Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: A Year in Queries

Hi everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your holidays. This will be my last post of 2013, which means it's time for my annual end-of-year query stats.

I dubbed this year the year of ALL THE CHANGES, and my career was no exception. In April I closed to queries to prepare for a career change. I moved from an assistant-level position with Curtis Brown, Ltd. to a full-time agent role with Bradford Literary Agency. Back in June, I blogged about moving to Bradford and included my query stats from January to April 2013.

I re-opened to queries on June 10, so for the purposes of this blog post, the stats I'm using will be from June 10 - December 22. As a reminder, the stats are from unsolicited queries only - aka "the slush pile." Any requests made at conferences, through blog/Twitter contests, or via referrals weren't part of the tally. So, without further ado:

June 10-30:
Total: 272
Requests: 4
Genres Requested: Women’s fiction, Urban Fantasy, Magical Realism, MG fantasy

July:
Total: 391
Requests: 4
Genres Requested: Women’s fiction, Literary Fiction, Urban Fantasy, YA Fantasy

August:
Total: 320
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult Sci-fi, MG Horror, YA Fantasy

September:
Total: 303
Requests: 8
Genres Requested: Literary Fiction (2), Adult Paranormal Thriller, Adult Sci-fi, YA Paranormal, YA Thriller, YA Fantasy, YA Sci-fi 

October:
Total: 297
Requests: 5
Genres Requested: YA Contemporary (2), YA Mystery, YA Fantasy (2), MG Magical Realism (2), MG Contemporary 

November:
Total: 281
Requests: 5
Genres Requested: Adult Sci-fi (2), YA contemporary (2), Adult Magical Realism 

December (1-22):
Total: 150
Requests: 0
Note: I've received 22 new queries from 12/23-12/29. Since I haven't read them yet, they weren't counted toward December's total.

Total Queries Received Since June 10: 2,024

Total Manuscript Requests: 29

Most Requested Genres: Literary fiction, Magical Realism, and Sci-fi

Least Requested Genres: Paranormal and Women's Fiction

Month With Most Requests: September

Most Popular Query Day of the Week: Wednesday

Total Offers of Rep from Queries: 0 - Don't be alarmed by this number. More often than not, if I'm interested in a manuscript, I ask for a revision ("R&R") before offering representation. This is even more common if the manuscript comes from an unsolicited query.

Total New Clients since June: 1 - The fabulous Gina Miel Heron, a woman's fiction author I met at a conference in 2011 and kept in contact with while she finished her manuscript and then, later, the R&R I asked for in 2012. Sometimes it's a long road to representation!  

Total New Clients in 2013: 2 - Before moving to Bradford, I also signed YA author Stephanie Scott, who I met via a blog contest in 2012 and officially offered rep in February 2013.

Total Queries Received in 2013 (minus hiatus): 3,206

I received about 700 fewer queries this year than I received last year. Given my agency switch, a tighter focus on what genres I represent, a two month hiatus from queries, and attending fewer conferences, this makes sense to me. What I noticed about the queries I did receive this year is that the quality of them was much higher. I can't request everything I want to sometimes, but what I did request often resulted in revision requests or some very, very tough decisions. 

While these query stats can be a bit hard to process, I should remind you that most agents receive hundreds of queries for genres they don't represent. Someday, perhaps in 2014, I'll feel ambitious enough to split my query stats up into Genres I Represent vs. Genres I Don't Represent. I think a lot of you will feel much better about the request rate that way! 

Also, I'll repeat last year's post and remind you that I do respond to every query I receive with the exception of the following:
  • Mass queries (addressed to more than one person - and, yes, we can tell when you BCC us).
  • Pre-queries (emails asking whether they can query).
  • Queries sent as attachments or links, with nothing else in the body of the email.
  • Queries addressed to someone else (even if it's a copy and paste error, I'll assume you meant to query that other person instead).
  • Possible query for a self-pubbed book, but possibly just promoting a self-pubbed book. If I can't tell if what you're sending is, in fact, a query, I won't answer it.

Most writers do follow guidelines and research agents and respect that querying is Step One in the process to getting an agent. We love you for that, writers, and we hope you keep doing that in 2014. 

As for me, I envision 2014 to be a much more sane year than 2013 has been. I promise no more agency moves or, barring any emergencies, breaks from queries. I may even get back to blogging at a semi-regular pace! In the meantime, I thank you for reading my little blog for another year. Have a very happy new year, dear readers. See you in 2014! 

