Writing

Query Mistakes: No Turning Back?

The submission process has been nicknamed the “query trenches” by the legion of aspiring writers online. With good reason. If you are serious about finding an agent, you must spend a lot of time researching literary agencies and polishing your submission material. After this careful preparation, you enter the “trenches”, submitting to each agent in accordance with their specific guidelines. All while navigating the endless posts/tweets/comments by publishing professionals about the horrific mistakes they see writers make, and trying not to get killed by rejection letters.

When I was in the query trenches myself, once I received a rejection letter for my angel/demon novel, then that same agent tweeted a minute later how annoyed she was that writers continued to submit angel/demon manuscripts to her, despite her regular tweets that she wasn’t interested. I was mortified. I thought I’d made the worst mistake ever, almost as bad as the dreaded grammar-error-in-query-letter (gasp!). I could never show my face in that agency’s submission inbox again.

I was wrong of course. Making a mistake in your submission is not the end of the line. You should do as much research as you can and polish your submission until it gleams. But errors happen. We don’t auto-reject authors just because they misspelled a word or incorrectly identified their subgenre. Trust me, we can tell when an author has worked hard on their submission materials versus slapping something together. Treat the query process as you would a job search, with professionalism, and we agents will return the favor. Although, I’m guessing if you are agonizing about that error in your sub, you probably already fall in this category. So know that if we passed on your carefully-edited query, it’s because it wasn’t a good fit, not because of the way you used “whom.” (Don’t use this post as an excuse to be lazy though, you should have multiple people proofread that query!) And, we’d be more than happy to see your next project when it’s ready.

I was asked specifically on Twitter about this, so here’s a list of “mistakes” authors make that will actually cause an agent to blacklist you.

  1. Being rude and unprofessional
  2. Responding to our rejection with angry/hurtful comments (see 1.)
  3. Badmouthing us online (see 1.)
  4. All of the above

Open To Submissions!

Happy 2019 everyone! New year, new start. I am pleased that I have reduced the number of submissions in my inbox to under 5. In part thanks to to the help of my wonderful assistant, Amber, who is an excellent reader. In 2018, I received over a thousand queries while I was open to submissions during Aug-Nov. Of those I ended up signing two clients. Both in the adult literary speculative space, Veronica Henry and Yume Kitasei. Very excited to introduce their amazing projects to the world in 2019. Both were cold queries, but both had done careful research and knew their projects were exactly to my taste. For neither was this project the first they’d written. So their persistence and research paid off. The query trenches are difficult, but it is where the majority of authors are picked up by agents, despite rumors to the contrary. So don’t give up! Cheers, and I look forward to reading.

Query Boot Camp Is Back

Kimberley Cameron & Associates is hosting another Query Boot Camp via Writer’s Digest January 15-18. Get four hours of online time with me or one of our other agents to ask ANY questions you might have about publishing and writing*. Maybe you want to know if dragons make good romantic heroes, or what is the average word count for middle grade, or why you shouldn’t start your novel with the character staring in the mirror even if they’re a zombie. Or perhaps you want a peek behind the curtain on the daily work life of an agent, do we really cackle loudly as we throw queries in the trash and eat unsuspecting new authors for breakfast? I promise an honest and fun forum! There’s an added bonus of a query and sample critique after the course is over. It doesn’t matter if you are ready to query or just putting the first words of your novel down. Click the image below to enroll. Sign up soon as spots fill up!

*If you’re writing nonfiction I recommend requesting to join Elizabeth Kracht’s group as the rest of us don’t represent nonfiction.

Happy Holidays!

I know I haven’t posted much this year. I blame this adorable face. But she’s going into pre-school in the new year, which means I’ll have more time! If you have any posts you’d love to see in 2019, questions about publishing, peeks behind the agent curtain, editorial advice, comment here.

Many exciting things happened in 2018 for my clients, deals, awards, sequels, and I couldn’t be prouder.

I will be open to submissions January 1, 2019, and I hope (this may be too optimistic) to respond to all remaining queries, partials, and fulls by that date. Until then, may there be lots of joy and celebration and cozy reading time for everyone.

Happy New Year!

Mary C. MooreMay 8, 2018

 

Mark your calendars, I’m hosting a live webinar for Writer’s Digest on Thursday, June 14 at 1pm EDT. We will be discussing reader immersion, natural world-building, and polishing your writing all through a SFF lens. And bonus, there’s a 750 word critique! For more details and to sign up click the link below:

Wizards, Robots, and Ghosts: Navigating Narration Within Sci-Fi & Fantasy

 

 

 

Mary C. MooreNovember 30, 2017

 

The versatile and talented editor Sangeeta Mehta hosted a Q&A on powerhouse Jane Friedman‘s blog. Myself and literary agent DongWon Song answered her provocative questions as honestly as we could! Check out the interview here. If you post a comment or question there, I will try to answer it.

