Submissions

Letting That Manuscript Go: An Agent’s Struggle

ice monster

On the surface we agents may seem cold-hearted. We crush dreams on a daily basis after all. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find we truly do care. Sometimes too much. One of the hardest things I face in the slushpile is letting go of manuscripts that I know are good, but I just can’t take on. And the reason is frustrating. There are so many authors out there and so few agents. I just don’t have the space for all of the good ones.

Right now I’ve whittled my submission pile down to 33 full manuscripts. And that’s a win for me. It was at 80. My goal is to have answers for them by the end of August, but I can only take on 1-2 more clients this summer. As I whittle the decisions get harder and harder. Occasionally I can spot a needed revision, pass notes along to the author, and hope that they will take long enough with the edits that by the time they resubmit there is space for them. But more often than not, I have to let it go. I loved it, but not enough. Perhaps it was a bit too quiet, or the author didn’t have enough of an online presence, or I’ve already got a client with a similar style. All of these seem like silly reasons to pass, but they are reason enough. And so, with a sadly inadequate letter, I say goodbye, hoping that the author will persevere and find a home for their writing.

Then I turn around and submit my clients’ work to editors who are faced with the same damn dilemma. Who not only have to fall in love but also have to make the decision to champion the manuscript, fight for it in acquisitions and convince others, such as marketing, to take it on. So no surprise agents get a lot of rejections too.

This business can be heartbreaking, causing us agents to form an icy defensive layer. But we are not cold-hearted. We wouldn’t be in this if we didn’t love books and the artists who create them. I hope this perspective, for those of you in the query trenches, inspires you that we are cheering you on even as we let it go.

let it go

Write Tip: Character Eye Color

We all want our characters to be special, unique, stand out from the crowd. And often writers attempt to achieve this, in part, by giving them “piercing” or “soulful” or “wide” eyes of a lovely shade of blue, ice, green, violet, hazel, etc. Basically any color except that plain old brown.

Elizabeth Taylor was famous for her “violet” eyes. Is your character as fabulous as Liz Taylor?

But if you were given a peek into the slushpile, you would be a bit embarrassed to realize by giving your character such special eyes, you’ve actually made them quite ordinary. If we were to postulate eye color statistics based off of characters in submissions, the world would be made up of mostly green and blue-eyed persons with a good chunk of beauteous hazel/violet-eyed gals in one corner and steely, silver/amber-eyed hunks in another. (There would also be a looot of white people, but that’s a post for another day.)

I may sound like a broken record at this point, but write with awareness. Don’t default to the easy way. Your character’s uniqueness should not be shown through their eye color but rather through the situation they are in (the plot) and how they handle it. Their looks are a part of who they are, but not what makes them stand out. Their appearance should be realistic, for many reasons, number one so many different readers can relate to them.

This is not a rule, just a suggestion to consider. Unless their eye color is super important to the story (for example Alanna’s violet eyes in the Song of the Lioness series. Her magic is purple to match, and the blue-eyed prince’s magic is blue) consider defaulting to brown, especially when there are many characters in the story. Because brown eyes can still be attractive, unique, special, windows to the soul, etc. (full discloser, my eyes are brown). And because statistics.

Percentage of eye color in the world according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • brown 55%
  • blue 8%
  • hazel 8%
  • green 2%
  • silver (rare)
  • amber (quite rare)
  • violet (extremely rare)

TWO PERCENT OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION HAS GREEN EYES. Something to think about. *While we are at it, two percent are red heads too. So that gorgeous green-eyed woman with the rich red hair? Reconsider. (I’m looking at you, romance writers!)

Love to hear opinions on this, agree, disagree?

Rejections – Slow Personal vs Quick Form – Writers Weigh In

Artwork by Shugo rai

In the life of a literary agent, the submission pile is a never-ending weight on our shoulders. As I write this, I have around 80 requested full manuscripts awaiting my response. But I’m looking to sign only two clients by the end of the summer, maybe three. So obviously 70+ are going to have to be rejected. And in my particular case, I feel a lot of guilt over the manuscripts that I can’t decide on. The ones that sit in my inbox for more than three months. I know what it’s like to be a writer with a novel on submission, how exciting a full request is and how heartbreaking a pass is on that full after months of hopeful waiting. So I can’t bring myself to send a form response to those writers that I’ve requested fulls from, especially when I’ve sat on them for so long. Which means I take even longer to respond because I want to add a personal touch to my response, a reason I am passing but yet an encouraging note over that. I assumed all authors felt the same way. But you know what they say about people who assume…

Almost half voted for a quick form rejection! This made me seriously rethink my strategy. Perhaps there is a middle ground? A form letter that has been tweaked? What do you think? Would love comments and further opinions on this as I continue to evolve my submission pile strategy.

