The Silent Treatment

Empty MailboxIf you’ve every queried an agent you’re probably familiar with the no response = not interested policy. This is when an agent/agency says if you haven’t heard from them within X-amount of time, they’re passing on your project. This isn’t a new policy. It’s been around for years.

Writers hate this policy. We get a little neurotic about it. Waiting to see if someone likes us – Ahem! I mean, likes our project – is hard. How can we know if an agent “just isn’t into us” if all we get is the silent treatment?

On the other hand, agents are busy. I mean busy! One agent reported getting 20 queries a day, and at the time of the blog-post, had 967 queries in her in-box. Is she supposed to send a personal email to all of them?

This has been a controversy for a while now, and there seem to be great points on both sides of the debate.

too much spamThe agents say:

  • Not having to send rejection letters means they can actually read more query letters, request more materials, and find YOU sooner!
  • An agent’s time is valuable! They’re busy. They have their normal day-to-day duties to tend to – like selling their client’s books!
  • It’s a business transaction. Do you get a response from every job you apply to? No.
  • There’s negative karma with sending out rejection letters.
  • Agents have the right to create whatever submission policy they like.

But… some agents also say:

  • Responding to queries gives them a “leg up” on other agents. Now they have the “kindness factor.”
  • They like to send responses because it allows them to feel like they have no loose ends.

Patience ImageMeanwhile the writers…

  • Find it discouraging. A no-response can feel harsher than a rejection letter. Does the agent not respect them or their time?
  • It can make a writer feel like they are in limbo. Did the query letter even get to the agent? Was it ever considered? Did it get stuck in the SPAM filter? (To combat this problem, some agents have created auto responders which let a writer know the query was received).
  • May the mass-querying begin! If a writer knows they aren’t going to hear from an agent for months (and possibly never at all), they may start to send out mass queries. Of course, this creates more letters in an agents in-box, and the cycle begins.

Is there an easy answer to this? No.

I think an agent has every right to conduct business any way they see fit. But I do have respect for those who have sent me a rejection letter in the past. It shows me they’re a professional and they respect me. Personally, I am more likely to recommend that agent to my writer friends (even though I was rejected).

As for us writers, I think we all need to take a step back and practice our skills of patience and perseverance. The right agent is out there waiting for us – and they will contact us when the time is right.

Patience

Want to read more about this subject? Check out these other interesting articles:

SCBWI Open Letter to the Industry

Agent Natalie Lakosil’s Opinion

Agent Rachelle Gardner’s Opinion

Agent Janet Reid’s Opinion

How to Think Like a Publisher

At the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference, senior editor Stephanie Owens Lurie shared her point of view of the publishing process. Her intention was to get the audience to think about publishing from the eyes of those on the other side. So here is what the publishers are think and how you can fit into the process:

1. Considering Books Submissions

  • One must ask what are the book’s merits? How well does the book fit with our list? Do we already have too much paranormal romance? Etc. What is the ideal publishing season for this book? How soon can we get it to market?
  • A publisher’s goal is to fill a hole as soon as we possibly can.

Tips for Authors Submitting:

  • Keep in mind a publisher’s strengths when you submit to them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the formats and age groups.
  • Research publisher’s lists. Go to the library or book store and look at what one particular publisher publishes.
  • Beware of something that is too similar to another book already on their list.
  • Don’t submit a book to a publisher in a category that they don’t publish.
  • Look at great resources like publisher’s marketplace online.
  • Polish your work! Get it ready to be put into publication as soon as possible.
  • Be flexible about your publication date.

2. The Pitch

  • In today’s market a lot depends upon your pitch.
  • The pitch helps the editor to get other people on board for your book.
  • The pitch helps marketing, publicity and sales have an edge.
  • The pitch helps book sellers to hand sell your book.
  • The pitch is how readers will spread the word about your book.
  • A sales rep has about 30 seconds to get a buyer interested in your book.

What An Author Can Do:

  • Develop a log line or elevator pitch for your book. Use TV guide movie blurbs as a way to figure out what makes a good log line.
  • Focus on story. Put your story into one sentence.
  • Example: __________ (Character) is so ______________(personality trait) that _________________ (such and such happens). This is a good way to start your query letter.

3. The Franchise

  • Your book is not just a story, it is a franchise. We want to produce multiple books from your story.
  • We are not looking for just one idea. We are looking for authors that can continue to produce books. (This doesn’t have to be a series). We are looking for authors that we can develop relationships with over time.
  • Chain stores like authors that have books coming out every year.
  • Getting a movie deal for your book is great! It helps to sell more books.

 

What An Author Can Do:

  • Help your publisher see you as a creator of a franchise, but don’t come on too strong. We want to see that you have ideas, but that you are also flexible.
  • Show that you have other ideas within the same age group, if you don’t write series. Your following will leave you if you go too long without publishing a book. Remember that the age group grows up fast and moves on to the next age group.

4. The Deal

  • Books seem to fall into three categories. There are the huge blockbusters (Harry Potter, Twilight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, etc.). Then there are six-figure books (Shiver, Fallen). And then there is everything else.
  • Publishing is a gamble. Not every book works.
  • Authors can be dropped when an advance doesn’t pay out, and often editors get canned as well.
  • Publishers are under a lot of pressure to find top talent.

 

Tips for Authors With an Offer:

  • If you are in a position where you have multiple offers consider the amount of money being offered. Is it enough to pay your bills? How will it affect the way the publisher markets the book?
  • Consider the marketing plan. Do you get to be a part of it? Do you like what the publisher makes?
  • Does the editor share your vision for the book? Does the editor have time for you? Do you have chemistry?
  • The speed in which a deal is made and the amount of money being offered are not the only important parts of a book deal.

5. The Media

  • You need to help sell your book!
  • Make noise to get your book attention!
  • Try and make personal connections with your audience.
  • Publishers want an author that they can promote. Having a fascinating back story can make you marketable.
  • You need to think about what inspired you to write your story. Does that help to market the book? If so, mention it in your query letter.
  • Your credentials can help sell books if they relate to the story in some way.
  • Do you have an active platform?  An active platform can sometimes be more interesting to a publisher than your publishing or writing credits.
  • Do you enjoy “pressing the flesh” – meaning meeting the people who will sell/buy your book – librarians, kids, etc.
  • Are you willing to promote your book online? Authors are expected to help spread the word in today’s marketplace.
  • Do you have an interesting presentation for school visits or book tours?
  • Share all of the above with your publisher and together you can build a marketing plan for your book.
  • Remember, editors have expertise in the market, so don’t be too demanding or disappointed if they shoot down an idea.

