Being at any point of writing your story is a good time to draft a query. As I see it, knowing what your story should sound like to agents and editors is a crucial step in getting your work published.
At its heart, a query is non-fiction. It’s a sales pitch. It’s mission is to stop the slush reader in their tracks and marvel, "Oh, this I gotta see." Hopefully it means they like it, and are not ready to watch you crash and burn on paper. Here’s a winning formula to help your writing achieve new heights.
Step #1: Know who you’re querying
Every agent and editor has their own taste in books. Your mission is to find the one who see the value in your words and work with you to succeed. You can use websites like Poets & Writers, AgentQuery, and WritersDigest to look up what agents are looking for. If you want to go straight to a specific publishing house, like TOR, you should check out their websites and read up on what specific editors have recently published.
Tip: Don’t just send out a form letter. Make it personal! Mention in your query letter where you heard of them and what you appreciate about their work. Do everything that shows you’ve researched the market you want to get into, including who you want to represent you.
Step #2: Know your story
Here’s where the bulk of your query comes in. Here you synopsize the main character and their conflict for this story. Give enough information to tell at the heart of the story, but not too much that gives readers a “been there, done that” feeling. Like Larry Brooks says, “A Concept is NOT a PREMISE. More accurately, it is a promise.”
To deliver, start with a quick and dirty tag line. It should describe the key moment that kicks off your story. Then go into revealing the conflict your character faces. Don’t just give us plot points, give what makes your story matter. Your whole query has to be about a page long, so make sure you set the stakes.
Some great examples of successful query letters can be found here.
Step #3: Know thyself
Don’t forget that an agent or editor cares only about the story. They care about you, too. It might be hard to see it that way after hair raising tales of rejection and Writers Behaving Badly™. Besides, if you can sell them on one successful query, they’d be more than happy to work with you again if they know who you are.
The trick is to not sound self-important. Talk honestly about your credentials if it has to do with the topic of your story. If you have a large following on Blogger, Twitter, or any where else, go ahead and mention it! If you already have an audience, your first publication will seem like less of a risk.
Tip: If you say your book is going to be bigger than Twilight, you might want to calm down a bit. This is a turn off for agents and editors. You can compare your book to existing titles if it helps to pin down your book’s potential audience, but be careful about it.
Step #4: Never give up
It’s a well known fact that rejection happens. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. This means you get to dust yourself off and get right back to work. Keep drafting query letters, if anything just to get the craft down. And while you’re querying for one story, start working on a new story! Publishers like writers who can crank out plenty of the good stuff. You might not be able to sell this story, but by developing your storytelling skills will help you sell the next story. Maybe then you’re old gems will finally have their attention.
One time when my music theory professor was a student in college, he had to accompany an extremely rude soprano for a recital. She treated him like dirt during rehearsals. Just before going on to perform, she made some really snide remark to him that ticked him off, so he transposed the piece up a half step. She cracked three times.
Always be nice to your accompanists, folks.
There is a special place in hell for people that are rude to their accompanists
5. One day, someone will tell you how much they needed to read this.
6. You can write anything you set your mind to.
7. This has a glimmer of brilliance in it.
8. The crappy words will fall away in revision.
9. My vision of the world matters.
10. I see people in a new way.
You don’t need to believe that this is going to be a bestseller. You don’t need to believe that you’re going to be a household name. You don’t need to believe that someday people will study your book in college. But you do have to work to counteract the relentless voice of defeat in your head that says:
1. No one will ever read this.
2. I am banging my head against the wall here.
3. Who am I to think I could be a writer?
4. My father/mother/partner is right. I should give up.
5. I don’t know how to do this. I never learned. No one ever taught me.
6. My voice doesn’t matter.
7. My experience is too different from anyone else’s to connect with readers.
8. I don’t know what happens next.
9. I feel too exposed. I want to hide and protect myself more.
10. I can’t expect anyone to pay me for this when they can get so many other things for free.
In publishing-universe news, yesterday the Life in Publishing tumblr was shut down permanently, and the account deleted.
This anonymous blog by a (presumably female) publishing insider typically featured cheeky observations about the publishing world (including, yes, author behavior). Based on content, I’d always assumed its mastermind worked in children’s/young adult publishing.
The end came when an author successfully identified the person behind the blog and emailed—to her work address—an angry J’Accuse-letter threatening to reveal her to the public and to her employers. Among the things the accuser found condemnable: jokes about summer Fridays and gentle ribbing about blog tours. You know, really terrible stuff that no one should ever be forced to endure in gif form.
I got to read Life in Publishing’s final post—including the author’s letter to her—in the brief time it was still live. One of the comments, including many from supportive authors said, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”
This makes me super annoyed, but mostly it makes me sad. Life in Publishing’s posts had become infrequent, but when the blog was really active it was FUNNY. And pretty insightful. And, truly, quite gentle. We all know what mean gossip looks like, and this was not it.
We all—editors, authors, agents, publicists, marketers, salespeople, designers, etc.—work really, really hard. We work in a business that runs on talent and passion and sometimes very intense emotion. If you can’t have a sense of humor about all of this, well, you’re in for a pretty miserable ride.
There is no us/them. The greatest successes I have experienced are forged through collaboration, imbued with understanding, and maintain A SENSE OF HUMOR.
I’ll miss you Life in Publishing – whoever you were.
As a writer, I enjoyed the playful, occasionally jibing tone of the blog because it would point out things that were like, “Hey, this is probably not a very professional/cool/nice thing to do,” in a silly way.
And we all have aspects of our jobs that drive us up the wall sometimes, and having a little creative outlet like this that helps entertain the masses and gain a little sympathy for what can often be a very antagonistic work environment — and really shouldn’t be one.
