One Writer’s Journey

March 27, 2017

The Nonfiction Proposal: Or Rebooting My Agent Search

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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At this point all of my agent queries are dead in the water.  I’m going to have to wait until I finish the book that I’m working on before I can get any more queries out there.

No, I’m not procrastinating.  The first batch of agents didn’t want proposals.  They just wanted a query letter and X number of pages.  I was kind of surprised since I thought most agents want proposals but I wasn’t going to argue.  After all, I had rewritten the manuscript for an editor who wanted to see it.

Apparently, wanting a proposal is still the norm at least for about 2/3 of the agents I’ve researched.  It is apparently just a coincidence that none of these agents were in batch 1.  So what goes into a proposal?

Overview: This section includes the specs (title, word count and hook), short description of the subject, target market (reader age range), and why the book is necessary.

Markets:  Who will buy your book. Include stats. My current book deals with a STEM topic so I will mention that.

Promotion:  How to get your book into the hands of those would-be readers.

Competing Books:  Other books on your topic published in the last 5 years.  How does your book differ?

About the Author:  Why are you the ideal author for this book?  

Outline: List your chapters and summarize each.  In my Abdo outlines, a chapter is 12 lines max.

Sample Chapters: What I’ve seen listed most often is 3 chapters of the finished book. 

The entirely may be 15 or more pages long but the bulk of that consists of the outline and the sample chapters.  The rest should be detailed but fairly brief. For a more detailed look at what goes into a proposal, see my post from yesterday on the Muffin.

Don’t let a missing proposal keep you from sending out your work!


March 8, 2017

Query Letters: Connecting with the agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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A query letter is a business letter.  Check.  That’s easy and straightforward enough that most of us get it.

A query letter is also the writer’s opportunity to connect with the agent.  But remember, it is still a business letter.

Did you hear the agent speak at a conference?  Then say so.  “When I heard you speak at the Mashed Mangoes SCBWI conference, your wish list included picture books about tropical fruit.  Enclosed…”  In much the same way I’ve reminded agents that we had dinner together as fellow conference speakers.

In much the same way, you should also let the agent know if your manuscript is a good match for a recent #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) post on Twitter or their profile listing on the Manuscript Wish List web site.  Just be sure to keep is short and simple.  “On March 2, 2017, your blog post included a call for …”  “Your February 22, 2017 #MSWL tweet …” You don’t have to quite them word for word.  Just mentioned the post, tweet or whatever.  This will let the agent know why you have chosen them and that you aren’t sending your work to every agent in the SCBWI directory.

But keep it business like.  If the agent likes dogs and you have a canine manuscript, say so but don’t gush on-and-on about man’s best friend.  If the agent tweeted about Firefly and you have a manuscript with the same feel, say so without confessing your undying love for Nathan Fillion or Gina Torres.

Loved her hair?  That’s awesome.  But keep it to yourself.

Think he has great taste in messenger bags?  Cool!  But don’t mention it.

You want to make a connection but you don’t want to come off stalker-ish, creepy or just plain strange.  I know, I know.  Most of us don’t need to be told that but my job at one conference was to follow the editor to the restroom and make sure no one bothered her while she was doing her business.  Yep.  I was a bathroom bouncer.

Make that connection but be professional.  As Cobra Bubbles would say in Lilo and Stitch, “Do I make myself clear?”


February 10, 2017

#MSWL Day: Boom or Bust?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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twitter-1138522_1920Were you one of the many writers checking out all of the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) tweets?  I planned to leave the feed up all day, stopping in to check every once in a while and read the latest posts.  But that plan went out the window when I got home from yoga and saw 400+ new tweets.

With so much being posted, I knew there was no way I could read it all.  So I’d scan the new posts when there were 20 or 40 but when I’d come back and find another 100 or more I simply refreshed the feed.

I know I missed a lot that way but I wasn’t too worried.  Toward the end of the day, I searched on a few key words.  #MSWL PB.  #MSWL picture book.  #MSWL  STEM.  #MSWL nonfiction.

