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Researching Lit Agents: Some things to think about

8025427_1Here’s some inside scoop from my intern, Tara Slagle…

In order to find your dream agent or editor, you need to know who likes what, and what they’re accepting. If you do this, it could save you a lot of time and disappointment.

Finding the appropriate agent or editor can be tough, but luckily there are many resources that can help you in your search for “the one.” Helpful and trusted websites like Publishers Marketplace and Poets & Writers offer search areas where you can discover agents and editors based on what they represent. The annual edition of Writer’s Market or Guide to Literary Agents also offers advice and lists of editors and agents for your perusal. With so many listings though how do you know what to look for?

  • Determine your category: To begin, determine what category or genre your work fits into. Is it Romance, Fantasy? Children’s or YA? Whatever it is, you can filter out some agents and editors based upon what they represent or publish. If they don’t read what you write, there’s no use sending it to them; you’ll just end up with an inbox full of rejection letters and a lot of wasted time—who wants that?
  • Check individual sites: Once you’ve weeded out the professionals who won’t be interested in your work, check out what the remaining contenders are currently looking for. A great way to find this out is by checking their individual websites and blogs. Many agents and editors post what types of work they’re currently accepting—if they’re open to submissions at the present time. If that information isn’t available on their website or blog, look at recent publications they’ve represented or edited. If you’ve written a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars and the editor recently published a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure novel that takes place on Mars, unfortunately they might not be looking for another one so soon.
  • Think about market trends: Something else to consider when submitting is current market trends. This is usually  visible in the bookstores or on the bestseller lists. Here’s an example. Recently—as many of you know—dystopian novels have been very popular and successful (looking at you, Hunger Games and Divergent). Publishers rode the wave and dystopian novels flooded the market, with everyone hoping to find the next big book. But now, after reading countless submissions, and maybe even working on a few, a lot of agents and editors are tired of reading dystopian submissions. They just don’t want them.
  • Set it aside (if needed): What should a writer with, for example, a dystopian (or vampire/demon, etc) do with their manuscript that they feel is hot and ready to submit? If the market is saturated it’s likely you’ll get more than a few rejections. That’s the unfortunate truth, but there is hope: even if you’ve missed a trend, most things come back around. Just because you can’t send it out now doesn’t mean you never will. Sometimes you just have to set a manuscript aside and work on something else until the world is ready again for what you’ve written.
  • Submit: But once you’ve got a list of potential agents and editors, check out their submission guidelines. Publishers Marketplace, Poets & Writers, and the annual Guide to Literary Agents usually have up-to-date instructions for how to submit to each individual. Follow the submission guidelines and hope for the best! If you’ve done your research correctly, you may just get the good news!

Here is a list of helpful links:

Poets and Writers: http://www.pw.org/

Publishers Marketplace: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/

Writers Market: http://www.writersmarket.com/

Query Tracker: http://querytracker.net/index.php

Writers Digest forum pages: http://www.writersdigest.com/forum/

Agent Query: http://www.agentquery.com/

 

0Tara Slagle is Linda Epstein‘s current intern. Tara is working toward her M.S. in Publishing at Pace University. After completing her degree she plans to work in the publishing world as either an acquisitions editor or literary agent, focusing on YA and (the emerging) New Adult titles. 

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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Query Letter

photo 1Make sure you’ve sent your query to someone who wants to read it. Does the agent to whom you’re submitting represent the genre that you write? You’re wasting your time (and the agent’s) if you write YA fiction and they don’t represent kidlit. Just because you’ve “done your research” and you think Perfect Agent For You is really cool, they like the same things you like, they have a neato online presence that you love to follow, they say funny things on Twitter, does not mean they are going to throw their stated preferences of what they’re looking for out the window and offer you representation on your vegan, gluten free, Wiccan cookbook for healing cancer, when they only represent fiction. Really. You’re not the exception to the rule.

photo 2Start with a strong hook or log line. Nothing makes me want to continue reading a query and take my finger off the delete button more than a great first sentence or paragraph. Your query letter is a sales tool. Think of it as an infomercial to sell your manuscript. If you start out boring, you’re setting up whoever’s reading the query to be bored (and to move on to something more interesting). If you start out fascinating, riveting, unique, or even funny, you’re inviting whoever’s reading your query to read the rest of it in that mindset. And the name of the game is getting that someone to read the whole query letter and be interested enough to read the manuscript.

