How I Got My Agent

Kacey 2Wait! Before you read, head over to my Facebook Page, where you can be the first to see my brand new pen name! Give it a like to stay updated, and then come right back!

 

 

I’ll wait…

.

.

.

You’ve heard the phrase “it takes a village,” right? The story of how I got my agent is the epitome of this saying.

I have been writing for over 10 years. Trying to get an agent has comprised at least 8 of those years. I’ve written over a dozen manuscripts.

What did I not do? Give up.

27833542Flashback to 2016, when a friend encouraged me to pick up Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I like to think of this day as the moment that changed my life. If you write, and we’ve ever spoken, chances are I’ve raved to you about how much I love this book. I devoured it, and then I got the best news ever: Lisa teaches a CLASS.

I signed up.

What followed were some of the best writing times I’ve had. I wrote LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY using Story Genius and continued with Author Accelerator’s book coaching program to finish it. My book coach, Julie Artz, is about the best cheerleader around. She’s the one who encouraged me to submit to Pitch Wars. PW is a contest…sort of. You pitch to mentors, who then select one writer to work with over the course of two months. They help you rework your manuscript and query letter. In the writing world, getting into Pitch Wars is like winning the lottery.

pitchwarslogo1To my shock and disbelief, I got in. Out of nearly 3,000 people. Me. Little old me. Up until this point, I’d mostly known rejection. I had a few short pieces published, but I never thought I was good enough to get into PW. Cue the crying. Through PW I met the ever-wonderful Katherine Fleet, who took me through yet another round of revisions. With my manuscript as shiny as can be, I entered the agent round with high hopes.

I had some nibbles, a few requests, but the worst part afterwards was the waiting. It took some time, but eventually I sat down and started working on a new project. In December of 2017, I participated in my first #PitMad. I had several requests from agents. More waiting. In the interim, I kept writing.

In March, I participated in my second #PitMad. More requests. More waiting.

Curious about my most successful Twitter pitch (aka the one that got me my agent)? Here it is:

Hudson has the same disease that’s killing his brother. Dying doesn’t terrify him, but the girl who interrupts his suicide does. Two strangers, a night of firsts and lasts, and one impossible decision: Is life with a deadline still worth living? #PITMAD #YA #CON #MH

Then came the fateful day. The moment of truth. In the midst of a family vacation to Florida, I received an email from an agent that said, “I’m enraptured. Please send the full.” Happily, I obliged.

30123782_10213586004022432_3280649492751187968_nThe following day was a visit to the Animal Kingdom. I visited the Pandora exhibit. I rode rides. I basked in the awesome Florida sun. Then we went on a safari, and it was actually pretty awesome. I’d been careful not to check my email, which, over the course of several rounds of querying, has become like neurosis, but when I got off the safari truck, I noticed the agent who’d requested my full had liked a tweet of mine.

Curious, no?30226478_10213586005782476_5169229033224798208_n

As I’m excitedly telling my family this, I opened my email and saw the words: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION.

She loved it. She stayed up until 2 a.m. reading. Cue more tears. I suddenly became the author I dreamed of being. The one who sends a full and gets a nearly-immediate offer of rep. I read the email aloud to my family, who looked on, eyes wide (possibly with disbelief, or maybe excitement).

Aside from the compliments she gave, my favorite part of her email was this line: I’m very excited about this manuscript Kasey (She did realize right after sending that she spelled my name wrong! Agents are people, too!!!) and what you’ll accomplish in the future, and would love to offer you representation for this and all future work. (Most exciting part: ALL FUTURE WORK.)

And this is the part where I was jumping up and down and screaming in the middle of Animal Kingdom’s Africa. The agent and I set up a call for the next day. I wandered Animal Kingdom in a fog. A joy-induced haze. I rode more rides. I think I ate something, but the details are blurry. A writer dreams of the day they’ll get the email. I’m so glad I spent it in Disney, surrounded by my family. The email couldn’t have come at a better time.

The call was great. We clicked. We talked about my writing and what I envisioned for my career. She had everything I was looking for in an agent. From the moment I spoke with her, I had this feeling of rightness. Of course, there was still some housekeeping to do with the rest of the agents who had my full: Send emails that said, I HAVE AN OFFER OF REPRESENTATION, and get on the phone with the agent’s clients to talk business. (They LOVE her. This was definitely a positive sign!!)

