Tag Archives: agents

Tips for talking with agents in the wild

Chipmunk coming out of a hole.

Photo by Flickr user Tamia rayé

Since I’m headed to Midwest Writers Workshop in a couple days, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to conference etiquette. I’ve written about the value of conferences in the past (I met nearly all of my critique partners either at MWW or through people I met at MWW), but today I’m going to focus on interacting with agents and editors in the wild.

For some of us, agents can feel like the celebrities of the literary world. If you want to publish traditionally, these are the people you need to champion your book. You’ve done all your homework: you’ve written and polished an awesome book, written and polished a perfect pitch, researched the agents attending the conference so you know whom to pitch. You’ve practiced that pitch in front of mirrors and friends and your cat/dog/ferret until Sparky could recite it back to you. You’ve got sample pages and a query and synopsis ready for anyone — fellow writers, agents, editors, your waiter at dinner — who asks. You are Ready.

Being Ready is good. Being Ready shows you’re a professional. But sometimes Ready can cross over into pushy or overbearing. When interacting with agents and editors I like to keep the following in mind.

1. If an agent or editor asks what your book is about, feel free to tell them. But don’t make every conversation about yourself or your book. Agents are working during the conference, and some of them may see the downtime of meals or breaks between sessions as just that — breaks. If you’re forcing them to listen to a pitch, you’re making them work during their break. And please, please, please, don’t try to pitch to someone in the bathroom, or slide a manuscript under their hotel door. (Yes, I’ve seen this happen. No, the agent was not impressed.)

2. Agents love books as much as writers do. If you find yourself in a mingling situation with no idea what to say (as I often do), ask them what they’re reading. What are their favorite books they’ve read this year? You may find yourself in a heated Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin debate with a new friend. Conversations like these will also give you an idea of what the agent’s tastes are, should you decide to query them after the conference.

3. If you’re getting your work critiqued, come ready to listen. Critiques sting, and I know it can be tempting to defend your work when an element of it doesn’t resonate with a reader. Resist the urge. Listen, and take notes. When the critique is over, thank the agent/editor/other writers for their feedback. You don’t have to agree with all — or even any — of their comments. (Though if you hear the same thing from several people, you should probably re-examine that part of the piece.) You also don’t have to go home and edit right away. Take the time you need to absorb, decompose, and detach. Remember, a critique of your work is not a critique of you as a person or your skill as a writer. It’s a critique of this piece, and only this piece.

4. If an agent listens to your pitch and says your book isn’t for them, ask them if they would mind giving you feedback on your pitch/query. (If there’s time. Depending on the conference, you may or may not have time for some feedback or conversation built into your pitch session.) Again, resist the urge to defend your work during the critique. Be polite, and thank the agent for their time.

5. Remember, agents are people, too! It may seem scary at first to approach an agent or editor, but that agent or editor may be just as intimidated by all the authors in the room. If anyone — writer, agent, editor, volunteer — looks lost/overwhelmed, introduce yourself and ask how their conference is going. It would be great to meet your agent at a conference, but it’s equally great to meet a new friend at one.

Have I missed anything you’d add to this? Will any of you be at Midwest Writers Workshop? If so, I’ll see you there!


Lessons from the query trenches: subjectivity

Thumbs up and thumbs down. I’ve learned a lot from querying and applying for Pitch Wars, but the one thing I keep hearing from everyone, over and over, is that publishing is an extremely subjective business. Finding an agent — and eventually landing a book deal — is all about finding someone who falls in love with you book.

I’ve had multiple Pitch Wars mentors and agents express enthusiasm for my book, only to ultimately turn me down. My most recent rejection, while frustratingly vague, only helped to remind me of how much rejection is part of the business. The agent said she thought I had a good story but “it didn’t feel like quite enough.” She told me she couldn’t be more specific, but was responding to a gut feeling about my manuscript.

