Are you doing Nanowrimo this year? Well, if you are, and even if you’re a writer who isn’t, then today on The Silver Words I’m thankful for you, an aspiring author. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce John Hansen, a former lit agency intern and a blogger for The Guardian and B&N Teen.
What comes first, the agent or the query or the publishing house?
That actually depends on your goal. If you’d like a shot at mid-sized and Big Five publishers, you will almost always need an agent first. Most small presses don’t require agents, though agents are always good to have as guides and contract negotiators. A query is how you an agent’s attention—it’s a short, 250-word pitch of your book.
Queries are how you get your foot in the door with agents. Because agents don’t have time to read full manuscripts by every writer, they use queries to decide which manuscripts they’d like to see more of. If an agent likes your query, they’ll request to read some or all of your manuscript.
I always start with sites like AgentQuery and QueryTracker, both of which you can use for free. They have features that let you search agents by agency and/or genre. It’s also useful to look in the acknowledgements section of books that you love to see which agent worked on those books.
Yes! My friend Amy Zhang, author of FALLING INTO PLACE, signed with her agent when she was 15 (and sold her first book at 17). I also have a whole list of books by teen writers HERE.
I think this varies a lot. To start, I always look at the bigger picture: whether the pacing is too fast or too slow, whether the characters grow throughout the novel, whether there is enough action, etc. But if I’m stuck, I always send my manuscript to another writer for feedback and then I go from there.
Your book will have a much better shot at being carried by bookstores. At good traditional publishers, you’ll also get marketing help, a beautiful cover design, and a great editor who will dramatically improve your book.
If you’d like to have total control of your book, cover, editing, marketing, etc—and if you have a good sense for what your target readership is and how you’ll reach them—then bypassing a traditional publisher and self-publishing is certainly an option to consider.
Certainly the main part—the 250 word pitch of your book—is the most important.
Keep trying! I think a lot of writers will tell you that they send upwards of 60 queries per manuscript, sometimes even more. Publishing is so subjective, and a manuscript that one agent may not connect with could be loved by another. If you don’t get any requests after sending out 30 or so queries, though, then it may be time to reassess your query. I’d suggest sending it to other writers to see if they have suggestions for improvement.
If you know other writers, send it to them! There are also forums on sites like AbsoluteWrite and QueryTracker where people critique queries. Some authors—like Mindy McGinnis—even critique queries on their blogs. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Brenda Drake’s blog—she does a lot of contests that involve query critiques.
Just that publishing is extremely subjective, and every writer gets rejected *a lot.* Just because some agents don’t fall in love with your book doesn’t mean another won’t. :-)
John Hansen is a YA writer, a high school student, a former lit agency intern, and a blogger for The Guardian and B&N Teen.