Monday, December 02, 2013

On Being a Real Writer

I've been thinking about labels lately. How one gets one and whether they deserve to have it. Specifically, I've been thinking about the label of Writer and whether it applies to me.

Most readers of this blog know that I write, though it's not something I'm pursuing professionally for now. For now. Maybe someday. It's the "maybe" that makes me hide from the label Writer.

Aren't Real Writers supposed to seek publication?

I have an MFA in creative nonfiction, and this tends to come up a lot when I'm at conferences or do interviews for blogs. I'm an agent and I have an MFA and "do you still write?" is the question I always get. My answer is usually self-deprecating, or when I'm feeling confident, I say something like, "Yeah, kind of."

My nonfiction of late has been this blog and few stray pieces I've never submitted. I've instead completed a draft of a YA novel, and have two more YA projects that aren't even half-finished. Writing is important to me. I care about the characters I create and I know I created them for a reason. Sometimes I need to write. I think about writing more than I talk about it, and I talk about it more than I do it. All of my projects remain unfinished.

Aren't Real Writers supposed to finish at least one thing even if it kills them?

There's always something to blame.

I'm an agent and my clients come first. Then requested material and queries come first. Then going to conferences and networking events and being so exhausted all the time comes first. Then reading for pleasure comes first because it's rare I get the opportunity to do so. Then Twitter comes first and "keeping up with industry news" that quickly turns into who else watched Supernatural last night. Then having a social life and maintaining friendships comes first. Then eating and sleeping and just being quiet comes first.

Writing isn't something I've made a priority. Part of that is because I know I'm not on a deadline. I'm not a Real Writer. I'm not published, nor am I really trying to be yet. My career is my focus, and writing will be second to that.

Aren't Real Writers supposed to put writing ahead of everything else?

My professional and personal life is surrounded by Real Writers. I've sat listening to them talk about their process and how torturous it all is. I've read tweet upon tweet, countless blog posts, on how hard writing is. Beautiful, poetic posts that make me believe that whoever could talk about writing in such a way must be a Real Writer. Not someone like me. Certainly never someone like me, who wouldn't be able to wax poetic about anything with a straight face, let alone the writerly mindset. If only I were a damaged soul who needed a creative outlet because my own mind simply cannot contain the multitudes of my depth.

But no. A Real Writer is someone else. Not someone like me who has never viewed writing as something set on destroying my very essence. For me, writing is just a thing I do.

I write or I don't write. When I do, it is hard and I push myself when it gets harder. Then I stop. Sometimes I don't pick up my pen again (yes, a pen) for weeks. When I reach a point of transcribing to my laptop, I usually get struck by a fresh wave of inspiration and type for hours. Then I stop.

Aren't Real Writers more prolific than that?

I've joined writer's groups, rented houses for self-imposed writing retreats, studied my craft, and found my voice. I did all the things Real Writers do. I read all the things Real Writers read. I appreciate the same words that Real Writers connect with. Yet all I feel is distance between myself and Them.

I'm a writer because I write, but I don't know if I'll ever consider myself as a Real Writer. As I think more about labels, I'm beginning to think it doesn't matter. I never took myself seriously as a writer because I thought being a Real Writer was more serious than it is. But if I'm always the one to mock my own creativity, why should I expect anyone else to take me seriously?

My goal is to embrace that writing is a part of me too, even if it's a part I buried for a while. 2013 was supposed to be the year I "got back into writing," a promise I'd been breaking since I received my MFA in 2008. The difference this year was that I did finish that novel; I did start writing again and treat it as more than just "something I used to do."

Maybe 2014 will be the year I stop caring whether I measure up to Real Writers' standards - or at least what I imagine their standards for Real Writing are. Maybe only then will I let myself believe I, too, am one of Them.

Tell me, fellow writers - was there a moment where you realized you're a Real Writer? Or do you also run from the label?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Socialized Media

One of the most common questions I get from non-publishing friends is "Why do you have so many Twitter followers?" I get this from publishing friends too, I guess. The answer is, I don't know. I try to be informative without being bland, and sometimes I take a break from publishing and tweet about my commute or TV shows. I have no idea which side of my Twitter personality people have responded to most, but I hope it's a combination of the two.

