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!

Getting published: finding your own path and going at your own pace

Hello gentle reader,

In 2010, I wrote a Sci-Fi novel and I sent it to my former English teacher with a question: “Is this good enough to be published?” Incredibly – given the poor quality of my Masterpiece – she didn’t say “NO WAY”. Instead she told me: “If you work hard and you really want this, I don’t see why not.”

So I embarked on my very own publishing journey, full of hopes and dreams. I chose the traditional route, because it was what felt like the best way for me and my stories. It still feels that way, actually.

 

Soon enough, I found other writers on the same path: people writing a manuscript, or people with a manuscript looking for an agent. I read their blog, followed them on Twitter, made a lot of writerly friends with whom I could share the aforementioned hopes and dreams.

I wrote another novel (a YA High Fantasy), found beta readers and Critique Partners, and after a year I queried it.

It turned out finding an agent who loved my manuscript was even harder than predicted.

At the end of 2012, I made the decision to shelve my YA High Fantasy and to start working on another story.

I began writing a YA Victorian Fantasy.

In the meantime, I started noticing the writing community around me had changed.

Some simply quit and disappeared, sometimes with one last blog post explaining their decision, sometimes without a whisper.

Some got an agent and later on a publishing deal, leaving the shore of unpublished writers for the land of authors.

Others got a publishing deal with a small press or an independent publisher, and saw their book come out within 9 months or a year.

And a staggering, STAGGERING number decided to self-publish.

Now, I’m not criticising the last two publishing paths in the slightest. I just know one thing: those publishing options aren’t for me. Self-publishing is way more work than I can handle, and dealing with a publisher (whatever its size) means I need an agent to tell me what (not) to do.

Three years on, and I now find myself rather lonely on my publishing road.

Out of all the writers I met online or in person in the past 3 years, many, many of them now have a book out or a soon-to-be-published book.

And I’m still walking on the path, with my manuscript in hand and my hopes and dreams with me, forever convinced I will find the right agent and traditional publisher in the end.

And it struck me the other day that maybe I’m not as alone as I think in this situation.

When you spend a lot of time around the writing community, it sometimes feels like EVERYONE you know now has an agent and/or a book out.

But it’s not true. We just hear more about those who have exciting news than about those who are STILL looking for an agent after three years.

So if you’re one of those lonely writers without news for the world, remember this:

–          Going at your own pace is fine. What matters is getting where you want.

–          Don’t give up on your traditional publishing dream because it’s slow to come true.

–          Don’t give up, period.

–          Write the best book you can, and do your best, always. Someone will notice in the end.

–          Enjoy the journey without worrying about what others accomplish. One day, you will accomplish those things too.

And never stop writing.

Writing Contests Round-Up (Autumn Edition)

Hello gentle reader,

The lovely Natasha M. Heck asked me if I could write a post about writing contests for querying writers. There are many coming up, which I have listed below. Hoping this helps!

NB: The contests I mention here are for unagented writers with a finished/polished manuscript. Their goal is to offer you the chance to get your writing on an agent’s desk.

So without further ado, all your autumn writing contests… in one place!

Contest: Trick or Treat with Agents 2013

Date(s): Submissions on Tuesday 22d October

Organised by: Kimberly P. Chase, Brenda Drake and Dannie Morin

Open to: MG,YA, NA, and Adult. (No Erotica or Memoirs)

How to enter: 3-sentence pitch + first 250 words + answer 2 questions

Cost: Free

More info: http://kimberlypchase.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/trick-or-treat-with-agents-2013.html

Contest: 2013 Baker’s Dozen

Date(s): 29th to 31st October for Adult submissions, 5th to 7th November for YA and MG fiction

Organised by: Miss Snark’s First Victim (aka Authoress)

Open to: MG and YA (all genres) – Adult (all genres except erotica and erotic romance)

How to enter: a logline (= a 1 to 2-sentence pitch that encapsulates your story & makes us want to read it) + first 250 words

Cost: $10 entry fee

More info: http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-fourth-annual-bakers-dozen-facts.html

