I had the pleasure of hearing Author Anne Cleeland speak at an RWA meeting. I learned so much from her fresh experience that I thought the information should be passed on to aspiring authors. It’s my pleasure to introduce Anne Cleeland, author of a historical fiction series and a contemporary mystery series. Here’s Anne in her own words.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Querying
After a few years of trial-and-error, I had two series debut in print this year. Getting published takes luck and a lot of perseverance, and I weathered many a rejection along the way. I also perfected my query strategy, and I thought I’d share the main takeaways from my experience.
I have an 80%/20% philosophy—80% of your sale relies on the strength of your story, but 20% relies on the packaging that will convince an agent or editor to open up your story in the first place. These five questions help you to focus on that 20%.
What do you have? Is it Romance? Historical Fiction? Women’s Literature? First, figure out the genre and subgenre, and remember that the editors are trying to fill predetermined slots in a publishing line. It helps your credibility if you can identify what you have: a “sweet western;” a “Georgian historical;” a “contemporary category.”
Do you have a “hook”? It should be short and pithy, and give an indication of the subgenre. Remember, you are not telling your story; you are trying to get them to open up your story. (And you are showing them how they can pitch your story to others.) The hook for my first sale was: “A Regency version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” It’s very brief but gives the agent/editor an immediate sense of who the readers would be.
Do you want to pitch to an editor? To an agent? An agent is helpful to steer you in the right direction, and agents usually have relationships with editors. To find a suitable agent, use www.publishersmarketplace.com (which costs a nominal fee, but is worth every penny) and www.agentquery.com, or any other useful sites that you may find. Try to have a reason that you are targeting this particular agent, and make sure to tell them what it is.
3. Why you?
How can you set yourself apart from the other 100 queries the agent or editor sees every week? There are different ways to build your own momentum. Personally, I think RWA writing conferences are the best—nothing beats face-to-face contact. Make sure to volunteer at the conferences, and sign up for pitching appointments. Print up cards, start a website/twitter feed, and meet as many people as you can. Then query the people you meet, and remind them who you were.
Contests are another good way to get noticed; if you final, oftentimes an agent or editor will read your entry.
Do you have an interesting day job? Are you an expert in your field? Make sure to mention this in your query letter.
There are seasons to the publishing industry, so be aware of the times and days that may give your query the best chance. Avoid the weeks surrounding the RWA national conference, because no one will be reading their email. Also avoid the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair, the London Book Fair, or BEA (Book Expo America). The publishing industry slows down in summer, December, Mondays or Fridays. I always had a good response if I queried on a Tuesday, but test it out and see what works best.
5. Will you violate taboos?
There are certain taboos that everyone will advise you not to break: (1) one query at a time; (2) do not send pages until asked; (3) don’t query the same agent/editor after a rejection; (4) don’t send an email to an agent who says “don’t send me emails” or “I am taking no new clients.”
Personally, I broke every one of these and no one ever was upset with me. The important thing is to have a good reason as to why you are targeting this particular person, tell them briefly and politely what it is, and (for me, anyway) paste the first chapter of your book at the bottom of your query. My philosophy was nothing ventured, nothing gained, and in the end it paid off.
- Guest Author Anne Cleeland (ellaquinnauthor.wordpress.com)