Important Themes from PitchtoPub #10queries

So, if you are like many of us in the aspiring-writer universe, you’ve probably been following the #PitchtoPublication twitter feed with such alacrity that you’re now tempted to self-diagnose yourself with carpal tunnel and obsessive personality disorder.  Totally understandable, especially given all of the precious tidbits of feedback the participating editors have been offering in their #10queries based on their #PitchtoPublication submissions.  If you haven’t been able to keep up with all of them, or are just looking for a slightly distilled version, here are the thematic tips I’ve taken away from this buffet of invaluable advice.

1) Comps, comps, comps!  It is incredibly important to have up-to-date (i.e., published in the last 5 years) titles listed in your query as comparisons for the manuscript you are trying to publish.  This helps agents note the marketability of your manuscript along with knowing more about your manuscript’s tone, style, and plot than you have time to address in your query.  Feel free to use combos of manuscripts, since you don’t want to reproduce a previously published work.  Ex: Maze-Runner meets Percy Jackson.

2) Don’t start you query with “Imagine a world. . .”  Apparently, this is a cliche of a cliche of a cliche.  Auto-reject for some agents, even.

3) Make sure your pronoun use is clear.  Use names when you can instead of pronouns.

4) Make it clear how your book is unique.  I know, I just mentioned comparable titles in #1.  This is why queries are hard to write.  Lots to do in very few words.  If you don’t make the case for how your story is unique and contributes something special, it’ll be a pass for most/all agents.

5) Be aware of preferred word-count ranges for your genre.  Don’t be too under or too over.  For guidelines, check out Literary Rejections.

Want to review the #10queries from PitchtoPublication for yourself?  Check out these prolific editors for a start. . .

@RFaithEditorial

@LindsaySchlegel

@LaraEdits

@kateangelella

@katiemccoach

Writer’s Mantra: Manners Matter

Many, many writers have engaged in two recent writing competitions: #PitchtoPublication and #pg70pit.  Both offer excellent (and FREE) opportunities for writers to work with professional editors and prospective agents.  These two competitions are lighting up many writers’ Twitter feeds with evaluative teasers from the participating editors, where submissions are described in a way that protects the writer’s privacy while also offering feedback on the submission.  If you haven’t don’t so already, go through and mine the teasers posted by @LaraEdits, @ekbuege, @RFaithEditorial, and @OnlyCassandra (just to name a few).  They offer insightful advice in 140 characters that, if you attend to it, can hone your manuscript into its best possible version.  Oh, and did I mention. . .they are all offering their advice and time for FREE!  

Of course, with these teasers and advice comes criticism.  Constructive, supportive, or pithy.  Always helpful, never nasty, but sometimes (especially if you think it’s your manuscript that’s being critiqued) hard to take in without becoming defensive.  And true to fashion, a few entrants (emphasis on ‘a few’) have responded to the critiques with a tinge of combativeness in the online universe.  A few other entrants have demanded more information or feedback, faster posts, quicker turnaround for submissions, or split second confirmations.  

Similar situations have occurred with @LZats and her #500queries, which she does in addition to her official agent responsibilities just for her love of the publishing world and to help submitting writers.

Add to that the too common “Dear Agent” letters, the complaints about agents not responding to queries soon enough or not responding at all, and the general sentiment of many prospective authors that “agents are mean”.  Just Google “rude agents” and you’ll see.

And while I certainly identify with the punch in the gut you feel when you read a post or receive an e-mail telling you that someone didn’t like your submission, or with the carpal-tunnel inducing refreshing of my e-mail and twitter feeds waiting for updates on submissions to agents and/or contests, I find it impolite and also counterproductive to criticize professionals who are simply doing their jobs, especially those who are donating their time to help would-be writers.

Despite the many errors I made when first venturing into the world of querying, every single interaction I have had with an agent has confirmed their professionalism and their impeccable manners.  They have apologized for delays in replying to an unsolicited submission to their slush pile.  They provided thoughtful, and sometimes very detailed, feedback on my manuscript even if they were passing on it.  They have offered encouraging words, requests to learn about future projects I undertake and, most importantly and consistently, they offered their best wishes for my success as a writer.

And this is in spite of the fact that their inboxes are exploding with query submissions (again, its #500queries, not #50queries) while they manage their regular responsibilities for existing clients and also have a personal life outside of work.

Entering into the role of writer expecting only glowing approval and praise for your work is a fool’s errand.  Even worse is taking the bruises to your ego and flinging them back at the very people who want you to succeed and indeed hold the keys to your success.

We need to check our egos, approach this road to (hopefully) eventual publication with humility and respect for the industry, and remain open to feedback that will make our work better.

So keep writing and, perhaps even more important–keep listening!