As I found posts that interested me, I took a screen clipping and pasted them into a Word document.  All in all, I ended up with 9 leads.  Specifically, I was looking for picture books and nonfiction.  If I was looking for an agent who does young adult, I’d have had pages and pages and pages of tweets to go through.

There are three ways to see what a particular editor or agent wants.

Go to Twitter and read their feed.  This can be tough if it is someone who posts very often.

Go to Twitter and search #MSWL (agent or editor name).   This can be helpful if your target agents posts often.

Go to Manuscript Wish List.  Once there, search for your agent or editor of interested.  On their profile page, in the center column is a button that says “See my latest #MSWL tweets.”  Guess what?  Click it.  I’ve yet to figure out just how the tweets are arranged.  Not by date.  Not by reversed date.  Skim them and see if this agent still looks promising.

You can also like tweets as they are posted.  Then you go to your twitter profile and click likes.  Everything you liked is going to come up which might be a problem if you like a lot.

If you find a recent tweet that jives with something you’ve written, mention it in your query letter.  This is another way to show your agent or editor of choice that you’ve done your research.

Good luck!


February 8, 2017

Agents: Susan Hawk

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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moving-dayToday is #MSWL day over on Twitter.  If you have an account, be sure to pop over there and see who wants what in terms of manuscripts.

If Susan Hawk is one of your dream agents, note that she has moved.  Formerly of The Bent Agency, Susan is now at Upstart Crow Literary Agency.

Susan recently blogged about what she would like to find this past year.  She is interested in:

Picture books that click in terms of the childhood experience (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), concept books (Not a Box), great character stories like Olivia or Pigeon, and lyrical, informational books (Over and Under the Snow).  

Middle grade mysteries ala US Agatha Christie, edgy and dark stories that push boundaries, contemporary stories with STEM interested female characters, historical fiction, and fantasy.

Young adult stories that focus on family, siblings and strong parent/child relationships, rich world building, non-Euro American historical fantasy, science fiction that deals with changes that might happen in our lifetimes, epistolary novels, unreliable narrators and more.

Good luck on your agent searches!   I still have two pitches out and am getting ready to work on a third.



February 7, 2017

Warning! Warning! How to Know An Agent May Not Be Legit

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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agent-legitSince I’m looking for an agent, I’m paying more attention to what other people have to say about their own agent searches.  There are a lot of great agents out there but there are also people who call themselves agents but don’t get the job done.  Here are some warning signs.

First things first, just check for “official” recognition.  As with many professions, agents have a professional organization. Is the agent or their agency a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR)?  Go here to search for agents or agencies.

Does this agent charge a reading fee?  If so, scratch that name right off your list.  Money should go to the author not the other way around.  The agent gets paid when he or she sells your work, not before then.  Reading fees are a bad, bad sign.

Who do they work with?  This is a two-fold question.  First things first, I’m suspicious when an agent won’t name clients.  That makes me wonder if the so-called agent has clients.

But also check to see who publishes their clients work.  You want an agent who can open doors that you can’t.  A friend of mine was offered representation by an agent who would only submit her work to open houses, places that will take unsolicited material from the authors themselves.  Again, that’s a good time to say adios.

Also, pay attention if someone to that uneasy feeling that you get when you look into someone.  A friend recommended an agent she had met at a conference.  Remember, anyone with a checking account can attend a conference.  I checked the agents website and . . . something just wasn’t right.  It didn’t feel professional.  I never could put my finger on it but it turned out that this person was taking in manuscripts and then nothing.  No one really knows what happened but she wasn’t sending work out, had no relationships with publishers, etc.

I don’t think I’m an overly suspicious person but there are people out there who are more than ready to take advantage of an unsuspecting writer.  Check an agent out and if they aren’t listed with the AAR, want money to read your work, don’t seem to have clients or ins with publishers or just make you squirm, pick up your things and leave the table.


