Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is Your Agent Search Making You Blue?

Query & Agent Questions from You Answered!

If anyone knows how hard it is to find an agent it's me. There are about 9 zillion writers out there and oh, I don't know, 3 agents! Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. It's tough out there, so I'd like to help if I can!

There must be something in the air, because in the last few months, I've been emailed by a number of writers asking advice on finding an agent. Given my own experience on the matter, I feel I've become a bit of specialist on Do's & Don'ts. Keep in mind these are my thoughts and every question can (and most likely does) have more than one answer. I've already emailed everyone back who's asked me these questions, but I thought it might be helpful to post for others! We are all in this together! So use what might help you and pay no heed to the rest! I've limited this to 5 questions, but if you have one of your own please feel free to ask in the comment section. I will do my best to be helpful! :)

1.If an agent requested material and I have not heard back in months, is it all right to call or email them asking for an update?

Simple answer: Email = Yes, Call = Big Fat NO.

Calling an agency in my estimation is a big no-no. Agents may find it intrusive and presumptuous. Most agents have hundreds, some thousands, of queries to go through and it's just not wise to call and ask for feedback. They simply don't have time and you're putting them on the spot, which makes people very uncomfortable.

Email, on the other hand, is a safe bet if they've already contacted you asking for more. A quick, polite one or two-liner asking if they'd had a chance to read the full or partial they requested will not get you rejected. If you get a rejection shortly thereafter it's not because you emailed them, most likely it's just a coincidence or your email reminded them they needed to reject it. Either way, at least you'll know! Of note: My requested full was out at NG for around 4 or 5 months, I emailed looking for an update. I got no response, but months later I got a call from them and got my agent! So, if you do email, and don't get a response, don't put too much stock into it! It may not be a rejection!

2. An agent wants my full! How should I prepare it?
I just spoke with a friend of mine over email yesterday who was wondering about this. The four people she emailed (including me) all pretty much had the same answer. Keep it simple! It's about the writing, not what it comes in! I sent mine in a yellow or white (whichever was handy) envelope, 9 X 12 should suffice, or whatever size will hold your MS snugly without having to fold it. I put a rubber band around the MS (no staples!) and a simple cover letter reminding them who I was. It's okay to add a personal line or a bit of humor. You don't have to be stuffy. Agents are people too!

3.I'm not getting any positive responses on my query? What should I do?

This is an easy one! I say read it to every poor soul you know until they too know your query by heart! Tell them not to be nice; you want the truth! Join an online group or writer's forum where you can throw your query to other writers and get their take. Absolute Write is a great resource for that. Warning: Some members can be well...ummm...harsh! Take it with a grain of salt. Don't get defensive, most people are very nice, and even the more prickly critics are trying to help in their not so gentle way. Not all critiques will be helpful, but gather all your feedback and use the comments that make sense. You will get some good ones! I was lucky enough to have my husband as a query letter guinea pig (or rat in my case) and I got a great response for fulls and partials.

4. What do I say if an agent calls me???
First off, it's okay to freak out! I did! (In fact, I screamed in my agent's ear!) They know you'll be excited, terrified, nervous and everything in between. Tell them that! Give them even more reason to be excited about you and your amazing writing! Don't get so excited that you forget all the questions you might have though! Since most of us our glued to our laptops these days, it makes sense to compile a short list of important questions you might have for the agent and save them on your laptop. Agents understand most writers don't know the industry like they do, so no question is too simple or crazy! Remember you're the talent! Agents don't expect us to be publishing masterminds, just to write amazing books! After a while the publishing knowledge will come too!

5. Should I get a lawyer to read the agency contract before I sign?
Well, I'd say this question is up for debate. If you've done your research on the agency and they have vetted sales with no complaints most likely their contract will be a good one, but if you feel you need a lawyer to look at the contract for whatever reason, then for goodness sake, go ahead and get one. A good agency will have nothing to hide. Most contracts are standard. %15 goes to the agent/agency; the rest goes to you, 20% goes to the agency in some cases, such as foreign sales, etc. My agency's contract was straightforward, so straightforward in fact, even I understood it! Yes, me! I did not get a lawyer. That's what little brothers in law school are for! If you can't afford to pay a lawyer (who can) there are a lot of lawyers who offer free advice to people in the arts, so check online and in your local area.

So there you have it! I hope this helps a little. This stuff seems so obvious to me now, but when I started my 13 month query road, I was an enormous dummy! In fact, if there was a book entitled, Querying for Dummies, my picture would have been on the cover!

