5 Reasons for “Quick Pass” on a Query Letter

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Agents do inhale query letters. We get 1,000’s a year and go through them periodically; usually consuming them in batches of 20-100’s at a time. I try to read them once or twice a month.

Your query letter is my first encounter with you. It doesn’t have to be “perfect” (I mean that!), but it does have to convince me why I need to read your writing, get lost in your voice, and why this particular story matters more than the others.

Your query letter is the first opportunity to engage me and show me how you’re a storyteller no matter the medium. Storytellers can write a novel and explain it in a few paragraphs–they have to.

FIVE REASONS FOR A QUICK PASS:

  1. Novel that’s under 70k or over 110k. Storytellers know how long it takes to tell a story and a novel-length project requires a certain depth of story.
  2. Wordy descriptions that are better suited for a synopsis than a pitch. No need to show off. Use plain language that shows your voice and range.
  3. Inaccurate or wildly inflated comparative titles. You don’t have to use the title du jour or name every bestseller (I assure you, this doesn’t wow us); instead, pick comp titles that are successful but not ubiquitous.
  4. Lack of core conflict. If you can’t tell me what your book is actually ABOUT then we have a problem. Storytellers can distill because they start from the main question of the plot and work backwards.
  5. Picked the wrong agent. Information floats around the web and often gets attributed incorrectly. Always go back to an agent’s website or blog for the most accurate information.

Next time you’re crafting your query think about what agents need to know and why. From those 80,000 words, extract a hook that shows me you can tell a story in 350 words–or 350 pages. That’s your job.

Your query letter tells me what kind of storyteller you’re going to be and I want to work with writers who understand the difference between writing and storytelling. Anyone can write, but not everyone can be a true storyteller.

A Detailed, Bookish Guide to Instagram

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I’ve rounded up some bookish Instagram experts, compiled data, and pulled links together to show everyone a complete picture of Instagram for writers and book lovers. If you’re unsure about whether Instagram is for you try it out and you’ll quickly see why book lovers flock there. Book covers are made to be captured and shared on the platform. Writers can share their WIP adventures or road to publication. Publishers host giveaways.

Plus, many book bloggers now use Instagram to promote their book coverage on their blogs. So not only should writers be on there to build a personal platform, writers should also be on there building a community to help promote their book when the time comes. Below are some tips from book bloggers and “bookstagrammers” that will help explain these concepts.

And, you can follow me on Instagram to get a taste of a visual bookish life: @carlywatters. I try to show what I’m reading for fun with my #cwreads hashtag, promote my clients’ books, and share my personal and professional travels.

How To Grow Your Platform: INTERACT!

Sassy & Dangerous Bookstagrammer Talina says: “If you are looking to build your platform and have your voice heard in the book world then I can’t stress this enough: you need to interact and connect. Don’t be shy in reaching out to fellow authors, readers, bookstagrammers/bloggers. With the new algorithm that Instagram has adopted, it’s harder for smaller accounts to get noticed, unfortunately. So, take matters into your own hands – reach out to others, promote yourself in creative ways, and let your voice be heard in this book world.” (Editor’s note: here’s a blog post with some algorithm-beating tips!)

How To Create a Brand: TRY TO TAKE VISUALLY PLEASING SHOTS!

Swept Away By Books Bookstagrammer Alyssa says: “Some people complain about not having enough, or ‘good’ props for photos, but that’s where spontaneity and creativity come into play.  Take a photo in the location that you’re reading, nestle your book in with your blanket and cup of tea on the couch, show a bit of your every day life in your photo to create a sense of reality; but always ensure it’s pleasing to the eye. Not only will that actually make a user stop and take a closer look, but it will make the chance that they engage on your photo with a like and comment more likely.”

I also recommend using natural light as much as possible! Artificial light can look too warm no matter what filter you use.

What Filter Should I Use? THE SAME ONE ON EVERY PHOTO.

The easiest way to build a visual brand on Instagram is to use the same filter on every image you post. Even if it’s not the best filter for that image you’ll quickly create brand recognition and continuity with the same “look” across the board.

What Is Your Brand? YOURSELF!

Talina sums this up so well: “We all have people or things we look up to. We find inspiration in that person or their work(s), or maybe it’s something else that you find your inspiration in. But at the end of the day the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. If you are passionate with what you do, people will notice it and they will remember that. Bookstagram is probably one of the best places that you can go on and share your love for literature. It’s where you can connect with others that love the same things you do: books. So my advice to you would be to be yourself, be authentic, be passionate and I promise everyone will notice and remember you for that.”

