I got rejected so you don’t have to

It’s been a while since I last posted on this blog as I have have been putting all my time and energy into sending my novel out to agents. I’ have had some favourable responses but no offers of representation just yet. Yep, the reject pile keeps mounting. That’s the bad news but the good news is you can learn from my mistakes and rejections so the same thing doesn’t happen to you! Here’s my top five tips for sending out query letters…

1. Write your query letter- but don’t send it till the next day.
Writing the query letters to agents is hardly the most exciting part of an aspiring writer’s process. It can feel like a chore and, just like any chore, you might be rushing to get it finished. Typos can be over looked and even if your reading something over and over again there might be glaring mistakes you are missing because you are just too close to it. So my tip is to write the letter but wait till the next day to send it. When you look at the letter with fresh eyes you’ll be more likely to notice mistakes than you would when you are desperate to just get the darn letter sent and finished with.

2. Name of agent + interview = RESULT
I always try to tailor each letter to an specific agent, the more specific my letters have been the more of a response I have gotten, even if it is a rejection. There is way more information on literary agents out there than you might realise, so much so that I always type into google the agents name and the word ‘interview’ and usually there are at least two or three interviews with agents and what they want/like/expect – or even hate – when reading a query. Some agents even have blogs and wish lists. There really is plenty of information out there if you take the time to find it.

3. Tease them!
You most likely will be asked to send a synopsis along with your work but you’ll have to give a little more information in the covering letter. I’ve had two agents request to see my full manuscript and each time I have given them just a little tease of the story in the letter- but not too much! You want just about enough info as you’d find on the blurb of a book. I usually write the hook first, then lead into who the main characters are before rounding off with the main plot line, maybe ending with a question that hopefully entice the reader to want to know more. Most agents say they are looking for a distinctive ‘voice.’ Along with the actual manuscript the query letter is the best place to showcase this voice of yours.

4. What next?
What’s your next project. A line or two about what you are working on next is probably a good idea to include as it shows you are serious about writing and you’re not just a one trick pony. Agents will want to represent someone who can write more than just one book.

5. The vital statistics
Something I always include in every letter is the word count and the age group the novel is aimed at, for example my novel is roughly 75,000 words and aimed at middle grade. Telling the agent this information means you have thought about your target market, so I’d quickly get to this point first. I also put all this information on the first page of the manuscript along with every piece of contact information I have, email, address, telephone number etc. As Rachel Stock puts it in her book the insider’s guide to getting published:

Always, always, ALWAYS (you can tell this one matters to me) put ALL your contact details on your covering letter and the submission itself. Make it easy for the editor or agent to contact you the way THEY want to…

Every story I’ve heard about a writer getting offered representation has had an agent ringing them on the phone to offer that golden opportunity rather than emailing. So there’s a thought for you, if they really like your work they’ll probably want to give you a call, best to slap your number down on that submission just in case!

The tale of how an aspiring author (almost) managed to hook an agent…

Listen carefully. Once upon a time I nearly managed to hook an agent. Not only that but it was the first agent I sent my manuscript to! Who replied the very next day! Asking to see my entire manuscript! Yes, it sounds like a dream come true…

I hope this tale will give anyone reading some tips on how to achieve the same magical result I experienced after sending out my work. But beware! This is also a cautionary tale. That agent who was so desperate to see my manuscript? In the end she declined it. I’m going to tell why. That way you won’t make the same mistake I did.

But back to the start. I was just as surprised as anyone when I got a response from a very successful and prominent agent, regarded as one of the best, asking to see my whole novel. She even went as far as to say she ‘really liked these pages,’ and wanted to know if I’d sent it out to other agents. It’s the kind of email aspiring authors dream of and I’ll tell how I think it managed to come about.

Firstly I looked up every agent I could find, the way most people do, using ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook’. It’s one of those books everyone in the publishing industry- or everyone who wants to get into the industry- should just have. But the book only serves as a beginning. The internet is where the real information on planet agentslies, as I’m sure everyone knows.