6. The Gatekeeper

  • The gatekeeper is the bookseller. These are the stores, outlets, chains, etc.
  • Books sell for two reasons. One, it is something that the store thinks the customers will busy. Two, the bookseller has an emotional connection with the book.
  • Booksellers take the heat when things don’t sell well.
  • Sales representatives build relationships with booksellers. Sales reps consider who will want what type of books and over time the buyer will begin to trust the sales reps opinions.
  • Large booksellers (Barnes and Noble, etc.) like to have custom content. A B&N exclusive – new chapters of the next book, etc.  This type of thing is unlikely however with a first book.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Be careful of mature content.
  • Introduce yourself to your local bookseller.
  • Inform your editor if you don’t see your book for sale at a local book shop (not the big chains, smaller stores).
  • Develop ideas for custom content.
  • Trust your sales team.

7. The Consumer

  • Most children’s books (picture book through middle grade) are purchased by adults. These are usually women (mom and grandma).
  • Teachers no longer buy trade books anymore due to the introduction of “No Child Left Behind” as they are not focusing attention toward test scores.
  • Things that turn off Mom and Grandma: Bratty kids, lots of text, depressing stories, odd names. Etc.
  • The Cover is often the most important thing in making a decision to buy a book.
  • Teens usually buy their own books.
  • Teens are looking for classy covers. Books have actually become something of a status symbol within the teen world.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Come up with sales handles from the start.  What makes your book different? What will make a consumer pick it up?
  • Compare your book to the competition.
  • Think about packaging. If you have image ideas share them with your editor.
  • Trust your design department.

8. The End User

  • The end user is the kids.
  • Publishers and authors have the same goal – we want to deliver a high quality work in a kids perspective, and grow a readership.

 

What an Author Can do:

  • Write for kids and not for ego gratification.
  • Writing is not just an art form, it is a form of communication (with kids).
  • Put in the time.
  • Know your target audience and don’t condescend to them.
  • Interact with your fans! Go to schools!
  • Answer your fan mail. Interact.
  • Don’t leave your audience hanging. Write the next book!

 

9. The Future

  • For content providers (you) there are so many new ways in which to reach your audience (the kids).
  • Remain competitive, innovative, and profitable.
  • Embrace technology! Publishers are looking for creative people who want to enhance the way in which they communicate.
  • Don’t distrust the future. Be a part of the creative discussion with your publisher.
  • The rights landscape is constantly changing. Be patient.
  • Think about the bigger picture.

10. The Author

  • It’s your job to tell the story. It’s the publisher’s job to sell it.
  • If you and your publisher are thinking along the same lines, then it makes everything easier.
  • Be strategic from submission to final decision.
  • Be willing to promote your book.
  • “I need your book in order to get a raise.” – Owens Lurie

The Ideal Author Will Be:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

About Stephanie Owens Lurie and Disney Hyperion:

  • Owens Lurie is the editorial director and oversees other editors.
  • Disney Hyperion creates non-Disney content.
  • They publish about 100 books a year. 75 of those books are original, and 25 are reprints.
  • Owens Lurie has been in the editorial business for 30 years. Previous places of employment include Little, Brown and Penguin.
  • Owens Lurie edits about 15 books per year herself.

Check Out Notes From the Follwoing Q&A of This Session Here:

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

The How and Why of Acquisitions at Delacorte Press

Executive editor of Delacorte Press, Wendy Loggia, spoke at the 2009 SCBWI Conference and gave a special insight into the imprint. Read on for details about Delacorte, how to get on their list, and what Wendy Loggia hopes to find in her in-box.

A Bit About Delecorte Press:

  • Delacorte  is an imprint of Random House.
  • Delacorte focuses on middle grade and teen books. They do not do picture books.
  • Delacorte publishes books that are both literary and commercial. A good literary example is Hattie Big Sky. A good commercial example is Secrets of Bee. Delacorte is specifically looking for books that straddle both worlds (commercial and literary).
  • Delacorte has a great history and back list including Judy Blume.
  • Delacorte also likes to promote their new writers, so they don’t get lost on the list and overshadowed by the bigger names. They send out a nice glossy brochure promoting new writers each year.
  • Delacorte has an all female staff. They are always working 2 years in advance. However they can “crash” projects to give a book an earlier release date.
  • Delacorte has a writing contest every year where they publish the book of the winner. They have a middle grade and a YA contest. However, there is not a winner every year if the work isn’t up to par. Writers found through this contest include Joan Bauer and Christopher Curtis.

A Bit About Wendy Loggia:

  • Wendy Loggia is the editor of such books as: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Magic in Manhattan Series by Sarah Mlynowski, and Going Bovine by Libba Bray.
  • Wendy Loggia reports to Beverly Harrowitz. However Loggia has a lot of power and if she wants to buy a book she can. She doesn’t have to go through an acquisitions process.

Some of Random House’s Other Imprints Are:

  • Kpnof – Focuses on literary fiction such as works of Phillip Pullman, Eragon, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
  • Random House – Children’s imprint (yes it has a confusing title). Mainly does licensed products like Disney, Thomas the Train, Dr. Seuss. They are starting to do more teen and YA.
  • Robin – Nitche books like pop-up books.
  • Lamb – Literary fiction like Gary Paulson
  • Schwartz and Wade – This is the home of picture books at Random House.
  • Delacorte – Teen and YA, some Middle Grade.
  • Delacorte has three hardcover imprints they are: Yearling (books for ages 8-12), Laurel Leaf, and Delacorte Trade (teen/YA).

Six Ways to Get on the List at Delacorte:

1) The Slush Pile. This is the pile of unsolicited manuscripts addressed “dear editor.” This is the most unlikely way to get published, but it does happen. Some houses do not read through the slush at all.

2) Slush addressed to a specific editor. This is a more effective way to get your work noticed, as the work is targeted. Look in the acknowledgement page in a book you like, they often than their editor. This is a good way to find out the Editors name. Publisher’s marketplace and Publisher’s lunch are good online publications that tell who is selling what and acquiring what.

3) Project with connections. Being referred by an author or a librarian that is active with the publisher.

4) Generated in House. These are projects created by the publishers and outsourced to an author.

5) Agented Submission. This is the best way to get on the list. Agented submissions always get the most attention and are read through more quickly. This is because agents really have a good idea of what is good for who.

6) Buy projects from packagers. Alloy is the best known project packager.

How a Manuscript is Acquired:

  • If Wendy likes the manuscript she can buy it. No acquisitions meeting needed. Her boss trusts her and her instincts. The flip-side of this is she can sometimes find herself to be the only advocate for the book. Wendy does not buy a book unless she loves it.
  • Wendy is not allowed to just buy a book if the advance is too large, say 6 figures. Then the book must go through a “Scramble” meeting where all the heads of the office read the book and make a decision on it.
  • Every book that they are thinking about acquiring gets a PNL (profit and Loss statement) created for it to see if the book is actually a viable product.

What Wendy is Looking For:

  • Wendy Loggia likes zippy language. Witty and fun projects.
  • She likes historical fiction with a twist. She is not interested in a straight historical fiction.
  • She likes coming of age stories.
  • She shy’s away from series. Advises one to create a standalone book, if it is meant to be a series it will happen on its own.

A Look at Book’s Wendy has Edited:

Matisse on the Loose – This book was an Agent submission by Macintosh Otis (??). She really loved the voice of the book. It had a boy protagonist and no sports or dragons. It was a nice slice of life book.