Contest: Mystery Agent

Date(s): 1st of each month

Organised by: Operation Awesome

Open to: Depends on the judging agent

How to enter: one-line pitch or 250 first words

Cost: Free

More info: http://operationawesome6.blogspot.fr/

Contest: Secret Agent contest

Date(s): November (date TBA)

Organised by: Miss Snark’s First Victim (aka Authoress)

Open to: Depends on the judging agent

How to enter: first 250 words

Cost: Free

More info: http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.co.uk/p/secret-agent.html

Contest: Pitch Wars

Date(s): December (date TBA)

Organised by: Brenda Drake

How to enter: TBA

Cost: TBA

More info: http://brenleedrake.blogspot.co.uk/

So tell me: are you going to enter those contests? Are there any other contests this autumn I haven’t heard about? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Querying and dealing with an R&R (Revise and Resubmit)

Hello gentle reader,

In previous posts, I have explained how to maximize your chances of success during the querying process, how to make sense of rejections and when to make the decision to shelve your manuscript.

From those posts, you might have assumed there are only two endings to the querying process: rejection (“NO”) or offer of representation (“YES”).  But there is a third option, which I shall address here: the “Revise and Resubmit” option, aka “R&R”, aka “MAYBE-NOT-YET”.

What is an R&R?

It’s a letter (these days, it’s usually an email) from an agent who has read your full manuscript. This agent sees enough potential in your story to write you a letter, but she’s not ready to offer you representation just yet. Instead, she asks you to revise (according to her helpful suggestions) and resubmit your manuscript at a later time.

Is this good news?

It might not look like it at first glance, but it IS great news. Agents are busy people. Yet one of them saw enough potential in your story to write you pages of suggestions to improve it. Not only did this agent read your whole manuscript, but she thought about it during her daily commute and then sat down at her desk to write you a 3-page email.

What do I do now?

It’s entirely up to you. You may decide to go ahead with the revisions or you may decide to ignore them and carry on querying. Here are the questions you can yourself in order to make that decision:

–          Do you agree with the agent’s suggestions?

–          Do you feel capable of doing the required revisions?

If your answer is yes to both questions, then go ahead and revise. If you’re unsure, discuss it with your Critique Partners. Take your time and think about it: you need to be fully committed to these revisions; otherwise you’re just wasting your time.

Is this a test?

In a way, yes, it is.

The agent sees a spark in your manuscript, and she’s testing you in order to see if you are able to revise it according to her comments. You’re a potential client.

And for you, this is the opportunity to find out if you like the agent’s style and editorial approach. For a few months, she’s your potential agent.

How long do I have to complete those revisions?

That’s the tricky part. You’ve got AS LONG AS YOU WANT. An R&R is a great opportunity to show yourself and your story in the best light possible. There’s no need to rush. At the same time, most agents say that taking forever doesn’t send the best message, because they start doubting you can handle revisions in a timely manner. So between 1 month and 6 months is acceptable.

What happens when I resubmit?

Hopefully this time, the agent’s reply will be an offer of representation. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE. The agent can ask for another R&R. The agent might send you a rejection after all. But in the meantime, you’ve made your manuscript stronger, and it might just be what will help you find an(other) agent after all.

So tell me: have you had an R&R before? How did you deal with it? Do you have any questions? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

Querying and the decision to shelve your manuscript

Side note: this post is not about my personal situation. It was inspired by conversations I’ve had this week with other writers. I’m not shelving Lily In The Shadows (just yet).

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about querying and rejections. I offered advice on what to do to make it out of the slushpile and get an agent’s attention – and hopefully an offer of representation. Today’s post is about the other side of the coin: what to do when, despite your best efforts, that offer of representation doesn’t come and you’re faced with the decision of shelving your manuscript.

Making the decision your Beloved Manuscript isn’t The One is hard. You’ve put so much effort into it, you love it so much, how do you know it’s time to move on? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you make your decision:

1- Is your submission the best it can be?

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you’re getting rejections because of the quality of your submission. If, deep down, you know your query could be better, your first pages could be rewritten and your manuscript could use more polishing, ask yourself if it’s not worth a little extra work. If you think it is, just walk that extra mile and make your submission outstanding.

2- Have you exhausted all your querying opportunities?

