Okay, here's today's question:

The feedback I've been getting from my Query, runs something like this: Really interesting. No thank-you. I'm not sure if that is polite-speak for it sucks, or, simply not their thing. So, how to get a foot in the publishing door: A) Pound harder; B) Open a window (i.e. write a different genre/category book entirely); C) Quit: it's too hard.
Here are my thoughts:

This is most likely a form rejection.

This could mean:

A. Your query does suck (sorry, it happens, they're hard!)

B. Your concept is overdone (ie the genre is dead)

C. You're not querying the right people (hey I get a lot of queries from screenwriters so this happens)

What you should do:

1. Have some critique partners/beta readers/friends who write (etc) read your query. Get some feedback. Figure out if it's your query or if it's your book.

I'm going to say that if you've gotten 0 requests it's your query. If you had a good query, a few agents (especially new agents or agents who really love a genre) will request.

2. If it's your query, revise accordingly. You want your query to make people sit up and say "Oooh and then what happens?"

3. After you've resent your queries, start working on something else that's completely different.

4. Never quit. :)
I have another query that worked to show you. This one is the query the fabulously talented Kara Taylor sent me a little over four years ago.
Dear Ms. Townsend,

Seventeen-year-old Maggie’s job selling hot dogs at the beach is the epitome of unsexy, but it’s not like she wants to hook up with a guy wearing something a few inches shy of a Speedo anyway. Then she realizes Andy, the head lifeguard, isn’t visiting her three times a day because he forgot ketchup. Maggie finds out there’s more to him than his gorgeous abs, and their summer fling turns into a real relationship.

Then Casey, Andy's ex, calls to tell him her birth control failed.

It doesn’t help that Casey has graduated from pushing Maggie on the playground and making fun of her absent father to leaving Andy’s old love notes in her locker. But Maggie’s done with Casey’s bitchcraft. She won’t let her ruin Andy’s pre-med plans or the only relationship that’s felt real to her since her family dissolved.

The only way to coax Casey into choosing adoption is to earn her trust, even if it means opening up to the girl who knows how to hit Maggie where it hurts. But her plan backfires when she starts to empathize with an unborn baby more than the idiots who made it. Even worse, finding out the real reason Casey is willing to trade her ballet slippers for stretch marks reveals something within Maggie that terrifies her: sympathy for her worst enemy, and the realization she might not be so different from her after all.

SILVER MEDAL is a contemporary young adult novel complete at 62,000 words. I chose to query you because I too fear I may never love my future children as much as I love my dogs. I have included the first ten pages of the manuscript, hoping you will like to read more. Thank you for your time and consideration.
I received this query at a time when no one wanted contemporary YA--back in 2010. (That's when everyone was buying paranormal and dystopian). But I couldn't resist requesting this.

Contemporary stories can sometimes seem hard to write queries for. If they aren't plot heavy stories with really high stakes it can seem daunting to try to make it sound exciting. Here's what I love about this one though.

The twist on stories I've read before. This isn't a high school pregnancy story from the POV of the pregnant teen. It's about the new girlfriend of the teen dad.

It's more than just a romance. Sure there's a romantic element, but there's a lot more to this story. If the main character is empathizing with the baby and realizing that she has more in common with her high school enemy than she though--there's a deeper story there. I love that.

I also love the writing and the voice here. There's potential for humor and a flawed protagonist who makes mistakes but will figure it all out by the end (my favorite kind).

Now the title of this manuscript changed, and I didn't sell it. (Contemporary was a tough sell then remember). But it got us working together and since then, Kara has written three contemporary mystery novels and a TV pilot. And she has a lot more coming down the pipeline. And I still love this book and Maggie, it's wonderfully flawed and hilarious heroine.

1_29_PrepSchoolConfi#8BF92DWICKEDLITTLESECRETSCoverDeadly Little Sins (FINAL COVER)
Kelly Fiore's second novel, the fabulous Just Like the Movies, is out today!


Here's the question:
I've heard many people say that an agent rejection doesn't mean your manuscript is bad - it's just not a fit for that agent - but how many rejections does it take before a writer should start to reconsider their manuscript and either rewrite or abandon?
This is a good question.

What you've heard is true. And agent rejection doesn't necessarily mean your manuscript is bad. The same with editor rejections. We've all heard the great stories about books that are super successful and got a lot of passes.

But you're right to start thinking that perhaps a certain number means a pattern.

The tricky thing is that there is no set number.

When I go on submission I send to a group of editors. If they all pass, I look at their reasons. If there are similar reasons, then I'll revise with the author and then submit to new editors. Then we might do the same thing again. The whole time, I tell the author to keep writing something else.

You want to do something similar with queries.

Query 10 agents. If you don't get requests, revise your query and first pages. Then query 10 more. If you get requests but then passes, have a beta reader read and send you some notes. Then revise your manuscript. Then query more agents, etc.

All the while, work on something else.

If you don't get an agent and you exhaust your query options and you feel like it's time to put this manuscript in the trunk, hopefully you've already got a new something else that's ready or almost ready to be queried.