Autumn – Wendy found this book from an SCBWI critique. She gave the writer feedback and then the author resubmitted the manuscript four months later and Wendy bought it.

Puppet Pandamonium – Wendy met this author at a conference. She liked the timeless quality of the book, it was kid friendly, and simple clean fun. She knew it would do well in libraries. I also has a boy protagonist.

Green – This is the first middle-grade novel (Fantasy) by a published author who usually does contemporary girl YA. Came through the Slush pile addressed to Wendy (her first book was not Green).

Second Skin – This book was an agent submission. Commercial and Fun. Wendy really responded to the idea.

Camille McPhee – Wendy liked this book because it has a great quirky, fun, and charming voice.

Magic in Manhattan – Breezy Chick lit, fun voice, high concept.

Wendy is more cautious about taking on a book that is not as polished. She has been burned before when an author who could not deliver. Polish your work as much as possible!

Other Presentations by Wendy Loggia:

Wendy Loggia is executive editor at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Delacorte focuses almost exclusively on middle grade and YA novels. Loggia is the editor of many books including: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Going Bovine, and The Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

Agent Day: Insight from Brenda Bowen

The final speaker at the SCBWI OC Agent Day was the lovely Ms. Brenda Bowen. In addition to her great talk about agent/editor negotiation she also shared the following tid-bits about herself, her agenting style, and what she’s looking for:

About Bit About Greenburger Associates:

  • We are a full service agency with a large back-list that includes The Little Prince, Simone De Beauvoir, Kafka, and Dan Brown. We like to joke that we are the agency that represents Fancy Nancy and Kafka!
  • We have 8 full agents, and a sub-rights dept. Each agent seems to cover a specific area/genre so we have less overlap than other agencies. I am the children’s literature rep!

A Bit About Brenda Bowen:

  • I graduated from college with an English and Art History degree.
  • I started out as a secretary at Basic Books. I became a reader, and worked my way up. I have worked in everything from Middlegrade, to Young Adult (both commercial and literary), Picture Books, Trashy Teen Romance, the whole gamut!
  • Harper Collins created their own Bowen Imprint in 2007, but it was shut down in 2009.
  • When I got canned I decided to become an agent, and I really felt I could compliment the Greenburger agency.
  • I am also a published author and I write under the pen name of Margaret McNamara.
  • Some of my clients include: Rosemary Wells (her first agent retired), Hillary Knight (Eloise books illustrator), Vladimir Redemski, Karen Berger, and Bryan Karas.

What Brenda Bowen Likes and Wants to See in Her Submissions:

  • I am very Catholic in my tastes, but I can like anything from the trashy to the literary.
  • I am not a fan of paranormal books, and in general I am not hugely into young adult novels.
  • I really like to focus on Picture Books through Middle Grade (including chap books and the educational market).
  • What I like is hard to define.
  • I also fear the “conference polish” as Mary Kole mentioned earlier. So I always ask for the first three chapters in a submission.
  • I want to work with people I love to be around! I want to be happy to see their name in my in-box.
  • I would like to do more fiction, I already have a lot of picture books on my plate. I represent both picture book authors alone, as well as author/illustrators.
  • I like boy oriented books that are funny.
  • I want a story that I have never read before.

What Gets Brenda’s Attention in a Query Letter:

  • A catchy title can be reason alone for me to request a manuscript. For example: The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant. This shows me that the author is confident enough to name his/her book this. It shows me the book is not a trend, and the title has a lyrical sound to it.
  • Please query me as Ms. Bowen and not Mrs. Bowen.
  • I like non-classical queries that are whimsical and share a confident story.
  • Have a query that shows your voice.

Other Bits of Advice:

  • If you don’t have an agent, but you do have a relationship with an editor or and offer from an editor, ask the editor to give you an agent recommendation.
  • I don’t have a favorite house that I like to submit to. Different houses offer different things and it is an agents job to know these things. One house may be great for contracts, another may have fantastic production (which is important for picture books), another may have great marketing. There are a lot of reasons to pick a house, it is not always about the editor.
  • If you have a blog, don’t just talk about yourself. Make your blog interesting. Make content that will be interesting to multiple types of readers – teens, writers, librarians, etc.
  • School visits are great for you and your book!
  • Advances always come in three installments. One on signing, second on delivering an accepted book, and third upon publication. Publishers will do their best to push back payment as late as possible, and an agent is always pushing for payment to be sooner.

Brenda Bowen has held a variety of positions during her twenty five-plus years in children’s publishing. She has been editorial director of Henry Holt & Co., Disney/Hyperion, Schoolastic Press, and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Books Brenda has edited have been #1 New York Times bestsellers, and have won the National Book Award, The Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, The Caldecott Honor, The Printz Honor, and the Eisner Award. She is now a literary agent with Stanford J. Greenburger and  Associates, and continues to work closely with clients on the editorial direction of their projects.

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole shared the following hand-out with the participants of the OC SCBWI Agent Day:

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Whether you pitch an agent in person or with a written query, your goal is the same: to get us to request your manuscript. But first, relax and take a deep breath. Agents and editors are just normal people who love stories, so you have something in common with us right from the start. You are the world’s foremost expert on your own work. Tell us about it and have fun!

When you pitch in person or query, make sure to answer these question about your manuscript:

WHAT is the genre of your story and which audience is it written for?

  • Twilight is a paranormal romance for the YA market.

WHO is your character?

  • Edward Cullen is your typical teen vampire. Good looks, fast car, no pulse.

WHAT is the strange thing going on in his or her life that throws everything off-kilter and launches the story?

  • Then he meets Bella Swan

WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?

  • For the first time, Edwards wants a human being more than anything. And he wants her alive.

WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want (their obstacle)?

  • Edward’s bloodlust could drive him to either kill her or turn her into a monster like himself.

WHAT is at stake (no vampire pun intended) if the character doesn’t get what they want?

  • If Edward doesn’t get Bella or, worse, if he turns her, he’ll be forever alone. Literally.

Answer these question about your own manuscript. Read the backs of published books and the jacket flap copy. This is roughly the length and tone you’re going for with a verbal pitch or the meat of your written query letter. Remember, you’re giving the agent a taste of your story…and you want them to ask for more. The most well-crafted queries, in my opinion, are ones that make me care about the story and characters. They make me feel something. They make mem want to know what happens next.

An agent will often ask you a question about your project. Be listening (instead of obsessing about how the conversation is going) and be ready with an answer. Remember, you’re the expert and you’re talking with us, not at us.

Agents want to hear from writers. We want good projects. We simply can’t do our jobs without them. So present the juiciest, most compelling points of your story, mention the important details outlined above, and, finally, have fun and be yourself.

Best of luck with your writing and I look forward to hearing about your work!

Mary Kole is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You can learn more about her and her agency at: The Andrea Brown Website. Mary also keeps up an award-winning blog about children’s literature, writing, and publishing called: www.kidlit.com. Mary is also a big fan of the iPad, but you’ll have to ask her about that.