The second question you need to address is whether you have queried all the agents interested in your genre/category. If the answer is no, then keep querying. If the answer is yes and you feel you’ve burned all those bridges, it might be time to move on.

3- Is it just down to bad timing?

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with  your query or manuscript. Maybe you’re getting rejections because your timing is unfortunate. Ask yourself if you’re querying a genre that’s over-represented in the slushpile. The NewLeafLiterary Tumblr is a great source of info on that matter. Right now, Dystopian, Greek mythology, Sci-Fi, mermaids, vampires and werewolves are not what editors are looking for. Be aware of these trends when trying to decide whether or not you should give up on querying your story.

4- Am I shelving this manuscript forever?

Parting ways with a manuscript you love is hard. But knowing there’s a chance it might still hit the shelves one day can help you putting it aside for now. Maybe, once you have an agent thanks to another manuscript, you can take your beloved manuscript out of the drawer and send it out on submission.

5- Can I move on from here?

Although it may seem unthinkable at the moment, moving on is possible. Write another story. Focus on another project. It may be the one that will get you an agent. And you won’t regret shelving your Beloved Manuscript then.

Have you ever shelved a manuscript you loved? What brought you to that decision? Do share your experience below or ask questions I haven’t thought of!

Querying, making sense of rejections and finding the right agent

Hello gentle reader,

September is just around the corner, and for some of you it might mean a new step in your writing endeavours: the querying process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume you’ve done your homework, finished and polished your manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines. You’ve read all the success stories about writers who got multiple offers one week after sending out their query and signed with an agent within 3 months. So you send out a batch of queries and you start drafting your “How I got my agent” blog post while refreshing your inbox. You’re ready for the offers of representation to roll in.

Except instead, rejections start piling up.

And you have no idea where things have gone wrong.

So here is a little 4-stage guide to help you make sense of those rejections and hopefully help you on your way to finding your perfect agent match.

Stage 1

The problem: You’re getting form rejections, with one or two random partial requests thrown in to keep you guessing.

The diagnostic: At this stage, it’s likely the issue lies with your query letter. “But,” you’ll say, “my letter follows the guidelines and doesn’t even mention Harry Potter!” Fair enough. But to compete with the hundreds of query letters that land each month in the literary agent’s inbox, your letter has to stand out and be stellar.

The solution: Revise your query letter. Post it on forums like Agent Query Connect, Absolute Write or WriteOnCon. Enter contests and giveaways offering a query letter critique. Revise again. Re-draft until your letter is concise, clear, eye-catching and true to your story. Writing an outstanding query letter might take 20 or 30 drafts, but if it gets your manuscript requested, who’s counting?

Stage 2

The problem: You’re getting partial requests, which turn into rejections with a personal comment from the agent.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your first 50 pages. Whether it’s pace, characterization or plot holes, hopefully you’re getting the same feedback at least a couple times.

The solution: Revise your manuscript. Work with your Critique Partners to fix your manuscript’s issues. Once your revisions are done, send your story to beta readers who haven’t read it before and listen to their feedback. Enter contests and giveaways to win a manuscript critique from an editor, an author or even better, an agent.

Stage 3

The problem: You’re getting full requests, which turn into rejections with detailed feedback or a Revise and Resubmit (R&R) request.

The diagnostic: There’s something wrong with your manuscript, and agents highlight what it is.

The solution: Again, revise, get feedback, revise again, and resend.

Stage 4

The problem: You’re getting requests left and right, which all turn into “I like it but I’ll pass” rejections (aka the “not for me but best of luck with it” rejection, aka the “not the right fit for me at the moment” rejection, aka the “I didn’t fall in love with it” rejection).

The diagnostic: It’s the hardest one, because there’s nothing wrong with your query letter or your manuscript. Nothing the agents are telling you about anyways.

The solution: KEEP QUERYING. You’re so close to your goal, the next agent you’ll contact might be the one falling in love with your story. And this is the one agent you want, the best possible match, the one who will wholly believe in your manuscript’s potential.

So tell me: which stage of the querying process are you at now? Do you have any questions I didn’t answer in this post? Or any advice for other querying writers? Feel free to leave me a comment below!