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What I Learned at Writer's Bootcamp - Part I

In September of this year, I attended a writing seminar put on by Writer’s Digest and came away from it with some great new knowledge about my writing and the process of querying agents in general, amongst other things. The attendees spent the first day at their own leisure listening to a pre-recorded conversation by two agents on querying agents. It was insightful on what to do and what not to do, some great information straight from the horse’s mouth.

The next 2 days were spent participating in a 2-hour Q&A session (online) with an agent, one each day. The best thing about this piece was that not only did you get your own questions answered but you could see everyone else’s questions and the agent’s response. Great information from questions asked by so many new and novice authors.

The final piece was submitting a specified number of pages of your work to an agent so they could evaluate over the following 2-3 weeks and then provide you feedback on whatever it was you submitted. You could submit part of your manuscript, your bio, synopsis or query letter, or a combination of any of those pieces. I chose the query letter and the first 10 pages of my manuscript. I received my feedback a few weeks later and it was extremely helpful in knowing what I needed to do to make my query letter and start of my book even stronger.

Some of what I learned from those Q&A sessions I wanted to share here. I hope this will help all of you when you start or continue querying agents on your work.

1. Have a website showcasing you as an author. No matter if you are new to writing or are a published author, have one book or ten, have a website for your work. I didn’t until just recently but obviously have one now. It was a lot of fun to create and get it to where I wanted. I never thought of blogging before but have found that I enjoy this process. There are some great websites for creating your site out there that are free or if you want more options, most have a premium service you can pay for if you choose.

2. Top 3 things an author should consider before signing with an agent:

a. If the agent is an editorial agent. Is the agent going to help with edits?

b. Is the agent a one book or career agent?

c. How they communicate with their clients and how that fits your preference.

3. Make sure to add a setting in your query letter to show where the story takes place. No matter how big a role the setting is, it helps to set up the story.

4. Query letter heading should read; QUERY – Name of novel & author. After the intro and before the pitch, set it up similar to this for the first sentence: (Title of book) is a (word count) word (genre) novel that has broad appeal to a readership like that of (author’s name)’s (comp title) and of (author’s name)’s (comp title). This covers the title, word count, genre, and comp titles all in one sentence. Remember you only have so many words to get across your pitch so make them count.

5. Most agents will pass along a submission to another agent within their agency if they feel it might be a better fit for another agent.

6. Some red flags for an agent with a new unsolicited submission:

a. Not following their guidelines for submissions – a BIG one!

b. Having a really high word count can be a problem

c. Sending a submission for a genre that the agent does not represent. Check their bio for genres they represent.

d. A poorly written query letter. This is what will get you in the door so spend a great deal of time perfecting your query letter!

7. Loglines aren’t necessary for submissions but it is always good to have one ready in case you need to unexpectedly pitch your work. You never know when you’re going to run into an agent or publisher in an elevator.

8. If your book is written with the intention of being a series, mention it is standalone with series potential. If an agent does not connect with the first book, a series will not make a difference.

9. Your query letter should be single-spaced and look like a business letter. The synopsis and manuscript should be double spaced for submission.

10. It is not as important to have an online presence for fiction writers as it is for non-fiction. If non-fiction, an online presence showing your expertise on the subject matter is a must.

11. Agents ideally want good communication and emotional maturity with their clients, no micromanaging from either side. Authors need to be able to take criticism and be open to direction and guidance from their agent.

I will be following this up with more information that I learned from the seminar. Hope this is helpful information. I know some of this seems like common sense and there are things I’m sure you’ve heard before but it’s amazing how many of us forget the little common-sense details, which can derail your query.

Happy reading, happy writing!


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