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Posts Tagged ‘query letter’

group discussion2This week heralded the 51st Anniversary of the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference. Previously hosted in the quaint village of Craigville, last year the conference organizers found it necessary to move to the larger and more attendee-friendly Resort and  Conference Center of Hyannis, Massachusetts. With the growing number of attendees, the need for additional parking and WiFi access became crucial.

The classes offered were top-notch, with instructors from around the country. One of my classes was titled, “Five Pillars of Promotion”, and detailed the actions necessary ahead of publication, along with a timeline to insure that a newly printed book is well received.

Another class was called, “Pitches, Queries, and Proposals”. This workshop was taught by a husband-wife team who entertained us with their friendly disagreements.

My third and final session was named, “Conference Idol”, and was perhaps the most valuable hour I spent this past week. Three agents sat at the front of the room. Each attendee submitted their first page, identified only by title and genre. As the page was read, each agent lifted her hand when she heard something that would cause her to stop reading. When two hands went up, the reader halted her recitation, and the agents explained why they would go no further if this story was submitted to them for consideration. Whether they were commenting on my first page or someone else’s, the insight garnered from the perspective of the agents was invaluable.

As a bonus, one of those agents offered to sit down with me and review my first page word by word. I readily accepted, and she suggested several improvements, among them moving a strong sentence halfway down the page to be the first sentence. What a difference that made! I must have rewritten that first page more than twenty… or more!…times, but I now think it’s finally beginning in the most provocative part of the story.

I’m looking forward to my next conference, held in November, called “CrimeBake’, sponsored by the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime. This conference is devoted to mysteries, and will no doubt be as equally valuable.

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sketch of question personThere are several publishing houses out there who do not require an agent. This sounds tempting until I read the fine print for their submission guidelines.

The one that I’m considering requests a query email, a 2-5 page synopsis and the entire manuscript as attachments.

My concern centers around my constant worry that someone will ‘borrow’ my story without my knowledge. Compared to the usual process that an agent requires, which is a query letter first, after which they request perhaps the synopsis and possibly the first three chapters, it seems to me that providing everything upfront, electronically, with no prior interaction with a human being puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage.

Am I being a bit paranoid? Probably.

I’d be interested to hear from those of you who are published whether you worked through an agent or dealt directly with a publisher.

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In my inbox this morning sat an email from an agent I recently queried. She represents another cozy mystery writer in the Sisters In Crime organization, and was recommended to me by another agent.

My fingers paused above the file, not sure if they wanted to open it or not. Would I be lucky and get a hit on nearly my first try? Or would she tell me ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ???

After several minutes of debate, I hit the enter key and zoomed in on her words like a starving writer…only to be disappointed. Her rejection said my hook was not sufficient to interest any of the editors she knows.

Big sigh.smiley face maybe next time

I’ve been told by both my writing groups that I’ve written a good story, so I’ll be pulling down my how-to books about query letters and improving this one paragraph description by echoing the tension and frustration of my main character.

On a positive note, the only way is up!

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During the past two weeks, I’ve been participating in an on-line course titled: “Revising Without Getting Sick of Your Manuscript” by Sylvie Kurtz.  The lessons were provided daily via both email and the Yahoo Group website. Each day brought a different aspect of writing fiction:

8-20 – 1.  Introduction

8-21 –  2.  General Outlook

8-22  – 3.  Plot and Structure

8-23 –  4.  Point of View

8-24  – 5.  Scenes

8-25 –  6.  Characters

8-27 –  7.  Dialogue

8-28 –  8.  Backstory

8-29 –  9.  Opening and Endings

8-30 – 10.  Voice, Style, and Details

8-31 – 11.  Conclusion

Sylvie is a fount of knowledge for each topic and provided examples to illustrate the point of each lesson. Her explanations and guidelines were easy to understand. But the best part of it all was her feedback! With her guidance, I now own a respectable pitch that I can send off to agents and publishers.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a course with Sylvie, I highly recommend that you do!

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This afternoon, I returned from an educational weekend session with three literary agents. This event was sponsored by the Cape Cod Writers Center, and held at the Colonial House Inn in historic Falmouth, Massachusetts. This old sea captain’s house is one of several that claim ghosts in residence, but none of them visited me during the night!

The three agents guided the fourteen attendees through informative hour-long talks scheduled between the one-on-one sessions with each author. Katherine Sands from NYC spoke about “How to Discourage an Agent Even if You’re a Brilliant Writer”. Paul Fedorko from NYC shared his thoughts about “Finding the Right Agent for You”. And last, but certainly not least, Ann Collette from Boston provided her insight into “The Do’s and Don’ts for Mystery/Thriller Writers”.

My personal one-on-one session was scheduled with Ann Collette on Saturday afternoon. I found Ann to be a delightful woman with a quick wit and a sharp eye for quality. She’d already reviewed and made notations on my first 10 pages. Her suggestions were pointed and constructive, given always with a kind manner and an encouraging smile. As I left our session, my head was bursting with her ideas to improve my storytelling skills and notch up my chances for publication down the road.

Later on Saturday afternoon, we all gathered together to hear Ann and Katherine discuss “Writing the Query Letter”, which was a real eye opener. Concentrate on the unique facets of your story… setting-protagonist-problem. Or as Katherine says, place-person-pivot. Your carefully chosen words need to jump off the page and grab the agent’s attention.The goal is to make the agent want to read more.

Sunday morning provided a three-hour Q&A session with Ann and Katherine, who fielded questions from the attendees. They also shared surprising agent stories as they related to clients found and lost, or passed and regretted. It was an enlightening discussion, and gave us all insights into the inner workings of the agent’s job.

I’m sure I can speak for all the attendees when I say the weekend was well worth the time and cost to attend.

And, so, here I sit at home computer. I’ve pulled up my manuscript and have begun the revision process. As I work, Ann’s thoughts make sense to me, and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing any of the words that are being deleted. These revisions are only making my story better… whew!

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It’s not good news… sigh.

It’s not bad news… sigh, again.

After three months of waiting, I finally received a response from the agent who’s been holding my first three chapters since November. She advised that she’s no longer accepting new clients.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Hitting the jackpot my first time out was a slim-to-none chance.

So now, it’s back to the drawing board, so to speak. A writer friend has given me the names of three publishers who do not require an agent. Unfortunately, one of them is closed to submissions until August.  The other two advise 12-16 weeks to respond to my submission.

On a positive note, that time frame will expire by the time the Cape Cod Writers Center conference occurs in August. They will be offering a “Pitchapalooza” of agents. Think of it as speed-dating! http://capecodwriterscenter.org/

Off I go to prepare my query letter for publisher #1… wish me luck!

 

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