Link address: https://www.janefriedman.com/ethics-and-literary-agents/

Temporarily Closing To Submissions

Due to the wildfire situation where I live in Sonoma County, California, I am closing to submissions temporarily. My family, home, and I are all safe. But we are on constant advisory for potential evacuation pending wind patterns and our community is busy with evacuees from neighboring affected areas.

Because the majority of my focus is on this new reality, I have fallen way behind. Any extra time or energy I have must be used to meet my client needs. Therefore I apologize, but I won’t be reading any submissions, including those already in my inbox, at least until the fires have been contained, and our community has begun to pick up the pieces. Thank you so much for your patience and understanding.

If you do wish to withdraw your submission, please respond to the auto-response you received after you filled out the submission form. If you receive an offer of representation or publication please do keep me updated.

As of this afternoon, the situation in my neighborhood looks positive. My family and I have been lucky, but so many are not. If you are looking for a way to help, here is a gift card donation drive by a local club:

Why Submission Response Times Vary So Dramatically: A Literary Agent Breaks It Down

In general, publishing moves slowly (we’re talking molasses). You can be out on submission for months, even years, first with literary agents and then again with publishers. So it can be incredibly frustrating to hear stories of authors getting signed by an agent after two weeks or being picked up by a publisher after three days. You’ve spent years honing your craft, learning the market, and researching industry professionals, while newer, younger authors are celebrating on Twitter or shouting with glee on their blogs about their astonishing and seemingly-instant success, causing you to feel like you’ve been too long in the query trenches, that you’ll never get published.

This is not true. The timing of when/if your manuscript gets picked up depends on many different factors, far too many to fit into one blog post. But a main factor is what kind of appeal your manuscript has. I like to break it down into three types: *note, these categories are assigned given that the manuscripts are well-written, evenly-paced, and tightly-plotted

Market Hot 🔥🔥🔥

These are the stories that happen to hit the right note on the market. They are timely, they are polished, and the author has managed to leverage it to be visible to multiple agents and editors at one time, i.e. on Twitter pitch sessions (#PitMad, #DVpit, etc.), at a conference/contest, Pitch Wars, and so on. These are the authors with multiple agent offers after only a week on submission. The reason these get snatched up so quickly is agents know they are hot. There is a distinct advantage to being the first to make an offer, and if that’s not possible, someone else will offer soon, and so an agent has to read it fast or risk being left in the dust when the fight is over. And when the dust clears, often that same manuscript ends up selling at auction with publishers not long after, while those agents that lost out quietly weep over ice cream.

The odds of your submission falling in this category are slim. There are only a few a year. But given the excitement they generate, these are the stories you hear the loudest. Try not to compare yourself to this. Dream big always, but be kind to yourself as the path to publication is long and hard for most.

Heart Novel ❤️❤️❤️

These are the manuscripts that land smack in the middle of an agent’s MSWL (manuscript wish list) but aren’t necessarily market hot. These stories are the reason most of us got into the business. For example, I’m dying for an adult upmarket expansive historical romance set in a Mexican hacienda, with thoughtful social commentary layered into it, written by a latina/indigenous author. Or a northern California fantasy full of local magic, cryptozoology, weed, and redwoods. This is super specific to me and my tastes, not to the market. If one of these landed in my inbox, you bet I would read it quickly and if it was good make an offer pretty damn fast. Not because I know competition will be tight, not because I have a list of editors the length of my arm to send it to, but because it’s a story I believe in, a story that touches my heart.

These are also rare (I’ve signed one in three years) and may not hit the publishers the same way. Maybe the heart novel gets an agent quickly, but could be on submission to publishers for months/years. Maybe the agent sells the client’s next work, waiting until the client makes a name before selling the heart novel. That your ms will hit exactly what the agent is looking for is far-fetched, although your odds increase exponentially with the more research you do on each agent. At least if your project comes close, it will definitely make us pay attention.

Dark Horse 🌚🌚🌚

Finally this category is probably where your manuscript lands. The unknowns. The slushpile. The surprise. Most agents after a drink or two will tell you they didn’t know they wanted that particular submission until it landed on their desk. Of course you want to aim for the right genre and reader age range that the agent represents, but within that the potential is vast and varied. I had no idea I wanted a cozy mystery series starring a veterinarian or a military space adventure with an unreliable narrator. I fell in love after they were submitted to me . The response times on these can be weeks, to months to even a year or so depending on the agent’s workload, the ever-changing market, and available space on their client list. There may be R&Rs (revise and resubmit) and phone conversations without an offer. It could even end with the heart-breaking “this is good but I didn’t fall in love,” rejection. The potential to be a Dark Horse is why your query is so important. You have to convince the agent that yours is the manuscript they never knew they wanted, that you are a writer who will win the race. You don’t have that bit of leeway that the market hot and heart novels have. Just by circumstance, they’ve already gotten the agent to read with an open heart and willing mind. We do not do this by default. The slushpile has made us into cynics. Your manuscript must be impressively polished. Because the agent is still skeptical. Your query intrigued us, but we go into it expecting it to not be ready. Please, surprise us.