Eight Myths About Literary Agents

Is it true that big agencies doesn’t care about small writers? Or that everything you read about an agent online is true? Writers House agent, Rebecca Sherman spoke at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day and debunked all the myths you may have heard. So here is what she had to say to set the record straight!

Myth #1: An Individual Author Gets Lost in a Big Agency

Not True! Even though an agency may be big, like Writers House, every agent has autonomy over his or her list. Therefore the choice to choose a client is entirely up to the agent. And even though agents have obligations to their agency – meetings, priorities, etc. agents do work independently as well to oversee their own clients. The reputation of both the agent and the company relies on how he/she represents a client so it is very important to cultivate each career individually.

Myth #2: Everything You Read Online (and on Publisher’s Marketplace) is One Hundred Percent True.

Let’s clarify here. What you read on Publisher’s Marketplace – is - true. However, it may not be the whole picture. We often withhold information because it is  not the right time to make it public. For example we may not want to mention a new sale because a book won’t come out for two years, or we need to protect the material of our clients so it isn’t bumbling around out there in the internet. Don’t over analyze the info you read online, because you seldom have the whole picture.

Myth #3: Agents Will Sign an Author Based on a Book Proposal or Pitch.

You should always, always, always, finish your book before you query an agent! You want to also research an agent before submitting to make sure he/she is right for your work. However, you will never land an agent if you don’t stop researching and SUBMIT!

You can also read Rebecca Sherman’s Do’s and Don’t of Querying and agent here: Rebecca’s Do’s and Don’ts

Myth #4: If I Don’t Hear Back from an Agent Right Away it Means They Hate My Book.

I know that waiting is hard, but in this industry, patience is a virtue! Please don’t take it personally if you have to wait. Agents are busy people, they have more important things to do that just read through the slush (spread the word!). They need to work with their clients first!

A Client = Actual, where as,  A Query = A Hypothetical.

All material will be read and responded to (if you submit to me). I have three very capable assistants who do look through the work first. The Assistant Agent is your gate keeper, and it is their job to know my taste. I have a current list of 25 – 30 clients and they are my priority. I get thousands of submissions every year. And occasionally my work load will reflect if I am willing to take on a new client or not. We will get to you! Patience!

Myth #5: You Should Take the First Offer of Representation That You Get From an Agent

This relates to my previous comment about being patient. If you’ve submitted your work to multiple agents and you get an offer, please keep me abreast to this information. Email me and let me know that you have another offer. I would like a fair chance to review your work, and I will review it if you let me know there is interest elsewhere. Don’t make a decision about representation based on who reads your work first. Find the person who is right for you. Please contact me and let me know of the other offer and allow me a fair amount of time to review it. As an agent myself, I am very open to waiting for clients that I’ve offered representation to so that they can hear back from other agents. This is professional and important. Also, if you decide to accept representation from another agent please let me know that as well so I don’t waste my time on your submission.

Myth #6: Agents Just Want to Sell Your Book, they are Salesmen and Accountants.

Though selling your book is part of the job, it is not all that the job entails. I also want to help an author develop his/her craft. I am an editorial agent with nine years of experience. I am also my client’s advocate and I want to help them to see the big picture of their whole career. The key between the agent/writer relationship is synergy. I want to help the author strategize, and put the author into the spotlight. I also help clients to manage their schedules if they have multiple books and contracts with different publishers (particularly if they are an author/illustrator). I keep a very open relationship with my clients and make sure they are aware of the whole process, and I also want to be kept in the loop on how things are going between an author and editor. I like to see the new drafts and see how the project is developing.

Yes, it is also my job to sell books, but I am not an accountant. My job is to find the best deal for my client that reflects the worth of the book. It is my job to network, know the editors and what they want, understand the trends, the market, etc. Editors who know me trust my judgment. My reputation with them is important. My taste and how I help an author develop his/her project shows. Editors are excited when I contact them because they respect my opinion and I have the backing of a reputable company (writers house).

Myth #7: Now That You Have an Agent You Will Never Be Rejected Again!

Unfortunately this is not true. Having an agent opens doors you might not have had access to before. But it doesn’t mean that there wont be rejection. You still have to be patient and persist. I love your book. I won’t give up on it. No news does not mean you’ve been rejected. No news just means no news.

Myth #8: Agents Have No Life!

Agents are passionate about what they do, but yes, we are people too! We have lives outside of our work. Again, this is another reason to be patient. I personally also maintain two book clubs outside of my work. These clubs are often with other agents, editor, and librarians. One is a YA/MG book club and the other is an adult book club. I think it is important to read.

I also pitch books to editors. I take this very seriously. (Rebecca shared a pitch letter that she wrote for the book Scones and Sensibility. The pitch letter was clever and creative and reflected the tone of the book, and Rebecca’s dedication to selling your book in a strong and confident way.)

A Little About Writers House and Rebecca Sherman:

  • Writers House is a full service agency which includes a four person foreign rights department, a contracts manager and associate, a three to four person accounting team, and 14 senior agents that cover various aspects of literature from children’s books to adult literature and non-fiction and memoir.
  • Rebecca began at Writers House as an assistant. She worked as an assistant for five years, and learned the business. She began to develop her own small list, and later became a senior agent.
  • Rebecca has been a senior agent for four years.
  • Rebecca’s client list includes: Grace Lin, Bryan Audrey Pickney, and Matt Phalin.

What Rebecca Sherman Likes and is Looking For:

  • Mostly author/illustrators, and less picture book authors.
  • For young adult and middle grade books she likes humor and books that will pull on the heart-strings.
  • She does represent picture book non-fiction.

If You’d Like to Submit to Rebecca Sherman You Should Send:

  • For Picture Book Author/Illustrators: If sending by snail mail include: One full-color picture book dummy image, the full sketched-out picture book dummy, and a typed copy of the manuscript. If sending material online, send the same information in the form of a link to dummy or website. Paste manuscript into text of email. No attachments!
  • For Picture Book Authors: Send a query letter and the manuscript.
  • For Novelists: Send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of your novel.
  • For Illustrators: Send a link to your website and a query letter.
  • Don’t pre-query!

And A Few Questions From the Audience:

What are you looking for in a synopsis?

The pitch and the synopsis are two different things. A pitch is meant to lure you in, but a synopsis needs to tell us what happens in the end. Your synopsis can be longer than a page, in my opinion. I only read a synopsis if I have reservations when I am reading the first few pages. I read it to see what the major plot points are that are coming.

How many writers actually earn a living in this business?