photo 3When giving a short synopsis or recap, don’t go into too much detail. Don’t give away the baby with the bathwater. You don’t need to name every character and every situation, and you don’t need to retell the whole storyline. Tell enough about your story to pique the interest of the reader. Is your story about identical twins named Romulus and Remus, left on the abandoned Mars colony to die, who are raised by a Mars native that the Terrans don’t know exist? Excellent! Please don’t tell me how it all pans out. It’s enough to say that some of your story follows the Roman foundation myth, but that it’s just the starting point for your 95,463 word YA space opera. You can mention the key plot lines and themes, but please don’t tell all. Part of enticing someone to read your manuscript is leaving some questions unanswered.

photo 4Only put relevant information in your bio. If you are an award winning microbiologist who has spent the last 10 years in Borneo doing research to find a cure for a rare disease, don’t include that information if you’re submitting a picture book about an aardvark who prefers bananas to raisins in her morning breakfast cereal. Even if you’ve found the cure to the rare disease. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to your task at hand. And that task is to convey information about who you are as a writer. Are you a stay at home mother of three children, who likes to knit, volunteers 20 hours a week for your church, and has an awesome organic garden? Cool! If you’re submitting a legal thriller set in New Orleans in the 1920′s your kids, knitting, church and garden just aren’t relevant. Leave it out. It’s enough to say that you’re a graduate of UCLA, a member of Mystery Writers of America, have attended writing conferences for many years, and that this is your first novel.

photo 5Make sure you’re findable and that what’s found doesn’t scare people away. That is to say, include your contact information at the bottom of your query letter (email, mailing address, phone number) with links to your online presence. Agents and editors will click the links you include and/or Google you if they’re interested in your work. Make no mistake, if you’re someone who’s bashing agents and whining and complaining online, we will see it. We really will pass on a manuscript if you seem like a nutjob on Twitter or elsewhere.

Bonus advice: Don’t use as many italics as I did in this blog post and keep the number of exclamation points to a minimum!!!!

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Celebrating Success: My Buddy Kelly Light

I want to tell you all about Kelly Light, an author-illustrator friend of mine, who has been very busy recently, and will soon have her first book published that she not only illustrated but also wrote. Even though I don’t have the honor of being Kelly’s agent, and I rarely get to see her in person (we chat mostly online), I do count her as a friend and I find her absolutely inspiring. Kelly’s book LOUISE LOVES ART will be coming out on September 9th of this year by Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins.

I first met Kelly when I was still the oldest unpaid publishing intern in Manhattan, back in 2010. Kelly is a fantastic illustrator who was still trying to get her first book gig. But in the meanwhile, she had started a blog called Ripple Sketches. It’s no longer active, but the link is still here, if you want to check it out. Scroll down a bit to get a real feel for it. Ripple Sketches came about when Kelly just had to do something for the animals that had been affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She raised over $11,090 by asking other children’s book artists to donate sketches, and auctioned the pieces off for $10 each, to the first lucky bidder. Then she donated the money to organizations like the International Bird Rescue Center, The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, The Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Tri State Bird Rescue and Research. Well known folks like Mo Willems, Jarrett Krosoczka and Dan Santat donated sketches, as did many, many other artists and illustrators. The whole project was absolutely inspiring in so many ways. Kelly and I became friendly because my daughter did an internship, helping out a teeny tiny bit with Ripple Sketches. And because Kelly’s awesome.

After that I was still trying hard to break into agenting, and was reading for various agents in New York and Kelly and I  kept in touch. We’d commiserate about trying to break into the business. I knew how talented she was, and I just kept telling her to keep on keeping on. She faced some very trying times, even dealing with health issues that threatened her ability to draw. But she got through it, and triumphed. And she faced issues that all illustrators and authors face when trying to break into the business: the brick wall of being told NO. But she kept going. She made dummies. She made post cards. She sent out queries. And more queries. And more queries. She went to conferences. She blogged. And she kept a pretty cheery outlook (at least that’s what it seemed, anyway!). And then: she hit it!

Kelly’s first book deal was as the illustrator for Erin Soderberg‘s THE QUIRKS: WELCOME TO NORMAL. Since 2012 Kelly has either illustrated, written, or been contracted to illustrate, write, or both, 15 books. FIFTEEN BOOKS! Other things that are already out? THE QUIRKS: CIRCUS QUIRKUS and ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS. She’s also the illustrator for the forthcoming JUST ADD GLITTER by Angela DiTerlizzi and DON’T BLINK by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. And of course, LOUISE LOVES ART is coming in the fall (and is the first in a series!).

Why did I write this blog post, for someone who’s not even my client? First of all, because I’m so happy for my friend. But also, because I want every author and illustrator to know, your dreams can come true. Read other people’s success stories! Be happy for them. It feeds your soul.

 

 

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