Good luck to those sending off queries and happy writing to all!

xoxo -- Hilary

25 comments:

  1. Anonymous1/27/2010

    Great tips. Hopefully, this will be me squeeling soon.... :O)

    Thanks! Diane

    www.dianeestrella.com

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  2. Nice info, Hilary. I have a question. I have a pitch appointment at a conference in May with one of my top three dream-agents. I'm almost ready to query. My husband says I shouldn't send a query to that agent because it gives him a chance to reject me beforehand. That sounds right, but I'm looking for second opinions. Thanks!

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  3. Hi Kelly,

    I'm going with hub on this! Some may disagree, but nothing beats meeting someone in person. Your dream agent may become a little more invested in you after you meet, therefore spending more time on your MS, which they wouldn't have prior to a meeting!

    I hope it goes great! Keep us posted!

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  4. Great info Hilary, especially since I'm headed into the querying fray.

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  5. Carol Hicks1/27/2010

    I always wondered how we were supposed to send in a MS! Simple is always better and cheaper!

    Thanks for post!

    Carol

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  6. great Q &A...I'm still holding off on the querying. I only queried three agents, but one of them sent me a positive email back saying good hook concept, et cetera, but the MC comes off as a bit too harsh sometimes...So, I'm up to my eyeballs in editing scenes where she sounds like a bitch...Is it wrong to LOVE the editing process? haha because i do.

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  7. Amazing information! Thanks! I'll keep that in mind for when it is my time around the bend!

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  8. Thanks for the tips, Hilary. It's good stuff to be aware of. :-)

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  9. Thanks for sharing from your experience! All great info! The only thing disheartening about it is your "13 month query road". Sigh. Nothing in this business is fast, or easy. But we love it anyway! I will hopefully be ready to send out the first wave of queries in about a month. ::Crosses fingers::
    KristinCreative

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  10. ((Kristin))!!

    Don't despair! I look back on those 13 months and it seems like the blink of an eye! Seriously, once you've gone through it, you'll be so glad you did! Hopefully you'll get the call quicker than I did! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  11. Excellent info, little missy! I'm sure this will help all those without agents right now!!!

    XOXOX

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  12. Anonymous1/27/2010

    I'm glad you posted this! My friend was going to call an agent who has her partial for feedback! *runs to phone to tell her STOP!*

    Great Post!

    EM

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  13. Great tips. I just need to stop writing and start querying. :)

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  14. Stacey Mack1/28/2010

    Great info, thanx! :)

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  15. Great post. Query time can be very stressful. That much, I know. I appreciate your taking time to compile this. Also, thank you for the very encouraging comment today.

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  16. See what may happen AFTER you have landed an agent in our film The Agent! Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GskcQozYBk

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  17. This is very helpful! I wish I'd read it before I got my first request for a full from an agent, because I was totally in panic mode. I totally had not thought that far ahead through the process.

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  18. Guinevere! Welcome! I'm glad I could help, even if it's late in coming! You don't know these things until you them! Like I said, if there was a "Queries for Dummies" I would be the cover pic!

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  19. Hi Hilary
    Congrats on your book :) Thanks for posting this. I actually just sent out a bunch of queries for my second YA manuscript. Two of my rejections came back with comments such as, "your work has merit" and "your query is intriguing." Yet they were still rejections, it can be very frustrating. I had some close friends look at my query including an english major and a published author. Any advice?

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  20. Hi Kristen,

    Sometimes it's simply a matter of what the book's about. Is it a common theme, which many agents have seen before? Is there a way to make it sound far different than other books of a similar nature they may have encountered? It's tough to say w/o seeing your query, but trust in the fact that I know how hard rejection is. 175 times for me--no exaggeration.

    Kristen, hang tough! We're all here for you! Don't let your frustration bring you down. Keep going, keep trying and above all, keep writing!

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  21. Thanks :) Do you look at queries? It is frustrating but encouraging to be able to read the blog of someone who has made it! I am so happy for you! I will definitley keep on keeping on, because quite frankly whether or not I ever get published I don't think I could breathe without writing... SIGH. lol...

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  22. Lol I meant that the querying process is frustrating. Reading youre blog is encouraging :)

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  23. Kristen,

    I highly recommend www.absolutewrite.com. You can get an account under any crazy name you want and join a number of different crit groups, many of which are dedicated soley to the query letter! Gather all your feedback and see what comes up as a repeating issue. It's a great tool and you will get real, genuine feedback. I think the key is not to get your feelings hurt if someone is a bit blunt. Use or lose the info and move on! :)

    And sometimes it's simply luck of the draw. You could have the best query in the world, but if your book is about teenage aliens and the agent doesn't like teenage aliens, well, there is nothing you can do at that point! I had one agent turn down Nightshade because he didn't like rats! He told me if it were about dogs or something more his type of animal he would have asked for more! Ha, ha! :) Like I said, sometimes there is nothing you can do!

    Luckily my agent likes rats! At least the kind on paper! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

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  24. Thanks for the info :)

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