That’s a tricky question. I won’t go telling you to quit your day job. A lot my clients are hybrid authors – they do both picture books and middle grade books. This allows them to shine in multiple markets and sell more, particularly when they can get into the school markets. Young Adult books that is much harder to do. Most of my debut authors still have their nine to five jobs. In terms of advances, it’s hard to say. Novels don’t usually go for less that $10,000, but it has happened. A picture book can be around $15,000 and up for an advance. But you have to split that if you are not the author and the illustrator. And picture books in general can be wonky when we talk about prices. YA books can often take a higher advance.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Querying Do’s and Don’ts from Agent Rebecca Sherman

The following is Writers House Agent Rebecca Sherman’s list of Do’s and Don’ts for querying a literary agent. She shared this list at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day:

DO:

  • Begin with the kind of description that would appear on the back of your book or jacket flap.
  • Tell me some brief biographical information.
  • Tell me why YOU wrote this book.
  • Tell me abut interest from or submissions to other agents and/or publishers.
  • Tell me why you are submitting to me.
  • Give your query letter voice.
  • Strike a balance between professional and personal.
  • Always begin with a proper salutation and end with a proper closure.
  • Research agencies and agents.
  • Draw a connection with the agent that you are querying.
  • Base on the guidelines of the agent you are submitting to, include samples – full manuscripts for picture books, sample illustrations, up to ten pages for longer work.
  • Use Times New Roman 12 pt. font or a similarly standard and easy to read font/font size.
  • For snail mailers, include a self-addressed stamped envelope that will properly accommodate the material you sent.
  • Note that you are an SCBWI member and if you attended a conference that the agent spoke at.
  • Note if an editor, writer, or someone else that the agent knows referred you.
  • Know the market you are writing for.
  • Be patient.

DON’T:

  • Make the story or your characters unclear.
  • Devote too much space to biographical details.
  • Pad your query with irrelevant publications.
  • Simply take information about an agent from research and paste it into the query or lead with the fact that you found the agent’s name of agentquery.com, or publishersmarketplace.com, etc.
  • Compare yourself to an agent’s client without showing how you are also unique.
  • Compare yourself to a bestseller or award winner without showing originality.
  • Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story.
  • Tell me that your work is sure to be a success because you tested it on your child, kindergarten class, or other small sample group (especially those with whom you have a personal relationship).
  • Include endorsements from anyone other than prominent authors in your genre/for your age  group or nationally recognized in the media.
  • Put a limit on the time an agent can read the material or assume a sense of urgency.
  • Submit to multiple agents at the same agency.
  • Call and agent unless the agent herself has told you specifically to call.
  • Email if the agent does not accept email queries.
  • Email or writer to ask how to submit to that agent.
  • Be discouraged if your query is rejected. Don’t forget that it is one person’s subjective opinion.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Agent Day: Insight from Kevan Lyon

Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency was the second agent to speak at the SCBWI Agent Day in Newport Beach. As an agent who is not only represents young adult literature, she also reps adult lit as well and is always looking for young adult books that will breech both genres. The following is her take on the market, what she’s looking for, and insights into the agent/writer relationship.

A Bit about Kevan and Her Client List:

  • Kevan represents authors such as Louanne Johnston (Dangerous Minds, Muchacho), and Margaret Mallory ( Knight of Desire and Knight of Pleasure).
  • Kevan used to work in sales and has worked in a variety of areas including sales for Sam’s Club, Borders, and many other retailers.
  • Kevan has been a literary agent for seven years.
  • Kevan works from home.

What Kevan is Looking For:

  • Kevan only represents young adult novels and adult novels.
  • Young adult books with strong female characters.
  • She does represent middle grade novels, but usually these are books by clients who also write young adult or adult books.
  • Books that can make the jump and be both young adult and adult literature.
  • A great story! A fresh plot and a unique approach.
  • To be swept away and captivated by your submission!
  • I love historical books, I love history. But I have too much historical romance. I would love some historical young adult!
  • Paranormal or fantasy YA or Adult.

Things That Will Make Your Submission Stand Out:

  • Captivate me in the first ten pages!
  • Include action, drama, and emotion.
  • I want to feel the heat, the excitement, or the terror, with the character. Show!  Don’t tell.
  • I want to feel like I am in the character’s brain. I want to feel what they are experiencing with them.
  • I want to call you and interrupt you day because I need to have more pages to find out what will happen next!

What to Avoid with your Submission:

  • The book where I’ve turned sixteen and suddenly I’ve discovered I have powers that I didn’t know I had before. Oh, and look the hot guy at school suddenly notices me because he has these powers too and he’s the only one that understands me.
  • Barbie cheerleaders. In fact, remove the word Barbie from your vocabulary.
  • Dumb football players. Look through your manuscript for the clichés and take them out. Do something different and original! Follow a new instinct.
  • An overly complex “other” world. You may be trying too hard. Don’t make the world too weird. Make it just weird enough. If it’s too complex it can become too hard to follow, or hard for the audience to get involved. I want to feel like I am really there, and everything is really happening.
  • You need a happy ending for your young adult book (in her opinion). If you mention that you don’t have one then that is a red flag.
  • Do your homework on who the agents are that you are querying. Find an agent who will fit your needs.
  • Kevan represents mostly older YA and adult fiction so a character who is 12 or 13 is a red flag for her and could be a problem. On the other end, a 19 or 20 year old for a YA book is great in her opinion.

Queries and Response Time to Submissions:

  • I am behind on my queries! I have about two hundred in my que right now.
  • It will take seven weeks (or so) to respond to you. But be patient. I will respond!
  • If I’m interested I will ask for a partial request.
  • I often read queries at night, so you really need to WOW me because I’m usually tired.
  • I write pitch letters to editors (basically a letter very similar to a query). I spent a few days on this pitch letter. I show it to my friends, the author, etc. and get a lot of feedback on it before sending it out. You should do the same thing.
  • Read back cover copy or jacket flap copy to get a good idea of how to pitch your book.

The Crossover Between Young Adult and Adult Books:

  • Kevan really believes in a powerful young adult novel that will cross over and begin to speak to an adult audience as well. In fact, Kevan is really looking for that in her submissions – someone who can make that jump.
  • Editors are looking for books that can breach both audiences.
  • There is a gray area between YA and Adult Literature. For example her own daughter was obsessed with Jodi Poccult (an adult women’s fiction writer) as a teen.
  • If you are submitting to Kevan she is going to assume there is some sort of crossover potential in your book.

A Bit About the Agent/Client Relationship:

  • Working with a client is a highly collaborative process.
  • Kevan is very editorial, and really likes to give feedback on the work. She works very closely with the author to make sure the book is ready to go.
  • In addition to the book she will also work with the author to put together a pitch packet which will include a biography from the client.
  • She will then call and send a letter to potential editors for the project.
  • Kevan shares her editor submission list with her authors. Some agents don’t do this, but she does. She thinks it is important to know what kind of relationships the client may already have with an editor as well. She shares this list with the client on the honor system that the client will never contact the editor on his/her own.
  • She updates the author as to the passes or if someone wants to make an offer. She often doesn’t share the details of those who say “no” because it is often not productive in any way.
  • It only takes one editor to love it!
  • She contacts the author if they extend, and as they get closer and closer to closing a deal. She shares all deal numbers. It’s a very exciting process!
  • Selling your debut novel doesn’t change your life, like it used to. You shouldn’t quit your day job.
  • After you make a contract things slow down. It will take a year to  one and a half years to get a book on the shelf.

