Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ask an Editor: 6 Ways to Get a Request

by Roseanna White,
acquisitions editor WhiteFire Publishing



Last time I was on here we talked about the things that will get your query deleted faster than a con man can say, “It’ll make you millions!” This time, I figure we’ll look at the other side of the coin and focus on things that make editors and agents say, “Okay, let’s take a look!”

Now, in this world of social media, I have noticed something, so we’ll begin with that.

Doable # 1 - The Personal Touch

When you’re interested in a particular publisher or agent, a good first step is to get to know them. Frequent their blog. Stop by their pages on Facebook and Twitter. Leave comments now and then—not pointed toward your book, but just friendly. Relevant to their post.

I always felt a little weird doing this, like I was cyber-stalking or something. But now that I’m on the other side of the desk, let me assure you that it makes a difference. Name recognition counts, even when it’s something as small as this. But when I’ve gotten a couple funny comments from folks on Facebook on my blog, it makes me think twice about whatever query they might send me, and makes me far more likely to want to look at their proposal, even if the query doesn’t make it sound right up my alley.

Now, the most recent contract WhiteFire sent out was to an author who had indeed been commenting regularly on my Facebook page, but I didn’t realize it, LOL. See, another editor had acquired this one, I was just handling the technical side of the contract. So when I went to type in her name and realized it was Susie, there was a lightbulb moment—and suddenly I went from, “Yeah, okay, a contract” to “Yay! Susie! I can’t wait to work with her on this!!”

If you've met an editor or agent in person, remind them of that! Say where it was, what you talked about, or that you sat in on their class or have taken one of their online courses. Let them know you're familiar with what they're looking for.

Doable # 2 - Be the Authority

Young writers don't often have a platform. Editors understand that. But there's always a reason a writer is drawn to a particular subject, right? Play that up. If you're writing about a skateboarder, tell me up front that you won some skateboard exhibition that I've never heard of. It'll interest me. Are you writing about a foster child? Then please share that your family has taken them in, or that you have experience with the system. Is your heroine running a battered women's shelter? Then let me know you've volunteered at one for the last two years. Is it set in India, where you went on a mission trip last year? Let me know!

Even if you don't have firsthand experience, your research counts. I, for instance, have never been to Ancient Persia. (Shocker!! LOL) But I studied ancient cultures for two years, and I can say so. I can talk about it as if I have been.

See, most editors know a little bit about a lot of things but aren't expert in them. We know just enough to detect genuine knowledge in someone else. And that authority that comes with your knowledge comes through. So talk about a subject like you know it, like you mean it. Be the expert.

Doable # 3 - Be Excited

Even in a three-paragraph query, excitement comes through. And let me just tell you that if you aren't enthused about a project, no editor is going to be either. I've had a few discussions with folks who say, "Well, I guess I have this other project over here. I could send you that, if you think it might be more what you're looking for . . ." Um, gee. Thanks, but . . .

If, on the other hand, you use bold, punchy words to describe your story, words that prove you've put thought and energy into it, that goes far.

Doable # 4 - Professionalism and Confidence

It's really important when sending a query to follow all the "don't" rules and come off as a professional. While it came be a hard balance to strike, aim for confidence without pretension. Believe in what you're saying, but don't try to sound like the best thing since slathering peanut butter on an Oreo. And above all, make your query letter clean! I'm talking grammar. If a query letter is fluid and polished, clean and precise, you're more likely to get a request than if the editor can't read the first sentence without going, "Is a word missing here or something??"

That may sound like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how often I get query letters that are grammatically a mess. And so what am I to assume the book will be like? So have your friends read over it, a parent, critique partners if you have them, perhaps a teacher. Make that baby shine--it's the first impression, after all.

Doable # 5 - Be Ready!

Stephanie has touched on this before--don't send out queries until you're READY! If an editor comes back five minutes after you press "send" and says, "Sounds great, send me the first three chapters!" you'd better have those chapters ready to send! And if they come back a day later and say, "The chapters were awesome--you said the manuscript was finished, right? Let me at it!" Well, you'd better have that ready too, right?

Because editors have good memories but a lot filling them. Editors and agents at big houses or agencies often get hundreds of queries a day. So you have to be ready to pounce while their memories of you and your work are fresh. Because while it may take them three months to even open up your proposal, they may open it then and there and fall in love. (Trust me, I've had it happen, from both sides of the desk!)

So to sum it all up . . .

Doable # 6 - Stand Out as Yourself!

Be professional, know your stuff, but most of all, be you. If your personality comes through, you're more likely to be remembered. If you're meeting someone in person, let them see the real you. If it's all via email, inject your voice into your correspondence. That will set you apart. That will have editors friending you on Facebook or Twitter because they remember you fondly. That will make them sit up and take note when a proposal comes in.

And that, after all, is what we're going for. =)

Have a publishing question you think I could answer? Email me at Roseanna(at)Whitefireprinting.com

34 comments:

  1. Thanks so much! Lots to think about now. ;)

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  2. Thanks, Miss Roseanna! I really needed this! Glad to know that I have been doing most of everything right (At least the "cyber-stalking" stuff >_< )

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  3. This is great! I can't wait until my book is finished and I'll go find a publisher ;) It is really exciting!
    Roseanna White, you are fantastic! Thanks for the help.

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    1. Good luck on that!! I do not see how I will be getting there anytime soon...

