For starters, in case you missed the news, I am now officially represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Lit. Woot woot! Best news ever. It happened fast. She was the only agent I sent the query to, and it was one week from sending her the query to the phone call offering representation.
A freaking miracle.
And that's what I want to write about today–the process I went through to make this miracle happen.
But first. Let's contrast this magical occurrence in 2013 with my process in 2011 and 2012 when I was submitting Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. I sent that novel to 60 agents. Yes, 60. I was determined–or maybe just deluded. But I loved my cranky Emma Jean and I thought others would, too. Some did–but more of them, at least in the publishing world, were overwhelmed and taken aback by her. The constant refrain that I heard was, "we're afraid she's unrelatable." (I actually think she was a character ahead of her time by a year or two. Because after the book got picked up by a small press, the movie Bad Teacher and the TV show Bad Judge both came out.)
So I've now experienced both sides of the submitting process–immediate gratification and the long, painful sending out of emails, many of which never got a response, most of which got rejections, albeit encouraging ones. (If you are in the middle of doing that, you have my sympathy.) Because of both these experiences, I know the process well. And I've come up with a few hints and tips. Here's how I did it :
1. I finished the book. If you are writing a novel or a memoir, you need to have the manuscript finished before you can start submitting. (Non-fiction books are a different beast, and are sold with proposals.) Not only do you need to finish your book, you need to make it as good as you possibly can–this is likely going to mean more than a couple drafts. I wrote two drafts of The Bonne Chance Bakery, as the next novel is tentatively called.
2. I let others read it. Find either a critique group (which will often read your drafts in progress) or beta readers (who are readers you trust, not necessarily writers though they can be, who will read the whole thing at once) and get their reaction. You can find critique groups or partners and beta readers through local writer's groups. Okay–true confessions, I fell down on this step a bit. Several writers had read the first few chapters, but that was all. If I'd been following my own advice I would have sent it out to beta readers before I submitted it. And, I had some lined up. But something told me to go ahead and send the query, so I did.
3. I wrote the best f*%@ing query ever. I will admit, I'm a good query writer. You should develop this skill, too, as it will open doors for you. There's tons of advice online for writing queries, and if you have a specific agent in mind, her website may well tell you what she is looking for (mine did). Follow that advice to the letter. If you can't find it, here's a basic template:
–Tell why you are submitting to that agent (see #4)
–Devote a 2-3 paragraphs to your story, with a great hook
–Wrap up with your bio
This should all fit onto one page in letter format if you were printing it out.
4. I researched agents. Please don't skip this step. I learned about Erin through the Women's Fiction Writer's Association and Twitter, and then I haunted her agency page and Googled her. I decided she was the perfect agent for me. (Luckily, she agreed.) But I knew that she repped a lot of women's fiction writers and further, that she was specifically looking for more. And, I knew she had just opened up for submissions. If I hadn't done my research, I wouldn't have known all of this. If I had submitted during a period when she wasn't reading, my email would have been ignored. If I had sent a query through the regular mail, it would have been thrown out–Folio only accepts email submissions. YOU MUST FIND THIS STUFF OUT. Find yourself a good agent listing site, choose some likely candidates, and then cross reference to their websites to be certain you have current info. And then follow the guidelines on the website!
5. I got personal recommendations. Not this time around, but last time I did. And let me tell you, if you can write something like "Famous Author Recommended Me" in the subject line, your query is going to go to the top of the pile. A variation on this theme is to attend conferences and meet with agents there.
6. I braced myself for rejection. Okay, so it didn't happen. What did happen is that Erin read my query (itself a minor miracle–she usually sends them right on to her readers) and immediately requested the full manuscript. And then, um, in a week she was offering me representation. But don't take this as the usual way things happen! Like I said, I was ready for rejection (remember, I sent Emma jean out to over 60 agents). When you do get rejected, scream and yell and sob for a couple minutes and then take a deep breath and hit reply and ask that agent if they can think of any other agents who might be interested. (This advice only works if you've gotten a positive rejection. If its a form letter, don't try it.) You might not hear from them–but then again you could. And if you do, put their name in the subject line when you query (See #5.)
7. I've been basking….Let me tell you, after all the years I've been in this busy, to hear the words, "I am calling to offer you representation by Folio Literary," was one of the best moments of my life. I've told everybody–friends, family, strangers, grocery store checkers. This is the greatest thing ever!
8. What happens next? I signed the agency contract, and last week Erin had an editorial meeting with the two other readers she had assigned the manuscript to. She is at this very moment writing up an editorial letter. When I receive that, its time for me to focus on rewriting. And then Erin will begin submitting it to publishers. Woot woot! I promise to keep you posted!
Any questions about the process? Leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.