This is a long process. I know that sucks, but you're in it for the long haul.
It's been a while since I shared a client query, but if you're looking for a good example, I have one for you. This one was written by my fabulous client, Lori M Lee.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Desrochers sent you some pages from my YA cyberpunk fantasy HARBINGER, and I was thrilled to hear you were interested in taking a look. I'm honored to have Lisa's referral, and I hope you'll enjoy the story. I wasn't sure how many of my pages Lisa sent you or what I should send now, so I figured I would just submit what's listed in your submission guidelines. 
People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta. Like the rest of the citizens, seventeen-year-old Kai pretends not to notice. With her own survival to worry about, she doesn't have much concern to spare. But when her brother vanishes, Kai will do whatever it takes to find him, including using the ability she promised her brother to keep secret—Kai can see and manipulate the threads of time. 
With the help of an annoying and distracting friend—distracting because he's beautiful, and annoying because he knows it—Kai discovers a secret war between Ninurta's governor and a rebel named the Black Rider. The Rider has been kidnapping Ninurtans and transforming them into cybernetically enhanced soldiers called Golems. 
Kai sets out to find the Rider and discovers a shocking secret: the Rider is actually the Harbinger of Famine. And Kai? Not as human as she thought. Now, Kai will have to face down the Harbinger and uncover the link between herself and the secret war before her brother gets sent for dehumanization. 
Equal parts sci fi and fantasy, HARBINGER is complete at 75,000 words. An excerpt from HARBINGER also won first place in the San Francisco RWA Heart-to-Heart contest in the YA category, and Adam Wilson at Harlequin Teen expressed interest in seeing the full manuscript. He informed me that while he recently moved to Simon&Schuster, he would still like to see the manuscript and wants to forward it to Harlequin Teen. 
I included the first chapter below. Thank you so much for your interest, and I'm very much looking forward to hearing from you.
This is interesting because there's a referral in the first line. It's important that if you use a referral that it's a real referral though. Every once in a while I get a query with a referral from one of my clients--and the client has no idea who the author is. So don't lie--you might get caught.

Lori's referral was in fact true and I was very happy to receive her query.

What I love about this query is that it's a really great example for a fantasy novel--or any novel with a lot of worldbuilding. Rather than start with her main character, Lori starts with a problem in a way that grounds me in the world: People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta.

This query is predominantly about Kai. I get a strong sense of her personality and who she is in this world (and what she can do!) in a very quick span. Obviously this is a fantasy world, but it's Kai and her missing brother that I'm most interested in.

Now the title of this novel changed and in revisions it became much more of a straight fantasy, but it's now called Gates of Thread and Stone and will be released in August!


Here's the question:
I'd like to offer comps in my query, but (honestly) I haven't read anything like my story in same or similar genres. How close do comps have to be?

Here are my thoughts:

I sort of hate this question. (It's not your fault, don't worry)

But here's the thing. There's a huge problem with saying you haven't ready anything like your story. Taken literally, this means you're not very well read. OR there's nothing out there for a reason.

I'm betting that what's actually happening is that you're a little too focused on comps and not thinking about it quite right. So that's what I'm going to address. You don't have to have a THIS MEETS THAT comparison (like Graceling meets The Selection which is how I pitched Victoria Aveyard's upcoming novel RED QUEEN).

Instead you can have a "For fans of THIS and THAT" comparison. (For Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass, I pitched it for fans of Sara Zarr and Nina LaCour).

So. Think about audience:

Who is going to read your book?

Fans of what books/authors will also be a fan of you/your book?


Cross off books and authors that have surpassed the mainstream tipping point and become a franchise (like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, John Green, etc). Those are exceptions since they're read by the non-reader population.

You have to be able to come up with something in terms of a comp. Otherwise, you're book is too different and won't have an audience.
The question:

I hear a lot of mixed things about slush piles. What is the real, behind-the-scenes story of the submissions process? :)

What kind of mixed things could you be hearing--that sounds scandalous!

It's actually pretty simple.

Writers send queries either via email or mail.

The queries are read either by the agent him/herself or an assistant.

If the agent loves the manuscript/non-fiction proposal, they'll call the author (mostly likely after stalking the author online). As long as that goes well, they'll offer representation.

Some NL specific details:

We still get a few snail mail queries but I'd say 99% of our queries come into our email (query[at]newleafliterary[dot]com). If that's an option I'd say email is the way to go. It's cheaper and faster.

You don't have to be referred. About 95% of our clients have come to us from just a query and those first pages.

Triple check your draft and read it aloud before you hit send. I always get a couple queries (each week!) where someone has replied with a desperate apology about spelling my name wrong or having a typo in the first sentence or not following directions.

Secret: you want the assistant to be the one reading the queries. They request more. They're new and not jaded and exciting about finding a good project, even more than the agents like me who sometimes sit down to read queries at 1 am and think I have too much to read already! The assistants are also terrified of passing on something big and getting fired. (Ok that might sound extreme, but the last thing any assistant wants is to be the assistant that passed on The Hunger Games). 

At NL we share manuscripts and projects we want to take on with the team. We talk foreign rights and film/TV and market and everything as a group. We like sharing expertise.

I have decided to pass on manuscripts before because of either the phone call or online presence. This is a business and I work closely with all my authors. Even if that author could somehow guarantee that the project would make millions of dollars (which is impossible by the way), it wouldn't entice me to work with someone who is on the wrong side of crazy or a terrible human being. There are so many writers out there who are lovely and wonderful people. And I'd rather work with them.

Got any slush pile myths you want to run by me? Leave them in the comments and I'll let you know if they're fact or fiction.