Writing is a profession where you have to find the balance between confidence and checking your ego at the door — and that should be true in life as well. It seems that the person who threatened to ‘out’ her has not found this balance yet, and I hope that whatever issues they are experiencing within themselves they are able to overcome them without resorting to attacking any others.
That being said, it’s really sad to see a good blog have to be dismantled because one person couldn’t have the personal and professional courtesy to be a mature adult. I’m going to miss it :(
“Vincent Van Gogh used to eat yellow paint because he thought it would get the happiness inside him. Many people thought he was mad and stupid for doing so because the paint was toxic, never mind that it was obvious that eating paint couldn’t possible have any direct correlation to one’s happiness, but I never saw that. If you were so unhappy that even the maddest ideas could possible work, like painting the walls of your internal organs yellow, than you are going to do it. It’s really no different than falling in love or taking drugs. There is a greater risk of getting your heart broken or overdosing, but people still do it everyday because there was always that chance it could make things better. Everyone has their yellow paint.”—(via moonsulk)
“Upon an age of materialism, the book flashes a light of faith. On a time of fade and fakirs, it pours the results of an imagination that is as facile and familiar with the marvels as children are made from nurses’ lips. If of any legend or old theory the book is an evolution, the secret has been well kept. If it is real for true invention, the persuasive audacity of it is a rare fact and find. None of the characters is above commonplace life in himself, except in his hospitality to mere things in heaven, earth, and hell then are dreamed of in the philosophy of theology or of science. Each is as unconscious of any “importance” in his work as conduits are of grandeur in carrying millions of men the refreshment of island springs or mountain streams. The are romances in the book between the lines, but not in them. There are character studies in the book, but actions are the only letters in which they are written. The work limns the workers. The affection, courage, fortitude, faith, hope, confidence, devotion, piety and altruism that are shown are written in deed, not in protestations. Even the entrancing accounts of scenery and of incident and of reflections are subsidiary to the one object which is persistently maintained as fate, and the strokes for and on which are as direct as those of a carpenter on the head of a nail. The noble and humane aim, the delivery into kindness of complete death of the fell and miserable creatures, the “un-Dead,” is the stimulus of the work, as their sad and diabolical lot is the pathos of the tale.”—1900 review of Dracula in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (via a-tundra-toadstool)
Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone make a blanket statement about writing or the publishing industry. Sometimes it’s a disillusioned writer, sometimes it’s someone trying to sound in the know to their unknowing friends, but one way or another there are some publishing myths floating around that I’d like to stuff into a plastic vat and dissolve in acid. At least, here.
So without further ado, here are five publishing myths that I personally think need to be destroyed:
You can only get published if you have connections. If you believe this even for a second, I highly recommend you get a Twitter account and start following some agents ASAP. Agents find new authors through cold querying all the time—that is, writers they’ve never interacted with who submitted to their slush pile. Do connections sometimes help? Sure, I suppose, if you have any. But by and large, most writers starting out don’t have any, and it is absolutely not a requirement to finding success as a writer.
Self or traditional publishing is the only way to fame and riches.Repeat after me: there isn’t ONE correct answer for everyone. Self-publishing is not the right choice for everyone. Traditional publishing is not the right choice for everyone. Some people just want to see their book on the shelf when they walk into Barnes & Noble—and they’re not stupid for going the traditional route to meet that dream. Some people want to have much more control over the process and higher royalties—and they’re not stupid for going the self-publishing route to meet that dream.
Honestly, there are so many methods and options out there for writers, and we should be celebrating those opportunities, regardless of whether or not you intend to use them.
Also, if you’re looking for fame and riches, you’re in the wrong profession. Write because you love to write and because you want to create stories regardless of how much money you may or may not make. But don’t expect to get rich doing it, because while it does very occasionally happen, it’s certainly not the norm.
Anyone can write a book about a popular topic and become insta-rich. No.
Whenever I hear someone say something along these lines, it’s an automatic sign to me that they know absolutely nothing about the publishing industry. Those so-called overnight success, hugely successful authors we hear so much about are about as rare as lottery winners—and they certainly didn’t find their success by jumping on a bandwagon (or overnight, for that matter).
The thing that non-publishing people often don’t realize is that it takes years for a book to go from first draft to traditionally published. Even after a contract is signed and a book is officially going to be published, it often takes two (or even more) years before the book hits the shelf. So to imply that writers can look at what’s uber-popular, crank out a book like nothing and make millions is pretty erroneous on several counts. And that’s not even considering how difficult it is to write a polished book. So there’s that.
YA novels are inferior to Adult novels. This one will never cease to make me angry. Ever.
I’m not saying that if you don’t like YA that something’s wrong with you, but what I am saying is that judging an entire category based off preconceptions or a single book that you heard about once (or hell, even a single book that you read and hated once) is wrong. YA authors have brought some of the most powerful, emotional, beautiful, exciting books I’ve ever read. And just because they’re written with teens in mind doesn’t mean that adults can’t enjoy them or that they’re somehow not worth as much as a book written for an adult audience.
Authors make so much money, it doesn’t matter if I illegally download their book for free. This is probably one of the few things that’ll make me rage more than the previous point. I wrote a whole post about why this is so beyond not truehere, but the short version is this: most writers don’t make a lot of money to begin with, and pirating is the equivalent of taking money out of their paychecks. Money that they need for bills and food and everything else. So stop, ok?
What do you think? Do you have any publishing myths you’d add to the list?
Girl, tonight we’re gonna make love. You know how I know? Because it’s Wednesday. And Wednesday night is the night that we usually make love. Monday night is my night to cook. Tuesday night we go and visit your mother, but Wednesday night we make sweet, weekly love.