I expected more rejections to roll in, after all, as a writer, I’m well versed in rejection. However, I ended up getting two more offers and speaking with both agents, but in the end, I went with the person who is as enraptured with my story as I am.

20180413_213641Here’s a picture of me signing my contract. Ahh!!

And that’s the story of how I ended up with Ali Herring of Spencerhill Associates, my literary agent extraordinaire.

Some history on my querying. LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY is the 5th book I’ve queried. My stats look something like this.

BOOK 1: Queried before I knew Query Tracker existed. I sent it to a handful of agents and small presses. Crickets. I don’t even think I got rejections.

BOOK 2: 9 queries, 1 partial request. All rejections/no response. 3 months.

BOOK 3: 47 queries, 2 full requests. All rejections/no response. 4 months.

BOOK 4: 63 queries, 5 full requests. All rejections/no response. 13 months.

BOOK 5: LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY 70 queries, 16 full requests, 35 rejections, 30 no response, 2 step asides because they didn’t have time to read (publishing is weird), and 3 offers of representation. 6 months.

As you can see, I got better and better with each round of queries. My writing improved, my queries improved, my success rate definitely improved. But I never would’ve made it here if I gave up after querying my first book, or my second, or my third… You see my point.

It takes a village. From Story Genius to Author Accelerator to Pitch Wars to #PitMad. And that’s not mentioning the countless manuscripts and books I’ve written. Every step brought me closer to fulfilling my dream of being an agented author. And every rejection taught me something about perseverance.

A month ago, after a slew of rejections, I was at my lowest point. This was literally the day before #PitMad when Ali liked my tweet. I cried for 4 hours and stayed up all night, a depressed mess, certain that I’d never get an agent, never be successful. The funny thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only place you can go is up.

Now, I have no illusions about publishing. I know getting an agent isn’t the golden ticket to success. I still have a long, difficult road ahead of me. But now I have a community, mentors, book coaches, and one cheerleader who I know will champion this book the way it deserves.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

 

 

Advertisements

The Pitch Wars Experience

pitchwarslogo1

Pitch Wars has come and gone and I’m just now sitting down to write about it. What can I tell you about this amazing contest hosted by Brenda Drake and crew?

First, if you have a manuscript ready to enter, DO. IT. The experience is invaluable.

I’ve run a gamut of emotions throughout the contest. Fear that I wouldn’t get in. Fear that I would. Worry that I wouldn’t be good enough. Worry that I couldn’t fulfill whatever work my mentor wanted me to do. Surprise. Elation. Some more fear.

I cried when I saw my name on the Mentor’s Picks List. I’ve found that writers are all about vindication. We want to know that we are good enough, smart enough, creative enough. And for some reason, that proof always has to come from outside. So, for a few moments, I felt worthy enough to call myself a writer.

Working with Katherine Fleet, my mentor, was a dream. Katherine and I have similar writing styles and come to our stories for the same kinds of things. My changes weren’t extensive, but they strengthened the story in ways I hadn’t considered before. Everyone’s Pitch Wars journey is different. Some had complete rewrites. Some had simple line edits. The goal is to prepare the manuscript for the Agent Round and everyone worked hard for two months (some worked for longer than two months). Specifically, I cut and rewrote a main character’s backstory. I changed the main setting of the story, and I strengthened character relationships and motivations.

Katherine and I went through the manuscript a total of three times before I sent it over to my mentee sister, Christine Webb, for a beta read. Lucky for me, Katherine drew a wild card and got to mentor two writers. Christine and I have hit it off since, and I’m so grateful to have someone to go through this process with.

In addition to Christine, the entire Pitch Wars class of 2017 is incredible. They’re supportive and kind and the most encouraging bunch I’ve seen. We have a secret Facebook group that’s one of my favorite places to lurk, especially if I’m frustrated. There is an awesome vibe of “we’re all in this together.” We’ve celebrated, we’ve mourned, but more than that, Pitch Wars has made me realize how different every writer’s journey to publication is. We have first time authors. We have authors who’ve been writing for 20+ years. Some have had agents in the past. Some are indie published. It’s definitely made me feel less alone in this big, big writing world.