UPDATE: April 14, 2016

Upcoming Conferences

Although I am closed to submissions until September, I will be attending two conferences in that time in which I will be accepting submissions from authors who pitch me at these conferences. The Chuckanut Writers Conference in June and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in July. I’m looking forward to both these conferences!pnwa

If you are able to attend either of these please come pitch me! For advice on how to approach agents at these conferences read my post Conference Etiquette: Advice From A Literary Agent.

Mary C. MooreFebruary 21, 2016

I will be closing to queries as of March 1st until August 1st to catch up with the slushpile. 
Mary C. Moore closing to submissions

Current query stats: All initial submissions have been responded to up to February 1st. If you queried before then and did not hear back, please resubmit via the form on my submissions page before March 1st.

 

During this hiatus I hope to respond to every full request of the 40 (+/- those that will trickle in while I’m closed) that are currently sitting in my to-read pile. I apologize to those who have been waiting since the end of November, and I appreciate your patience.

 

If I requested something from you at a conference, during #divpit or #pitmad, or WD Bootcamp, I will still consider your submission during this time. Use my email address that I gave you at the time to query.

 

Thank you all for your professionalism in this process.

The Author Website: Do You Need One Before Publishing?

Author Website by Mary C. Moore

Remember those days when you so naively believed to be an author all you had to do was write? How I long for that innocence. In the current market, whether traditionally or indie published, authors are expected to be self-promoters, indeed have to be to survive. You hear a lot of buzz at conferences or online around the term “author platform”  and a quick online search will find many great posts explaining what that is from Jane Friedman’s Blog to Writer’s Digest to The Book Designer and so on. However, all that information can be somewhat overwhelming, especially if you are just starting out and/or have a bit of a social media phobia. It’s also a bit of a catch-22; how can you have an online presence if you’ve never been published, but how can you get published without an online presence?

bogus

As I represent mainly fiction, an author’s platform doesn’t make or break my decision when I’m considering a submission. Nonfiction is a different story, more on that here from Rachelle Gardner who does represent a lot of nonfiction and here from Brooke Warner who works with a lot of nonfiction writers. However, I do like to see if the author is online savvy, which means they have the potential to build a good platform in the future. This will help my judgment whether I want to take the time to request and read their full manuscript or even offer them representation. The best way to show you have the chops to make it in this crazy online world? A solid author website. What constitutes a solid author website previous to publication? Basically it’s an online resume for agents, editors, and future readers.

  • A home page that is either an introduction to you and your writing or a blog. If you are a terrible blogger and can’t sustain blogging regularly, do not have a blog. A dead blog is worse than no blog. If you can blog, try to blog about things of interest. Try not to blog about writing, there are millions of those blogs out there. Post about something related to your WIP, e.g. if you’re writing cozy mysteries themed around knitting, blog about knitting. For example, my client Lori Bentley Law blogs about women riding motorcycles and vintage cars, which features a lot in her writing and will pick up fans that might actually read her books. Some good advice about blogging here from Chuck Sambuchino at The Write Life.
  • A visual theme that relates to the type of writer you are. If you write high fantasy, then the website should reflect this. Not that you have to have unicorns farting rainbows over wizards, but the site shouldn’t be hot pink with kisses all over it. Now if you’re writing YA romance, that’s a different story. My client Laura Palmer writes epic fantasy with artistic themes and the artwork on her site brings you straight into that world.
  • Publications page. Any publications, i.e. short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, that fall under your author brand should be listed and linked either on your home page or on a separate page. If you have short stories published, congratulations! This is important information for potential editors/agents.
  • Your work-in-progress page. This is where you have a pitch/summary of all your WIPs (that you consider ready or soon-to-be ready for submission). Gives the agent an idea of what more you’ve got under the hood. This isn’t an absolute must, but it’s nice to see. My client Rachelle E. Morrison has two pages dedicated to this and it definitely piqued my interest when I was researching her before our initial phone conversation.
  • A bio page. If you don’t have any writing credentials, than this should have what inspires you to write, who your favorite authors are, why you write in the genre you write, and any real world experience that relates to your writing. My client Stacey Berg has a great example of simple but interesting bio.
  • A professional bio photo next to your bio. No cartoons, avatars, cropped shots, just a simple and clear headshot of you. Does not have to be professionally done, just professionally appearing. See my client Sean Danker’s smirk. Also, this bio photo should be used on all your platforms that are linked to your online author presence.
  • If you are on social media or participate in forums or have any other links relating to your writing and genre of choice these should all be clearly linked to your page. My client G.C. Nash is extremely active online outside just social media. However, most authors aren’t this active, and that’s okay.
  • Should be easy to navigate. These days you have seconds to catch a browser’s attention. If your site is too full of stuff in the navigation bar, side bars, cluttered up pages, it can be distracting and turn the viewer off.