And, if your writing impresses us, then worst case scenario we can’t sell this manuscript, we know we can develop your next one together and it will have a much higher chance of being at least a little market hot. The largest percentage of my clients are Dark Horses. One was even two years from initial submission to my actual offer!

So keep on writing and keep on submitting. Everyone has space on their list for the Dark Horse, even if their path to publication is molasses slow.

Does Your Book Crossover? – Genre Breakdown

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a Q&A on Twitter for authors via the wonderful #ontheporch community. It’s a hashtag for writers about writing run by these two lovely writers:

 and 

The theme for the hour was “Writing Commercial Fiction” and the discussion was both fun and fast.

I realized, as I often do during Q&A sessions with authors, how much information I take for granted as a literary agent. I have learned so much on the other side of the desk, and it’s easy to forget how mysterious it all seemed once upon a time. One particular question that appeared to cause a lot of anxiety was whether or not a manuscript fell into the “crossover genre.” Writers were unsure what crossover meant, yet they had heard it was important that their manuscript achieved that status. I’d be pretty anxious too!

So, to clarify. Crossover isn’t a genre, it’s an adjunct of the genre, and it’s used as a label in publishing mainly for marketing purposes. In a literal sense, your manuscript is crossover when it “crosses over” from one genre to the next, e.g. a thriller in an urban fantasy setting. Publishers love crossovers because they can potentially be bought by fans of both genres, i.e. it “crosses over” to different audiences, which means…

Crossover can also pertain to the type of writing, e.g. you’ve written a romance but the language is so elevated it could be considered upmarket or even literary. In these cases the term crossover is often dropped and occasionally the commercial genre label is dropped as well, and instead it’s referred to “upmarket” or “bookclub” fiction.

The most common use of the term crossover (and where the most confusion seems to happen) is referring to the age range of the reader. In particular YA (young adult) novels are considered crossover when the publisher is hoping to reach not only teenage readers, but adult readers as well. For example, The Hunger Games was read widely by both kids and adults, and its crossover appeal is what drove a lot of its popularity. In the technical sense the reverse is possible, i.e. adult books can crossover to kids, but this is far less common, and not used in marketing. When pitching a crossover in age range, it’s always in terms of aging up, e.g. a middle grade that can appeal to young adults, YA to adults, etc.

So what does this all mean for you the author? Knowing if your manuscript is crossover or not, shows a better understanding of the market, which can only further help your submission. Unsure? Then stick to your main genre and reader age. An agent can spot a crossover even if it’s not stated as such. But if you do claim it’s a crossover and it’s not, then that may cause the agent to believe that you don’t understand the market you’re writing for or that you are trying to overcompensate for something lacking in the writing itself. This won’t kill your submission necessarily, but it won’t help.

Hope this helps and happy writing!

Mistakes in the Slushpile: Filter Verbs

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Unreliable Narrators for a podcast. They asked some in depth questions: what’s a typical day in the life of a literary agent, advice for writers, book recommendations etc. so be sure to check it out to hear my answers.

One of the questions I continued to think about the next day. They were curious to know what is the most common mistake I see in the slushpile. This is difficult to answer as the slushpile is constantly morphing and changing, and I didn’t want to give the usual answer that writers hear all the time like:

  • query is misaddressed or agent’s name is misspelled
  • it’s the wrong genre for that particular agent
  • spelling/grammar errors in query
  • prologue or slow opening line
  • word count is too high or too low

(These are incredibly common.)

What I settled on was the overall truth that… most writers query too soon. They submit their work before it has been fully polished. And a major aspect of that polish is getting rid of the words that cause distance between the narrator and the reader, also known as filter language.

Filter language is typically those pesky overused verbs that inexperienced writers use to inform the reader what the protagonist is experiencing, i.e. “I saw” or “he felt” or “she knew” (hear, think, hope, touch, realize, wonder, look, seem etc.). These verbs are largely unnecessary as we the reader are experiencing the story through the eyes of the character, thus we don’t need to be told the character is seeing something, we should simply see it, e.g. “She saw his dark cape swoosh.” vs “His dark cape swooshed.” A fully polished manuscript will have eliminated many if not all of these filters, bringing the reader closer to the story thus strengthening the odds it will catch their interest. As the most important aspect in a submission is catching the attention of the agent (just as the final product must catch the attention of the potential reader) you can imagine just how important the removal of filter verbs is.

For those of you scrambling to hit search all in your document right now, I say great, but take a moment to consider perhaps this manuscript that you wrote full of filter verbs isn’t the one. When I said writers submit their work too soon, I meant they as a creative entity, not just that single manuscript. You are an apprentice, your first completed novel gets you into the mail room at the bottom floor. Don’t set such high expectations of yourself that you will be the CEO in a year. This will only serve to discourage, as you will be faced with certain rejection and disappointment. Keep growing, evolving, studying, and learning your craft. So when you read a post like this you won’t be scrambling, rather nodding along (hopefully not too smugly). At that point, you are likely ready to submit. And I will be ready to read when you are.

Write on.