The agent round came and went. Some manuscripts had over 40 agent requests. A very few had none. I was somewhere in the middle at 5. I thought the agent round was the hardest part of PW (at the time). Watching others get so many requests brought that good old fear back to the surface. I leaned pretty heavily on Katherine and Christine during this time (sorry Katherine, for the millions of emails). Just know, if you participate in Pitch Wars, you may not be the person who gets 40+ requests. You may be the person who gets zero. It’ll be okay. You’ll still wake up the next day. Your story isn’t over. You’re still valid.

But, it will still hurt. And it did. I looked at my five requests and I compared to those who had 40. I was warned not to do this. I did it anyway. I wish I hadn’t.

Then, the truly difficult part of PW started. The offers began rolling in. I’m SO HAPPY for all of those who’ve gotten offers, been agented because of PW. What an incredible opportunity it’s been and there are some AMAZING writers in PW17. I am constantly in awe of their creativity. They deserve their wins, and I fully support them.

As of today, there have been 44 offers of representation to the PW17 group.

I am not one of them.

I’ve been thoroughly checking my email daily, searching for my offer. It hasn’t come yet, but that’s okay. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some great friends. And I shined up my manuscript, query, and synopsis. I’m so proud of the work I’ve done and everything PW stands for.

Let me reiterate how difficult PW has been. It’s an emotional roller coaster. If you choose to participate, make sure you have a great support group who gets it. And most importantly, remember that this is just one contest, and no matter what happens, you are still valid. Your writing is still valid. Rejection hurts, but it’s not the end of your journey.

I’m here. I’m still waiting. My offer is out there. I just have to find it. Best of all, I’ll always have the PW17 crew to back me. Would I do it again? Hell, yes. A million times over. I wouldn’t trade the experience and all I’ve learned.

Will I stop comparing myself to others now? I sure hope so.

You can see my Pitch Wars Agent Round entry here. My Pimp My Bio here. And check out my interviews here and here.

Next up, my #Pitmad experience!

 

All the best,

Kacey

 

 

Your First Retreat

*Cross posted from: Flint Area Writers

The Flint Area Writers are going on retreat in August. One weekend, Friday through Sunday, devoted to writing, critique, and camaraderie among like-minded people. To prepare, I’ve gathered some suggestions and advice from veteran members Martha J. Allard, Melodie Bolt, and yours truly, about the DOs and DON’Ts of writing retreats.

The most important, and also least important, aspect of your retreat is finding an amicable location. This can be a tiny cabin snuggled in sleepy woods, a tent parked in a campground, or even a friend’s house – anything that takes you out of your normal space and forces you to adapt. A favorite of FAW is Gilchrist in Three Rivers, Michigan. Another location I researched recently is the Highlights Foundation Unworkshops in Pennsylvania, where $129 gets you a cabin and three meals per day. Wherever you go, make sure it’s equipped enough to keep you comfortable and inspired.

No matter how long you set aside for a writing retreat, be it a day, a weekend, a month, that span of uninterrupted time can seem daunting. It’s nothing but you, your notebook or laptop, that inevitable blank page, and hello, writer’s block! Your retreat begins well before you leave home. Use the following list the week before to prepare.

  • Reconnect with your work. Reread your manuscript, peruse your notes or outline.

  • Complete any necessary research and pack it with your writing materials.

  • Read a new (or old favorite) book about writing and get excited for what’s to come.

  • Make a plan.

    • Be realistic. If you don’t normally write 50 pages in one sitting, don’t expect to do it on retreat.

    • Decide if you’re writing for quality or quantity and stick to it. Maybe you only want to revise or write one scene, perhaps you’re looking to spew as many words as you can because you’re still figuring out what you’re writing. Maybe you’re starting something new. Whatever it is, make a concise plan for how you will spend your time and then stick to it.

Now that you’re prepared, the fun part begins.

  • When you arrive, give yourself some time to acclimate to your surroundings. Go for a walk, peruse the items left behind from others (Gilchrist has a lovely collection of journals in every cabin.) Breathe. Appreciate being in the moment, because there is nothing better than having time and space for creativity.