Of course, I read the submission guidelines and made sure each query letter was tailored to each agent, like anyone else would. But then I decided to do more. Every agent I planned to send my work to I typed their name into google and added the word ‘interview.’ Sometimes this gave me lots of results some times it didn’t. But most of the time you would be quite surprised to discover just how many interviews are lurking about online regarding certain agents. And this is the strange part, when I began researching agents this way I discovered even more agents I didn’t even know existed. The next part of my plan was to stalk their twitter. Yes, I mean stalk. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about a person from reading their tweets. The more you know about an agent the better. You can really begin to get a good idea if your work is the kind of thing they’d be interested in. Afterwards I went back to google and typed in the agents name and then typed ‘wish list.’ This is where I got some of the best results because the answers that popped up matched exactly what I had written in my novel. An agent declared a ‘children’s fantasy novel for middle grade set in our own world’ is what they want? Great! I knew exactly where to send my work.

There were even more things I did before sending off my beloved story. Some agents have blogs. Sometimes on these blogs they will go into great detail about their likes and dislikes when receiving a submission. You would have to be an idiot not to make use of that kind of information! Some agents even pop up on youtube where they go into even more detail about what they want from a submission. My advice would be to literally wring the internet dry on each agent, till you have read every possible thing you can. I even found information on what agents look for in the opening paragraph to a manuscript. Then I changed the opening of my manuscript accordingly. Why not? And here’s the thing, once I did make those slight changes the opening was all the better for it. Eventually, between tweaking my manuscript and selecting an agent who was looking for the type of novel I’d written to begin with, I found the perfect agent. What she was looking for was exactly what I had written. The funny part is she wasn’t even on my original list for some reason, but I’d managed to discover her along the way. From reading her twitter, interviews, wish lists and looking up every single one of her existing clients and even reading a book by one of them, I knew she would be the perfect agent to send my novel to.

So I did. I wrote the email. I attached the first three chapters. I clicked ‘send.’ Scary isn’t it?

As scary as it was I was totally elated the next day when I got a response. She wanted to read the entire novel! I’d been imagining a long three month wait only to receive a rejection so when I got this eager and super-speedy response I was quite literally over the moon. I danced around with the dog in my flat. I went into work and caused everyone to ask ‘what’s going on with you? Why are you so happy?’ Let me assure you, when an agent asks to see your full manuscript it’s as good as you imagine it to be, times about a trillion. And that putting it subtly.

Then a few days later the dream ended. She wasn’t interested in taking it further. Why? One simple answer.

THE MANUSCRIPT WASN’T READY!

After all the effort I had gone to in researching agents I had forgotten- no, neglected- to go over my manuscript those final and essential last few times. The first 3 chapters might have been good enough but I hadn’t shown the same care and attention to the rest of the novel. The story, according to the agent, tended to be long winded at times and didn’t drive through in the way she wanted it to. While she assured me I could write and was onto something she wasn’t interested in pursuing the novel any further. Crash! Bang! Burn! Yep, I’d come hurtling back down to earth with a thundering thud. Ouch. I felt like Frodo might have if he finally got to Mount Doom, was about the throw the ring into the fiery abyss… only to have a orc jump out, grab the ring and hurry back to Sauron, leaving Frodo-me standing uselessly on the precipice, waving my fist at him as he disappeared with the ring and my literary dreams.

And here’s the lesson of the tale. Don’t send your work out till it’s ready. And if you think it’s ready, guess what, it’s not. Take a break for a month. Come back to it and edit. Take another break. Come back and edit again. I can see now how right the agent was about my work. I went through and deleted over 5000 words. Some of them were sentences but most of them were merely words clogging up sentences. Imagine if your manuscript managed to get 5000 words lighter? No scenes or story lines need to be cut out, just the useless words that don’t even need to be there in the first place.

So there you have it. My tips on how I managed to intrigue the very first agent I sent my work to… and my warning on how not to mess it up.