I can't really offer a guide on how to gain Twitter followers because:
1) Who am I?
2) Everyone uses Twitter differently, and I won't assume you want to use it identically to the way I do.

Knowing how you want to use social media is probably a good first step in gaining followers. But other than that, I have no idea how to make people follow you. (Don't be boring? Give them cookies?) What I can provide, however, is a list of things I see people do on Twitter that make me want to unfollow them, or even block them.

Tweeting too much.
If you have less than 1,000 followers but have tweeted over 80,000 times, I am suspicious of you. It's not that what you're saying is "bad" necessarily, but it means one of two things:
1) What you are saying is not effectively building an audience.
2) You have no interest in building an audience, and are treating Twitter as a sounding board for whatever pops into your brain.

Not having a Twitter avatar/not tweeting enough.
People like following humans on Twitter! Make friends by eliminating the Lifeless Twitter Egg and tweet at least once once a week. Also make sure your tweets say more than "I don't know how to use Twitter" or "I don't tweet enough." Because... why are you even there? No one forced you to join. No one should join a social media site if they have no intention of using it.

Only promoting your book.
I'm cheating with this one a bit because I, personally, instantly mark these people as spam. So, I never really see this on my feed. If a writer pitches me their book via Twitter (when it's not for a pitch contest) or sends me a link to their Amazon page, I click on their profile and 99% of the time, they've sent almost every other agent on Twitter that exact same message. THIS IS NOT MARKETING. It's spam. Similarly, writers who don't have books of their own will spam Twitter feeds another way - by only talking about their friends' books. Like all book promotion, this, too, should be limited.

Not having a clue what you're talking about.
This is obvious, but sometimes I see industry folk (usually newbies who are eager to impress) and authors discuss "publishing" and realize they don't actually understand the business. I've been an agent for 3 years and worked in the industry for a little over 6 years. I'm no longer a "newbie" but I certainly have a lot left to learn. I'd like to believe I'm smart and capable of being the "rock star" I'm sometimes referred to online, but I'm not... yet. So, when I don't understand something, I do not tweet about it. And if I do this by accident, and am called on my bullshit, I curl up into a ball and die; I do not keep tweeting and being all indignant about my lack-of-knowledge.

Streams of consciousness that turn into floods. 
Similar to tweeting too much, tweeting too often and not staying consistent is also something that makes me click Unfollow. For example, using Twitter to talk to about an article you read, and quickly realizing it's going to take about 5 or 6 tweets in a row to get your point across. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. Nor is taking time to respond to others who add to the conversation. What does look unprofessional is when someone turns my feed into this:

"This topic merits discussion. Here's a link _______" [2:22pm]
"Here is Opinion #1 why this topic matters" [2:24pm]
"And Opinion #2" [2:25pm]
"@follower1 I agree because of reasons!" [2:28pm]
"I have to bring my cats to the vet today. Sooooo sad." [2:29pm]
"@follower2 Oh, I disagree. Did you not see that link?" [2:30pm]
"My book has a pub date!!!! Please pre-order it from Amazon!" [2:31pm]
::SEVERAL RETWEETS ON VARIOUS TOPICS IN A ROW::
"I'm so excited for fall to start. Pumpkin spice latte season, y'all!" [2:32pm]
"@follower2 Let's keep arguing about that other thing for a while. Does anyone even remember what I posted before?" [2:33pm]
"Here's an adorable kitten GIF. Because Mondays, right?" [2:35pm]
"Did you all watch Breaking Bad last night? OMG!" [2:36pm]

I see this often, not just from writers, but from agents and other industry folk. There's nothing wrong with any of the above-mentioned tweets individually, but spewed out in a 15-minute chunk is a problem. Yes, you should have variety in what you tweet about and engage in conversation and let your followers know about any new developments with your book. But, basically, chill out. Space out your tweets and understand that not every thought you have needs to be shared. The information you really, really want your followers to know will end up getting buried. Usually when I scroll through my feed, and I see the same person appear 10 times in a row, I'll just read whatever their most recent tweet was. Because... ain't no one got time for that.

Too. Much. Information.
Revealing how much of your personal life you share online is, of course, up to you. If you're using Twitter as a tool in your professional life, however, be smart about what you say. Do we need a live-tweet of the birth of your child or a Vine of your colonoscopy? NOPE. If we learn your children's names, do we necessarily need to know them as well as our own family?