  • Pick out your writing spot and get comfortable. We suggest snacks, tea, or if you’re like me, a GIANT cup of coffee. Headphones for music or a fan to block out noises. Keep your notes close so you don’t have to get up to cross the room if you’re lost in the moment. Don’t be afraid to make a bit of a mess. I prefer to work in chaos.

  • Revisit your plan and remind yourself to stick to it.

  • Get to work!

  • If the words are flowing, make sure you take breaks. I once came back from retreat with a knot the size of Texas in my shoulder. Since then, I always bring my yoga mat and stretch between writing. Vary positions, put your feet up, sit on the floor, take your work outside. Remember to move!

  • If you find yourself staring at that annoying blank page, repeat the above steps. Go for a walk and take your notebook. Read a bit of something you find inspiring. (I often read 1-2 books on retreat.) Knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for a cup of sugar. (Just kidding, you should respect your neighbors!)

  • Some retreats will be more productive than others. Remind yourself of your plans and goals for your work. Being a writer means deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed.

  • If something else draws your attention, go with it. I started my current manuscript on retreat when I was supposed to be writing something else. Don’t waste your time or creativity!

  • WRITE! Fill that blank page with words. Even if you’re feeling uninspired, write one sentence. Then another. Ignore the devil on your shoulder that says it’s not good enough. Worries are for rewrites.

  • Remember to take care of yourself.

    • Sleep! Retreat isn’t just for writing, it’s also for recharging. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re awake, write. I usually go to bed early on retreat and wake up at 4:30am. There’s something about a sunrise that’s so beautifully inspiring.

    • Stay hydrated! Tea, water, coffee, juice, whatever floats your boat. Keep that cup full and drink up. Sometimes an adult beverage or two will loosen up apprehension and help the words come. (Who am I to judge, right?)

    • Move! Go for walks, do twenty minutes of yoga, stretch your mind and your muscles.

That’s it for the list of dos. Now for the much shorter list of DON’Ts.

  • Don’t bother your fellow writers. Plan ahead of time when you’ll meet up to read aloud, commiserate, etc. Breakfast and dinner are usually good times to meet.

  • Don’t beat yourself up, but do reward yourself for meeting goals.

  • Don’t waste all your time on social media. If you MUST Facebook or Twitter, save it for break time.

  • Don’t make unrealistic goals. I said this earlier, but it bears repeating. If you aren’t a writing sprinter, don’t expect to suddenly change your habits. If you’re a slow writer, plan for a scene or two, and then make it happen.

What advice do you have for writing retreats? What’s your favorite part of getting away from it all? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks to Martha J. Allard and Melodie Bolt for the suggestions. I’ll see you on retreat!

Pitch Wars 2017: #PimpMyBio

Pitch Wars 2017 is here and I’ve decided to join in the mayhem. (Not sure what Pitch Wars is? Check out Brenda Drake’s blog HERE.) Below you will find a post that shamelessly pimps two things very near and dear to me: myself and my writing.

The left picture, where I look like a slightly distracted vampire, is my author photo. The right picture (that’s me on the right and my husband on the left in case you’re confused) is more of what I actually look like. Notice the cats, there’ll be a quiz later.

About Me:

  • I’m addicted to Starbucks, cats, and Oxford commas.
  • I LOVE learning. I’m the weirdo who enjoys writing research papers, listening to lectures, and taking tests. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and work full time as a sonographer. I’m also very modest. (Hard to believe, I know.)
  • I’m painfully introverted, but you can woo me with cat videos, alternative music, and bacon.
  • I live in Michigan but hate snow. Please pay me to move somewhere warm, preferably Key West. I like houseboats and sand between my toes.
  • I have a Forrest Gump quote for nearly every situation.
  • I love cats.
  • I have 4 cats. (Frodo, Minga, Lennox, and River.)
  • Did I mention cats?

About My Writing:

  • I write and read young adult. All genres, all shapes, sizes, and colors. If there are teenagers, give it to me.
  • I recently completed the Story Genius course and extension course from Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. I also spent three months working on Hiding Hudson with a book coach (the ever wonderful MG Pitch Wars mentor, Julie Artz!) through Author Accelerator.
  • I tend to write about things that make people uncomfortable: depression, chronic illness, suicide, etc. My goal is to put a human face on the “issues” so they become tangible, relatable people instead of just concepts.
  • My short story, “Distraction,” is available in NYC’s Subway Library. (Possibly the coolest opportunity I’ve had yet!)