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  4. This has been really helpful, Ms. White. Thank you so much for posting here. :)

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  5. The whole querrying/editing/publishing process is slightly intimidating for me. I know "they work for you" and all that, but I'm always afraid I'm going to get my head bit off if I querry or, worse, be ignored. Do you always respond to querries? Or do you just delete the ones you dislike and continue reading? Anyways, thanks for the great post Miss Roseanna! You always lend a great deal of insight into the mysterious editor's job...

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    1. I personally try to reply to everything--though I don't get the hundreds of queries that editors at bigger houses do. ;-) But rest assured no one's going to bite your head off. And it's also perfectly acceptable to check in on a query if you've heard absolutely nothing just to make sure it was received.

      It can definitely be intimidating! But it helps to remember that they're people who really love books. =)

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    2. Thanks, that makes me feel better too! It'll be awhile (like, years!) before my current story is publishing quality, but having a heads up about this stuff is great! I think I'm going to start printing some of these posts off and putting them in my writing folder so I'll have them later. Thank you so much, you guys are great!

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    3. That's a great idea--storing up information is always wise. =)

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    1. It definitely was! I can't wait till I finish my book and can on to the querying stage. For now, I'll file it away to get back to on that Someday. Thank you!! :D

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  7. This is such a helpful post. Thanks!

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  8. Thank you so much! This is so helpful. While I do not see that I will be sending a manuscript anytime soon, it is good to be learning about these things now.

    Do you think that you could do a few posts on "the jobs on other side?" Maybe what editiors and agents do? I am considering these career fields and would like to know more about them.

    I thank you. :) And of course many thanks to Mrs. Morrill for all the time and work she puts in to this blog!

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    1. That would make a great post, yes! I'll make a note of it. =)

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  9. This is incredibly helpful! I think parts of this can probably be used for querying agents, right?
    I'm lucky because my mom is my editor, though. :)

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    1. Yes, this one works for both editor and agent queries. =) And lucky you, having an editor for a mom!

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    2. Yes, that would be quite helpful! She could help you do better on all of your school assignments and recieve a better grade. My mom is amazingly helpful with that sort of thing but I would love to have my own private editor!! :)

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    3. lol yeah, I'm very lucky :) @4readin that's exactly what she does too lol

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  10. I'm having a hard time seeing the "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" of querying. For some reason, starting stories is more of my forte, it's the finishing that I have more of a struggle with - I have a notebook filled with writing prompts, story starters, random scenes, and all that jazz, but the farthest I've gotten is 30 pages. Being a homeschooler with a lot of chores, a lot of schoolwork, an amusing babysitting career, and a niece, writing usually gets shoved behind reading, getting ahead, or baking, when it comes to "free time". Mostly all I have time for are those random pages of inspiration.

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    1. Lydia, there's nothing at all wrong with that! It's important to enjoy where you are in your life, and it sounds like you're doing that. Keep taking down those notes on inspiration and soaking up all the info Stephanie and company share here--then when the time's right, you'll be set! =)

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  11. Thanks for the post, Ms. White! I wrote down all these tips in my writing notebook so I will have them in the future, when my book will hopefully have a chance of being published. :)

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    1. That's great, Jill! I imagine your writing notebook will be filled with some great information from GTW by the time you're ready to submit. =)

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  12. Thanks! I've been writing notes from all over this page in my newly established writing folder. I love all the great tips you guys put on here.

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  13. Thank you for this, Mrs. White! I can tell I'm going to be referencing it in the future...:)

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  14. Thank you for this wonderful post, Roseanna! :D

    I have a quick question, if you wouldn't mind answering. How long should chapters be? I tend to write ridiculously long chapters, so I'm wondering how long publishing houses like them to be.

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    1. The general rule is "It's up to you." Personally, I make mine between 10 and 15 double spaced pages, once in a while as long as 20. One of the style guides I have from one of the publishers I work with say "around 20 pages" is normal. I wouldn't go any longer than that, though; though it's not something I can imagine a book rejected over. More likely, an editor would just say, "Let's break this up a bit, shall we?" =)

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  15. I have horrible self-confidence. But becoming published is definitely something I want to do. Unfortunately I have this terrible hidden fear of being rejected, and it absolutely takes over me sometimes in times when I'm thinking about big decisions.
    I don't think I'll be very ready for quite some time though, unfortunately. :( I wish I could be ready in the next 2 years.

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    1. There's no need to rush yourself, Jazmine. And really, kudos for knowing yourself well enough to realize this is an issue! It's perfectly okay to give yourself some time to grow in confidence. Because you will be rejected--it's a fact in this industry, even big names still get rejected. It's smarter to wait until you can handle that than to rush in, get hurt, and then lose heart. But at the same time, start chanting now "A rejection of my work isn't a rejection of me" about a thousand times a day, so hopefully you'll believe it in the next 2 years or so. ;-)

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  16. Oh wow eek yes this is a good post! I'm up to all that stuff so I guess I'd better start searching this blog for tips!

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  17. Those are some good tips! I still have a long way to go, but I'll save this page. Thanks for the helpful post!

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  18. Wow, thank you so much for this amazing advice, Roseanna! It's fabulous to hear from a real editor what works and what doesn't in a query. :) I'm definitely bookmarking this for when I need it in the future! :D

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  19. This is very good! I, myself, am a teen writer. I have been writing since I could hold a pencil, and later press the keys on a laptop. I have been pondering for awhile on sending in a query, and this really helps me move farther in my choice!

    Thanks for the help!

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