Bare List on Exclusively Querying

Exclusivity. It’s major. Whether its a business or personal relationship, exclusivity is a milestone that involves a lot of work and trust to maintain on both sides. In writing, however, exclusivity can be a misunderstood privilege, especially in the beginning stages of forming a relationship with an agent or publishing house.

I know many aspiring authors who query on an exclusive basis. Actually, a conversation with a peer is what led to the post today. My friend is a talented young writer whom I believe will see her work in print one day, but that day may be very far away because she practices exclusive querying. Exclusively querying means reaching out to agents one at a time, and not reaching out to the next until 1) You receive a response from the first agent or 2) you pass the time deadline specified by the agent to be considered a pass. It’s an old school practice still proliferated by an insanely small number of agents, and it can cause a lot of trouble for aspiring writers because:

  1. It may take you EONS to be published: Most agents request a period of at least four weeks and as many as four months to respond to your query. While I’ve seen responses in as little as twelve hours, it’s generally at least a week or two and I have had responses up to four months after the initial query. Let’s average it out to a response/pass time of 1 month for easy math. Most industry experts recommend you query at least 80 agents and I’ve seen recommendations for over 100. With those numbers, you’re looking at almost 7 years before you even get involved with an agent! You guys, you deserve better than that. Writing/publishing is not a sprint, but no one has time to spend 7 years querying.
  2. It can take away your power: Exclusive querying puts all of the power in the hands of potential agents. Querying your novel, especially your first, can feel a lot like applying for your first job. You send out your resume (query) praying that a company, almost any company (agent) finds you (your manuscript) employable (publishable). The truth is, you are not applying for a job. You are selling your work. Think of it like selling your home. When you put it on the market, you’re not inviting in buyers one at a time. You want as many qualified leads in the place as possible. In an ideal world, multiple buyers will be interested in your home so you can get maximum value out of your home. Having any agent interested in your work is a compliment and a blessing, but having multiple allows you to really focus in on the aspects of the client/agent relationship that are most beneficial to you and your work.
  3. You are receiving agent feedback in non-actionable numbers: When you query in batches (maybe 5-10 at a time) you get small doses of feedback to make changes where necessary. For example, let’s say you query 7 agents. By the end of three months, if no one requested further materials, you probably need to work on your query. If you only query one agent and they don’t request further materials after three months, it could mean you have a problem with your query or it could mean you just weren’t right for that particular agent. More data means more information to base revision decisions.
  4. It’s totally unnecessary:  It’s 2018. Very few agents request or expect exclusivity in querying. In fact, the majority advocate against it. While there are a few that still request the exclusive, they are the tiny minority. Like, minuscule. So, if the agent is not even expecting it, why would you give it?

Too often, I see authors participating in this outdated system because they think it is expected of them. Here’s the thing though, exclusivity is a big deal. Of course there are still some agents who want it. Knowing they have exclusive eyes on your work means they don’t have to worry about: taking their time to read and evaluate, bidding against another agent, getting rejected by you. It does not mean the agent is bad for wanting the exclusive. If they have the client base and income to justify being that selective in manuscripts, why not? While if an agent requests an exclusive query, you should honor that, you don’t have to submit. That is in your control.

As writers, especially newbies, we often feel at the mercy of agents, but as the creators of our work, we also have power in it. You are the sole decision maker in whether or not you want to offer exclusivity. Believe in your work enough that you can confidently represent it until you find an agent that believes in your work as much as you do.

Am I saying you cannot exclusively query? Absolutely not. My friend is still exclusively querying. While she understands and appreciates the business-side of the exclusive, it’s something she is more comfortable with, some agents she is interested in do ask for it, and that’s her right. It’s her manuscript, it’s her business, even if it makes me want to beat my head into a brick wall. I would ask the same of you. In evaluating whether or not you will participate in an exclusive (at any stage of the process, whether it’s query, ROR, sales, etc) make sure you understand your power in the relationship. Make sure you are making the decision because it is best for you and not because you just want someone to take your work.

If you have queried exclusively, I am very interested to hear your experience and reasons in making the decision. Non-exclusive is my experience, but I know there are a lot of paths to publish and I’m always open to hearing about those.

*SIDE NOTE* I could not bring myself to press publish on this post without clarifying that while I do not advocate for exclusive querying, I also do not recommend mass querying either. Querying more agents at a time does not necessarily equate to getting published faster. In the above example for instance, if you query 30 agents and all straight pass on you, chances are there was a problem with your query that could have been fixed after 5-10 queries that now you don’t have a chance to fix before sending it to another 20 agents. Most agents evaluate in short spurts. They’ll start with a query, then five pages, then fifty, then the manuscript. (There are different versions of this. Some may want a query and five pages, some a query and fifty. Others may go straight from your query and five to the whole manuscript). This kind of rolling submission gives you a chance for feedback and revision at every step and that’s an asset for you. If you’re not getting hits off your query, change the query. If you start getting hits on that but rejected on your sample pages, take a hard look at the sample pages and so on. 

Alright, that’s it. I’m done now. Happy querying!

