Mary C. MooreSeptember 15, 2019

I will be closed to submissions September 23 through October 14 for travel and work. Will also use the time to catch up on query backlog. Reopening in time for #DVPit! For those of you planning for the future, I will also be closing to submissions for a few weeks over the holidays.

Write on.

How To Query an Agent Workshop

I’m pleased to share that I’ll be heading an affordable and local workshop on how to query a literary agent this month! On Sunday, September 22, at 2pm during the Marin California Writers Club’s monthly meeting, I’ll be discussing the importance of the query, advising how to craft one, as well as answering questions and critiquing a few (anonymously) for the group (if you wish for yours to be critiqued, bring a print copy minus any identifying information).

The event will be held at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera.

Although it is hosted by the CWC, non-members are welcome as well. At $10 a person ($5 for members) this is a really good deal, when you consider attending a conference or online workshop to get the same information would be at least 20 times this price.

I’m always keen to share what I wish I had learned back when I was a querying author, and am strongly aware of the lack of affordable resources for writers. So please feel welcome, even if you’re not ready to query yet. This is a great opportunity and I hope to meet more than a few local writers there!

Agents Query Too

One of the most important and also hardest aspects of my job is getting a project past the publishers’ editorial front line. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the process: once an agent has sent a manuscript to editors, said editors will read and consider whether or not they want to take the ms to acquisitions. That means the editor has to be passionate about it enough to get their team to read it fairly quickly (all of whom are swamped with their own tbr pile), draft a profit and loss statement, convince a room full of people that the ms is worth investing in. Basically stake their reputation on it.

This excruciating process can take weeks, and it is a lot of time and energy away from current work (not taking into consideration the project going to auction). So an editor can like a project–they mostly do like the client work that I send, as I work hard to maintain a standard and appeal to individual tastes–but simply liking a project isn’t enough. So I have to do everything in my power to get them excited before they read it, which means creating a letter that indicates why they are a great fit for the project, and one that includes a powerful pitch, current successful comparative titles, and a clear author bio. Sometimes I will pitch in person or on the phone, but the power points remain the same. Sound familiar?

If it works then they go in primed to love the manuscript. Which gives it the best possible chance to make it past the front line. And ideally go further–then the editor will use those same power points when lobbying your manuscript to marketing, financial, the publisher itself. And those points will be part of the final decision, i.e. if you are going to be made an offer.

So remember, that’s the end game. Your query is not just a way of introducing yourself to an agent, but to show how your manuscript can be positioned positively in the market and that it has potential to sell. You’re clearing the road blocks, so the decision gets down to the writing itself.

Don’t be intimidated by this, we don’t expect new authors to navigate the market with years of experience and execute the perfect query letter (that is why you’re looking for a literary agent after all), but at least understanding why these concepts are important can only benefit you on your road toward publication.

And even if you do pull off everything perfectly, you will probably still get rejected. It’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking, but you’re not alone, and we feel it too. Every agent has a few of those projects that they’ve never forgotten and were stumped as to why they didn’t sell.

But you can and will navigate the process with more confidence and knowledge and eventually there will be a project that will get that yes.

Grammar and the Inferiority Complex

It is universally claimed that one of the major reasons submissions get rejected is because of grammar errors. That an agent will take one look at the spotty pages and toss it out. 

So those of you who have done the research and understand the submission process to the best you can, of course you comb through your pages, even futilely AFTER you send it (I see you, you anxiety-ridden worker bees). And upon re-reading you discover that you misplaced a comma, or even worse, misused a homophone! So you agonize when that rejection letter comes in, was it because you spelled the witch’s altar with an “e”? How could you have been so dumb?

I’m here to reassure you. We are human, we make mistakes. Publishers have entire departments whose soul job (see what I did there?) is to make sure their content is grammar-error free. And even then it’s not a hundred percent, we’ve all caught a random error in a published book. 

Sure, there are professionals (or people in general) who will judge your pre-published work based on its grammatical precision. But before you label yourself stupid or inferior for making those mistakes, try to see the bigger picture.