Granted, I'm skeptical of how "social" every single website has become, and given the actual physical attacks on literary agents that have made the news, I'm about one step away from living in a bunker. I'm also just as much of an introvert online as I am in person, and for me that means needing my privacy. I understand not everyone is like that. But, if you do share, remember not to over-share and make things uncomfortable. Don't be that guy at the party who brings a pleasant conversation about books to screeching halt because all he wants to do is publish a book to prove he is good enough, mom, and why doesn't anyone love him, I mean, really. Twitter shouldn't count as your weekly trip to church, therapy, or be a substitute for coffee with your real-life best friend.

I've said before (on Twitter) that social media is like a cocktail party - fun and casual and not as buttoned-up as the office - but some networking and shop talk will occur, so don't get too drunk. Any actual business (e.g., pitching your book, information about submissions, following up on queries, etc.) should be saved for the office, aka "email." Now, go forth and make smart social media choices!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Any Questions?

It's been said a thousand times, but the publishing industry sloooooooows during the summer months. This happens for obvious reasons (vacation time) and less-obvious-to-the-public reasons (editors are preparing for their upcoming fall and winter launches and catching up on material sent to them in the spring).

As an agent, I read submissions and queries as I receive them. I don't have to worry about "launch" and I don't have to wait until my superiors return from vacation before I can take on a new project. It also helps that my editorial deadlines are self-imposed. This means I spend most of my summers preparing clients' work for fall submissions, catching up on queries, touching base with editors on existing projects, and traveling to conferences.

The most recent conference I attended was from the comfort of my own home (well, a Starbucks) and it was the free online conference, WriteOnCon (which is wonderful, and did I mention free?). I did a live chat with a few other agents in which we answered questions specifically about querying. Writers always have many, many questions about querying to the point where I just want to hug them. But since I can't do that through the internet, I try my best to answer their questions. 

The questions during WriteOnCon could have been direct quotes from the questions I receive at every conference I attend in person. Most of them are fantastic and smart, and I don't mind answering them 50 different times because every single time is important.

Questions like:
"How important is my author bio?"
"Should we use comp titles?"
"How long should a query be?"
"Can we send a previously rejected query after a major revision?"

... and other good questions that pertain to querying in general - as a process, as part of the business, as a necessary step toward reaching a larger goal.

There are other questions that always come up though - whether in Q&A sessions at conferences or in #askagent chats on Twitter - that only tell an agent the writer is at best, uninformed, and at worst, desperately unprofessional. These questions are rarely questions at all. They are masks to hide their pitches behind.

Here are questions to reconsider before asking an agent during a Q&A session:

What is the market like for [insert genre/style here]? 
Unless the topic of the Q&A session is specifically about the state of the market - which would be rare in circumstances involving unpublished/unagented writers - do not ask this question. We all know what you're really asking, and if we represent your genre, you can query us. Questions about the market for a specific genre tell me you don't actually care about the answer. You just want to know that there's a market for your book. That tells an agent you're writing (and querying) for the wrong reasons. If the answer to that question is "the market is dead," does that mean you're going to stop writing? If so, what happens if I sign you as a client but we have trouble selling your first book? I wouldn't want to work with an author who gives up that easily or is unwilling to write another book. Also, it tells me you're not reading in the genre in which you're hoping to contribute. You should already be aware of what's been published and the general trends in the genre you're writing.

What are you looking for right now?
This question is asking the agent what they represent, which is something that will vary among agents and is another sneaky way to finding out if the agent represents your book. Do your research on where/whom to query, but panels are not the place to ask for specifics you can easily Google. It's your chance to get insider knowledge that isn't on their websites and Twitter feeds. 

Are you looking for new writers?/Do you work with debut authors?
99.9% of the time the answer to question is an all-caps YES. Agents close to queries sometimes for various reasons, and if that's the case it'll say so on their websites/Twitter pages (aka, the things you should be checking before you query anyway). If you're still unsure, just try anyway. Worst that happens is an auto-response that says no, or you just don't hear from them. The point is, it's not a question to ask during a Q&A. It's an agent's JOB to find new authors. If you're querying us at all, chances are you are a debut author. I can't think of any agent who's ever said "I only work with published authors." If an author is already widely published, it's likely they have an agent already too. So... YES, we want new authors.