A great example of a simple but effective author website is my client Rati Mehrotra’s at ratiwrites.com. Although it’s not a professionally designed website, it straightforwardly gives all of her information as an author. Her bio, her credentials, her WIP, and a consistent blog, all linked to her other author online presences. And there is a subtle but clear theme that directly relates to her writing. I like to direct new authors there, because her site, in particular, helped me make my decision to represent her, and it’s not a hard site to replicate.

In the end although you don’t need an author website, it does make a difference, at least when I’m considering your submission.

Conference Etiquette: Advice From A Literary Agent

Conference Etiquette For Writers
If you come dressed like this, I will definitely notice.

Next week I will be attending the SDSU Writers Conference in San Diego, and then a few weeks after that the SFWC in San Francisco. Both of these conferences are among the top 5 on the West Coast in terms of how many agents and editors they bring in. If you are attending either of these, your primary focus is probably pitching your manuscript to agents, or learning more about the process on how to get an agent. And a lot of you are most likely terrified to meet face-to-face with the agents.

In order to ease your fears, and make it smoother for both of us, I thought I’d share some tips on how to pitch an agent at a conference. First it’s good to realize that agents and editors get hustled around on a very tight schedule. We get VIP treatment, have our faces and names everywhere, and are by default placed high out of the regular conference goer’s reach, giving off the intimidating impression that we are the lofty stars of the conference. Which doesn’t help when you have to pitch your heart and soul to us in under three minutes later that day. Just remember, the reasons for this treatment are because the organizers want to sell us as part of the package of the conference, but they also don’t want us overwhelmed and they want us to come back the following year. So despite the buzz around us, we are human. We are not rockstars nor are we monsters. We know you’re nervous and, while some of us may be more brusque than others, we are all there because we want to support writers as well as seek out new talent. We want to hear your pitch.

With that in mind, a few tips to make your pitch stand out:

  • Attend and pay attention to the agent/editor introduction panel. Most important on that panel, they will tell you what they are currently seeking. The bios in the brochure may be out of date, or there may be something particular the agent is looking for at that exact time. The panel will also help you get a feel for our character. If an agent is snarky on the panel, then you know you need to pitch them directly and professionally to catch their attention. If an agent is sweet, there’s a little more leeway to let your nerves show during your pitch and perhaps being friendlier is a better approach.
  • During the actual pitch open with a nice greeting and then the genre, title, and word count of your manuscript. If your manuscript isn’t finished, say it here as well. It’s okay to pitch an unfinished manuscript, let us know you simply want to practice your pitch.
  • Try to make your pitch easy to remember, so that you can say it instead of read it. When you read from a page, our eyes start to glaze over, especially if it’s late in the day. We don’t need all the little details of the story, just the basic premise. This also opens up the time for us to ask a few questions about you or the story. The most memorable pitches I have had with writers are conversations about who they are, what their career plans are, what inspired them to write their story, etc.
  • Do not offer us a business card or sample pages. We will throw them out.
  • Do not try to be overly clever with your pitch, i.e. reading it in the character’s voice, or bringing drawings of the characters. There is limited time and we want to get to know you as the writer and your story.
  • Do brush your teeth beforehand, or have a breath mint if you know your breath is stronger than average.
  • Be aware of the time warnings and considerate of those waiting to pitch after you. Don’t keep talking when the moderator calls your time up. Courtesy and politeness go a long way when leaving an impression.
  • Thank the agent for their time at the end of the session.
  • My own personal tip, don’t offer to shake hands with me. I’ve gotten a cold or two in the past from conferences, so I’ve become more wary of shaking hundreds of hands over the course of a day. But I always feel rude when I say something, so it makes me really happy when a writer doesn’t extend that hand!

In the end, all of this is easier said than done. So when you approach me, know that I am really nice and understanding, promise. But I probably won’t remember you or your pitch. So these tips are for standing out above the crowd.

*Extra tip. If an agent states during the introduction panel that they are approachable during off times or if there is an general indicator during the conference for when it is okay to approach us (usually this is signaled by our name tags turned out or in), it means we really are open to being approached by writers. You can come up to us and say hi and ask questions and perhaps make yourself a little more memorable. Avoid doing this if we are walking in a group with a clear destination, or if we are heavily in conversation with someone. But if we are milling around a common room chatting with other conference goers even if they are only other agents, feel free to approach and make eye contact, and we will usually open the conversation.

Hope to see you at a conference!

How to Format Your Fiction Submission

owl
When the sample is formatted poorly, it does not motivate us to read it.

