Slowing Down the Query-Go-Round

With hundreds of resources online geared towards helping writers make the most of a query/pitch/synopsis, I was surprised there wasn’t much on how to simplify the query-go-round process in general.

But, we all know, there is no really easy way to query …there are only ways to simplify or streamline the process.

Maybe these is common knowledge, but as I began querying again, I’ve devised a methodology that has helped me streamline the almost tedious project into something simple and easy and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Be warned, it takes a minute … but the rewards are worth the effort.  I’ve managed to cut my querying time in HALF, at least, by following the simple stuff below:

1. Create a virtual folder on your desktop, something that is easy to access, that you don’t need to search for.  This is the first part of the long process.

Most agents who ask for samples along with your query will more then likely request one of the following:

  • The first three chapters
  • The first five pages
  • The first 5,000 words
  • The first chapter
  • The first fifty pages
  • The first twenty pages

Before you begin, break the manuscript down into these chunks.  Save them into new files titled : First Fifty, First 5,000 words and so on.  They will be easy to grab if they are clearly identified.

Move a copy of the completed manuscript into this folder as well, on occasion, this is an acceptable submission — but it’s also good to have it at your finger tips for the rare “one-off” request for a not-so-common number of pages, words, or chapter count.

2. Create a singular document for your synopsis and introduction (the copy and paste function is your friend when you start writing the e-mails) … do not include any NAMES or SPECIFICS in this.

Example one : Do not address the bulk document to “Dear Agent” … if you do, inadvertently you’ll probably, at some point, send it as such.  A blank entry will better remind you to ADD the proper greeting addressed specifically to the agent you’re interested in touching base with.

Example two : Do not say “below you’ll find the first twenty pages of my manuscript” … the fine print is often overlooked.  Rather, enter something that is hard to over look like <ADD SPECIFICS> … it’s glaring and will allow you to correct it specifically for each query independently.

3. Your biography.  Ugh, we all love this part!  Write a simple biography.  Brag, just a little.  You’re accomplished.  Agents want to see you believe in yourself — if you’ve read any interviews, you’ll notice that.  So, if you’ve done something super shiny and spectacular, share it.  Things I’ve read they want to see:

  • Education.  Where did you study?  Or what?  It’s okay if you haven’t, but be honest about it.
  • Experience OR what makes you qualified to write this book.  This is particularly important in non-fiction, but in fiction sometimes a little blurb about why you wrote it is nice to include.
  • Writing history OR street ‘cred.  Have you published?  If so, what.  In today’s day and age it’s perfectly fine to say “I’m independently published.”  Heck, chances are you’ll know a lot about the industry and that’s always a good thing.

Create your biography as, again, a separate document.  Write it in a friendly first-person format, different from your professional biography used for websites, Amazon and other promotion.  Be conversational.  This may be the first, last and only chance you have to sell yourself, which is half of the querying process.

Example: In my biography I mentioned that my novel has been previously self-published successfully.  I share my results very honestly.  One agent saw this and e-mailed back shortly after I sent my query, told me my book was “intriguing” and my reviews “impressive” … then, she asked to see more.

4. Research.  Did you know that there are more than 1,500 agents out there “agenting” (my fake word for their very real job) every single day?  Me either.  That’s a lot of potential.  But, resist it!  Research your agents.  Just like authors, doctors and babysitters, all agents aren’t created equal.  And that goes beyond just what they are actively looking for.  It goes to how you feel about them.  That little key is as important as anything else.

Querying is really like a game of tennis … the choices bounce between the two players … and you’re the one serving!

I recommend using a site like 1000agents.com which allows you search by your refinements.  Personally, I don’t pitch to agents who don’t accept e-mail, this allows me to whittled down the list to meet my personal specifications.

Then, I do further research.  I look for interviews they’ve given and I read every word.  I make a list of names of those I’m interested in from there.

4a. Adhere to their guidelines.  You’re out to make a stunning first impression — so follow the rules.  They don’t want to see your creativity, they want to see you be smart and concise.

5. Personalize the letter if you can.  Not every agent does interviews … but if they do, and it was that interview that drove you towards them, mention it.  If you participated in #askagent on Twitter when they were hanging around, mention it.  What’s the harm?  Everyone likes to feel “special” … agents do interviews to inform and educate, let them know that, when it comes to you, they’ve spent their time well — that you’ve become informed and learned and that you respect them so you’re reaching out.  It’s flattery, but it’s also honest.