Other Notes of Mention:

  • An agent works off of commission. They will get 15% of everything the author makes. If an agent is charging you a fee, this is not good!
  • An experienced editor has lots of relationships already which can be an asset, however a new and hungry agent will work his/her butt off. So there are pros and cons to each.
  • E-Books and digital rights can be a deal breaker.
  • If you get an offer from another agent and you accept it, please send a courtesy message to the other agents that you have submitted to, so we don’t waste our time. If possible, try and let the other agents know you have an offer before accepting representation.

Kevan Lyon is an agent at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. With over 20 years in the publishing business, including 5 years as a Literary Agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and 17+ years on the wholesale, retail and distribution side of the business, Kevan Lyon brings an informed and unique perspective to her work with clients. Kevan handles women’s fiction, with an emphasis on commercial women’s fiction, young adult fiction and all genres of romance. Her particular interest is historical fiction of all types. She looks for stories that draw the reader in and loves a sweeping, complex story with strong female characters. You can learn more about her and her tastes at: The Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Website


Agent Day: Insight from Agent Mary Kole

Andrea Brown agent, Mary Kole spoke at the SCBWI Agent Day this past Saturday in Newport Beach. She shared her genuine passion for children’s literature, what she’s specifically looking to find in her submission box, and her love for the iPad.

A Little About Mary Kole and the Andrea Brown Agency:

  • Andrea Brown has been in business for 28 years, and was the first agency to represent children’s books up through young adult literature.
  • Andrea Brown had nine agents who live in various areas from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and now they will be opening a New York branch headed up by none other than Mary Kole herself.
  • Mary is a writer and she just finished her MFA. She became an agent as a result of her interested in seeing “the other side” of children’s literature. She worked for both Chronicle Books, as well as Andrea Brown before discovering this was her passion and becoming an agent.
  • Mary is a new agent but she is HUNGRY and OBSESSED! She presently has a short list and is actively looking for new clients.
  • Mary represents picture books authors or author/illustrators, middle grade novelists, young adult novelists, and illustrators.

What Mary Really Likes and/or is Looking For in Submissions:

  • Dark and edgy illustration.
  • Stories that explore friendship, murder, and/or betrayal.
  • A well executed “issue” book like Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • A too close for comfort dystopian novel like Feed by M.T. Andersen.
  • A strong love triangle book or a sweet summer romance.
  • Creepy ghost stories that get under your skin, where the ghost follows you home long after you’ve put the book down.
  • Unusual paranormal. If you are writing about vampires, werewolves, etc. then your story needs to be new and exceptional.
  • Books that make her uncomfortable.
  • Books with darker, funnier, or sarcastic sensibilities.
  • Picture books that are quirky, funny, or sweet.

Mary Isn’t Into:

  • Anthropomorphic tales.
  • High fantasy or science fiction.
  • Greek and Egyptian mythology, which is overdone, but there are plenty of other mythologies to use. Do something new!
  • Mary does not represent early readers or chapter books.
  • But she will share your work with a colleague at Andrea Brown if the work seems better fit for another agent.

Why Mary Loves Picture Books and Kid Lit:

  • I  love this audience! I love how kids read! Adults only read when they are about to go to bed (basically to put themselves to sleep) or because they have to, or if it is an established habit. Not kids. Kids are voracious readers! Kids are social readers! Kids share books with their friends, because to them it is important to have similar imaginary landscapes as their friends. Kids devour series.
  • Kids who read, become life long readers!
  • Books for kids help them to become more confident, and as cheesy as this is going to sound, books for kids change their lives!

Mary Kole’s take on the Kidlit Market:

  • The children’s book market was started by the amazing Ursula Nordstrom who published and edited such iconic books as Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. She wanted to publish good books for bad children. At this time she felt that books tried to moralize too much and talk down to them. Nordstrom believed that kids have more insight than adults gave them credit for.
  • “The writer of good books about the real world has to dig deep and tell the truth.” – Ursula Nordstrom
  • During this recession the YA book market has gone up 30%, while the adult book market has declined. This says a lot about our readers, but it is also attributed to the school and library markets,  not to mention the popularization of books by Harry Potter and Twilight.
  • “If I can resist a book, I resist it.” – Ursula Nordstrom. Therefore, Mary Kole says – write something that’s irresistible!

A Breakdown of Age Ranges and What’s Selling in the Market:

Picture Books:

  • Age group: 3-5 or 5-7.
  • Picture Books are cyclical (the market is). In the 80′s picture books were big, then it declined, but it will be going back up soon.
  • Houses are acquiring fiction and non-fiction picture books, illustrator/author projects, and newer and edgier illustration.
  • Traditional verse is hard to sell.
  • Character driven books with snappy text is selling well.
  • Houses are looking for picture books with quick hooks, or possibly multiple hooks. Hooks could be anything from the re-telling of a common fairy tale, to the inclusion of a cookie recipe in the back of a book.

Middle Grade Novels:

  • Age group : 8-10, or 10-12, and sometimes as high as 14.
  • Fantasy and adventure rules in this age group!
  • Literary middle grade novels do exist, but these stories are usually more sweet and friendship based.
  • This is a great age group to write for because these character’s worlds are full of contrasts. They feel the pull between their family and their friends. They are beginning to find and explore their own individuality and identity, but they still have one foot still in the door at home. This is a wonderful frame of mind.
  • Mary likes characters in this age group who make tough – if not the wrong – choices and have to deal with the consequences.
  • This age group is not very edgy in its content (i.e. sex, drugs, and rock and roll).
  • If there is romance in middle grade novels it is very sweet.
  • Historical books are very popular in middle grade novels, but be sure that the setting is essential to the story.

Young Adult Novels:

  • Age group:12 and up, 14 and up, or 16 and up.
  • Anything goes in this age group – as far as content. Yup you can have your sex, drugs, and your rock and roll.
  • It is a myth that YA has edgy content. If you have a softer and sweeter young adult novel, that’s okay! There are houses that will publish both types of content. Just because “edgy” is in, doesn’t mean you have to write it. And don’t try to force edgy content!
  • Teens have a highly sensitive and honed BS barometer! They will call out a poser!
  • Paranormal and romance is presently huge in the YA age group. This is because young adults have a rich fantasy life. They like to read about things that they are not necessarily doing. They like to live through the experience of reading about huge epic romance. Often times teens feel like they have little control of their lives, like they’ve been put on a train and they can’t get off. So they like to read paranormal and romance as a way to escape. As a way to explore them selves and the darker parts of themselves.
  • Despite the paranormal craze, editors are clamoring for REAL LIFE! They want stories about our world.
  • YA has room for bigger conflicts that can end on a bittersweet note. Everything doesn’t have to tie up in the end of the book. Teens are aware that everything doesn’t always end well. They are aware that you must lose something in order to gain something.
  • A book that really affected Mary Kole is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and there is a section in that book where the main character described a moment where they felt infinite, there is a welling like you could explode. Mary thinks this really captures a key element of the teen experience. For teens everything is big. Teens have surreal experiences, and they come one after another after another – first kiss, first friend betrays you, etc. It is an incredible and electric time!