How Do You Build A Community? AUTHENTICITY

Book Baristas creator Natasha (with 114k followers!) told me in an earlier blog post: “Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.”

How Often Should You Post? MULTIPLE TIMES A WEEK!

I love this advice from Alyssa and I’m trying to incorporate it more into my feed: “You’ll never build an audience by posting one or two times a week. I’m not saying you have to post daily, but make it an effort to post frequently. Over posting can become annoying (2 posts a day max). This goes back to interacting with fellow Instagram users- if they have nothing new to interact with you over, how will they keep coming back?

Also, according to Simply Measured, Friday afternoons garner the most comments (meaning the most engagement) specifically from 3-4pm. Other great time are weekday commuting hours (8-10am and 4-6pm), weekday evenings as people scroll before bed (9-11pm), and weekend mornings before people start their days (9-11am).

How Writers Should Engage with Book Bloggers who Bookstagram: PATIENCE!

Natasha also said: “Remember that these bloggers/reviewers are going to be busy reading/reviewing a ton of other books and to be patient with the time that it can take for a review/Instagram feature to go up. Personally, I feel a sense of urgency when a writer will ask me when exactly I plan to put up a review. Blogging can feel insanely overwhelming so I’d just be more aware of that. Also, be prepared for whatever review/rating you get – sometimes a story doesn’t resonate with a reader and that’s okay.”

What Are Instagram Stories? A MORE USER FRIENDLY VERSION OF SNAPCHAT

Instagram stories are like Snapchat (linked photos or video clips that last for 24 hours on the platform) but I find it easier to use than Snapchat. For example, you can use the photos you’ve taken with your camera app (with Snapchat you have to use the camera in the app) from the past 24 hours and open those photos to use in your Instagram Story. For more tips, read this article in The Social Media Examiner and see this Neiman Lab post about visual storytelling.

What Hashtags Should You Use? THESE ONES:

  • #MondayMotivation
  • #WriterWednesday
  • #ThrowbackThursday
  • #FridayReads
  • #Bookstagram
  • #Bookgram
  • #Booklover
  • #Bookworm
  • #Booknerd
  • #VSCObooks
  • #Instareads
  • And don’t forget the hashtags of writers you’re reading, publishers, book titles and locations you’re reading in.

 

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So, go ahead and get started! Be playful and share that bookish life of yours.

In the comments include your Instagram handle so my blog followers can find and follow each other–start building your platform today.

3 Steps To A Winning Non Fiction Project

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Non fiction is an incredibly busy category. With celebrity memoirs and internet-based projects (HONY etc.) everywhere (and rightfully so! As you’ll see below) it’s a competitive space for debut non fiction authors. So if you have a non fiction idea how are you going to get to the marketplace? How do you find an agent and editor that will see the potential?

1. IDEA

Firstly, you need a completely original idea or a very new/controversial take on an existing one. Yes, nearly every topic has been written about but there are many more spins and angles to be worked. So ask yourself: Why are you the right person to write this? Why does the market need it? There is no substitute for the idea. You can work on 2 and 3, but this has to be there from day 1. If you’re working on an idea that’s already out there in book format, how is yours different? No agent or editor is going to sign something up that’s already out there unless it’s being done differently or better.

2. ENGAGEMENT

How have you tested your idea? Do you have a podcast where people call in with stories? Do you have a Twitter account with lots of RTs? Do you have regular speaking gigs where people hear you talk? Are you on TV/have a column/hold a prominent job? How does a publisher know that people are engaged with what you have to say? If they’re going to financially invest in a project before it’s written (remember non fiction is sold on proposal) then you need to show them why they should. You’re writing a business plan for your project. Engagement is the proof that this idea can work as a book. Give the publisher faith that you can bring this to a wide audience.

3. PLATFORM

Engagement and platform are the same category, but different. You can have a platform without engagement (i.e. blog with no hits) but you can’t have engagement without a solid platform. Pick the platform that you find easiest to consistently communicate on and make it easy for people to find you. Your platform is essentially your numbers of followers and the virtual and physical reach you have. How many people listen to your podcast? How many followers do you have? They need to be engaged, yes! But, the smaller your platform the higher the engagement has to be. The bigger your platform gets high engagement is expected and that’s when it’s time to pitch a book.

Then you put it all together into a proposal, write a query, and submit.

#askagent on Facebook LIVE Oct 13

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The long weekend is over and it’s full steam ahead to Frankfurt Book Fair, #NaNoWriMo, the International Festival of Authors and the rest of the delights of fall publishing.

This week, I’m hosting a live #askagent session on the PSLA Facebook page.

Ask your questions in advance here.

Thursday at 4pm EST you can log in here.  Join me!