January 25, 2017

Agents: The Great Agent Search, Who Wants What and How to Pitch

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Agent HuntI currently have queries out to two agents.   They’ve had my work for almost a week and my patience is waning.  Yep, I’m a total three  year-old that way.  I’m pitching Puke-ology (chapter book nonfiction) and am eager to get a pitch out to another agent who represents picture books.

But wait!   I just read advice for an agent who says that you should not pitch two different projects at the same time.  The worry is that one agent will want one manuscript, but not the other, and another agent will want the other manuscript but not the first.  Ideally you want to find an agent who will like both manuscripts.

poutAnd, I get that.  I reeeee-eeeeee-eeeeally do.  But have we covered how like a three year-old I am?  This agent is only taking work through the month of January.  Pbbbt.  In reality I should look and see if she’s a good fit for Puke-ology. I know she reps picture books but if she only reps picture books, she really wouldn’t be a good fit for me. See how nicely I’ve argued myself into agreeing with the agent.  Yep.  I knew she was right all along but my inner three year-old had to get a word or two into the discussion.

Here is an agent who is currently looking for work:

Christa Heschke is an agent with McIntosh and Otis.  She represents picture books, middle grade novels (coming of age) and young adult (unreliable narrators).  Unfortunately for me, her nonfiction focus is on picture book biographies.  You can check out a detailed list of what she wants here.

Patiently waiting while prepping a few more letters to go out pitching Puke-ology.


January 3, 2017

Finding an Agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Agent HuntAlthough I did send out material to several agents last year, I think it would be stretching it to call it an agent hunt.  Hunt implies an active search and a lot of effort.  I printed things off.  I made a list of names.  I looked into about 20 people and ruled out a lot.  But I submitted to or queried very few.  I need to make a concerted effort to seek out agents and submit every month.

So what do I look for in an agent?

First things first, I look for someone who represents what I write.  I know it sounds a little obvious but a lot of people skip this step altogether judging by the number of agents I see complaining.  “I only represent romances, don’t send me picture books.”  “I only represent children’s literature.  Why do people send me erotica?”  Okay, I made up those two examples but you get the point.

I need to find someone who handles materials from picture book to young adult and both fiction and nonfiction.  Granted, I’ve sold very little fiction but I’d like to write and sell more.  Besides, the hard part is finding someone who is serious about nonfiction.

Second, I need to make sure they are accepting materials right now.  If this is an agent that I research in January but she is closed until March, she needs to go back in the March folder.

Third, I need to look at what they represent.  I’ve met a lot of agents whom I genuinely liked, and some that I really connected with, whose sales are nothing like what I write.  I couldn’t do cute to save myself.  I am, at best, your gritty realist and on other days I’m a bit more than gritty.  I need an agent with a similar outlook.

As I’m looking into what they represent, I need to make sure they don’t have someone whose work is too similar to my own.  After all, that author already has his or her foot in the door.

Today, I have my short list for January (Ed Maxwell, Molly O’Neill, Rena Rossner, Mark Gottlieb, and Clelia Gore).  Now I need to look at their clients/books.  Next week, I’ll be sending things out. Yes, it is a lot of work but it will be worth it to have someone representing my work.


December 28, 2016

Goals for 2017 and What the Bent Agents Want

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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Agent HuntOne of my goals for 2016 was the earn 50 rejections.  I failed miserably.  There are three reasons for this.

  1.  Many people simply do not respond NO.  If submission guidelines say something like “if you don’t hear from us in 10 weeks consider that NO,” I considered no response a NO.
  2. Others are just S-L-O-W and I am still waiting.
  3. Because many of my submissions are to publishers with whom I have a relationship, I got acceptances.  That really messed with my number of rejections.

To make my goal this year (100 rejections since I am starting this in January vs July), I am going to pitch to several agents a month so I was especially happy to see this post from the Bent Agency, telling what each agent wants right now.  Not surprisingly, some things really caught my attention including:

Gemma Cooper asked for “a MG or YA set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? Ideally a mystery.”  I love World’s Fair history.  Love it.  I don’t have anything along these lines but this sure would be a great book.  And it looks like she and I may have similar taste.

