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Finding an agent

Why Are Query Letters and Synopses So $#!%ing Hard to Write?! (And How to Get Through It)

When I was in college I took a class called Fantasy Literature, which I thought would be nothing but fun and actually turned out to be a lot of hard work. On the first day of class, our professor told us that we would be reading one book a week, and a paper on that book would be due every Monday. The class collectively groaned, until he smiled and said our papers only needed to be one page long. Then we all cheered. And that’s when he got this wicked little smile on his face. Continue Reading

The Next Step

SAMSUNGIt takes a while to write your first novel.

And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.

But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?

It’s time to take the next step.

The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.

To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:

Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?

What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?

What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?

When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.

If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.

Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:

Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.

And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.

Next Step
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.

Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.

Next Step
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.

Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.

Next Step
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.

When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.

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5 Best Blogs on How to Write a Query Letter


Query Shark
by Janet Reid
You can read this blog, or you can get seriously interactive. The premise of Query Shark is that readers send in their query letters to be critiqued. Reid’s advice is blunt and straight to the point—and it’s very, very useful. Query Shark shows writers exactly what they’re doing wrong, and makes clear, practical suggestions for improvement. If you have a query letter that you’re looking for some feedback on, you should definitely think about sending it to Query Shark before sending it out to agents.

Author! Author!
by Anne Mini
Anne Mini is known for the length of her posts. This is not a breezy, five-minutes-of-info blog. However, reading Mini’s long posts counts as time well spent. She covers every detail of querying, how to work with agents, the fine print, and more. This woman is totally amazing and I highly recommend investing the time in reading what she has to say.

Nathan Bransford
Bransford used to be a literary agent, and he’s currently an author himself. He includes information on the query process, as well publishing e-books and what to expect these days from traditional publishers. He’s also friendly and down to earth. If you only have a few minutes a day to do your query research, Bransford is a good bet.

Rachelle Gardner
In addition to posts about agents and the querying process, Gardner includes helpful information about marketing and promotion, and the financial and legal side of things. She’s currently an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency so she has a true insider perspective. She gives readers the real truth about pursuing a career in writing, but she also comes across as a real person.

Absolute Write
Not technically a blog, Absolute Write offers articles and information for published and unpublished writers. The site is probably best known for its forums, where writers can discuss topics and ask questions of other writers. If you have questions about a specific agent, for instance, the forums might provide more information on him or her. But like any forum, it’s easy to waste a lot of time endlessly reading the discussions if you’re looking to procrastinate—something we writers are known for!

If you’re serious about getting your writing career off the ground, it’s time to bring in the experts. After you visit the blogs I’ve recommended above, do your own a Google search and dive into the results!

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Do You Know the One Thing to Do Before Finding an Agent?

SAMSUNGBesides writing the book, of course.

Would you guess: Proofread your manuscript? Or, write an excellent query letter?

Yes, you should do those things, but there’s something else…the Secret Sauce that could make your cheeseburger into the next Big Mac.

Know Your Category

Most of us have a general idea, but problems crop up when we assume our general idea is specifically what agents are looking for. In this day and age the marketplace is filled with genres and sub-genres that didn’t exist ten, or even five, years ago.

For instance, if you’re a Fantasy writer you are probably already familiar with some of these sub-genres:

Urban Fantasy
Paranormal Fantasy
Sword & Sorcery
Epic Fantasy

Yes, they’re all similar but sometimes similar doesn’t cut it with agents. If an agent is looking for Urban Fantasy and you send them Sword & Sorcery, they’re not even going to look at it. That’s wasted time and energy for you.

Knowing your specific category is the first step in making thoughtful, targeted queries to agents.

Let’s say you’ve been using plain old “Fantasy” as your category, using this terms as you look for agents on Google. Lots of agents probably come up. Quite possibly, you copy and paste your query letter into 30 different emails using that particular list of results. But because you used such a broad search term, you didn’t realize that most of those agents you just emailed are looking for Urban Fantasy—a category that’s on fire right now and consequently at the top of Google’s “Fantasy” pages. However, let’s say your writing isn’t Urban Fantasy at all. Your story takes place in a medieval world full of knights and wizards.

Because your search term was too broad, you just sent 30 query letters to the wrong people.

But okay, let’s say now that you’ve nailed down your category. You are confident that you’re writing work that could fall into Arthurian Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, or Sword & Sorcery. But when you type such specific search terms into Google, you only get a few leads.

This is where we combine “knowing our category” with our writer-research skills.

Now you’re going to Google: Agent Interviews, Fantasy. This is where you will find agents saying what they’re looking for in their own words. So while they might not specifically mention categories like Epic, S&S, or Arthurian, they may very well mention that their favorite book is The Hobbit and they love anything with Gandalf-like characters in it.

Bingo. That agent should go on your list.

The goal of knowing your category through-and-through is to build your common-sense skills about which agents are the best choice to represent your work. Also, just because you feel your writing falls primarily into one specific sub-genre, doesn’t meant that everything else is closed off to you.

For example, I have a manuscript I’m about to shop around that has some magic as part of the main storyline. First I researched Magical Realism, a category with more of a literary bent to it than most Fantasy. That means action is not the central focus of the narrative. Magical Realism tends to deal with the inner world of the characters and their inward journey. Love in the Time of Cholera is an example of Magical Realism.

Then I researched Urban Fantasy, which is particularly centered on action and events. We usually find a battle of Good vs. Evil, and lots of sparks, adventures, and a healthy dose of romance in Urban Fantasy. And of course, one of the key elements is that the story takes place in an urban setting, somewhere in our Modern World. The Sookie Stackhouse series (which the TV show True Blood is based on) is an example of Urban Fantasy.

My story has a main character who takes an inward, mostly spiritual journey with not that much focus on action or adventure. There is a slight tint of romance, but it isn’t central to the storyline.

Obviously, I decided on Magical Realism as a category…but…I didn’t throw out Urban Fantasy. Because my story also involves magic happening on the streets of modern-day Seattle.  And Seattle is an urban setting.

So now when I’m researching agents and reading agent interviews, I’m mostly looking for agents interested in Magical Realism, but if I find an agent who says they’re scouting for Urban Fantasy but really love getting more into the characters’ heads than reading thrilling chase scenes—well, I know I might have a chance with them.

Know your category. Do your research. Keep a running list of agents.

Here’s your exercise for today: Sit and brainstorm on categories. Write down the category, sub-genre included, that fits your work the best (for example Fantasy: Swords & Sorcery). Then write down two more categories/sub-genres that could also describe your work. Post your list somewhere front and center in your workspace.

Look up your categories and agent interviews and do your research. Use the online tools at your fingertips to tilt the scales in your favor.

Now get Googling!

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