Yes, her response was disappointing. But it’s also just one person’s opinion. I’m experiencing a similar gut feeling with a book I’m reading now. It got multiple starred reviews and great buzz from a number of sources I trust, and had been on my to-read list for months. I finally picked it up the other day and … I just can’t get into it. I can’t even explain why. I love the voice — I’ve laughed out loud at several points. The characters are compelling, and the plot is unique and interesting. But for some reason I’m still not engaged. I’m half-way through the book and just have a gut feeling that it isn’t for me.

And that’s okay.

The flip side of this subjectivity, gut feeling lesson is that you never know who will fall in love with your book. The same day I got a gut feeling rejection from an agent, I had a patron at the library who I would’ve pegged for a Louis L’Amour fan (older gentleman whose wardrobe and demeanor just seemed to scream “western”) ask about the fifty shades trilogy. Without missing a beat, I put him on the waiting list for the books and directed him to a similar book we had checked in at the time. (He may have been a Louis L’Amour fan, too; I didn’t ask, and he didn’t volunteer that information.)

My point is, you could think your book is a perfect fit for an agent, and she just won’t connect with it. You could also think a certain agent would never consider your book, only to have him fall in love with it. So keep querying. Every agent who represents your genre. Because you just never know.

And it does only take one “yes.”

Have you had a similar experience while querying?

Why I entered Pitch Wars

Pitch Wars. For those not familiar with Pitch Wars, it’s a contest hosted by Brenda Drake in which published or agented writers volunteer to mentor an unagented writer, helping her polish her manuscript and pitch in preparation for the agent round when literary agents will view the pitches and request material that interests them. Chosen mentees must be prepared to edit their entire manuscript, and be willing to accept ruthless — but helpful! — critique.

While I would love to be chosen as one of the mentees or alternates, the chance to get my work in front of agents is only part of the reason I entered Pitch Wars. Contests like this are great ways to connect with other writers, even if your work isn’t chosen. Simply preparing to enter has already expanded my virtual network of writers — I’ve commented on multiple blogs, tweeted at a few mentors and fellow entrants, and added many forthcoming books to my to-read list that I might not have come across had I not been researching the various mentors to decide whom to apply to. I’m a chronic lurker on blogs and Twitter hashtags, and Pitch Wars has given me something to talk about and contribute to conversations.

You may have heard this before, but I think the biggest, most lasting benefits to contests like Pitch Wars are the connections you make with other writers. I’ve already made a few, and I’m still waiting to hear if I’ve been chosen as a mentee or alternate. Even if your manuscript isn’t ready for Pitch Wars, I encourage you to check out the mentors’ blogs and follow them on Twitter — you’ll probably find some people who write your genre or have the same favorite books (and maybe one of their books will become your new favorite!).

For those who don’t make it into Pitch Wars, Miss Snark will be holding a Baker’s Dozen contest soon. Check out her blog for more details!

Have any of you entered Pitch Wars? Are there other contests you’re planning to enter? Please share in the comments!

MWW Takeaways

Our extended writing family at MWW.

Our extended writing family at MWW

I just got back from Midwest Writers Workshop, where I learned a lot and spent time with some truly amazing people. The biggest takeaway for me this year was networking — lots of writers I know mostly on Twitter or only see a few times a year were there, plus I got to meet some new writers who weren’t previously on my radar. Gushing about the great times we had talking writing and life in general won’t help you any, so I’ll only say this about networking: I’m proud to be a contributing part of this creative, supportive community.

If you’re still writing in a bubble, I strongly encourage you to reach out to other writers. Whether you meet them at a conference or through contests or Twitter, having a supportive network is one of the best things you can do for your writing career. For contests, a great place to start is Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars if you have a completed manuscript. Even if you’re not ready to enter contests, just looking at others’ entries can help you meet people who write what you write. I know several people who met critique partners through comments on a blog contest — they had similar tastes and writing styles and decided to trade pages.

Besides networking, another thing that was mentioned a lot at the conference was the importance of knowing what publishing route you want to take before you start submitting. I already know I want to sign with an agent and publish traditionally, but that’s just one of many paths to publication. Writers can also submit their work directly to small presses, or they can choose to self-publish. I think different routes work better for different writers; ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you and your book. However, both agents and authors at MWW agreed that you should know what that is before you start querying.

