Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How it Works: An Intern Reads Your Queries

I just thought I would clear up some misconceptions people might have about querying and how it works at an agency. I can only speak to the way it works at my agency, but maybe it will be illuminating for someone.
We have an email address for submissions, and we start at the oldest email and work our way up to the latest, although we occasionally just skim through to see if there's something that catches our eye.

Generally, I at least read the first few pages of every submission, regardless of how stellar the query letter is. Exceptions are:

1. If English clearly isn't the author's first language. Their best bet is to try to get published in their own country, and then the book can eventually be professionally translated into English.

2. If the query letter is novella length. At that point, I've already spent more time than I would like on that submission and I haven't even gotten to the manuscript yet! And usually when the query letter is that long, I finish it without a clue what their book is about.

Also, I'm only an intern, and we are only allowed to respond with a form rejection letter. There are many times when I would like to give more specific feedback, but I just can't. Anything I say is as a representative of the agency, but not as an actual employee. So don't be offended by the form rejection letter. A lot of agencies don't respond at all, and we really do look at every submission.

We also get snail mail submissions, and there's nothing wrong with that, but to me, it just seems like a waste of money between the paper, printer ink, and cost of postage. It's much easier for us to respond to email queries.
So, what happens if I like the first few pages? I'll keep reading the full partial, and reevaluate at that point. That's when I ask myself, do I really want to keep reading this? Am I dying to know what happens? Am I invested in these characters? If the answer is no, I send the rejection. If the answer is yes, I request the full.

Then, the full may sit in my maybe pile for awhile before I get to it. I have many other duties as an intern: filing, reading other queries, preparing mailings, etc. A lot of the reading of full manuscripts happens when I'm not in the office. And I'm not even getting paid! I want to read your manuscripts, but it takes time.

But even if I request the full manuscript, two things may happen.

1. I may not finish it. I may get to a point where the plot takes a turn, or it really starts to lag, or characters become inconsistent. I'll send a rejection at that point.

2. Another possibility is that I finish the full.

At this point, there's three possibilities:

1. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't anything special. Form rejection.

2. I liked it a lot, but I'm not quite sure if it has that special something. I'll usually start reading another full, and if I'm more excited about that one, I'll probably reject the first one.  At the end of the day, I have to be really selective as to what I pass on to the agents.

3. I love it, and I want to read the sequel, and I'm so excited about the idea of it someday getting published.

If I really love it, then I'll write a reader's report. I'll start the report with a summary much like the jacket copy on a book. Then I'll write up what works and what doesn't. I'll write about the character development, exciting plot points, similarities to other books, and its potential to be published, among other things. Then I'll send that reader's report and the full manuscript to one of the agents.

Then I have to wait for them to get around to reading it. And the thing is, EVEN if I love it, and EVEN if I write the report, the agents might still pass on it. In fact, they probably will. They're very selective and with good reason. Taking on a new client is a big deal, and it takes away from the amount of time they have to spend on their existing clients.

So I hope that helped someone, somewhere. Time to go bury my head back in the slush pile.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Publishing Basics: Taking the Smoke out of The Smoking Gun - A Bookish Broad

"It is very easy to point fingers at 'the big bad publisher' when a story like The Smoking Gun’s makes the rounds, but without knowing the intricacies of the book business, I’d be cautious about placing blame and think about the broken promises made by authors signing contracts which they do not fulfill."

As a literary agency intern, I get to read contracts, and I've learned a lot about the business side of publishing. And that's the thing: publishing is a creative industry, but it's also a business, and at the end of the day, authors enter into contracts with publishers which are often fiercely negotiated, and just as authors expect publishers to hold up their end of the deal, authors must do the same.

I encourage everyone to write, but I firmly believe that not everyone that tries to will or should be published. And even of those that are, not all of them will be wildly successful. Many published authors have a day job. To be a published author in this day and age, requires a certain kind of personality. They have to be willing to have an internet presence, to do interviews and book tours, and above all, to work hard. You must deliver the goods/services (the novel) that you have legally agreed to provide on the date agreed upon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Love 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth'? 10 other teen reads you can't miss: 'Warm Bodies,' 'Tempest' and more | Shelf Life |

9. Dragon’s Bait by Vivian Vande Velde: 15-year-old Alys is accused of witchcraft and left out as a sacrifice to a local dragon. Instead of eating her, however, the dragon sets her free and together they plot the perfect vengeance against those who betrayed her. It’s the medieval Revenge, minus the smarmy sidekick, but plus dragons! (Hot dragons — and we don’t mean in the fire-breathing way.)

I was very excited to see Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde on this list. It was one of my favorite fantasy novels growing up, and her other novels, including Companions of the Night, also number among my favorites. I'm glad one of her older novels is getting attention. She's been writing forever, and if you're looking for a solid fantasy novel to recommend to a tween or teenager, you can't go wrong with something by Vivian Vande Velde.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Contemporary/Realistic Fiction | The Hub

"Contemporary is the core of YA fiction. It is what grounds genre fiction because the lived experience allows for building and understanding those stories outside of the real world. Contemporary fiction will never be a fad nor a trend."

Right now, I have a couple of full manuscripts on my to read list for my internship that are YA contemporary. I'd really like to find good YA contemporary because I've become so inundated with urban fantasy lately. This isn't to say that fantasy can't be realistic - some of the highest concept books feature characters whose struggles are so vivid and so relevant to our own lives - but there's nothing I like more than reading about the trials and tribulations of characters I feel could be my next door neighbors or my best friends.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Intern's Thoughts on Queries (Maybe Pick One Genre, Not Fifteen)

I came across this post about categorizing your manuscript in the query letter and it made laugh, since it definitely makes me think of things I've seen while reading the slush pile at my internship. Especially when she talks about the mistake of categorizing your manuscript too specifically. My fellow intern once read a query that said their work had fifteen genres. I also agree with her about having "killer pitch" and "tight, great polished writing in the actual ms." Regardless of genre, we all just want to read something that piques our interest and is also well-written.

She's also right about it not being true that agents just reject queries because of minor formatting issues or because you categorized your manuscript "incorrectly." Believe me, I have gone on to read the sample pages from queries that had more than just formatting problems wrong with them. Unless you sound like a stark raving lunatic in your query letter, I will probably read your sample pages. To me, I'd rather read a short and to the point query letter with a couple of typos than a novella length query - at that point, I feel I've invested all the time in your work that I can possibly afford.

"Agents are just people. People who love books, and who want to help facilitate the making of books. People whose job it is to advocate for authors."

This is so true! Like in any profession, I know there are agents out there who aren't the best, but the ones I work with truly love their authors and work really hard to sell their books all across the globe, to play hardball and get them the best possible deals, and most of all, they love discussing their authors' manuscripts around the office.
My basic, basic tips on querying fiction would be to read the jacket copy on every book you come across. Make a note of what works and what doesn't. When I read your query, I should know who the main characters are, what the inciting action is, and what complications will arise over the course of the novel.

So get out there and send out well-written queries, authors! And please have someone read it over. Writing is a passion, but getting published is a career, and you need to be professional. You wouldn't send out a cover letter without looking it over ten times; the same should be true of your query letter. Good luck!