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.

I’m Going All In

Last night, I made a decision … we’ll lovingly call it the May Day choice.

I’ve decided, starting May 2, 2012 or as soon as the “pending” icon beside The Milestone Tapes vanishes, I’ll be going Select.  100% in it.  100% Amazon.

Two months ago I took a risk, a calculated risk, but still a risk.  I self published.  This book that no agent believed in has since gone on to gather glowing reviews … after 14 on Goodreads I’m still a strong 4.5 stars.  I thought, in the beginning, that market saturation would be the key to this novels success.  That if everyone had the chance to own it, I’d be selling smart.

Two months later, data has proven, my original stance was wrong.  No, market saturation and a bagillion blog tours isn’t making this book rise and shine in the rankings.  Here is the break down.

B&N – 3 copies sold

Smashwords (et all) – 2 gifted, 0 sales.

Amazon on the other hand accounts for almost 100% of the interest in both paperback and eBook.

It wasn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants decision I made when I decided to pull my title from Smashwords and B&N … it was calculated.  It was ultimately based on where I was seeing the book sell and the opportunities the book would have if I gave the rights exclusively to Amazon and Select.

Select will give my title, in a perfect world, more visibility.  The glorious free days will also let readers take the chance on a book they otherwise might not buy.

All of that aside, what ultimately made my mind up (outside of the advice of David Adams, a gifted writer and fellow author friend) is that I shopped at Macy’s.  Just follow my thought here for a moment …

My sister was looking for a dress for an upcoming engagement party and we decided that Macy’s would probably have the right selection for her needs.  As we browsed the racks I noticed a few things … there is such a thing as brand exclusivity.  Macy’s carried Ralph Lauren while Sears does not.  Why?  Because Ralph Lauren probably sells better at Macy’s.  So while RL does have stand-alone stores that I’m guessing do well with the preppy Americana crowd, they also let Macy’s act on their behalf because it works as well at the department store.

Select is not really so different.  Books are a commodity.  Selling them where they actually sell rather than where they don’t is, in a word, smart.

I have to be smart.  I have to take things at face value.  So, ultimately, for the next three months I’m going all in.

We’re Indie Bound … Or Are We?

So today is sort of a beef/vent/getting out of my own head post.

Right now in my little town book shop I’ve seen this emergence of these brightly colored red/white/black posters screaming Indie Bound.  I figured since I’m Indie, with an organic interest, I wanted to know more.  I mean, anything Indie I get get behind.

In case you’re unfamiliar … Indie Bound is this: A small organization that moves consumers to find small, local shops and encourages a person to opt to spend their money there as opposed to big box stores (a la your local bookstore over B&N).  And the kicker is, the movement is truly geared towards books.  While Indie Bound does list shops from clothes to bikes and nearly everything niche market in-between, Indie Bound appears to have a sweet spot for books.

I then found what is called Indie Next … a list of best selling Indie Books.

PERFECT.

I was really juiced up over this for all the obvious reasons.  That was, until I started playing around on the site …

While Indie Bound is still all about small Ma & Pa shops, the books they have on their “Indie Next” list are … um … anything but Indie.  Here is the list:

WILD (published by Knopf)

THE COVE: A NOVEL (published by Ecco)

THE BOOK OF JONAS (published by Blue Rider Press)

SACRE BLEU (published by William Morrow)

ANGELMAKER (published by Knopf)

THE GODS OF GOTHEM (published by Putnam)

Are you catching a reoccurring theme happening here?  None of these novels … not a single one … is the work of an Indie Author.

These books, touted as Best Selling works of Indies are actually just another best selling list from publishers.  Bah!

When I took this to the Kindleboards, I was told by another writer that “Indie was once how “small publishers” referred to themselves” … and I suppose, maybe if this was 10 years ago, I could agree.

But is that was Indie is anymore?  I don’t necessarily agree.

In my mind, Indie means “DYI” … it means you’re the one who does the work, makes 70% of your sales and there is no publisher giving you an advance or sharing in your royalties.  To me, big 6 or small press, you’re trade published.

My question is … do you agree?

 

 

I Love This Story …

So, we’ve talked and talked and talked about self publishing becoming the “new” publishing, like pink becoming the “new” black.  And, we’ve all probably assumed that along the way to this brave new future we’d pick up some key players who were once published traditionally … but who saw this one coming?!

Well, it’s happening.  J.K Rowling’s with her Pottermore … and now, Jackie Collins.  Yes, that Jackie Collins.

When I was about nineteen I went through this really smutty phase.  Along with novels like She’s Come Undone and Backroads, I also purchased Jackie Collins novels (mostly on tape because her british-y accent lulled me to sleep at night) and Dannielle Steel.  Now, I wouldn’t call Steel’s novels smutty, they’re more the warm & fuzzy sort of read with an add water recipe of romance … but Collins, yeah, she’s a little lascivious.  All the sex, death and mayhem one could possibly want.

