What Kind of Publishing is Right for Me? Querying Agents and Publishers

Last time in this series, we talked about getting your book ready. At this point, you’re thinking okay, I’ve written the best book that I can. What do I do with it?

Lucky you! There are lots of options in today’s publishing world for you to think about. Honestly, no one path is better than another these days, and sometimes you have a project that just screams for one kind of venue. But let’s assume for the sake of this installment that what you want to do is get a literary agent and submit with an assist.

Disclaimer: As of May 14th, I am repped by a literary agent, so I might have some bias in this area. However, I will state again that this is not your only path.

One of the things writers hear in the age of self-pubbing is the question of whether you need an agent or not. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you write works that are shorter than novel length (most people consider that to be around 80K, although middle grade and YA can be shorter, and epic fantasy can be longer.) If you write shorter works, you probably don’t need an agent. Do you have a legal background in publishing? There are some writers who negotiate their own contracts and have savvy to do so. If you’re like most of us, you need an agent. You really don’t know all the ins and outs of the publishing world. You can learn them, but it’s hard to learn by making mistakes.

A lot of people start querying with agents, as many publishers will not look at works not submitted by an agent. However, some are open all the time and some have special calls. You might prefer to work toward getting an editor first. Much of this advice applies whether you are seeking an editor or a publisher.

Your book is done! Yay! Now you need…a query letter and a synopsis. Most writers really hate writing these. It’s not easy to cram a 464 page book into one or two pages. Or one paragraph, if it comes to that. It’s also not as much fun as creating your masterpiece. But it is vital.

When I was beginning to send books out, the Ilona part of Ilona Andrews gave me some great suggestions on how to write a query letter. Our friends over at Writer’s Digest have lots of excellent instructions. Chuck Sambuchino runs a series regarding successful queries. There are some  commonalities regarding these queries as they describe the book.

  1. They give you a sense of time, place and setting if they are different from usual life.
  2. They identify the main character.
  3. They describe the main character’s conflict.
  4. They talk about the stakes of the conflict.

A query letter should pull in a reader. You don’t want to give it all away in the query. I’ve also heard questions are discouraged. Rather than: “Will Eleanor succeed in completing her mission?” something more along the lines of  “If Eleanor doesn’t complete her mission, she will never get back to her family.”

The query letter should contain deets about the book. How long is it? Where does it fit in the market place? Can you compare it to similar books? Who do you imagine is the audience? It’s unwise to compare your books to Neal Stephenson or J.K. Robb. That’s kind of lazy because it’s easy. Know your genre. Know your marketplace. Show you read.

Applicable credits, such as publication credits, relevant experience, or awards might come in your bio. List things that will impress, not that your work has been in your college’s literary magazine (hey, that’s cool, but what will show the editor or agent you’re serious about writing?). If you don’t have this kind of cred yet, you don’t need to put in bio information.

Make it easy for the agent or editor to get in touch with you by putting your personal information on the manuscript and in the query letter.

What about a synopsis? Here’s the Chuck Sambuchino with a great checklist.  (And no, Unreliable Narrators nor myself are getting any kind of kick back from Writer’s Digest. They just have good stuff for people who are in writing.)

When you have these materials ready, you’re ready to query. So, how do you find those agents and editors? Well, you can dig around in books, search the Internet on your own, and ask about. OR you can just go to querytracker.net , which has seen me through queries for about 4 novels. If you pay for the $20 upgrade the features are more complete, but the free version works well too.

What if you’re interested in meeting agents LIVE and IN PERSON? Well, then it might be time to visit a conference and do some pitching. Unreliable Narrators is doing a podcast about pitching soon, so I won’t cover that here, but if you’re good at speaking, I think it’s a great way to go. Also, there are twitter pitch contests, and I think we’re going to cover those on the pitching show.

This is a start. After we do our pitching show, I’ll write about other venues, such as self-pubbing and small presses. I’m not an expert. I’m just a writer. Still, if you have questions, I’m happy to answer them.

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