“Perfect” grammar is an inherently classist concept (PrintRun Podcast has a wonderful episode about this: Grammar and Power). Someone who belittles others about grammar, had the privilege of an elite education. They are attempting to wield power–their intention is to make you feel inferior, nothing else.

And by default, agents sit in a position of power. Power creates hubris. It’s a reality we’ve all been faced with. Some deal with it better than others.

So turn the picture around. Consider what you want in a literary agent. If an agent actually rejects your submission because of specific grammar errors (potentially rules that you were not educated in) do you want to work with them? Coming from such different perspectives, will they understand or relate to the content and be able to champion it with the passion and sensitivity it deserves?

This is not to say you should toss all your grammar concerns aside. Odds are your submission isn’t getting very far because your writing is underdeveloped. Writing is first and foremost an apprenticeship. You should be continuously honing your skills, including your proof-reading abilities, so your prose reaches toward your ultimate goal, whether it be more elevated, more streamlined, easier to read, more beautiful etc.

This may seem like conflicting advice, don’t worry and do worry about grammar. To be clear, understanding why grammar is important and how to wield it, can and will strengthen your writing. This education is an attainable power, but there is no shame in your ignorance of it. Your path is different, but your work is not inferior. Anyone who tells you different, whatever position of power they hold, is the one with the complex.

UPDATE: April 26, 2019

Closed to Submissions

I am closing to submissions for the month of May for travel and work. Will also use the time to catch up on backlog and hopefully respond to any outstanding fulls and partials.

Reopening June 1st!

(If I favorited your tweet during #DVPit, you may still submit via this link. I look forward to reading.)

Write on.

Mary C. MooreMarch 28, 2019

I will be on the faculty at the Las Vegas Writers Conference this May 2-4, along with a fantastic group of publishing industry professionals like Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Jessica Watterson and more. I’ll be taking pitches and leading the workshop “Polishing Your Prose to Make it Submission Ready,” which is always a popular one, as it urges you to take a fresh approach to your prose, particularly commercial fiction, before sending it to literary agents.

Hope to see you there!

The Publishing Echo Chamber

Echo and Narcissus (1903) by John William Waterhouse

I recently read an interesting post on Pub(lishing) Crawl by Patrice Caldwell about the importance of shutting out external noise in order to better focus on your writing. (Fyi, Pub Crawl is a fantastic resource for writers. Y’all should be following.) This post really hit home. In particular her discussion of “echo chambers,” and how your support circle can become one, and because of this actually fail to support you. It’s so true, and not just for writers.

As a West Coast literary agent, the majority of my work happens online. Online, the echo chamber becomes more pronounced. On social media I follow and interact with a lot of publishing professionals. My feed is full of success stories, major deal announcements, and “advice to writers.” My mornings are spent browsing Publishers Marketplace and answering NYC-based emails. When I’m not reading submissions, I’m reading those books that recently “made it,” Newberry award winners, Hugo award winners, NYT bestsellers etc. Podcasts such as Print Run and blogs like Pub Crawl and Jane Friedman fill my subscription inbox. It is a lot of cyclical information.

These helpful resources are full of supportive and amazing people.

And yet.

There is constant competition within this echo chamber. Everyone wants the next big deal, and we want it now. We want to be a part of the exclusive inner circle where magical connections spark best sellers (spoiler, there is no inner circle). Tweets that go viral and books that get buzzy film deals. Instant gratification in an industry that rarely gives anything instantly. It’s a constant tease that there could always be a bigger, better opportunity around the corner.

It’s so easy to lose sight of the reason I became a literary agent.

That love of reading. A passion to bring amazing words to more readers. To champion under-represented voices. To change the world as only literature can. To reach that shy girl who spent her nights with a nose pressed into a book, reading about a world so much bigger than the limited one she was growing up in. That teenager in the throes of hormonal depression reading that she was not alone, that young woman traveling to faraway places because she had been inspired by the words on a page. To the grad student having an internal feminist revolution with experimental fiction, and the new mother fighting drowning in post-partum blues with beautiful prose. They are why I’m here.

