I’m not an agent. I don’t even play one on tv. I don’t even have the slightest desire to be one. Not in my wildest flight of fantasy. However, I have been stalking them for, oh, about twenty years. A lot has changed since I first decided I wanted to write and did absolutely everything you could do wrong while I queried my children’s books and my suspense novel, often to the same agent at the same time.
The wee one I started writing children’s stories for has now grown up, gone to war, and had babies of his own.
A few things haven’t changed. Though I quit writing for a while, I never lost the desire nor the interest in what’s going on in the publishing world. I’m still interested in what agents and editors think.
Things are so much easier than when I was querying before.
Snoopy dance of joy.
Anyone can learn just about anything they want to know about an agent if they just use a little diligence. For instance, I have learned that all my favorite agents wear blue shirts. Amazing isn’t it? Sometimes I just need to search for the right picture and voila, there it is, a blue shirt! Well, except for Sharque Janet Reid. She wears Sharque Gray.
All right, that’s kind of creepy, but it proves a point. It’s not that difficult to find out information about agents and editors and what they want or what they don’t want. There’s #askagent, #askeditor, #mswl, #tenqueries, #500queries, #1000queries, #querylunch and any of a number of other twitter hashtags where publishing professionals hang out and give you advice or an insight into their world. But, since this seems to be eluding some of my author friends, I’m going to do the very first #AskJulie column. Consider it my gift to the writing world.
#NellieNew asks Agent 001: “How many words for a mystery novel?”
#AskJulie waits for Agent001 to explode all over the twitterverse. Word count questions have been asked hundreds of times if people will just look or look them up. But, because there are some variations and I have really good coffee today, I shall help.
Janet Reid says (and God bless her for this) Words counts!
Jessica Faust, another leader in the industry (even if she doesn’t rep epic fantasy) says: More word counts!
These were pretty easily found, so you don’t have to ask an agent for the 1,347th time about word count and possibly be that person who winds up in a story that starts with, “Literary Agent 001 snapped earlier today and attacked Nellie New with a two gallon bucket of vodka gummy worms the office had been saving for a special occasion.”
#BrazenBob writes: Read my thrilling new thriller Thrilling Thelma in Thunderbolt, GA. and sign me up before someone else gets this blockbuster. #askagent #askeditor #mswl #amwriting
#AskJulie says: No, just don’t. Unless it’s a pitch contest or you’ve been invited to, do NOT pitch to agents and editors on social medial and don’t spam these hashtags with your manuscript or your self pubbed book you want people to buy. All it does is get you blocked faster than S3xyLadiesWaitingForYou.
#DelicateDana writes: I know you said you need a synopsis on your site, but I am terrible at writing these things. Can I just send you the manuscript instead?
#AskJulie says: No. Even if the agent doesn’t ask for a synopsis, at some point you’re probably going to have to write one. You might as well buck up and do it. If an agent requests a query letter, five pages and a synopsis, why not pleasantly surprise them, move yourself ahead of the pack and follow instructions? Following instructions is always good. Unless, it’s something like the voice in your head telling you to hurry and eat that whole box of donuts before anyone else in the office gets there.
Never send a manuscript until it’s requested. Capisce?
#HopefulHelga writes: I have a really good idea, but I haven’t finished the book yet. Can I start querying now to save time?
#AskJulie says: Ideas are a dime a dozen. Partially finished books are only slightly more valuable. Finish your book. Set it aside. Pick it up. Edit it. Read it out loud. Edit it again. Round up your trusted readers. Let them read it. Cry. Revise it again. Do another round of reading. Polish it and then think about making an agent list about the seventh time you’ve gone through the book.
It’s great that you have an idea. It’s wonderful that you started writing, but you must have a finished, revised, polished script if it’s fiction. Nonfiction is a different can of worms.
#DesperateDan asks: Everything is riding on the success of this book I’m working on, so I need to get this query right. Where can I get some help?
#AskJulie says: You’re asking the wrong question. You should be asking where you can get a job. Don’t write a book because you need money desperately. It will take months or years to write the book. Then it will take months or years to get an agent. Then it might take months or years to sell it and then, guess what? It will takes months, many months for it to hit the market. Even if you sell a book, you probably won’t be able to make a living off your writing right away. Don’t quit your day job.
#Self-pubbedSarah asks: I didn’t really want to fool around with agents before, so I self-pubbed my novel. The sales aren’t doing that great, so now I need an agent. What do I do?
#AskJulie says: Start writing your next book. Not the next book in the series of the book you self pubbed and isn’t selling. A brand new book. Unless your sales numbers are really good, there isn’t much an agent can do with a self-pubbed book. Once you decide to self-publish, realize this is a commitment you will have to most likely live with. Yes, there’s a chance you’ll do great. Just realize most agents can’t help you if it doesn’t.
#SalesmanSam asks: How long should I wait to contact an agent with more material after submitting.
#PuzzledAskJulie asks: Why would you contact them with more material and what material?
#SalesmanSam says: I revised my bio. I thought it would be good to send the agent the revised bio. Then I’m going to redo the synopsis and send that to them.
#PuzzledAskJulie asks: So, you’re going to keep revising material and sending to agents who get between 50-500 queries a week? Why?
#SalesmanSam says: Less than 2% of sales are made on the first contact. I want to keep my name in front of them.
#AskJulie says: So you’re going to impress them by flooding their inbox with even more crap?
#EditorEd says: That’s a great idea, #SalesmanSam. Send them great material, not crap, and move out of the slush pile.
#AskJulie mumbles: And into the spam box.
#SalesmanSam says: Thanks #EditorEd. I have a great review someone gave me, and a new bio they’ll love, and a new synopsis, and…. *maniacal cackle*
#AskJulie says: Where did I put that Tylenol? Send your best query, synopsis, bio and sample pages to begin with. Don’t dream up ways to contact the agent again to make sure they know your name. Don’t nudge them days after you submit. Submit, note their estimated response time and add a couple of months to it. Then, query other agents and stop trying to pester an agent into saying yes. That’s not how it works, #SalesmanSam.
#MiddlegradeMary asks: Why can’t I sell my middle grade and YA books as for adults? All my beta readers are adults and think they’re beautiful.
#AskJulie says: Adults do read middle grade. Look at Harry Potter.
#MiddlegradMary says: Yes, but when I query them as middle grade all I get is rejections for ten years even though all my beta readers are adults and love them. I need an adult middle grade genre.
#AskJulie says: You need new beta readers. If you haven’t had a single bite in ten years and your beta readers all think they are wonderful, the genre isn’t the problem.
#IdeaIda asks: Can I just sell you my idea and you find someone to write it?
#AskJulie says: No. Not unless you’re Lady Gaga or John Wayne returned from the grave.
#QueryQuincy asks: I’m terrible at writing queries. Can I just call Agent001?
#AskJulie says: No. Learn to write a good query. Consider it a rite of passage, like oh, I don’t know, riding the rough ones.