5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author

I really enjoy talking about debuts.

Many debut authors are nervous about their credentials (do I have enough? do they mean anything?), their contacts (who do I have to know? what if I don’t “know” anyone?), and their book (what if it’s not good enough? what if it’s the best I’ve got?).

I think it’s time debut authors gained their confidence and started to tap into the excitement that agents feel for them.

Here are 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Querying as a Debut Author:

1. Agents look forward to your work. Any agent who is building a list is looking for work. Not all agents are building a list however, so save yourself the heartbreak and query agents who advertise that they’re looking for new talent.

2. Your credentials aren’t holding you back. No bylines? No problem. I never brush off writers who haven’t been published in literary journals or newspapers. Everyone starts somewhere. And, as an agent whose talent is breaking out authors, I’m looking for writers at the early stages of their careers. It’s okay to tell me in your query that this is your first novel.

3. You don’t have to know anyone. Yes, referrals get you in the door, but agents still have particular tastes. The best way to get an agent is to query properly. The only people you need to know are authors whose work you love and then see who represents them. Start there.

4. You’re the best advocate for your work. (Don’t hire a company to query for you.) I feel sad for writers when I see that someone has queried on their behalf. If you’re too busy/scared/uninformed to query your own book then agents aren’t inclined to work with you. You, the writer, are always the most passionate about your own work so why would you outsource it? You can’t outsource ambition.

5. Someday you won’t be a debut anymore. Yes, I’m sure you knew this, but what I mean to say is right now it feels rough. But, the most important thing is making good business decisions early on in your career to set you up for success later. Don’t be swayed by short term gains for the sake of your future career goals. A bad agent fit (either not passionate about your work, doesn’t have time for you, or doesn’t share the same vision) is worse than no agent.

3 Great Things about a First Draft

It’s easy to lament about first drafts. The blank page is one of the hardest things for writers. So let’s take a spin on first drafts and think about the great parts of writing your story the first time around. Because there are a lot! You’ve got a world in your head that demands to see the light of day.

1. Inspiration is still there. No matter where that first draft takes you it’s easier to plug into where the idea came from. It’s like an energy source full of power that you can tap into. You can go back to the originating idea or outline and remember why this story needs to be told.

2. It can still go in different directions. Like an infant, you don’t know what it’s going to be when it grows up and that can be liberating. There are no mistakes because there is no end yet. So don’t be hard on yourself, just get those words down.

3. You’re proving to yourself you can (still) do it. If this is your first or fifth book, many writers question whether they can do it (again). Writing a novel is an exercise in patience, foresight, discipline, imagination and so much more. Novelists are sensitive but tough super-humans. 

Q: What’s your favourite part about your first drafts?

How much do you know about hiring an external publicist for your novel?

Being a fiction writer in today’s era of discoverability issues is tough! If you’ve got an agent (congrats!), a book deal (terrific!), and a pub date (a book birthday!) you’re certainly set up for success. But what is that success? What do you want from your novel? The most people to read it, surely.

One thing debut authors (and many established authors) are doing is hiring an external publicist to partner with an in house publicist on your behalf. To be clear, every book gets an in house publicist. But some writers don’t feel comfortable having all their eggs in one basket, especially when in house publicists are managing 5+ books a season.

Everyone from my clients to audience members during conference panels ask: Do I need to hire an external publicist?

The answer is no, you don’t need to. But here are some benefits and reasons why you might want or not want to.

You have one chance to make a first impression. You’ve been waiting for your pub date for years, if not decades. Why not give yourself the greatest chance for success by getting more talented experts in your corner? If you’re able to give yourself an extra boost why wouldn’t you?

If you didn’t get a big advance the publisher doesn’t have to work as hard to recoup their money. This is a reality of the business. Marketing money and publicity personnel goes to authors that publishers know will do well, not the ones that usually really need it. There are exceptions of course! But this should be your default mentality.