 

Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!

Bare List on Authenticity

Writing for publication can be a difficult road to navigate. The path is fraught with feedback from everyone from peers to publishers and that can make it tricky to create something publishable while staying true to yourself. At times, it’s tempting to sacrifice a piece of your work or characters to be more palatable for publication or to mask or dilute your own voice to appeal to the masses.

Beta readers, editors, agents, reps, etc. will have have changes they want made to be able to better enjoy or market your novel. Some of these changes will be benign and easily incorporated. Hell, many of them should be made. All of us, pros and rookies alike, have room to learn and grow. No work is perfect and no one makes it straight through the road without making changes.

Sometimes, however, those suggestions alter the course of your work and characters. Occasionally, you’ve written a story about a dog and the agent wants a duck, metaphorically speaking. When you feel like you are in a situation that you have to make a serious change to the essence of your voice or your work, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Am I being authentic? 

Whatever you put into the world will be scrutinized. It will be picked apart word by word. You will see things about your work that are hurtful, cringe-worthy, and downright cruel. It will be easier for you to weather that storm and stay strong against those attacks on your work if you know you were true to yourself in it’s creation. Similarly, people will love your work. It’s the best damn part of writing, unless you feel like you’ve compromised yourself or your story to make it happen. Authenticity is your shield against evil and conductor of glory. 

Because writing is a subjective field, agents and publishers might not always be on the same page as you when it comes to your novel. They may see a lot of promise in your work, but have preferences that are not in line with the core of your work. It is okay and even encouraged for you to step away from a representative that does not share your goal. It doesn’t make you a bad writer or them a bad agent, it makes you two people who are not aligned on a vision and that vision is crucial to your final product. Let them go find another author in line with their interests and goals while you find an agent more in line with yours.

Is this to say that you need to walk away whenever your agent gives you advice? Absolutely not. There is always room for improvement. ALWAYS. Your agent/editor/publishing rep have a wealth of information about your market and have every reason to give you advice and guidance to make your novel shine. In fact, if there is a shared vision across your team, those edits and revisions are going to add value to your voice and reinforce your authenticity.

No matter what you do, someone will hate your work. There is no universally loved piece of literature. If people are going to hate anyway, let them hate your truth, because only by doing that will you have the chance to reach people who love and need it.

 

Bare List on Queries and Christmas

The holiday season is in full swing. Prophet’s Day, Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Wright Brother’s Day…the list goes on. Pretty much everyone has something to celebrate this time of year, agents included. What does this mean for the novel you’ve tirelessly edited and re-edited until it’s final ready for query? Most likely, it means it’s on ice for the next month or so.

What? How could this be? It’s ready for the world, surely someone will look at it! Someone might, but the opportunities are much smaller this time of year. Many agents close for queries over the holidays for a number of reasons:

  1. Agents are people, too. I know it’s shocking, but as it turns out agents are living, breathing human beings who enjoy the opportunity to be with their families over the holidays.
  2. No one likes starting a new year with a full inbox. The last few weeks of the year can serve as a great excuse to not only spend time with family, but catch up on the work that’s been piling up all year. Closing for queries during the holiday season gives agents a great opportunity to catch up on work while not worrying about queries going to the competition because so many people close during the holidays.
  3. They just want to. Everyone deserves a chance to kick on an autoreply a couple of times a year. When you’re an agent, receiving thousands of queries a year, shutting down for a couple of weeks/months is a totally logical move to be able to manage your work flow.

Whatever the reason, you cannot query an agent that is closed. I’m going to say that again because it is wildly important: DO NOT QUERY AN AGENT CLOSED TO QUERIES. Whether they’re closed for the holidays or at random points during the year, you must not send your manuscript to a closed agent. “But I’m so in love with this agent and I want them to see my work right now and I know they’re going to love it!” They’re not. Unless they’ve specifically requested your materials, which puts you outside of the unsolicited queries category, an agent is not even going to see your work if you send it while they are specifically closed for queries. Your hard work will be sent into the recesses of cyberspace as part of a mass “delete”.

How will I know if an agent is closed? It will be listed on their agent page on the agency’s website and their social media pages. 

If you are interested in working with an agent currently closed to queries, it is in your best interest just to have patience. I know, there’s that damn word again. Patience. Get used to having a lot of that as a writer.

Not all agents close during the holidays, so if you are not tied to a specific list of agents, you can submit to any that are not closed. That said, you need to use the same discretion that you would in more open seasons of the year. Research your agent/agency to ensure they are interested in receiving your work. Don’t sling your novel at anyone just because they are open. That’s another quick way to get rejected. You still need to make sure they are interested in your genre/voice/plot/etc.

I know you’re excited to get your work to the world, but don’t let your enthusiasm trump your good sense. Instead, grab a glass of eggnog and use this time to read, get started on another project, free-write, perfect your query letter, do the dreaded synopsis, or conduct a FINAL final revision of your current manuscript. Oh, and also, get in some time with family. Those guys are important, too.

Happy Holidays and Merry Querying (or not)!