Example: One of the agents I queried did a very long interview on the books she was drawn to.  She liked “magic” … I mentioned that my book has magic, albeit practical magic (not the otherworldly stuff) … This agent e-mailed me back within 30 minutes asking to see more from me.

6. Query early in the morning or late at night.  This is a bit of a throw back from my time as a hiring manager.  You want to be on their screen first thing in the morning before they launch into their other responsibilities.  Their days are jammed back, you’re just a small part — so you know what they say, the early bird gets the worm.

7. Perfect your pitch/query and synopsis.  Ask someone who is unfamiliar with your book to look it over for you and give you a gut-reaction.   You should probably spend a day looking at it, put it away for a few, and revisit.

So that’s about it … my seven steps to querying that I have found worked for me this time around.

If you’re looking to query and need someone to go over your material, I’m available to give it a once-over, you can e-mail me at ashley (at) ashleymacklerpaternostro (dot) com with Query Draft in the subject line.

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Authors For Wounded Warriors

This is your fair warning that the following post is going to be sort of preachy …

Every year my husband, Mark, plays in a hockey game called Guns ‘n’ Hoses, an event held at the esteemed Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.  He plays “old man hockey” (as I affectionately call it with a group of men who happen to be police officers — the team is called Skatin’ Bacon — too funny!).  And each year the game benefits a charity.  In 2012, all the proceeds of the event went to support a home where adults with disabilities can live comfortably and have a sense of normalcy.  In 2013 the charity selected was the Wounded Warrior Project (for the remainder of this update, I’ll be referring to it simply as WWP).

As an author, every single day I get to enjoy the benefits of a country that is free.  I exercise freedom of speech in my novels.  I live am able to research the themes of my novels because of the freedom of the press.  And then, on a very base level, I get to live my dream of being a storyteller because there is no one to tell me I can’t.  As readers or authors, you all enjoy the same benefits.  How lucky are we?

But freedom, as they say, is never free.  Brave men and women fight for my right and yours to live the sort of lives we choose for ourselves.  They give of themselves so we can live in a land that, while not perfect, is safe and liberally minded and allows us the latitude to speak our piece.

When my husband told me that the game this year would be played for the WWP, I knew it was responsibility and even more than that, my honor, to arrange a donation to assist in raising additional funds.  I knew the first step would be brainstorm.

My idea was to super load one Kindle that could be silently auctioned off. And as luck would have it, I just so happen to belong to a community that is not only large, but largely benevolent and generous.

I sent out the call on a blustery Saturday morning, asking if any writers would be willing to donate a copy of their book to be loaded onto the Kindle and eventually auctioned off.  I figured, conservatively, I’d get maybe 15-20 books.  But the kindness of others never fails to amaze me. Within the first hours of announcing the project, I’d received e-mails sent from locations around the world, not just the United States … and my little project went from being me with my fingers crossed, to being international initiative.

I figured, at some point, the donations would taper off … they didn’t.  It grew.  Fast.  Traditionally published authors caught the scent and before I knew it, I was being BCC on e-mail exchanged with the powers-that-be at some of the Big Six houses.

Would I accepted gifted books from Amazon?  Yes!

How about print copies?  Yes!

Do you need gift certificates?  Yes!

How about some swag?  Sign me up!

To date, more than 80 authors have shared their literary works in hopes of super-loading that Kindle, and now we’re filling book shelves too.  And with more than 150 books offered up in the name of charity, I call this venture, unabashedly, a raging success.

On March 30th this absolutely stunning offering will be auctioned off silently.  Every single dollar raised will go directly to wounded warriors and their families as they begin the journey to healing … the wealth will be spread, the benefits enjoyed and in a small, yet significant way, we will all have paid back their kindness and generosity with a bit of our own.

Submissions close on March 22nd … so until then, please, if you have an interest in donating (gift cards, books, swag, whatever!) contact me at:

ashley (at) ashleymacklerpaternostro (dot) com

More information can be found at :

www.authorsforwoundedwarriors.wordpress.com

The Best Thing Self-Publishing Ever Gave Me

Have I really not blogged since June?  Whoa … I need to get back it, huh?

So, a lot has happened since we last visited or, um, since I went ‘dark’ … I’ll spare you all the stories, but let’s just say, it’s been one heck of a ride.

