5 Reasons for “Quick Pass” on a Query Letter

0212cf6

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.

Advertisements

What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sitting in front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

Agents can sense the determination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizing at the same time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.

When you sit down:

Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting across from me at this moment. I need to know why you selected me from the 3-20 other agents at this conference. Why do you think we’re a good fit? (No need to flatter us, just be honest.)

Take a deep breath. Then get right to the story. We only have 7-10 minutes so use them wisely! We’re here to help you publish your book not talk about the weather/city.

Read my social cues. Am I engaged in your story? Do I look like I want to cut in to ask a question?

Don’t plan to speak for the entire allotted time. Make sure we have time to have a conversation and let me ask questions. If you’ve memorized enough to fill that entire space it makes me feel awkward because I can’t get a word in.

Questions I ask throughout and afterwards:

  • What made you write about this?
  • How long did it take you to write?
  • What are you working on next?
  • Tell me about the crisis moment/climax/when multi POVs come together. (Writers like to tell me all about the themes and I don’t care about those at this point. In 10 minutes I need to know what the book is ABOUT and what we’re working towards.)
  • What did you write before? Do you have a publishing history?
  • Do you have a critique partner?

What agents are asking themselves:

  • Can I sell this book?
  • Can I work with this person for a long time?
  • Does it seem like they have a handle on the industry?
  • Do they understand what I do and how I work?

What happens at the end?

Agents will offer you an opportunity to send your work OR they’ll tell you it’s not for them. The point of in-person pitching isn’t to get representation on the spot! The point is to pique their interest, much like a query letter, and follow up by sending your work. I’ll usually thank you for pitching me and stand up as you walk away. Then you can relax!

Usually agents will ask to see your work unless they’re very clear it’s not for them. Unlike a query letter, an in-person pitch doesn’t come with a sample. It also depends on where an agent is at in their career. More established agents request less material because their client list is bigger.

However, make sure, if you got an open invitation to send your manuscript, that you ACTUALLY send it. So many times writers don’t send it and I don’t know why. Maybe they want to do edits and then they think too much time has passed or they think the agent didn’t really mean it–believe me, if we say send it then SEND IT!

February 11th Webinar: “Find Success with Your Query Letter: Getting Beyond Form Letters”

New year, new webinar.

Sign up here today! It also includes a critique of your query letter!

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

  • How to recognize patterns in rejection letters
  • When to rewrite your query and when to revise your manuscript
  • Why agents send form rejections and why they send personalized rejections-and what the difference is
  • Winning formulas for your premise, hook and query letter
  • Why your pitch should focus on plot, not theme
  • The truth about how agents process queries
  • How to think like an agent who is reading their slush pile

ABOUT THE WEBINAR

Writers are tired of all those rejection letters piling up in their inbox. Some writers are confused about what they mean and how to learn from them. Agents don’t love sending rejections; in fact, it’s agents’ least favorite part of the job. Agents send them for many reasons like writers not following guidelines or targeting the right agents, or perhaps an agent really does like a pitch, but they don’t love it. Everyone can see that’s a broad spectrum. So how do writers know where they fall into it? Believe it or not, those form rejections hold the secret to writers’ success-they just don’t know it yet.

This live webinar will change the way attendees think about the polite passes they get from agents. P.S. Literary VP and Senior Agent Carly Watters will teach writers how to deconstruct rejections, interpret unknown patterns, provide attendees with winning pitching formulas, and empower writers to find their success within the querying system.

Agents actually love the slush pile because it’s where they find most of their debut clients. Carly will show attendees how to stand out in the slush pile and reduce the number of rejections received through simple and straightforward techniques they’ll wish they had before they began submitting. Carly has proudly found 95% of her fiction authors in the slush pile and she’ll share the patterns of success that helped land those writers with her.

It’s never too late to have a winning writing career. Those rejections aren’t the end. All it takes is one yes. And Carly will help you get closer to yes.

Here’s the link again. The webinar is Thursday Feb 11. Hope to see you there!

DFW Con: See you this weekend!

Dallas Fort Worth Writers: I’m coming your way!

This weekend I’ll be at the following conference events:

Ask An Agent Session 2

Dawn Frederick, Michelle Johnson, Lana Popovic, Christopher Rhodes, Carly Watters
1:00 to 1:45 p.m.  Sunday

There are a lot of opinions out there about to how to become a traditionally published author. Everyone’s got plenty of free advice to offer. How to make sense of it all? If only someone would fly a bunch of literary agents across the country right here to the DFW Metroplex and gather them together into a room so I could ask them any question I want and get the answers straight from the people who know the market best. Nah, nothing that cool ever happens around here…

How To Sell Your Picture Book

Carly Watters, P.S. Literary Agency
3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Saturday

Writing for young kids has changed: morals and lessons are out and delightful, page-turning, kid-driven books are in. This workshop will teach you the dos and don’ts of selling your picture book in today’s market. 

Today’s Non-Fiction Markets

Dawn Frederick, Harry Hall, Ben Hedin, Me Ra Koh, April Osborn, Carly Watters
1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Saturday

Many writers are so focused on the goal of breaking into fiction that they overlook a huge market with an astonishing variety of opportunities and in many cases, less competition. Here’s a look at ways to make your mark in the world of non-fiction. 

Also, sign up for my pitch sessions and talk to me about your exciting work!