It’s important to step away from the noise, to take a breath and remember why we do what we do, as I am reminding myself right now. If you are online (maybe your agent made you start tweeting, so potential editors could stalk you) try to filter the noise the best you can. Go to bookstores and libraries, meet people in person and have face-to-face conversations. Remind yourself that what you see online is only a small piece of the big picture.

Don’t get lost in the echo.

A Day In The Life of a Literary Agent (Or The Reason They Haven’t Read Your Submission Yet)

Beginning of day. The sun is up, kid is dropped off at school. Time for work.

The plan:

  • Answer emails.
  • Finish reading the last quarter of a client’s latest manuscript, it’s so good, but have some feedback before it goes out to editors.
  • Take another look at that intriguing submission in the inbox.

What actually happened:

  • The final version of that major contract that has been under negotiations for months lands. It needs a last pass before the author can sign it.
  • The first version of an audio contract for another project comes in. Needs to be looked over.
  • An editor expresses interest in a submission. It’s too early to tell, but must nudge everyone else who has it!
  • The cover of a different project has been finalized. It’s super beautiful and there’s all kinds of buzz. Time to alert the subagents and pitch it to audio!
  • A revise and resubmit from a year ago drops into the inbox. And it’s already got 3 other agents reading the full! Read a few chapters, it’s really really good and lands the wishlist. Shit.
  • An audio offer comes in already from the finalized cover project. Inform the client of the happy news and negotiate the deal memo.
  • A client is having a meltdown, need to talk to them asap.
  • Foreign rights sub-agent is asking about the book sales.
  • Did I have coffee yet?
  • An editor responds to a submission. It’s a rejection. Ugh. Have to tell the client.
  • Another editor requests a different submission. Exciting!
  • Another client sends their final manuscript. It’s ready to go out on submission. Have to develop the pitch.
  • Really need to finish the final quarter of that other client’s manuscript and write up my feedback.

End of day. Picked up kid from school, sun is down, still working through emails.

Wait, I was going to read that submission…


Personalizing The Query: How Much Is Too Much?

With the wealth of query tips, agent advice, and submission guidelines out there, you’ve probably honed your query to the finest point. You’ve had it proofread and polished. Maybe this isn’t even your first go, maybe this is the third or fourth time you’ve drafted a query letter. You’ve researched literary agencies extensively. At this point you’re not worried about the basics, you know what you’re doing.

But the finer points still nag you. Like do you include that short story that was published six years ago? Or do you put the comp titles at the beginning or the end? And, the question that seems to come up again and again, agent personalization, how much is too much?

(For those of you new to the query trenches: Agent personalization means that you have researched said agent before querying them, and you indicate this in the query.)

In this current age of social media, it’s hard to know where the line is. Agent X is always posting pictures of her beloved cat, and you also love cats, so why not mention Mr. Whiskers? But then Agent Y is tweeting about that creepy vibe he got from the author who mentioned his dog’s name. Did you say too much? (Probably yes you did.)

To prevent yourself from getting into the creepster zone, remember this. Literary agents have online personas. We want authors to find us, to know about us AS LITERARY AGENTS. So if Agent X is posting pictures of her cat on her public agent profile, and engaging with authors about her pet, and your book happens to be about cats, then by all means, mention Mr. Whiskers. (For example, I make my love of Doctor Who widely known, because I would love to find a project that has a similar vibe.)

But if Agent Y posted pictures of his dog on his personal page, even if it’s “public” better to leave it alone. Because although we agents understand that some authors will go to extensive lengths to research us, we do have personal boundaries and want them respected. Agent Y may be a more private person than Agent X, and if you can’t find any information about him other than what genres he represents, that’s okay. All you need to personalize his query is:

“As you represent [genre], I think you will be interested in my 75k [same genre] novel entitled XXX.”

That’s it. You’ve personalized the letter. Far more than average actually.

Pssst. This personalization will work for Agent X as well.