long did it take you to write this query?

I wrote the first draft of this query in a day, but then it went through maybe two or three more drafts, I think, before it ended up like it is now. So, all in all, probably a few days.

Did you have beta readers or CPs (or did you enter contests or workshops) to help you with your query?

I did have CP’s and betas. A couple CP’s, then a couple peeps on Twitter who were rockin’ enough to exchange queries with me. Plus, I entered Pitch Wars, and my lovely, fizztacular mentor gave me some pointers on this query. So yeah, safe to say I had some help 😉

What was the hardest part to get right?

Hmmmmm. The hardest part to get right…I’d say plot. There is kind of a lot going on in this story, and in this query, I had to get across the whole, “Hey, so, Peter Pan is a totally psychotic kidnapper, not a beloved little elf-guy, trust me,” thing, and get across an unfamiliar backstory to a very familiar character. The love story was important to me too, but I didn’t want to clog it with excessive stuff. Definitely getting enough details to intrigue, but not so many that it was cluttered, was tricky, and something pretty much anyone who critted it brought up.

Any advice for querying writers out there?

Number one, research. Research agents, research their books, research alllll the query resources you can. Two, don’t be afraid to ask people for crits! Mine was soooo much better because of it, and more often than not, people, especially writers, are cool and wanna help out. Last, don’t. Give. Up. On the day after New Year’s of 2013, I distinctly remember getting a rejection from a dream agent, and just bursting into tears. Well, my dad was a wisdomous dude, and he said, “Someday, you’re gonna get an agent, and you’re gonna love that agent so much that you will be glad this one rejected you. Three weeks later, I signed with Bree, and learned that my dad was absolutely right. So, ya know, what he said. To you.

Thank you so much for taking part in this blog series, Brianna!

GIVEAWAY (closed)

Querying Writers! Brianna is giving away a QUERY CRITIQUE to one lucky winner! To enter, please fill in the form below with your name and email adresss, and inlude the genre of your mansucript. Good luck!

The giveaway is open internationally until Sunday 9th March 2014 at 11pm BST.

Any questions? Ask below!