Query Stats: April 2017

I received 440 queries in April! At the beginning of the month I was nearly caught up on responses, but of course that only lasted for an hour or so. #DVpit was also in April. It was my first time participating and it was amazing. I saw so many incredible pitches fly by, and I'm sure I missed many, many more. If you think we'd be a good fit please do query me even if I didn't <3 your pitch. I want to read your work!
 

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Total queries: 440
Number of responses sent so far: All
Total requests: 5 (3 YA fantasy; 1 YA suspense; 1 Adult paranormal)
#DVpit requests: 10 requests, 4 writers have actually sent materials. Although I hope very much that the rest come sliding into my inbox soon, please remember that you do not have to submit to me or to any other agent or editor who requests your material during a twitter pitch. Only send to people you genuinely want to work with. 


Genre Breakdowns

TOTAL YA: 195
43 contemporary
6 dystopian
67 fantasy
14 historical
1 horror
2 magical realism
1 mystery
12 paranormal
4 retelling
2 romance
36 science fiction
1 suspense
4 thriller

TOTAL MG: 52
4 adventure
8 contemporary
26 fantasy
2 historical
1 magical realism
5 mystery
1 non-fiction
1 picture book
2 retelling
2 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT: 193
43 contemporary
1 dystopian
34 fantasy
19 historical
1 horror
1 humor
4 magical realism
1 memoir
13 mystery
3 nonfiction
11 paranormal
4 retelling
12 romance
20 science fiction
1 screenplay
4 suspense
20 thriller
1 stumper. I have no idea what this is, and the writer didn't provide a genre, either. 

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRE: 7

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUB GUIDELINES: 14

TOTAL QUERIES WITH INAPPROPRIATE WORD COUNTS FOR THEIR CATEGORY:  10

TOTAL QUERIES ABOUT NAZIS: 0!

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (same writer, same project): 2 :(

TOTAL PERSONAL REJECTIONS SENT: 2. Most of my rejections are form letters, but sometimes I add a personal note in there, when moved to do so. I cannot do this for everyone, so please do not respond to rejections asking for more details. I understand how frustrating it is to not know what to fix or what to improve. I know that silence or generic politenesses aren't something you can work with. Lean on critique partners and beta readers to get the critical feedback you need. And know that if I do send personalized feedback to you on a rejection, that it comes from a genuine place. 

 

The Waiting Game

Publishing is slow, and that sucks. I have so much respect for writers. The commitment and diligence it takes to write and complete a manuscript. The courage it takes to query. The dedication it takes to revise and revise and revise. And above all the patience--the ceaseless patience--required to persevere. 

And as an agent, I'm the one keeping people waiting. Waiting for responses to queries. Waiting for responses to requested materials. Waiting for author agreements. Waiting for edits. Wait, waiting, and yet more waiting at every stage of the process.

I am myself an impatient person. The time between when I've extended an offer of representation to an author and when they get back to me with their decision? Agony. So please believe me when I say that I intimately understand what it's like to live your life clicking refresh refresh refresh. 

I wish I could promise you all that I'll never keep you waiting ever again, but I can't. As I settle in I'm trying to adjust my response times to be reasonably in line with my workload, but it's all very fluid. I do try to be open and honest about where I'm at with things, through posts about query stats and humble emails asking authors for a reading extension, but I know that's little consolation when your book hangs in the balance.

The truth of it is that the work takes the time it takes. And that length of time isn't a measure of the quality of your work, and it isn't a measure of my enthusiasm for it or lack thereof. It is only a reflection of where my workload is at the moment. There are periods where I'm on top of things and the emails come quickly, and other periods when I haven't had a chance to even glance at my inbox or my reading pile. Still, there is no sweet spot for rejections. Authors are always thrilled when I am interested, whether that email comes after 30 minutes or 30 days. But rejection stings whether it comes now or later. 

Patience is a heroic quality, and one that writers must have as they pursue publication. It's also something we expect of authors, but rarely acknowledge. Please know that, as someone who is probably going to keep you waiting (at least for a little while), I recognize how difficult and painful and nerve-wracking waiting can be. I appreciate your patience. I appreciate the opportunity to consider your work. I appreciate the determination it takes to do what you do. 

