It's a process
Hello from the humid banks of Brays Bayou! Didja miss me? I missed you. I miss lots of things, like seeing my friends and going to restaurants. I even miss conferences! At the end of 2019 I was so looking forward to a year without a breakneck travel schedule; now, the idea of drinking cheap pinot grigio in a crowded midpriced hotel bar fills me with a deep and visceral ache.
But still we must press on, wear our masks, and now save the USPS if we can manage it, so in that spirit, here is the second installment of the So You Want To Be Traditionally Published Back-To-School Extravaganza.
To be published in the traditional way you must first have a complete manuscript. The only exception to this rule is nonfiction, where you can query with a proposal, which is usually sample chapters and a detailed outline. That is the only exception. If you have not been published before, a full and complete manuscript is necessary.
What does complete mean? How do you know when a book is ready for querying? Unlike baking a cake, you can’t just poke it with a knife to see if any dough sticks to the blade. Generally speaking, you should have done at least one round of revision, and hopefully also shared it with a beta reader or a critique partner for their feedback. If your manuscript has a few typos or grammatical errors, it’s not the end of the world, but if it’s riddled with errors then that will hurt your chances.
Who to query?
The process of finding an agent is called “querying.” To query an agent, you email them a query letter and, depending on their guidelines, a synopsis and/or sample pages. Jane Friedman has a great rundown of what makes a good query letter, and there’s always the OG, Query Shark. I recommend Query Shark because the blog contains hundreds of examples of query letters with feedback as to why they do or don’t work.
To decide who to query, think about the kind of book you’ve written, and think about who you’d like your book to be compared to. This is not the part where you say “I want to be the next Neil Gaiman or George RR Martin!” That’d be lovely, but when you choose huge authors like Gaiman and Martin - or Margaret Atwood or Stephen King or James Patterson - you’re not being specific enough. There comes a point where “bestseller” is just its’ own category. Instead think about where your book will fit on the shelves, and what authors will sit next to it. Those are your comp titles, but they’re also a good starting point to find who to query. In most books, the author thanks their agent in the acknowledgments, so you can spend an afternoon at B&N (f that’s available to you in these covid times) and see who gets thanked in the books you want to sit next to.
There are also resources to find who reps what online - #MSWL or Manuscript Wish List is a good compendium of what agents are looking for at any given time. I also recommend buying a one-month membership to Publisher’s Marketplace. It’s $25, but it’s a resource that we in the industry use daily to find information. You can search by genre or by time period or by keyword and they even have rankings of who is hot in a particular category.
The Querying Process
Can take a lot of time. (She says, looking in shame at her submissions folder.) I usually recommend ranking the agents you are querying in order of how much you’d like to be represented by them and working your way down the list - start with your favorites and work your way down. Look at agents guidelines (available on their websites) and see how long they say they take to respond; if that time period has elapsed, follow up!
Eventually you will hopefully get an offer of representation. It is both courteous and advantageous to you to let the other agents considering your book know that you’ve received an offer. I cannot tell you how bummed it makes me to request something only to hear that they’ve already accepted an offer, and I knew nothing about it. Who knows- you might get a second offer out of it, and then you have a chance to choose!
I won’t go into the metrics by which you choose an agent in this letter - that’s enough for a whole nother entry. But eventually you find an agent you like, and you sign with them.
What comes next?
Your agent will most likely do another round of revisions with you before going out on submission. They’ll put together a list of editors and a pitch (the query, but fancier!) and share that material with you. The submissions process is a lot like querying, only you aren’t doing the followup with the editors, your agent is. Before you go out on submission it’s important to establish how often they’ll be giving you updates; even if the agent can’t always hit that target, it’s good to have the expectation set.
Hopefully you get an offer, and then the agent will do the same thing you did when querying; they’ll let the other editors know, and hopefully you can make a choice between editors and publishing visions.
And then, hey! A book deal!
That’s all, folks!
This has been a somewhat simplistic breakdown of the publishing process. There are spots where there is tons of nuance in the process, from who to query to how to choose an agent to how to revise. But this is a good rundown to start, I think, and if there’s something you want expanded upon, just let me know!
This week’s question comes from Jessica:
I'm getting ready to send queries for my most recent novel. My previous one received 10+ requests from agents. When I query those agents with my new novel, should I mention they requested a partial or a full of my last one? If so, is there a particular way in which you would recommend wording it? Should I include the previous book's title, or mention the nice things they had to say about it?
It’s always good to mention! I would say “You requested the partial/full of my previous work TITLE in YEAR and I appreciated the feedback you gave me.” That indicates that they read it and responded with something beyond a generic response, and will probably get them to go back into their email to find it. I wouldn’t put the specific feedback in there, though, because it can look clunky.
My author W.L. Goodwater’s novel REVOLUTION was nominated for a Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel! REVOLUTION is the sequel to BREACH, and they are both fabulous novels about an alternate history where WWII was won by magic, following CIA magician Karen O’Neil.
Elyse Martin has a great interview up at Tor.com with Kiki’s Delivery Service author Eiko Kadono and her translator Emily Balistrieri!
This Week In Hockey
Sports: Happening! The Washington Capitals have yet to wake up from their four-month nap, having dropped two games to the Islanders so far. I’m hoping they wake up before Braden Holtby asks for a trade to the Kraken.
Gritty: The Hero We Deserve by Adam Clark (NJ.com)
Gritty is running late. The puck drops in 50 minutes on a brisk pre-pandemic night, and Flyers fans are waiting. But Gritty doesn’t care. He was told to leave his locker room at precisely 6:38 p.m., but 6:38 can go to hell. Gritty isn’t coming — not until he’s ready. Gritty does whatever Gritty wants. So he lurks behind his locked double doors, on the other side of a one-way window. Gritty sees out. Nobody sees in.
“End this thing or I’m going to die.” Behind the scenes of the NHL’s longest games by Joe Smith (The Athletic)
Boucher said the players had crushed their postgame pizzas by the end of the second overtime. They went through every Powerbar or gel. “The concession stands in the arena were out of food, we couldn’t even get that,” Boucher said. “We were going to the IV bags.”
Structure! Sabotage! Salvation! K-Pop Has It All: The Meticulous Waves of a Pristinely Organized Fandom by Teo Bugbee (SSENSE)
Learning how to organize is like learning how to kiss—when you’re starting out, it’s safest to practice among friends. Before their power was mobilized against presidencies, K-pop fans practiced collective action on their own turf. Before Tulsa, there was the Black Ocean.
What Is Every Song on Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” Actually About? by Jill Gutowitz (Vulture)
Okay, what’s weird to me is that the “B” and the “I” are still capitalized in “feat. Bon Iver,” despite every other letter on the album being lowercase. As a lowercase swiftie, this is displeasing to me. bon iver: Do you think you’re better than Taylor? You’re better than her album theme, her artistic vision, her ten Grammys? You’re better than all lowercase girls??? “exile” is weepy and cinematic in all the right ways, but the presence of a man on any Taylor Swift album is jarring enough. The added blow of bon iver’s blatant disrespect for lowercaseists (also known as anti-capitalists) is enough to push me over the edge.
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