Molly Ker Hawn is looking for “Fast-paced, highly imaginative YA fantasy like REBEL OF THE SANDS” which I happen to be reading and loving.  So I think I have something that would appeal to her but it is largely still in my head.  Yep, that stinks.

Not quite but close.  What I need to find is an agent who wants sarcastic irreverent looks at reality as told through both fiction and nonfiction.  Where oh where are you my agent?  Of course, I’m not going to hook up with this person until I get serious about by search and submissions.  So with that in mind, I better get back to work…


July 21, 2016

Slush Pile Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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Palm, Hand, Human, Raised, Right, Open, Body, PartLast weekend when I was at the All Write Now! Conference, I witnessed my first slush pile reading panel.  It’s a little different from a first pages panel and works like this.

Conference participants get to turn in the first three pages of their manuscript.  During the session, the reader pulls a manuscript and then reads.  The panel, in this case mostly editors and agents, listen and when someone would stop reading he or she raises their hand.  Three hands up and the reader stops.  All of the manuscripts made it through the first page.  Many made it through the first three.

It was interesting to listen to the various panelists react to the manuscript.  Some of them told why they quit reading.  This was especially interesting when one person quit before the others.

Here are some of the things I gleaned from this session:

Don’t start with pure action.  If you do, the reader doesn’t know who the character is.  If the story is first person, they may not know gender, let alone age or anything else.  The reader has to care about the character and know what is at risk before they can really care about what is happening in the story.

Just as you can be too general, you can be overly specific.  Every time you mention the character’s car, we don’t need the model and color.

Summaries are a way of telling vs showing.  So are flashbacks.  If you have a flashback in the middle of chapter 1, trying moving it to the beginning of the chapter.

One of the most important things that I saw here was how subjective it all is.  One person might quit reading long before the rest of the group. Even when three people raised their hands, they did so at different points, some reading much more than others.  The lesson? Prepare your best work but understand that you may need to send it to many, many agents to find a good match.


April 28, 2016

Not Right for My List

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:52 am
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Book, Books, Bookshelf, Read, Literature, Heart, Hobby
“Not right for my list.” That’s one of those phrases that writers hate to see on a rejection letter.  It just seems to subjective.  What does it really mean? This week I read an interesting blog post on this by agent Janet Reid.  She pointed out that we all have a list.  Most of us just call it our reading list.

That made a lot of sense to me.  I’m not a huge fan of adult contemporary fiction.  Except for the Don Tillman series by Graeme Simsion.  I love those books!

And I love, love, love action books especially if they’re espionage.  Except for the one that I tried to listen to today.  I’m not going to pan an author by name but I wasn’t thrilled with the book but decided to give it one more try.  Ugh.  Not a rape scene!  And the rape of a teen yet.  Back in the library bag it went.  Maybe I should be more specific — I really like Suzanne Brockmann.

Urban fantasy?  Love it!   As long as it’s something like Jim Butcher’s Dresden files.  Unless it starts with sex.  Puh-lease.  Give me story and characters.  Not porn.  (And, yes, this would be another book that went back into the library bag.)

No matter what broad categories we love — I’m all for mysteries, sf, fantasy, adventure, spies and historical fiction — there are things we just don’t want to see.  You have to work really hard to hook me with anything about World War II because I’ve already read so much.  I love fantasy but I’m not a huge fan of faeries.  Never have been.  Snark, dark humor and sass are all good.  I don’t care what brand of shoes your character wears or where they play golf/yacht/summer.  I just don’t care.  Horse books — love ’em.  Dog stories?  Not as much.

I’m just a reader but if I was an editor or agent, this would be the literary baggage that I brought to my list.  Thanks to Janet Reid for helping me get a handle on “Not Right for My List.”


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