And when it's your turn to keep me on the line as you explore all your options? 

Query Stats: March 2017

March was the slowest month for my inbox so far, so caught up quick! I received a total of 330 queries for the month, including those I requested through #PitMad.

Total queries: 330
Number of responses sent so far: 321* I've responded to all regular queries and am calling March closed. I do still have #PitMad requests to respond to, but because I requested 50 pages alongside the query I'm treating these differently. 
Total requests: 7 (2 YA contemporary, 1 YA historical, 2 YA fantasy, 1 MG fantasy 1 MG contemporary)
#PitMad requests: 9
 


Genre Breakdowns so far....

TOTAL YA: 140
1 adventure
21 contemporary
7 dystopian
55 fantasy
7 historical
3 horror
3 magical realism
2 mystery
7 paranormal
4 retelling
2 romance
26 science fiction
2 thriller

TOTAL MG: 53
1 adventure
9 contemporary
23 fantasy
2 historical
3 mystery
4 paranormal
1 picture book
2 retelling
8 science fiction

TOTAL ADULT: 128
2 adventure
1 biography
40 contemporary
1 dystopian
21 fantasy
12 historical
2 magical realism
2 memoir
1 mystery
1 nonfiction
6 paranormal
1 poetry
2 retelling
6 romance
15 science fiction
13 thriller
2 stumpers. I have no idea what this is, and the writer didn't provide a genre, either. 

TOTAL OUTSIDE MY GENRE: 7

TOTAL QUERIES THAT DID NOT FOLLOW SUB GUIDELINES: 9

TOTAL QUERIES WITH INAPPROPRIATE WORD COUNTS FOR THEIR CATEGORY: 6. Including one project with a word count of 999k! Come on, guys. 

TOTAL QUERIES ABOUT NAZIS: 2. I'm going to start keeping track of these in the hopes that one day I never, ever get another one. Please do not send me projects that are sympathetic to Nazis. I have no interest in that take. 

TOTAL REPEAT QUERIES (same writer, same project): 2 :(

TOTAL PERSONAL REJECTIONS SENT: 3. Most of my rejections are form letters, but sometimes I add a personal note in there, when moved to do so. I cannot do this for everyone, so please do not respond to rejections asking for more details. I understand how frustrating it is to not know what to fix or what to improve. I know that silence or generic politenesses aren't something you can work with. Lean on critique partners and beta readers to get the critical feedback you need. And know that if I do send personalized feedback to you on a rejection, that it comes from a genuine place. 

THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY: I lost two projects this month. Oof. The first was a #PitMad request. The author emailed to withdraw her book from consideration after signing with another agent. I wish I'd been given the chance to read the full and put my hat in the ring, but sometimes when authors find the perfect agent, they don't need to explore other options. I was grateful that she wrote to let me know, and sent her my heartfelt congratulations. 

The second project I lost out on still hurts, because I chose to bow out. I got an incredible query mid-month but hadn't had a chance to look at it yet when the author emailed to let me know she had an offer of representation, and she set a week-long deadline to hear back from everyone else. I requested the full manuscript immediately and started reading. It was a gorgeous book. But...I couldn't finish it in time. It was a hectic week for me both personally and professionally and I just could not get the reading done. It wouldn't have been fair to either me or the author to offer representation without having finished the book. So the day before her deadline I sent an email that pained me to write. I told her how much I loved what I'd read so far, but that I wasn't going to be finished by her deadline, and so I was bowing out. It broke my heart to hit send and let go of that project. But the author was gracious and understanding in her response, and I have NO DOUBT that you'll all be hearing about her and this rich, compelling, truly special book in the future. 



TOTAL NEW CLIENTS SIGNED: 1! Technically this came from a February query, but going back and editing old posts to announce good news seems silly, so from now on I'll announce new clients in the month I sign them! Rachael Garza, with her self-described "weird little book about sisters and refugees and magic" is my latest client and I'm so, so excited to be working with her on this beautiful book. You can find Rachael on twitter: @Rachael846


I've now responded to all regular queries sent in March! This does not include requested manuscripts (some dating back to January. Eep) or #PitMad requests. If you sent a regular query in March and haven't heard from me, please resend!

