Friday, August 5, 2011

What you should do BEFORE you send out queries

We've shifted our focus on Go Teen Writers toward the process of getting published. Some of you have asked about self-publishing, so we'll be talking about both that and getting published traditionally. I've struggled with where to begin our conversation, so you might have to bear with me as I grapple for the topics of most interest to you. (And your feedback on the matter is always welcome!)

So let's say your manuscript is done. And by done I mean it's pristine - you've edited and edited and polished and had friends read it and taken their suggestions to heart and edited and edited and polished some more. As a debut author, only when you're completely done with your manuscript should you query an agent. You will make a lousy first impression if an agent says to you, "Your first chapter was great! Send me the rest!" and your response is, "Oh, I haven't written it yet. But I could have it done in 6 months or so..."

When I was 18 or 19 I sent out a batch of queries for my manuscript ... that I can't remember the title of, to be honest. (This is back in the olden days when most agents still preferred snail mail queries.) I sent out 5, like my "how to get an agent" book recommended. My book also said I would likely receive lots of "no thank yous." Since it was first time doing this, I assumed I'd be 5/5 on no thank yous and that it would be weeks before I heard anything. I thought I could edit while I waited.

Instead, with two weeks, 2 of the 5 agents asked to see more. And 1 of those asked for the full.

Did I have the full ready? Of course not. It was written, but I'd barely edited it. Plus this agent asked for a bio (Um, "I received an A in AP English, and I was on my high school newspaper....") and a synopsis. (A what?!?!?) It was terrifying. I don't want any of you to suffer through a week like I did where my entire life was editing, editing, editing. With a tiny bit of researching what on earth this synopsis thingy was. Oh, and I believe there were some tears in there as well.

Now, even if I'd polished that manuscript for years it had some serious problems and would never sell, but my point is you don't want to only have a week or so to make your baby shine. I know it's hard to be patient, but you only get to make that first impression once and your book-baby is going to need to sparkle if you want to dazzle an agent.

So that's my first piece of advice on getting published - invest the time to make your book as good as you can. Your dream is worth it.

If you've invested the time, you should have the following prepared:

A full, beautiful manuscript

A one-line pitch

A 1-3 page synopsis

A bio

Target audience

Knowledge of what genre you write, and other titles currently on the market that are similar (These are called Competitive Titles or comp titles)

Understanding of why your book is different than others and what "felt need" it meets.

Marketing strategies

That list possibly makes you groan and say, "But ... isn't it enough to have written a good book?" Look, I feel for you. I think that all the time, to be honest. Isn't it enough to have written a good book? Why do I have to do all this marketing stuff too? Do I have to line up public speaking engagements? Because I really don't enjoy it. Do I have to Tweet?

Published authors (minus, probably, Stephan King and Jodi Picoult and other mega bestsellers) don't receive a "pass" on that above list, so there's no way you will as a debut. An agent (and a publisher) are interested in people who are dedicated to their writing career and have the drive to be successful. One way you can prove that to them is by being prepared in the above areas.

What on that list is foreign to you? Do you see something on there you'd like me to spend time talking about?

Have a great weekend everyone. Don't forget to get your 100 words turned in, and I'll see you on Monday!


  1. Would you mind talking a little more about the bio? When I read an agent's requirement list asking for one, I always end up skipping that agent. I have almost no idea what they're looking for.

  2. "Understanding of why your book is different than others and what "felt need" it meets."

    I understand the first half of that but the part after the "and" confuses me a little. I heard about this at the conference I attended and my head cocked like "huh?"

    Thanks, Stephanie!

  3. This post is really helpful! I love the handy little list of what to have ready :) Thanks!

  4. Thank you for your post. Well written, I might add.

    This helps me realize a bit more how hard it is to become successful, even with a good idea (aka, a book) in hand.

  5. Jenna and Rachelle - no problem. Will talk about those more in detail next week.

    Ellyn, so glad it helped!

    DJ, thank you. One of the things that shocked me about getting published was how much more there was after it. For so long that - getting published - felt like the ultimate goal. After I signed my contract, it was like I discovered this whole other road I was expected to travel.

  6. thanks so much for this post. it was extremely helpful!

  7. Thanks for sharing this. It's a great summary of the whole process.

  8. Could you maybe talk a little bit more about the bio? I'm a little lost on that one.
    And the target audience is like; Children's books, or Young Adult? That type of stuff?

    I have one more question...
    What is a key to make a good synopsis? I know that its the summary of your whole book, but with people like me I write 10 pages of blabbing lol.
    I guess what I'm asking is; what's a good way to organize the synopsis and make it look clean?
    Are the big events what make a synopsis? Like an outline of those, and then a sprinkle of everything in between?

    I hope this isn't to many questions...

    Great post though! I'm really looking forward to working up to getting published. :)


  9. What do you mean by "What felt need it meets"?? Just wondering.

  10. Jazmine, these are great questions! I'm making note of them to answer in the next week/two weeks.

  11. I have read about it, but I don't understand a sypnosis. What is it, can you go into detail please?