Needless to say, I was a fan of her Lucky character and the sickly delicious, totally salacious Hollywood inspired novels.  They only got better for me when Collins fessed up that yeah, they were inspired by true and not-so-true events.  “Yum!” said the gossip girl lurking inside my soul.

While I’ve retired most of my Collins cassettes to the .25 cent table at my garage sale, I still have the utmost respect for a writer who can be so wickedly good.

And now this. (click the link for the full story!)

Here’s what thrilled me about the news …

Collins is a good writer.  She’s had blockbuster success with her stories, but she’s also smart.  It’s pretty impressive to see a writer who has a long standing career acknowledge, full on, that things are actually changing.  She’s not trying to pull punches or talk into fancy industry lingo, she’s just telling the truth.  You have to respect her and her balls on that one.  While she’s not totally turning off the lights on her trade career, it’s exciting to see her venturing that big toe into the self-pub game.

I’m sure she doesn’t need it … but still, I wish her tons of success!

Complete Ridiculousness

Maybe you’re a bibliophile.  Maybe you love the idea of rare, incredibly expensive novels lining the wooden shelves of your library.  Maybe you have money to burn.  Or, maybe you’re just ridiculous.

Yesterday I was cruising around on Amazon, checking out my book, my ranking, my reviews when I noticed a few online vendors had picked up The Milestone Tapes for their stores.  Amazing!  I was excited, so I clicked on the list.  99% were normal, prices were average for print.  Then … I came upon Invise.

Apparently Invise (with it’s 92% satisfaction rating) has decided my book is worth … make sure you’re sitting down when you read this … $888.00 + tax + shipping.  I had to laugh. If you buy a book for damn near $900.00 you can’t even get free shipping?  COME ON!

But in all seriousness … I think this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of stupid in my day!).  NO ONE should ever pay that much for my book … and I’m almost embarrassed a seller has the balls to ask for that price.

I don’t know how Invise came up with this price … but however they did, they should really, really consider figuring out another method.

World News, Quite A Happy Birthday!

I’ve been, maybe, the worst blogger in the history of the world.  I apologize (it feel’s like I’m always saying “sorry” here … sorry for that!) …

I just returned from a trip out west, the place where it all started for me.  365 days I stood on Rialto Beach and said “it’s time to figure my life out and live it authentically.”  I knew what that meant, where I needed to go and what I needed to do … now, I’m published.  It was a crazy year, but the accumulation of it couldn’t have been more justified … I needed to stand there again and feel the completion, the accomplishment.

Today, I turn 29.  The first year of writing has come and gone so quickly, I don’t really know whether to celebrate or cry because it was an amazing year, and I know I’ll never go back.  I’ll be that innocent again, or at things so simply.  It feels like I grew into this so quickly.

But here’s what’s crazy.

The day I turned 28, I decided to write a novel … the day I turn 29, I have an article about that novel feeding out of World News.  I don’t know if it gets better than that … it was a fluke of timing or the natural unfolding of things.  But either way, it’s amazing.

World News Article About The Milestone Tapes

This Has Been A Wild Year

Nearly one year ago my life was completely and entirely different.  I was a wife, a puppy-parent, I worked 50 hours a week … and those things haven’t changed.  I’m still a wife, I still have my wild pack of Chihuahuas running my house and I still work 50 hours a week.  But now, in addition to all of those really fortunate things, I’m a published author — and that is a huge, really mind-bending accomplishment.

I spent yesterday reflecting on the changes the past 360-some-odd days have seen.  Everything from shedding self-doubt, to starting this blog, to really learning the flesh and bone nature of publishing.  In sum, I guess the only conclusion I can draw is that this has been a wild year.  One I’m thankful for beyond words … because this was a dream.

I’ll admit, this whole process looks very little like how I thought it would.  If you had told at the start of this I would be self published, I would have laughed.  Not because I think there is anything remotely wrong about with going it alone — but rather because it felt, in beginning, insurmountable.  Genuinely, I thought I’d have an agent, a contract, that The Milestone Tapes would hit store shelves far, far in the future.  But I can’t say I regret things working out like they did … actually, just the opposite.  I know so much more about this industry than I would have learned had things worked out differently.  And with that comes a sense of pride and faith — that I never need the agent or the publisher, that I can make own way with things and do it all in my own terms.

One of my favorite moments: This book that no one believed in — that every agent and every publisher turned away because it was a hard sale made the top 40 most requested books on Goodreads.

I want to thank you all, so much, for taking this journey with me … this, right now, is where it was always going.  The moment when The Milestone Tapes would be available on Amazon and Nook and a few bookstores … where I could say “okay, I did it … and now I’m ready for what comes next.”

Seriously … the followers of my blog, the comment contributors, have really made a difference.  I know I don’t say it enough … but your time and consistency have mattered to me more than you’ll ever really understand.