Mary Answered the Following Questions from the Audience:

What do you see as the difference between the school and popular markets?

Books in the institutional market must have hooks. They particularly like book that can have a great curriculum tie-in. Books that are non-fiction or have an educational bent to them work well in institutional markets. Niche books as well – this would be something like a book about the Australian Indigenous Population. Where vampires – for example have a much wider audience and would work for main stream.

If I’ve submitted something to the Andrea Brown Agency and I haven’t heard anything can I revise and re-submit or query another agent?

We do share work with other agents at Andrea Brown. So if I think a book has merit but isn’t right for me, I will share it with another agent. Therefore a “no” from one of us is a “no” from all of us. But I will let you know if I am sharing your work with another agent. In terms of revision, unless the book has gone through major changes and is pretty much unrecognizable as the previous work, then you can re-submit it, but otherwise don’t. Query us with something new.

Can you tell us a little bit about the early agent/writer relationship?

Absolutely! If I get a submission and I like it and think it is promising, but I don’t quite think it is ready, I may give the author general notes. This way they can revise and I can see how they apply the changes in his/her revision. This will tell me a lot about a writer. If I offer representation, then I become highly editorial with my client. I really like digging into the hamburger meat. We will work on the book for as many rounds as we need until the book is ready to go out.

What publishing houses do you have a close relationship with?

Andrea Brown originally worked for Knopf, so we have a strong relationship there. However, if an agent is doing her job then she doesn’t have favorite houses. This is because an agent needs to know who wants what at different houses so they are serving the client in the best way possible. I do have relationships with houses, but it’s important to move past those first close relationships and find the perfect house for your book.

What advice do you have for an author who wants to work within multiple genres or age groups?

In children’s books authors are more apt to hop between genres. As long as you are aware of the voices and how they are different within different age groups, then it’s okay to write in multiple genres/age groups. An agent should want to be your career representative. I personally love to give career advice, and want to help shape my clients careers. When you approach an agent and you write in multiple age groups you should always query with the strongest material. You can mention in your query that you have other interests, but don’t unleash your entire creative resume. Pick the work that is the strongest, that you are the most passionate about, that is your favorite. Focus! Even if you are a picture book author, send only one story. I will ask to read more of your picture book manuscripts if I am interested.

How do you think the Kindle and e-readers have changed the marketplace?

This is a constantly changing landscape and an intricate discussion. The great thing about e-readers like the iPad is that you can add elements like sound, video, and pictures. Think about how that can effect your storytelling. But the big question right now is what “rights” is that. Digital rights will be a new thing to sell, and an important one.

Right now only three to five percent of teens get their book content digitally.  The market for e-books is really geared toward adults right now, particularly business adults who travel a lot. There isn’t a large teen market for e-readers yet, but it is on the up and up. In terms of overhead for producing content, as well as royalties – these are all a constant discussion that comes up and changes every day. The cost of producing books digitally is not just about saving money on paper and printing and binding. But we are working through it.

Have you ever had a client or submission where they were an author/illustrator and you liked the text more than the images, or vice versa? How did you deal with that?

Yes, this can be an issue. Usually in this type of situation the illustrations are stronger than the text. This is good for me, because my strength is in writing and I can help the author/illustrator to develop his/her writing abilities. Where visual storytelling and illustration is not my strong suit.

How much of my novel needs to be finished before I query you?

All of it! You must complete the whole novel before you send out a query. Sure the pitch and the premise could be amazing, but it is all about the execution! I need to be able to see the whole arc of the book, and how you deal with an entire novel structurally. Don’t submit until you have had others look at your work and give you feedback. This will make your project stronger, and it will become more attractive to me and other agents.

What are you looking for in the first ten pages of a submission?

The first ten pages wont show me the arc of the book, but it will show me the level of the writing and craft. I can identify where a writer is based on those ten pages. Also, beware of what I call “Conference Polish.” I see this a lot. Because you only submit the first ten to agents or at conferences like this one, writers spend a lot of time making those pages perfect. But once I get to page eleven…everything starts to fall apart. Make sure that the time and energy you put into those first ten pages, you put into the rest of your book!

What are young adult boys looking for in books? Do YA boy books sell?

You don’t see a lot of boys reading young adult books. Around middle school boys stop reading, or they jump from middle grade books to adult books. But if you are writing YA for boys stay away from romance and try horror, thrillers, or science fiction. It’s really hard to find YA books that hit a boy audience. Even if you look at author John Green, he has a huge female audience. Yes, his books have male protagonists, but they are often geeky and they are in love with a girl, and the girls want to be the girl that that boy is in love with.

If I am an author/illustrator what do I send you with my query?

You can copy and paste the manuscript into the body of the text, as well as a few pages of your book dummy. Or a link to your book dummy or website. I will then request the full dummy if I am interested.

Mary Kole is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You can learn more about her and her agency at: The Andrea Brown Website. Mary also keeps up an award-winning blog about children’s literature, writing, and publishing called: www.kidlit.com. Mary is also a big fan of the iPad, but you’ll have to ask her about that.

Dan Lazar: Crafting a Winning Query Letter

Writing a query letter always feel like a chore. How can I distil the essence of my book into one short page? In fact sometimes it feels like writing a query is harder than writing the book. But Writers House agent, Dan Lazar, points out that if you can write a good book, then you can write a good query letter! The following notes from his talk at the 2009 SCBWI Summer Conference have been the most informative talk on the subject that I personally have attended. I actually left excited to write my queries!

Dan Lazar’s tips on how to write a winning query letter and keep yourself out of the rejection pile:

“One voice of dissent is often louder than the voice of approval.” This is the quote Lazar used to start his talk, in order to illustrate how difficult the acquisitions process can be. He followed by asking (by show of hands) how many people in the audience liked the book The DaVinci Code. Then he asked people who thought the book was awful to raise their hands. Slightly more people said they liked it than didn’t. Lazar pointed out that sometimes the people in power at a publishing house are like those who raised their hands to say they didn’t like The DaVinci Code – these people would have passed on a multi-million dollar book. A book that a majority of people really liked. It’s not always that easy to sell a book, even one that is an international best seller.

Okay first things first, before you even address your query letter…

You want to research the agents and editors you are interested in sending your manuscript to. Learn their full names, what they are looking for, and their submission policies. Great places to do research on editors and agents include:

  • The Children’s Writers Market Publication and the Jeff Harmon Guide – these are a good place to start, however often times the information is outdated by the time it is printed/published so be sure to look for additional information elsewhere.
  • Publishersmarketplace.com – Listings are free and are edited directly by editors and agents. This is probably one of the most up to date places to find information.
  • Agentquery.com – This is updated by the site and not the editors/agents.
  • Verlakay.com – Look for the forums page. Dan Lazar found his client Ingrid Law (who wrote Saavy) because of a posting he’d left on this site.