Digging through the slushpile is hard work. For every query an agent answers, two more come in. We must get through them quickly or risk drowning, so as horrifying as it may be, often those that are formatted poorly go straight to the rejection pile. In the interest of giving your submission a fighting chance out above the hundreds of others, your best bet is to have a clean concise query letter and a well-formatted writing sample.

This particular post focuses on how to format your sample writing. First, remember that your sample/partial or full manuscript is a draft, not a published piece, so you are looking to create pages that are stripped down to just the writing. You want the quickest and cleanest read for the reader without all the fancy parts. (And yes this is true of picture books too!) Here are some tips on how to format your sample correctly.

First page:

  • Top left hand corner has your name, contact information (address, phone, email, and website)
  • Top right hand corner has the word count of the ENTIRE novel, not of the sample
  • A few spaces down has the title
  • Directly following is the opening line of your manuscript
  • Do not include a table of contents, an acknowledgments page, quotes, title page, or any other front matter. It is unnecessary and simply takes the reader longer to reach that important first line.

Body:

  • Double spaced
  • First line of each paragraph should have a 0.5 indentation
  • Simple font, (Times New Roman or Arial are safest), black, 12pt, you may use italics or bold for emphasis, but avoid using colors, different fonts etc.
  • Page number, title, your last name in the top right header
  • Do not include images, fancy headers, or blank pages between chapters. Do not use underline for italics or double spaces after a period (these are outdated).

There are reasons for these formatting requirements, if you don’t know them ask in the comments. Samples of a front page and body page below.

Clean Manuscript Format Front Page

Clean Manuscript Format Body Page

In Defense of the Form Rejection

I recently wrote a short story, my first in over a year. Inspiration struck and I listened.

Unlike novel writing, short stories are short-term rewarding because you reach “the end,” while you are still loving that muse whispering in your ear. I was particularly excited about this story, as I knew exactly which magazine I was going to submit it to. A few years ago, said magazine had rejected another story of mine, but with glowing praise and a request to see more of my work. I kept that in mind, because this magazine is a professionally paying market and one that would be quite a feather in my writing resume. Thus after some furious late nights, anxious waiting for the beta reads to come back, and a lot of editing, I sent off my beautiful 3k-word gem to this magazine.

Another rather sweet aspect of short stories is these days most magazines use submission software. This means you can stalk, I mean track, your submissions. And, at least in the SciFi/Fantasy professional market, many of them have fairly quick turn around times. This is in part because they don’t allow simultaneous subs in part because the stories are shorter. Altogether it’s a much quicker and less frustrating process than novel submissions.

So a week full of checking the website later, there it was, that email. I took a deep breath and opened it to find… a form rejection letter.

The range of emotions that followed is one every writer is familiar with. But there was one more. Understanding. Working for a literary agency, I’ve sent out hundreds of form rejection letters over the years. And recently I opened up my own inbox to queries. In the beginning I tried to make each response a bit personal, a note here, a comment there. I knew what it was like to be on the other side, and that experience pushed me to communicate personally as much as I could, especially if the writing had potential. However, I discovered, to my dismay, that the majority of personal rejections were not appreciated, in fact they were often responded to with a “could you clarify this?” or “can you take this further?” or “what can I edit to change your mind?”

My personal notes were not received as the compliments they were meant to be, but rather as an opening for an editorial conversation. One that I had to ignore. It made me feel guilty, not continuing the conversations, but there is not enough time in an agent’s schedule to answer every author question that floats through our inbox. I was also spending more time coming up with ways to make the reason I was passing on the project sound nice and encouraging and editorially useful, rather than focusing my energy on considering each submission carefully. Which made me reluctant to open my inbox. I had burned out. Thus more and more I found myself responding with a form rejection, both in the interest of time and clear communication. My defense of the form rejection:

  • It’s a clear answer.
  • You receive said answer faster.
  • It’s less emotional.
  • It helps prevent slushpile burnout, so the agent/reader can focus on what’s important, considering the submission itself, rather than coming up with something to say in response to it.
  • The form rejection helps to keep expectations in check.

I know most authors who don’t do their research don’t understand this, because they don’t see the other side. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard writers say, “it couldn’t be that hard to respond to a query!” Let me tell you, yes, yes it can.

Every once in a while, if the writing jumps out at me, or if I’ve met the author in person, I will still respond personally, but for the most part I’ve become a fan of the form rejection. Sure you could argue that if I hadn’t gotten that personal response back in the day, I wouldn’t have been as eager to submit to the magazine, but I also wouldn’t have had as high of hopes. At least you can take comfort in the knowledge that I’m getting them as good as I’m giving them. We all just have to keep on keeping on. My so-called gem of a short story is already sunk into another slushpile.

*All artwork by street graffiti artist Banksy.

Follow me on Twitter @Mary_C_Moore for more tips and updates on queries and the slushpile.