Is this something you would like?/Can I send this to you?
This question is one I usually receive after I do a critique. At conferences, part of the draw for authors to attend is getting a one-on-one session with an agent and getting personal feedback on their pages. Once the 10, 15, or 20 minute conversation is over, I always ask "do you have any other questions for me?" And sadly, from at least one person, that question will be whether I want to represent the manuscript based on the opening pages I just read. No. The answer is no. Even if it's a genre I love and my critique was entirely made of praise, that was not the point of meeting with me. If there are no questions about the critique itself, or larger industry-related questions, then just say "Nope. No questions. Thanks!" (And then query me after you revise.)

I understand frustration with rejection and feeling like any chance you get to speak directly to an agent should be used to sell your book. Professionalism is about curbing that impulse and thinking before you act. Agents experience rejection all the time, but if I'm at a cocktail party I don't pitch books to editors. I get to know them, get a feeling about their taste, and then we either set up a lunch or I'll send a follow-up email to pitch books to them. Think of conferences and Twitter as the cocktail party; your query is the lunch date.

If you're interested in other query-centric discussions on this blog, feel free to read these as well:



Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Conferences: A Cheat Sheet

I'm a big fan of writer's conferences. I went to two last month, have one coming up this month, and another in August. Last year I went to nine of them (which, I admit, contributed to my slight burn-out by the end of 2012). I like meeting writers from other parts of the country. I like seeing other parts of the country. And I like knowing that even in the smallest of towns far, far away from Big Literary New York City, there are tight communities that care just as much about the craft of writing as they do about the business of getting published.

No matter where and what conference I attend, there are always similarities among the writers. I've gotten quite good at knowing who is ready for publication and who still needs time to find their voice, as eager as they may be. Of course, the best times are when writers surprise me.

In 2011, I wrote a post on how to pitch to an agent at conferences, or rather, how not to pitch. Since then I've been to a lot more conferences and met a lot more writers. More than just pitching to an agent, here are a few tips to keep in mind when attending a writer's conference:

1. You Will Not Leave a Conference With an Offer of Representation
OK, I'll say you will very very rarely get an offer of rep at a conference because I'm sure there have been exceptions to this rule somewhere. But, 99.9% of the time, you will not get this offer at the actual conference. Going to a conference based on who the faculty will be is great, but keep in mind that even if your dream agent (which you should not have!) attends, he or she still needs to read your work before making an offer. Your pitch, premise, and overall demeanor could be perfect all weekend, and you may even make a personal connection with the agent of your choice, but that doesn't mean we can magically pull a contract out of our back pockets. Your job is to pitch your project to an agent. Even if they say "yes," that "yes" is usually followed by "send me your query and sample pages." I've had writers stare at me blankly even after I told them to send me material, as if they expected more from me. Do you really want an agent who doesn't even read your work first? No.

2. A Conference is For Learning
Meeting agents and editors is great, but the main reason to attend a conference is to learn. Conferences provide more than just pitch sessions. Agents and editors often critique work, and the organizers of the conference offer several excellent seminars and workshops for writers to attend. It's about learning the craft, learning the business, and learning that just because you finished your novel doesn't mean it's ready for publication.

3. Writer-Friends Are Valuable
Regional conferences are the best way to meet other writers in your area. Your friends and family can provide all the support in the world, and a few of them may even be skilled enough to read your work objectively. But writer-friends? They are a special breed. They can turn into Real Friends, but unlike your non-writer friends, they know exactly what you're going through. They're going through it too. They know what writer's block is; they know what querying is like; they know the hell that is the revision process. Having them in close proximity means you can also get offline and grab a drink (or a cupcake) with them, which is just as important as sharing your work sometimes.

4. No One is Forcing You to Attend a Conference
Conferences are expensive. Organizers need to pay for the location, provide meals, cover travel and hotel costs for faculty, and a lot of other minor expenses that add up. That means you, the writer, have to pay to attend. You get quite a bit for your money, but it's still your money. Remember that you volunteered it for the opportunity to be there. It's amazing how many writers yawn their way through seminars, become defensive over critiques, and ask questions such as "what good is an agent anyway?" during Q&A sessions. It makes one wonder, why are you even here???

5. Agents and Editors are People Too
Please treat us with respect. This post at From the Write Angle is one to bookmark and memorize about this point. Also, understand that the time to pitch your book is not when we are chewing our food or going to the bathroom. Thanks. :)

How many of you have attended writer's conferences? What do you wish you knew about them before you attended that you know now?