Client Spotlight: Adrienne Proctor

Client Spotlight is a feature on the blog to highlight the incredibly talented writers I work with. I ask them a few questions about their writing and querying process and then they get to turn the tables and pose a few questions to me. Today I'm talking with Adrienne Proctor. 


Agent Asks Author


Tell us about your book!

My book is a young adult contemporary fantasy about a young art forger named Mara. She paints spells in her forgeries that she uses to rob her clients, and she's on the run from her tutor who wants to use her abilities for her own purposes. There's some kissing with a mohawked tattoo artist, lots of magic...and did I mention the kissing?


You don't write in chronological order, right? Tell us a little bit about your writing process!

I've never been able to write a story from beginning to end. Maybe if I was a little bit more of a plotter than a pantser! But usually when I'm writing, a lot of different steps happen all at once. I'm exploring the character while drafting, going back and editing what I wrote the day before then drafting some more, filling in a structure outline, then jumping from a scene in the middle to one near the end. It's a pretty chaotic process, but it works for me.

For this novel, I started with the idea of spells hidden within paintings. I let it sit in my head for a while until a character started to form around that idea. Since I love antiheroes, I thought it might be interesting to make her an art forger, so I let my imagination play around with that. Then I began to envision her interacting within her world. Once I had a couple specific lines of dialogue and a concrete action, that's when I took pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and began writing. I think I started with a scene where she's breaking into a house, which is currently several chapters in. Then I jumped to the scene where she meets the love interest, several more chapters away, toward the end of the first act.

I love creating the character and the world through this process. My brain just won't work if I'm staring at a blank outline. At some point, usually once I have a fair amount of scenes worked out, I refer to my story structure outline. I'll make sure I'm hitting the right beats, and I can figure out what else I need to flesh out the story.


Why did you decide to query me? 

You seemed perfect for my manuscript, and for me!

I'd queried this manuscript a little bit, and while the idea seemed to interest agents, the writing just wasn't getting any requests. So I made two huge decisions. Well, three. First, I decided to change the book from Adult to YA. I felt my voice possibly read too young and some of themes might be better suited for YA. Second, I changed the tense of the entire manuscript, from first person present to first person past. Once I was finished (and what a tedious job that was!), I saw on Twitter that you'd just opened to queries, and you seemed like an amazing agent.

So my third big decision was sending you my second query for my re-vamped manuscript. And you requested the full WITHIN THIRTY MINUTES!



I did! And then you made me wait THREE DAYS before you sent it! I was in agony. The voice in your manuscript grabbed me immediately. Nailing an authentic, compelling voice is a common struggle for writers; Any tips to share?

Oh, gosh. Voice is HARD. When I was writing this book, I kept asking myself lots of questions. Based on Mara's backstory and experiences, how would Mara view this other character's appearance/demeanor/decision? Are her thoughts something she would voice out loud or would she keep them to herself? Would a particular event resonate on an emotional level or is it something she would barely pay attention to?

I just tried to keep in mind that everything happening in the manuscript was coming through the filter of my character, especially since I was writing in first person.

Also, I would, and still do, refer to books I love and examine how the writer created her own unique voice. Not to copy her style, but to examine the passages that drew ME in, and to analyze what I think makes them effective. It helps me to know what I like and then try to infuse my own writing with those qualities.


Tell us about The Call!

I was so nervous! I'm not usually a phone person, even though my day job is to call clients for hours straight. I had a list of researched questions, and I tried to sound as professional as possible, even though I was jumping up and down on the inside.

Before we spoke, I was almost certain I wanted you as my agent. Then you hit the ground running with your offer of representation, and it took everything I had not to blurt out I ACCEPT! The same thing went for the end of the call. I hung up knowing I was going to say yes. I was looking for an editorial agent like you, and you spoke so enthusiastically about my writing that I knew you'd be a strong advocate for it. I had other queries out, and I gave them the requisite week. But I'll tell you, that was the longest week of my life!