Why? Agents like to control where they send their clients’ manuscripts. If a small press offers to publish your manuscript at the same time an agent is reading it, you may be forced to make some tough decisions. Telling the agent about the offer might make her more inclined to read your work quickly, or it might make her more inclined to pass on the project. You don’t want to hurt your chances at getting an agent (if you decide that’s what you want) because you’ve submitted to small presses, too.

So, know which path you want to take from the start.

Those are my two big business-end takeaways from MWW. I’ve already got next year’s conference marked on my calendar!

The Benefits of Writing Conferences

Midwest Writers Workshop. In two days I’ll be headed to Midwest Writers Workshop, and I’m really excited to attend craft sessions, network, and pitch my book to a couple agents! Last year, I attended MWW — my first ever writing conference — and it really jump-started my career. The other writers I met at MWW became some of my best critique partners — and best friends — and I’m looking forward to a reunion this year!

For writers who are on the fence about attending a conference, I highly recommend finding one in your area. Here are my top reasons why:

1. Opportunities to pitch to agents and/or get agents’ feedback on your pitch, query, or sample pages. This varies from conference to conference, but even just attending a panel where agents talk about the submission process and what they’re looking for can be a huge help. For those who are just getting started, or are just starting to query, conferences can teach you a lot about the business side of writing.

2. Craft sessions. I do a fair amount of reading about craft, but that can’t substitute for live sessions where you can ask questions and get feedback from both instructors and other writers. Last year, my favorite MWW session was a look at first lines taught be John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. This year, I’m looking forward to Daniel Jose Older’s sessions on writing the other, since one of my protagonists in my current project (not the one I’m pitching) is very different from myself.

3. Opportunities to network with other writers. So much of writing is a solitary activity. MWW was my first exposure to a living, breathing writing community. From the first minute — walking in from the parking lot, actually — I was talking with other writers, practicing pitches, critiquing and getting critiqued. It was so refreshing to talk with and learn from other writers, and I wound up meeting several of my current critique partners that weekend.

4. Opportunities to meet other writers. I’m listing this as a separate item, because not only did I leave MWW with new critique partners, I also left it with new friends. The people I met there have become some of my best friends. These are the people I will celebrate, commiserate, vent, laugh, and even cry with. People who know and understand what it’s like to be a writer, whether that means working through writer’s block or wading through the slush pile or being a member of the infamous “sub club.” Or, you know, people to talk about normal stuff like moving and kids and new jobs with. (Surprise literary baby shower, anyone?)

So, if you’re trying to decide whether to hit the conference scene or not, I say, do it! It is absolutely worth it. I can’t wait to meet up with the writers I met at last year’s MWW, and am looking forward to meeting new friends and CPs.

I’ll check in next week with a review of this year’s MWW. Until then, happy writing!

And if any of you are going to MWW, be sure to say hi!


When I visited my parents last week, they asked me to go through a box of things from my old bedroom (now an office). Mixed in with the high school marching band drill charts and trophies I got for participating in one year of various rec sports throughout elementary school was a folder from my early writing days.

I finished my first novel when I was seventeen. After seeking feedback from some friends who wrote and an extremely kind English teacher, I decided to try to publish it.

At the time, I had only my Writer’s Digest magazines to guide me. This was before the days of query tracker and agent blogs and even email queries. I went out and bought the latest edition of Writer’s Market and poured through the hundreds of fine print listings to find agents who represented YA fantasy writers. I chose five agents, wrote a query letter and synopsis using the samples in Writer’s Market as my guides, and printed all the materials and sample pages each agent requested. I bought full-sized envelopes and went to the post office to have my queries weighed so I could be sure to include enough postage.

Querying was a lot tougher back then.

I waited several weeks. Then, slowly, my SASEs started coming back with form rejections. Though the rejections were disappointing, I didn’t let myself get too upset by them. I’d written a book. I’d taken it seriously, and people who’d been in the business for years were taking me seriously. (Rejecting me, yes, but with the same professional courtesy they used to reject older, more experienced writers.)

