Publishing Advice from YALC - Querying And Accepting Offers

I spent a lot of time in YALC's agent arena, absorbing the wisdom all the agents had to offer. I picked up so many tips and discovered things about the publishing process I'd never really stopped to think about. The agents were Louise Lamont and Danielle Zigner from LBA Books, Gemma Cooper and Molly Ker Hawn from The Bent Agency, and Ben Illis of The BIA. I'm so grateful to all of them for offering their time, knowledge and support. If you ever have the chance to attend an event run by agents, go! They are amazing opportunities, and well worth making time for.

Louise, Danielle and Gemma ran the Publishing 101 seminar, complete with handout! 


I've decided to break the agent advice from YALC into a two posts. Today I'm looking at querying, and tomorrow I'll share their advice on what happens after you sign with an agent.

The agents ran through everything, from writing your query letter all the way through to your book sitting pretty on a bookshelf. The biggest thing I took away from the seminar was to never, ever, ever forget that publishing is a BUSINESS. Your rejections are not personal "ugh, this person is awful and no one has ever written anything worse!" decisions - they are all about the business: will this book sell? And because this is business, remember to always be professional in all your dealings with agents.

The Query Letter

So, let's go from the beginning and start with the query letter. Gemma gave us all a very handy template to follow:

Dear AGENT NAME HERE - never ever ever write "Dear Agent", "To Whom it May Concern", "Dear Sir/Madam". Do your research and personalise it.

Paragraph 1: I am seeking representation for my YA novel (Title, genre, wordcount).

Paragraph 2: THE PITCH! Gemma recommended 6-7 lines for your book. Yeah, that short! You want to tempt the agent in quickly. So, your pitch should introduce your main character, what she wants, what's in her way, and what will happen if she doesn't get what she wants. 

Paragraph 3: According to your submission guidelines... Say what you've included in your submission package, according to each agency's requirements. So, for The Bent Agency, you'd say "According to your submission guidelines, I have included the first ten pages below".

Paragraph 4: List any relevant memberships or qualifications you have, such as SCBWI. You do not need to list your exam results here, no matter how amazingly well you did. No, not even your English grades!

Paragraph 5: Anything else about the book you may want to add. Personally, I wrote about some of the research I'd carried out for Conspiracy of Echoes and how it fed into the book's creation.

The agents explained how they read queries outside their main working day, so mostly in the evenings and at the weekend. They also explained how many people get the basics of a query wrong. Louise told us about someone who had addressed a query to the founder of the agency AP Watt... who founded said agency in the 1870s... Not good. DO YOUR QUERYING RESEARCH! And never ever ever said queries out in bulk to multiple agents.

The need for patience was also highlighted. The agents said to wait three months for a response on a full... which leads me quite neatly to...

Nudging

Oh yes, the dreaded "nudge". The agents did cover nudging - as in when your submission has been with an agent longer than their stated response time and you haven't had a reply.

The agents recommended that you only nudge after the allotted time stated on their website has elapsed, and only ever nudge once. The agents agreed that if there's no response after a nudge, it's time to move on.

However, if an agent clearly states on their website "no response = rejection" then don't nudge unless you are still within their response timeframe and have an offer.

Synopsis

Ah, something else we all love to hate. Louise made a really good point that this shouldn't terrify you. She explained how distilling your plot to a single page gives you an opportunity to see where your plot works and where it may need more editing. Twitter pitches offer you the same chance to see how well your story works, and I must admit I spent a lot of time going over my Twitter pitches before I pitched in person.

Rejection


Again, remember, this is a business decision, not a judgement on how good of a writer you are. Yes, the agent has to like your writing and feel a connection to the book, but it's also a business decision - will the book sell? Does it fit with the agent's list or does it clash with an existing client's book? The agents all said don't be upset by a form rejection. They aren't personal.

They also advised not to change your book based on one line from an agent in a personalised rejection. Everyone likes different things, and what might not work for that agent may work perfectly well with others. If you're getting similar feedback from lots of agents, maybe a few tweaks would be a good idea, but if it's just one agent with one opinion, leave your book as it is. Constant edits while querying is the path to madness!

And here's where you absolutely must be professional. Don't fire off a rude email telling the agent how wrong they are. You won't do yourself any favours whatsoever.

When Agents Offer

Oooooh, I can't wait to be able to tell you this stuff from personal experience, but for now I leave the advice in the capable hands of the agents.

Firstly, if one agent offers you representation, you absolutely must tell everyone else still considering your book. They may counter-offer, which is when things get really exciting! The agents all offered advice on how to decide between agents:

  • Do you share a similar vision for the book?
  • Do you think you can work well together?
  • Your agent should be your champion for life! Are they going to fight for your book and all the books that will follow it?
  • Make sure the agent isn't about to leave the profession.
  • How do they or their agency handle international rights?

Some agents may want to meet you in person, although obvious geographic locations may prevent this. Thank goodness for phones! When I meet/have a phone call with an agent I'm going to have a list of questions for them. Remember all that talk about business earlier on? Well, now it's your turn to make the business call. If multiple agents offer representation, which one do you think will offer you the best career?

Remember to be professional when turning down offers from other agents. You never know when you may bump into them again.

Now, what happens after you sign with an agent? I'll get to that in my next post tomorrow!

Comments

  1. Super late commenting here, but the '6-7 line thing' is kind of surprising to hear from a UK agency. Do the Bent Agency use US format in general, or is the UK format shifting away from cover-letter-and-50-pages towards the US format?

    I've seen a few agencies switch to US format, which makes me a little sad -- I found the UK format a little more forgiving.

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    1. Actually, compared to some of the UK agencies I'm looking at, 6-7 lines is a lot. I've seen an agency that wants just two lines. I have quite the array of cover letters, from multiple paragraphs on the story to that just 2 lines. Looks like everyone is changing... I can send you this version of my query if you'd like to see it.

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