Author Asks Agent

Assuming you have some time for personal reading, what recent books have you read and loved?

The lack of pleasure-reading time is one of the only truly hard things about this job, but I make sure to prioritize it when I can. For the year 2017 (with the obvious exception of client manuscripts and other work-required reading) I've committed to reading and purchasing books written exclusively by authors from marginalized or oppressed groups, including but not limited to POC and Native authors, authors with disabilities, LGBTQIA authors, those from underrepresented countries, cultures, and religions, and neurodiverse authors. I've been trying to diversify my reading for a long time now, and was never able to achieve a good balance, so I decided to go all in. My favorites thus far have been THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, WINTERSONG by my dear friend S. Jae-Jones, and AMERICAN STREET by Ibi Zoboi. Next up on my list is THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi. 

What advice would you give to aspiring agents? Or what was the best advice you've ever gotten?

Agenting is about more than loving books. Of course loving books is a huge part of agenting, and the publishing industry in general. We all love books. That's why we're here. But loving books is not going to be enough to sustain you. Agenting is hard work, most of it done upfront for no pay (remember, agents don't make money until the author makes money.  We are answering queries and reading requests and editing manuscripts and calling editors and pitching books all before we ever see a paycheck). Agenting is about books, yes, but also about establishing relationships and match-making. It's about sales and career management. It's about contract negotiation and advocating for authors. The reading and editing is only a very small sliver of what agents do, and I think a lot of people enter this profession without knowing how truly difficult the work is, and how much hustle it requires. So, I would tell aspiring agents to think holistically about the job, and then embrace every aspect of it. You've gotta love books, yes, but you've gotta love authors more. You have to be willing to go to the mat for them.

And the best advice I've ever been given was from the infamous Janet Reid, of course. Way back in 2008--when I was just a publishing baby, an assistant at a literary agency--I somehow ended up having drinks with Janet and a mentor of mine. I was fantasizing about my future career as I sipped my craft cocktail and Janet asked me what I liked to read and what I'd want to represent when I started building a client list someday. I gave a very earnest answer about how I just loved literature of all kinds! All books are so beautiful and precious and I just love them all! And Janet shot me the stink eye over the rim of her glass and said something along the lines of, "That's an amateur's answer. Nobody loves everything. Cultivate taste. Figure out what you care about. Then work your ass off." I popped like a balloon and spent the rest of the evening mortified, but of course she was right. I didn't really love everything then, and I don't love everything now. Figuring out my taste and where that taste sits in the market was crucial. It helps me ensure that I connect with authors for the right reasons and can advocate for them to the very best of my ability. 

What is the most unexpected thing about being an agent, so far?

Imposter syndrome. Even with my resume, I still sometimes wake up and wait for someone to say, "Wait a minute! That's not a literary agent, it's three toddlers in a trench coat!" I didn't expect to feel that way after all my time in the industry, but I guess that's the thing about imposter syndrome: it doesn't care who you are or what you've done. It comes to get you anyway!

I'm a huge procrastinator. And you're able to get through hundreds(!) of queries a month, on top of the rest of your professional obligations. Do you have any strategies to share for time management?

Time is my enemy! I never feel like I'm managing it to the best of my ability, but I think I'd always feel that way no matter what. There's just so much to do! Organization helps. I sort my email into folders. Whenever possible I try to sort queries right away: Request, Reject, or Maybe. I don't actually respond to queries as they come in (unless it's a request, which usually happens quickly) but sorting them for later helps. I also try to carve my days up into blocks of time. Each day is different, but starting with a To Do list and a schedule helps keep me on track. 

I also live and die on external validation (Gryffindor forever) so being accountable to my clients, to editors, and to querying authors helps keep me motivated. If I have to do something for myself I tend to drag my feet, but when I have to do something for someone else I'm on it! Transparency is an important value for me as an agent. I want to be open about the things I'm working on because I think it's an important way to maintain trust. So I post monthly #querystats here on the blog so that querying writers know where I'm at with those, and I check in with my authors so they know what I'm working on and what is coming down the line. 