But the best response I got came from an agent who included a handwritten note in the margin of her agency’s form rejection:

“I love to encourage young writers. While your work is not really ready for publication, it is a fantastic piece of writing for someone your age. Keep honing your chops and if you want to submit future fantasy novels, I’ll be waiting!”

Handwritten note.

Handwritten note on one of my first rejections.

These three sentences were some of the best encouragement I received as a young writer. I wasn’t devastated that she’d said my book wasn’t ready for publication. I’d read Writer’s Digest; I knew few people published their first novel. To get a personalized not from a literary agent felt huge.

Those first rejections encouraged me to keep writing. Years after I received that handwritten note, I still think of it every time I feel frustrated or stuck. I doubt that agent has any idea how much her words impacted a young writer, but I hope someday to be able to thank her and all the others — agents, writers, teachers, librarians, family, and friends — who have encouraged me to keep writing.

Who or what has encouraged you as a writer? Please share in the comments!

Query tips and cool things in writing

This week’s post is going to be a collection of fun things that I’ve come across or been working with in the last couple weeks. Since I’m deep in the trenches of querying, I’ll start with one of my new favorite blogs.

Query Shark

Query Shark. Query Shark has been around for years, and I’ve had plenty of people tell me to browse the “sharkives,” but until recently I’d only skimmed a couple posts. I wish I could go back now and tell myself to take a closer look when I first started writing queries, because this is hands-down the best resource I’ve seen for writing a polished query. Query Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid of Fine Print Literary Management) posts ruthless critiques of queries that guests have submitted, offering feedback on how to hook readers, trim lengthy prose, and more. My query is 1,000,000 times better at least, and I have ideas to improve it even more before I send it out to agents. I am not only am I more confident in my query, but I’m also applying these skills to my current WIP. Seriously, if you’re a writer and you haven’t read the sharkives yet, do it. Now.

Fourth Annual NaNoWriMo Pitchapaloooza

The Book Doctors. Send your 250-word pitch to The Book Doctors by March 7, 2014 for a chance to win a free pitch critique and an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for your manuscript. Twenty-five pitches will be randomly selected for online critique, and a winner from the group will be introduced to an agent or publisher. A fan favorite will also receive a free one-hour consultation with The Book Doctors.

They’re also offering free 20-minute consultations to anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. For more details, visit the Pitchapaloooza announcement.

Smith Publicity Book Publicity Consultation Contest

Smith Publicity. Enter for a chance to win a one-hour consultation with Smith Publicity and get your book uploaded to NetGalley, “a community of 100,000+ librarians, book reviewers, bloggers, educators, booksellers, and media” (including yours truly). To enter, write an essay of 500 words or fewer explaining why your book deserves publicity exposure. For more details, check out the contest description.


Every so often, an agent will decide to tweet about ten queries s/he has received with the #tenqueries hashtag. This won’t help you write your query, but I find it encouraging whenever I feel like I’m drowning in the slush pile. So many of these discuss basic mistakes such as not following submission guidelines that I feel better about my own queries.


I’ve discussed this before, but there was another #MSWL (manuscript wish list) day on February 26. I had fun reading about what agents want to see and favoriting a few tweets that matched my work. Someone even had the idea of collecting all of the #MSWL tweets on a single blog for easier browsing. Just remember that #MSWL is for agents. Don’t try to pitch your book on Twitter; instead, follow the agent’s submission guidelines. (Otherwise you may end up as one of the #tenqueries that give me a healthy dose of schadenfreude.) And finally, keep in mind that this is a very specific list; if your book doesn’t fit with an agent’s wish list, but it is a genre that s/he represents, query away!

Writers on a train!

Amtrak train.

Photo by flickr user dok1

This isn’t query-related, but it’s so cool that I had to include it. In an interview interview with Pen America, Alexander Chee said, “I still like a train best for [writing]. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Jessica Gross tweeted about it, and was surprised when Amtrak responded offering her a test run. #AmtrakResidency was trending on Twitter for a few days, and Amtrak is looking into whether and how to make this a recurring program. Check out this article in The Wire to learn more.

And now I’m off to polish my query. Have you come across any cool happenings or resources lately?