In October, In The After was published.  In February it became a best-seller on Amazon.  It remained a genre best-seller for a while thereafter and really threw me for a loop.  Me?  A best-seller?  With my little self-pub’d book?  Oh yes, the numbers don’t lie, darlin’.   Your eyes do not deceive you!  Celebrate!

Then, once the high faded (but not the numbers, really) came the question … did I see more for my book?  The answer was a resounding yes — but don’t we all?

The truth was simple: I’d done pretty much everything within my power to push that book to where it landed, stayed for a while, and slowly fell.  But still, if you can believe the readers (and I do), there was more this book could do, a wider audience it could reach — and unfortunately, I simply am not capable of being the one to do it.  Lesson one: know your limitations, get on a first name basis with them.

I decided after much consideration to query my already-successful, already-self-published manuscript.

In the beginning of this blog, we spent a heck of a lot of time discussing querying.  With The Milestone Tapes the query-go-round consumed my life and really darkened my mood. I lost faith there for a while.  Lots of “no thanks” followed by a couple partials, followed by a full, followed by more “no thanks.”  That sort of nonsense takes it toll on two things …

1. Your spirit.

2. Your will to carry on.

With In The After things were going to be different, I decided from the starting line.

Here are my rules for my second chance up to bat:

  • I’d work hard to protect my sanity this time.  No month-long marathon of non-stop selling myself via e-mail.  I couldn’t stomach the thought, really.  If I thought I’d have to do that again … I’d run the other way (and I’m not, for the record, a runner.)
  • I would be honest with my sales and selling status, write a compelling pitch that would include reader reaction — unconventional maybe, but incredibly important in an industry where readers are the real clients.  It was a benefit, if you think of it in those terms, for both myself and the agent — this book had proven itself in the real world.  I’ve done my part to show, not tell, that — natch!
  • I’d only query a select THIRTY-ISH agents out of the almost 1,500 registered with Publisher’s Marketplace.  I did my research, I queried established agents and new agents alike.  If they “spoke” to me, I’d speak back.
  • And lastly, I’d of course adhere to their query guidelines and address them personally — I’m a big one on manners, you know.

Within the first hours, the first request came for a partial.  It actually came before a single rejection.  I actually made it a whole 24 hours this time before the first rejection — and the one who rejected me, well, he was a long shot anyway.  (No hard feelings though, I understand what the guy was saying.)

But, while reading his scant reply to my long, verbose query I realized what self-publishing has given me …

Perspective.

I don’t write books for agents.  I really don’t.  I write books for readers.  The ones who spend hours on Amazon trying to unearth a good novel and sample it greedily on the screen of their Kindle before clicking “buy” and submerging themselves into the world we create for them.

I respect agents — always have, always will.  I admire their job and cringe when I think of all the slush they have to scoop away to find the hidden gem that speaks to them.  They, are readers too.  But when my query zooms into their in-box, they aren’t … they are working, they are “agenting”, prospecting and cherry-picking.  They aren’t looking to simply be entertained, they are looking for the next NYT best-seller, the next award-winner, multi-million dollar movie deal.  They need to eat too.

Rejections, with a broadened scope, no longer hurt.  Maybe it’s all the scar-tissue cultured from the zinger two and three star-reviews and returns on my KDP page.  Maybe it’s simply exhaustion and the desire to just write.  Maybe it’s knowing that tastes are so subjective and that, as an avid antique enthusiast, I personify the saying one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  

Whatever it is, I’ve turned a page.

Instead of looking for an agent to give me a break, I’m looking for a partnership.  Did I query the best of the best?  In some cases, yes.  But I also looked to new agents building their client-list because I too am looking to build my books-list and we can work together.

In truth, I love agents.  I love what they represent and I admire the “old way” of publishing just as much as I love the “new way”.  I know they are capable of doing things I simply am not, but likewise, I know what I’ve done has been pretty awesome too.  I also have unwavering faith in my book — something, sadly, I didn’t know enough to have before.  You cannot underestimate the power this gives you. I’ve put this novel out into the world like a loving mother who puts her kindergartner on the bus for the first day of school — we both do so with apprehension and excitement and hope.

This time it’s not about please, please, please like me please! It’s about here is my story, I’ve proven it sells, want in?  Oh, and once we get friendly, I’ve got another for you … have you ever heard of Two Spirits?

So … I’m back … I’m blogging … and I’m different … so this should all be interesting … stay tuned!