About Hiding Hudson:

Eventual suicide has been on Hudson Trent’s mind since his early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease appeared. He figures he has a few good years left, but when his older brother Coop, who’s debilitated by the same disease, wants his life support pulled on national TV, living and dying suddenly terrify Hudson equally.

Unable to face losing Coop, Hudson escapes to the top of a twelve-story building, ready to jump. But he’s interrupted by Remi, a firework of a girl with a suicidal plan of her own. She’s not interested in saving Hudson’s life, only filming a video that will turn their final hours into the ultimate suicide note.

The last thing Hudson expects is for Remi’s honest spontaneity to uncover a side of life he’s never known. When their night of firsts and lasts fades into morning, Hudson finds himself back on the ledge. There he must decide what makes death worth chasing, and what, if anything, is reason enough to keep living.

HIDING HUDSON, a 65,000 word Young Adult Contemporary novel, will appeal to fans of ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven and MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES by Jasmine Warga.

Ways To Love Me:

Best of luck to everyone partcipating in Pitch Wars! “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.” -Forrest Gump

Overhauling

For the past (almost) year, I’ve been surrounding myself with new writerly types. By new, I don’t mean new writers, I mean writers new to me. I’ve been basking in the shiny newness of their ways. And I’ve been learning.

Tuesday, I tuned into Jennie Nash’s AMA (Ask Me Anything). You can watch here. She holds them every Tuesday on the Author Accelerator Facebook page and answers any questions about writing and publishing. If you’re not familiar with Jennie Nash, YOU SHOULD BE. This woman is a wealth of writerly knowledge and she gives so much of it away for free. (And she has the best laugh, I swear.) Jennie Nash is the founder and Chief Creative Officer of Author Accelerator and she’s a book coach. Look her up, you won’t regret it.

During her AMA, Jennie talked about how the world does not want or ask for our writing. Yet here we are, day after day, month after month, toiling away at something that the WORLD DOESN’T WANT.

Wait, what?

As writers or artists or any creative type, we are harnessing our passion, something that no one else might ever care about, and we are pouring all our time and love into it. I won’t be the first person to say that writing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. You’re definitely not going to finish writing a book if you don’t love it. And then you have this thing that nobody asked for, and it’s such a subjective thing, an endless feedback loop between writer and reader. Everyone filters our words through their own world lens. Which means two things:

  1. Some people will LOVE it.
  2. Some people with HATE it.

It also means there is truly a market for anything that is well written. (And probably some things that aren’t so well written. You all know what I’m talking about.) There is a remarkable amount of hope in that. So, future readers, I’m thinking about you. XOXO.

Jennie also talked about marketing and how the brunt of it falls on writers (as if we don’t have enough to do with all the writing and brooding and drinking!). This got me thinking about the book Be the Gateway I picked up from Dan Blank a while back. Those of you who know me well know how much I despise marketing. I bought Dan’s book because Jennie raves about it. Then I let it sit beside my bathtub because that’s where I was going to read it. I suddenly discovered a deep love of showers, Dan, I swear. But Jennie said to make yourself do it. To learn, to grow. It’s part of the process. So, I opened Dan’s book and I read.

I’m only 70 pages in and already I feel my insights shifting into something different, something more productive. What if marketing doesn’t have to suck? What if it can be fun? What if I told you this blog post is a result of Dan’s suggested marketing? Go get yourself a copy of Dan’s book Be the Gateway. It’s inspiring. I’m sure you’ll see more and more of his suggestions popping up on my blog, which will be getting an overhaul in anticipation of Pitch Wars, which begins August 2nd.

Look for more frequent updates and peeks inside what I’m working on. I don’t want to be a ghost who only shows up when I’ve got news, after all!

What I’m reading now:

The Secret Garden (audiobook) by Frances Hodgson Burnett – A MUST classic. I remember reading this in school or possibly only watching the movie. Been listening to the audiobook in the car with my son, Patryk. Hands down for sure the book is better than the movie. I also think it’s a good example of tying up loose ends by the end.