This has been a wild ride, but I can promise you it’s only beginning … I have more stories in me and I can’t wait to tell them.

Sincerely & With Love & Gratitude,

Ashley

Number 68 People, Number 68!

Tonight was one of those over-the-top, absolutely amazing, jump up and down and then scream wildly at the top of my lungs moments.  Only, I didn’t jump or scream, I’m still too sick for that nonsense — instead, I called my husband (who was out celebrating his win with is “old man” hockey team) … I told him to buy everyone a round on me, I was number 68 and I felt like celebrating.

I’m still on antibiotics and can’t drink, so I celebrated with some grape gatorade … whose jealous now?!  Watch out, I’m a real wild one.

Here’s how it happened …

My Goodreads giveaway is ending shortly, only three more days and then it’s done.  It’s been fun to watch the numbers climb, watching the trends and lags … tonight when I checked, I had finally broken the barrier into over a 1000 requests, that was my goal — my “wouldn’t be amazing if” when it came to the whole giveaway thing.

I get that everyone likes free stuff, but that was pretty cool nonetheless considering first time giveaways generally net around (according to the e-mail Goodreads sent me) 500 requests.  They, in all their wisdom, encourage a second giveaway where the average peaks to about 800 requests.  I have clearly smashed both of those numbers with my little book.

Then, I started getting curious … with my “1000+” requests … where did I rank in the “most requested” … so I found my novel, did some simple math and it came out to … the 68th most requested novel.

That’s when I got really excited.

The thing is, being an Indie Author is a lot of small accomplishments.  Quiet accomplishments.  More often than not it’s defined by the things you wanted and never got.  I wanted an agent … nope.  I wanted a publisher … nope.  I wanted to be taken seriously … that was lukewarm.  Until tonight, with my own steam and own work this is what I accomplished.

Right now, there are just shy of 1500 active giveaways … and to be honest, I’ve never ranked anywhere near that high in anything.  Not my high school class ranking, not alphabetically … you get where I’m going with this right?

What this had done is bigger than giving me a moment of sheer joy … it’s been the encouragement I needed to continue writing.  I’m knee deep into In The After … sometimes it’s harder to write than others. I’ve been sick, planning for our upcoming trip, distracted by the promotion for The Milestone Tapes … but I’ve been trying.  Now, I can’t wait to sit down to write and I cannot wait to see what this next book will do.

I cannot begin to put into words the gratitude I feel towards these people willing to take a chance on a first time writer.  Now, I know that the copies are free and there is nothing at stake for the people who signed up … but it matters to me that these independent readers even bothered to click on the cover and read the description.  I guess it’s really because of all those agents who considered this novel unsalable, they’re beginning to be proven wrong … I believed that this book would mean something to someone and I wasn’t wrong pushing forward with the project.  It’s validation … in short … of everything I believed in and everything I worked.

So, I’m climbing off my soapbox now … I just wanted to celebrate for a minute.

The In The After Cover Will Be ….

Number 4! 

It wasn’t a landside, Number 1 was a close contender followed by the others … but Number 4 was the one, at the end of the day that will bring this story home.

Your votes and opinions were incredibly helpful, I cannot thank you all enough!

It’s incredibly exciting to know what the face of the novel will be and it has helped me to refine the story, and allowed me to hone in on the most interesting undercurrent of them all.

Thank you again to all of you who voted!

xx,

Ash MP

So You’ve Written A Novel … Now What?

A while ago I announced that I would be working hand in hand with a dedicated publicist on the launch of my novel … unfortunately, plans have changed.  I will not go into the gory, bash-your-head-against-a-wall details, but I will say … it was not without sadness I had to reject the opportunity.

That’s the thing with being an independent writer or an independent business person in general … there is simply no forged path that you just blindly follow, sometimes plans have to change or rework themselves.  And you have to learn to roll with those punches, take the lumps as they come.  This, what happened to “Plan A”, was unavoidable … and I’m thankful to the kind soul who took their time to share an experience that changed my mind.

I ended up (somewhat frantically) trying to find a replacement promoter.  I knew that it was key to the success of my novel to invest myself and my time widely in promoting the book.

I ended up meeting Dorothy Thompson of Pump Up Your Book Tours … from the moment we spoke, I knew I could relax.

What Dorothy offers writers through her services is the chance to take a virtual tour.  Since most of us writers won’t go on a month long book tour, this is a happy medium.  Dorothy, like many other promoters, works to place you on blogs through guest posts, interviews, book reviews and features.  Where Dorothy differs is that she offers a guarantee.  That is a beautiful word when you’re thinking of using your marketing dollars.  Of course, naturally she doesn’t promise sales … but she promises that she will open the door for you.

Some of Dorothy’s connections feed into syndication … publications like USA Today, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Chicago Times and other coast to coast news outlets.  Another, was ranked both Google and Yahoo’s top blog.

If you’re looking for someone who will really work for you … and work hard, check Dorothy out!