You got a big advance and have some expendable income. Lucky you! Your publisher paid well, you have great foreign deals coming in or other monies from your writing–why not reinvest that in your career? This isn’t for everyone, no publishing advice is, but if you’re able it’s a great way to spread the buzz as far as you can.

The more you pay doesn’t mean the more you’ll get. You never know what a publicist can do. Internal or otherwise. Publicists can’t make promises. If you are going to hire someone you must know that they will do their best but you don’t know what those results will be. They will share their notes and tell you who they contacted, but they can’t guarantee their contacts will pick up the story. If you pay $5,000 or $30,000 (yes, that’s the ballpark figures you’re looking at) you might end up with the same results. Or, you might end up with much, much more! But no one can see the future.

Know their track record. Have they got authors into EW or People? Or is their experience with author blog tours? Firstly, know what you want out of it. Secondly, find a publicist whose confirmed experience matches your goals.

Tips:

  • Ask your in house team if they recommend anyone. You want everyone to get along.
  • Before you hire an external publicist ask your in house team what their plans are and see if that meets your needs first.
  • Looking for a publicist? Publishing Trends puts out this list yearly. Bookmark it!
  • Start looking 8-12 months before your pub date to get everyone acquainted and following the same plan.
  • Make sure you’re doing all you can to support your team. It’s not just in the publicists’ hands. It’s in your hands too and they’ll want you to help with interviews, Q&As, giveaways, sharing your contacts, signing copies, promoting events, and much more. Be an open and willing partner and accept both parties are responsible for the outcome.

Publicists, external or internal, are some of the hardest working people in publishing. We’re lucky to have them all working on our books!

The Break-up: How to Leave Your Agent

I’m a believer in positive thinking and I try to keep things inspiring on my blog, but from time to time we have to get real and talk about tough things. What happens when you want to leave your agent? How should you do it? What’s the order of things?

Every scenario is different and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but here are some tips and suggestions to make a healthy and professional break. 

Leave your agent first. It’s always better to leave once you know things aren’t working. And no agent wants an email from an industry colleague saying “your client is querying and aren’t you still representing them?” It’s a bad scenario for everyone. Make a plan, part ways and then get back to your query letter.

Querying again might not be so hard. It’s up to you whether you want to say “previously represented and have amicably parted ways with my old agent” or whether you want to query with a blank slate. But if you got an agent once, you can do it again. Don’t let the slush pile keep you from leaving a partnership that’s not working.

Get your information: sales figures, submission lists etc. As soon as you’re querying again agents will be asking about these things. So as you’re parting ways make sure to ask for all the ammunition you might need. It’s better to get it right away than track down a former agent months later.

Remember it’s a small industry. Bad mouthing anyone or keeping secrets isn’t going to fly. Agents want to work with people they get along with, whether they’ve had another agent before or not. So push the trash talk away, and focus on what didn’t work, why, and how you can prevent your new partnership from falling into that old pattern.

Keep it professional, not personal. When it’s time to say goodbye it’s okay to do it by email. You don’t need to pick up the phone if you don’t want to. Either way, keep it classy.

If you want to, make sure you did everything you could. There’s no point putting your head in the sand the minute things don’t go your way. When you sign with an agent in the first place you should feel a sense of whether you can work with this person when things are great and when things are tough. (However, we all know situations change and people change.) Before you leave make sure you let your agent know when you’re having trouble in case your issues are resolvable and you don’t have to leave after all.

Don’t…

  • Write a blog post about your experiences. Some things you need to keep to yourself.
  • Keep secrets. If you’re not happy speak up before the relationship unravels. Or keep secrets from your new agent.
  • Start your new query letter with the negative. Avoid telling new agents how your old relationship went sour. Save that tidy line “amicably parted ways” for your author bio.

Managing your career is about knowing what’s best for you and your work. Sometimes even the best intentioned partnerships don’t work out in the long term and that’s okay. A well-built writing career is a long one.