Be the Gateway by Dan Blank – See above. Loving this book. Will post more about it as I progress.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate – I have one chapter left. Redgate is a fantastic, witty author who takes on major things, such as bisexuality, cross-dressing?, and acapella. Not necessarily in that order. Redgate recently announced this book was optioned for television. It’s a bit like Glee meets Pitch Perfect, except with more coming of age bits.

Now I Rise by Kiersten White – And I Darken, the first book in this series is one of the BEST BOOKS I’ve ever read. Lada is a fierce, mean (often justified) girl, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about her. Kick ass girls are the best thing ever.

Cruel Prince by Holly Black – I love Holly Black. Guys, I have a big old crush on her. Cruel Prince was dark and fierce and I read on her Facebook today that just she finished the sequel. I need it in my hands!! Unfortunately, Cruel Prince doesn’t release until 2018!! Soo long for you to wait. Preorder!

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera – Silvera is possibly the nicest most down to earth person you will ever meet. He’s sincere and sweet and I just love him. Aside from that, he’s an AMAZING writer. Just try not to cry reading his work. Try. I dare you. They Both Die at the End is available in September – be sure to preorder!!

 

 

STRENGTH IN UNLIKELY PLACES

I think as children we look at the world with an innocent wonder. The people surrounding us are meant to be trusted, not suspected. As we grow into adulthood, that wonder and trust is challenged by experience. We get hurt. We have our emotions taunted, our decisions questioned, and we learn that the world is not a safe place. It’s not even a welcoming place.

When I wrote Reflection Pond, Callie’s childhood shaped her character into someone I consider unwaveringly strong. She’s not flawless, but a road map of scars from every experience that nearly broke her. Nearly being the imperative word. She’s a survivor, she’s cautious, and though she’s suffered terrible abuse, she still holds that childlike wonder that the world, in general, isn’t a despicable place.

Throughout the series, Callie’s fragile trust is challenged. She learns that family is not synonymous with love and sometimes friendship come from the most unlikely of places. Most importantly, she realizes that trusting others is nowhere near as important as trusting yourself. I won’t give away the ending of Torch Rock (which releases April 26th! Preorder here.), but I will say that Callie in the final installment is miles away from the scared girl who fell through the Reflection Pond.

Callie’s character is based in part on my own experiences. I’ve seen betrayal firsthand. I’ve breathed it and lived it. It took time and no small amount of tears, but I found a way to drag myself off my bathroom floor and overcome devastation. There isn’t a recipe for climbing out of an emotional hole like that, you only have to have the determination to know that this isn’t the end. After all, if you’re reading this you’ve already survived every bad day you’ve had. Look at you! 100% success rate.

A lot of people have said they can’t relate to Callie or connect with her. Perhaps this has something to do with her horrific past. Violence and abuse leave marks on you. Though hidden, these marks admit you to a private survivors club.  Maybe relating to her comes with a price. Maybe I’d rather you couldn’t relate.

I’m proud of Callie. I know that readers love a strong female character, someone who takes no shit and kicks ass. But Callie isn’t that character. Sure, she can fight. Sure, she has cool faerie powers. But Callie’s real strength comes from her unwavering belief that she will find her place in this world, no matter how many times she has to pull herself to her feet.

I think, at the end of the day, regardless of our differing pasts, that’s all any of us hope for.

WHAT I LEARNED AT THE MICHIGAN WRITING WORKSHOP

Yesterday I attended an amazing conference hosted by Writer’s Digest featuring Chuck Sambuchino as the speaker. If you’re not familiar with Chuck’s work, YOU SHOULD BE. I’ve been using Writer’s Digest, and Chuck’s blog specifically for YEARS. You’ll find all kinds of good stuff over there about writing queries, querying agents, and even which agents are brand new and building their lists. I’ll wait while you explore.

While a lot of the conference discussed things I already knew, I did take some notes to bring back for you guys. Not only was Chuck Sambuchino awesome, I participated in “Writer’s Got Talent,” where a panel of agents read the first page of manuscripts and critiqued them. But we’ll get to that later.

Let’s talk about queries first. Everyone who’s ever queried knows how much writing a query SUCKS. As in, sucks the life out of your soul. It’s hard work choosing the right words. Agonizing, even. So while I won’t reiterate everything Chuck said (he has books for that kind of thing), I will hit on a few important points that I wrote down regarding query writing.