Okay lets write that query! What to do:

If you can write a good novel, then you can write a good query letter. It’s that simple.

Open with why you are contacting this agent/editor:

  • Open with praise and compliments. Explain why you are contacting this agent, they always like to be flattered. You don’t need to use logos, or fancy paper, glitter, graphics, etc.
  • Saying that you have read an agent’s clients work really does help you to stand out from the rest of the slush.
  • Don’t start with: To Whom It May Concern – This is almost an automatic rejection. Always research who you are sending your work to! Make sure you match!
  • Don’t be vague in your opening. “I hear you are a good agent.” Be specific. Mention you saw them at a conference. Mention the book they have represented. Read those books. Compliment and feed the agents vanity.

Start talking about your book and your main character:

  • Present your main character first. Don’t give a general idea of the story.
  • Show the voice of your character in your summary. Lazar read an example of an over-the-top voice, where the author used specifics in describing the character instead of generalities. Lazar understood right away that this character was sassy, raunchy, and jaded. (This was for an adult book). The voice of the character is what caught his attention.
  • Never use the terms quirky or interesting. These are vague and don’t mean anything. Be specific. The example used was: “Everyone in the class had thought (character’s name) was weird. Now (character’s name) had turned dark.”  This is a more engaging and specific way of saying the character is quirky.
  • Instead of saying “best friend” try – “(character’s name) is her one true confident and co-conspirator.”
  • You can make anyone love your character by showing who they love and who loves them. This is how an audience will create a connection with your character.
  • Be efficient, yet full of detail.
  • Mention your character’s age.
  • Don’t start with the “What if…” entrance to your story. Lots and lots and lots of query letters start with “What if you were stranded on an island…” etc. This is a good tool for yourself to figure out what your story is, and what it is about. But it gets repetitive and annoying in query letters. It shows a lack of originality.
  • Beware of using the phrase “My novel is a story in the genre of….” If you do not specifically know exactly what genre it is. You will end up using slashes and saying your novel is a fantasy/mystery/YA/Horror. If you don’t know, that’s okay. The agent will help you to define what it is later. Just leave this out.
  • Do not use a vague synopsis. Be specific! Be evocative!
  • Your query is a pitch, and a pitch is not a synopsis – it is a taste meant to draw you in.

Beware of making claims you cannot live up to:

  • Be careful in saying this book is gonna make me laugh, or cry…etc. Make the agent laugh in the letter. Don’t tell them you can be funny. Be funny in your letter.
  • Don’t mention that the book will make a good movie, or be a blockbuster. This shows your naiveté. Don’t be presumptuous.
  • A logline is a tricky thing – it is a film term for “this meets that” (i.e. Twilight meets Jurassic Park.) If one is not excited about that comparison then it can really hurt the submission.  Sometimes it is best to focus on character and story and forget about comparisons till later. If you are a good writer you will probably be able to fit in the logline when you are talking about your character.

When it comes to your biography:

  • Don’t apologize for not having any credits in your bio. In the example he read the author just told him sassy things about herself – again communicating her voice.
  • Skip your bio all together if it is going to turn into an apology for not having credits or experience. Instead introduce yourself in relationship to the story, what connections do you have that make you the only person who can write this book.
  • Film and TV credits or writing experience are good things to mention in your bio. Lazar had a client who he helped turn a TV pilot idea into a book.
  • Beware of vague or stretching connections when you write your bio. If it really doesn’t relate to your book and writing, don’t mention it.
  • Don’t toot your own horn in your bio or mention who already likes your book – people like your kids or your friends. If an author likes your book – that’s different – get a recommendation from them.

Also include with your query:

  • Send the first five pages, and they should be good!! If your story only gets good a page 50, then it is not ready to send out.
  • Read submission guidelines. Most agents want you to send pages with your query.
  • Include a SASE if you are sending a snail mail submission.

Okay, lets talk about query etiquette…

What about exclusivity and multiple submissions?

  • In Lazar’s opinion the exclusivity issue is an old-fashioned way of submitting work. If an agent asks for it, then you should honor it. But someone asking for up to 6 months is a little out of touch. You have every right to send an exclusive submission and tell the agent that you have given them a 6 week exclusivity submission. This is more than reasonable in Lazar’s opinion. However, if they are a really high-profile person, then you should follow their rules. If they are your dream agent, then respect the rules. If you give exclusivity, then you must honor it! Follow up with an email. Usually its good to give an extra week and then email. Politely let the agent know that you will be sending your work out to other agents, but you are still happy to hear from them.
  • Lazar assumes his submissions are simultaneous submissions unless it says it’s exclusive on it.

So I have multiple projects. Should I mention them?

  • If you would like to mention another project you are working on, or that this is a series, you can. But only spend one sentence on this project.

Try and keep these tidbits in mind too:

  • You do not need to mention the word count in your query as a good agent will know how many words the book should be based on the genre.
  • You do not need to list all the different ways in which you can send a file: CD, Email, Etc. The agent will ask for the way they want the work delivered to them. Focus on your character, and use your sentences more wisely.
  • Do not email in HTML – it will get caught in the spam filter.
  • Do not send a pre-query email. “Do you accept submissions?” Look on the website! All the info you need is there.
  • Always put your contact info at the bottom of the email. Sometimes email addresses get lost or cannot be read, so be sure your info is in your letter.
  • When a full manuscript is requested be sure you email it as a single attachment.
  • If you don’t know who your market is don’t worry about it. The agent will help you figure this out.
  • If you plan to use your initials in your book – for example J.K. Rowling, or M.T. Anderson – don’t use the initials in your query. This is something that will get ironed out later. Right now sign your name. Otherwise if the agent calls you or emails you it seems impersonal and awkward for them to ask for J.K.
  • Be neat and professional!
  • Lazar can tell in the first three paragraphs if the writing is interesting. So make it good!

About Writers House: Writers House has represented such books as: Captain Underpants, Sweet Valley Series, Baby Sitters Club Series, Twilight, Eragon, etc. The Agency represents both children’s and adult literature.

Dan Lazar has been with Writers House for over six years, and is always on the lookout for distinct fiction and great, lively non-fiction. He represents adult and children’s books (middle grade and YA). Lazar is not a picture book agent. Though if you have a career with him and later you decide you want to do picture books then he will represent you, but that is not his strong suit.  Agents at writers house that do represent picture books are: Steve Malk, Lindsay Davis, Rebecca Sherman. Dan Lazar represents: Ingrid Law, Evan Kuhlman, Chris Lincoln, Rachel Renee Russell. In his publisher’s marketplace bio Lazar says “If you think your pages can make me hold my breath or miss my subway stop or even laugh out loud, please read my submission guidelines — I’d love to hear from you.” You may email him a query at: dlazar@writershouse.com (Note from Ingrid: It seemed to me that Lazar was particularly interested in middle grade books and books for boys).