I think passion and organization are the best tips I have to offer. Find a way to care about whatever it is you need to do (even if it sucks, find some way to connect to the task), and create organizational tools that help you function as seamlessly as possible. And don't be afraid to chalk up a loss. Some days suck and nothing gets accomplished. Just don't let that bleed into the next day. Try to always start fresh. 


Adrienne Proctor is a fantasy writer working in Richmond, Virginia. When she's not writing, she enjoys archery, playing board games with her kids, and taking care of her insane chickens. You can follow her on Twitter @almccall and sometimes you can find her on her neglected blog.

#QueryTip: A Query is Not a Book Report

I tend to carve large chunks of time out of my day to read and respond to queries. This works better for me than just reading a handful at a time. I get into the Query Mindset and dive in. When reading lots of queries in a row, things tend to jump out at me. For example, Willa/Willow and Evie/Evangeline are popular protagonist names right now. I see those over and over again lately. Also a lot of books set in the 70s. Groovy! But beyond creative similarities in queries, reading in batches also highlights common mistakes. And the biggest mistake trend I'm seeing in my inbox right now are queries that read like book reports.

What do I mean by queries that read like book reports? Well, something along these lines:

Dear Agent,

NEXT BIG THING is an 80,000 word YA fantasy novel that explores the ideas of grief and loss and familial dysfunction set against a unique fantasy back drop of a magical world full of ominous powers and evil adversaries. Readers will identify with the whimsical protagonist, Chosen One, as she grapples with a deadly secret and must find the strength to embrace her true identity or be forever banished.

This sweeping story, told in alternating points of view by unreliable narrators, features a non-linear sequence of events that will astonish readers, and a resolution that will resonate with anyone who has ever been desolate and alone, only to realize that their true home can be found in their own hearts, and the hearts of those who love them. Beyond just issues of grief and identity, NEXT BIG THING features a toxic relationship and examines the harrowing effects of eating too much pie while feeling especially sad.  These issues are more relevant than ever, given current world events, and that’s what really inspired me to write this story. 

I hope Chosen One and NEXT BIG THING captivate you as much as they have captivated me. After all, haven’t you ever wondered how you would begin to piece your life back together if you woke up one day with nothing left but a blackberry pie? This story is one way to find out.

Best, 
Author

In case it isn't obvious, I completely fabricated that query, top to bottom. But it follows a formula that I call "the book report." It gives me a lot of information about how the book is written and what it aims to accomplish and how people are going to feel about it. All of which is useless at the query stage. And it gives me nothing whatsoever about the story. Which is the only thing I care about at this point. 

I tweeted these #querytips recently, and received some email about them. What was wrong with including information about larger themes? Why limit a query to story-only when we all know that books can deliver so much more? Isn't that just short-changing your book? Don't agents want all pertinent information about a book, including thematic content, so that they can make an informed decision? 

These are all good questions, and I've been thinking about them for days. The truth is, my opinion hasn't changed. A query is not a book report, and shouldn't read like one. 

A query letter has precious little real estate. You've only got a few hundred words to get me interested enough to make a request, and the story is the most important thing. The rest comes later, when I read the full manuscript. If a manuscript has larger thematic resonance, I'll discern that when I read. But people always read fiction for the story. Even allegories, or satires, or social commentaries must exist within the basic framework of a story.

It's also quite difficult to tell a good story (and convey it succinctly in a query letter). If a writer chooses to focus on the effects of the story at the expense of the story itself, I become wary about the writer's ability to tell a story at all. I'm much more likely to request a query with a good story and hope it has larger thematic resonance than to request a manuscript about which I know nothing more than that it explores the concept of forgiveness. 

Tell me WHO is doing WHAT WHEN and WHY. Tell me WHO is trying to stop them and HOW. That's what you need to convey in your query letter. The protagonist, the antagonist, the goals, and the stakes. You've got a few hundred words to make me care, and I don't care about your personal take on universal themes. Not yet. The first thing I care about is whether or not you can whisk me away. Meaning and metaphor are always secondary. Story is king. I need to know you can deliver the goods, and the query letter is your one shot to prove yourself.