  1. Intro – Get in and get out quickly.
    1. Use the first sentence to give the technical details of your work. Genre, word count, title. Giving the genre first tells the agent how to feel about the query. (Don’t use a hook. Usually a hook is confusing and not explained until later anyway. Using an intro is the safest, most harmless method.)
    2. The second sentence is the reason you are contacting the agent. (Saw them at a conference, you read that they like super-secret spy thrillers on their blog, etc.) Side note—don’t say you’re contacting them because they rep BIGGEST BEST SELLING BOOK. Chuck suggests that you look farther down in their list and choose a book that wasn’t a best seller, but that the agent likely loves anyway. This will make you stand out because everyone else is using the best seller.
  2. Pitch –
    1. 3-10 sentences (Think back cover of a book.)
    2. DO NOT reveal the ending.
    3. Use specifics. Do not use language that has more than one meaning. (Don’t be vague or use cliché “suspense” tropes.)
    4. Read the back of debuts at the bookstore and see what language draws you in. Apply this to your query.
    5. Use evocative language that will “paint a picture” and help the agent know the tone of your work.
    6. Beware of subplots, extra characters, and proper names. Try to limit the number of names you use in the query, especially if they’re hard to understand (unusual, foreign, made up for sci-fi). Mention ONLY the main characters.
    7. Don’t say “My novel is…(funny, heartfelt, terrifying).” Show it within the query by using the right words to evoke a response.
    8. Some random things I wrote down –
      1. What does the character desire?
      2. What things go wrong?
      3. Layers of conflict.
      4. What happens if the character fails?
  3. Bio –
    1. Mention any serious and well-known writing groups. (SCBWI, for example.)
    2. Notable and relevant awards you’ve received. (Nothing from high school, please.)
    3. Any job where you’ve been paid to write, even if it was a long time ago. You don’t have to say it happened twenty years ago, just that you were a columnist at such and such a place.

Some DON’TS

  1. Don’t say it’s your first novel.
  2. Only pitch ONE THING at a time.
  3. Don’t mention how long it took you to write. Four weeks sounds bad. So does 10 years.
  4. Don’t use rhetorical questions. They sound silly and so do you.

The agent panel was immensely interesting and informative. Chuck read the first pages aloud and had the agents raise their hands when they would’ve stopped reading if this first page were a submission. Holy massacre! Sometimes we made it a few sentences, sometimes a few paragraphs. Very few authors had their first page read all the way to the end. This showed me that even though many of us think we’re ready to query, we’re nowhere near that final perfect submission. It also proved that agents read subjectively. Where one agent would raise their hand, another wouldn’t. Where one agent would love a particular turn of phrase, another found it cliché. (Want to know how my first page did? Ask in a comment and I’ll fess up!)

The biggest DON’TS the agents mentioned regarding the opening scene of a novel –

  1. Don’t use a phone call.
  2. Don’t have the main character waking up in the morning.
  3. Don’t use a description of the weather.
  4. Don’t use a dream.
  5. Don’t use a prologue. Some agents say ABSOLUTELY NOT to prologues. Better to be safe than sorry.

So what do you do? Put your character in the MIDDLE of an event or situation. Start with ACTION.

Later, Chuck told us not to fall victim to the TWO BIGGEST mistakes that get authors rejected. (And yes, I wrote them down for you.)

  1. The book starts too slow and is boring. (Start in the middle of something.)
  2. Too much info dump.
    1. Telling not showing.
    2. Description.
    3. Back story.
    4. Explaining the character motivation.

You want to give just enough that the reader isn’t confused because what you DON’T say is more interesting that what you DO. The unknown will keep the reader (or agent!) turning pages.

While I learned many more things from Chuck (he’s a FANTASTIC speaker), one last point really stuck out to me.

AS AN AUTHOR, SO MUCH IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR CONTROL.

This is true about So. Many. Things. Whether an agent will like your query or first pages. Whether they’ll pass or decide to give you a call. Whether you’ll actually sell your book even if you get an agent. Edits. The cover. The first run. Even if you self-publish, you don’t know if readers will like your story.

The most important thing you can do is WRITE THE BEST THING YOU CAN. (And be patient.)

All the best,

Kacey