Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Stand Out While Querying

Agents are getting more query letters than ever before--we've all heard or read that, right? So how do we make ourselves stand out? How do we go from this

to this?

It takes more than a yellow sweater and a grin to become the item of the week (though I
did buy the sweater--I love cheery colors). None of us would consider the tacky tricks: nonstandard paper--possibly pink and/or scented--mailed with chocolates or packaged in a heart-shaped box covered with gold foil. We aren't the ones urban legends are made of. Yet we've all heard the stories. And while we need to follow the rules, we all want our work to rise from the slush pile. We want to be an agent's lucky find. So let's share what we know. I'll go first! ;)

One well-known, respected children's agent who spoke at a conference I attended this year stressed how important it is to approach agents and editors the right way. He emphasized using a professional tone in query letters. Writing is a
career choice; we need to treat it as such. Thus, my first point is to be professional in the query letter.

Look at the letters agents share at conferences or on blogs--letters that worked, somehow intriguing them. A few were a little risky, but all the letters I've seen were professional. Our professionalism should show in our formatting, our word choice, our sentence structure, and our tone. The challenging part is doing all of that while slipping in some voice, giving the letter some flavor. And since we're trying to sell ourselves as writers, we're expected to rise to the occasion. Many aspiring authors (like me) don't have amazing bios that
say we're professionals, so we need to show what we haven't yet earned the privilege to tell.

Next is something we've all heard, but it bears repeating:
don't submit your work until it's ready. It's tempting to rush to get your work out there as soon as the manuscript is finished. So many people do this. (Unfortunately, I've been one of them. Ack!) Stand out from the crowd by submitting a superb, clean manuscript that makes an agent sit up and take notice. I'm fully aware this is easier said than done, and it sounds like, "Just write an awesome book!" But what I'm saying is slow down. Time gives us so much perspective on our own work. We need to hold on to it until we truly believe we cannot make it any better. We already put so much time and heart into each manuscript; let's not waste it by submitting too early.

Stand out from the crowd by being profes
ional at conferences. When I was at a conference a couple years ago, a panel of industry professionals prepped us for feedback we were all about to receive. They stressed not crying, arguing, and carrying on. It makes you wonder what they must see, doesn't it?

In teaching, we learned about positive attention and negative attention. Remember the kids in school who caused scenes to get any kind of attention from the teacher? Now think of the people at conferences who follow agents and editors into bathrooms and elevators.
Yeesh. 'Nuff said.

Research agents as well as you can without becoming a stalker.
I do this whether I'm in the query phase or not because I eventually will be actively querying. I collect names when I read about deals in PW Children's Bookshelf or wherever, writing them down to research in my spare time. Keep in mind what you need to pay attention to. What have they sold? Are they members of the AAR? If not, why not? Does their agenting style match your needs? Do their clients say great things about them? Once you know about the agents, it will be easier to properly approach each one on your list, possibly mentioning books he or she sold, books you really have read and can converse about intelligently. (Nathan Bransford touched on this yesterday.)

Remember that you don't want to query every agent out there or you'll be wasting your time and theirs. Besides, querying an agent is kind of like asking someone out. If you were looking for a date, having a pulse wouldn't be your only requirement.

Don't gossip.
In 2008, I attended an author-agent team's session on communication in professional relationships. You'd be shocked to hear how catty and loose-lipped some writers are about agents and editors. Of course, it eventually comes back and bites them. Which leads to blogging: if we don't have something nice to say--well, you know the expression. Just as writers research agents, agents research writers. As Austin Powers might say, "Oh, behave!" Besides, writing or saying something mean or hurtful just isn't nice. Think good karma.

Try to remain positive.
When agents open query letters, they aren't just trying to clean their desks. They're looking for new clients! They want to be swept off their feet by our work. I picture them like miners, swishing their pans, hoping to find gold.

And hey, one more thing. Vicki wants me to remind you to never take rejections personally.

Vicki and I

Okay, I don't actually talk with the mannequins at Old Navy. I don't even talk with the ones at Macy's. The most important thing you should keep in mind is I don't hear voices from any mannequins. Yet you can't deny that Vicki makes an excellent point. The only thing a rejection means is that one person didn't fall in love with your work. Good for you, though, putting yourself out there!

Now it's your turn. It won't be long before I'm querying again so I'd love to hear any tips you can add. How can we stand out while we're querying?

here for my post on query tips!


Stephanie Thornton said...

Hehehe... Cute pics!

I'll be in the querying boat with you soon. It's daunting, but I know it can be done!

Happy New Year!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

It's okay if you hear voices. I hear them sometimes. :0)

This is great! I made the mistake of querying too early and learned a lot from it. Hopefully it won't but me when I resubmit!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Okay, so I would have loved to have seen the looks on people's faces as you posed with the mannequins, lol. You make some great points. I think the slowing down thing is so essential. I definitely made that mistake the first time around.

And at the end of the day I think what makes you stand out is your story. It's not impossible to get an agent to request your work. I got a number of full and partial requests when I queried my "so-not-ready-to-be-queried" first novel. So getting in the door is not the problem. You have to knock them over with your work once you get that manuscript in front of them.

Hope you have a great new years and good luck when you enter the scary world of querying again!

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I haven't reached the query stage yet. Your points all look excellent, thanks for the tips! And that's a great sweater by the way! Happy New Year!

Susan R. Mills said...

Love the yellow sweater! I think you have a pretty good handle on query tips, but I wish you luck when you venture out again. Best wishes for 2010!

Michelle said...

Some great tips - gives me a lot to think about - thank you.
I like the pics too.

Dawn Simon said...

Stephanie, good luck with those queries!

Kristen, you made me laugh with the voices thing. :) It seems like we all submit too early with at least one manuscript, but maybe we can prevent at least one person from doing it. Learn from our mistakes!

Roni, yeah, and we took the pictures last weekend--right after Christmas. There was a huge line at the register, but only one person commented. She worked there, and she was nice about the whole thing. You're right about having to knock them over with your work, though you should be proud that your first novel got so many partial and full requests. You're doing something right. Actually, as one of your followers, I know you're doing LOTS of things right. (I'm a Fiction Groupie fan--or a Fiction Groupie groupie.)

Thanks, Deb! Since you're already blogging and involved in the writing community, you'll be super ready when the query stage rolls around! And I'm glad you like the sweater--I love bright colors.

Susan, yay--you like the sweater, too! :) Best wishes to you in 2010, too!

Thanks, Michelle! I thought of you and Tabitha when I saw Australia ringing in the New Year on TV. :)

Stephanie said...

LOL! LOVE the pics with the Modelkins. My daughter always has to go over and pet the dog.

Great post too! It always appalls me when I read queries and stories posted on agent's unprofessional some writers can be.

Dawn Simon said...

Hi, Stephanie! Thanks for visiting and following! :) How cute about your daughter. Kids make life so much more colorful, don't they?

KM said...

I did the too-early thing, as well. But it helped reiterate to me that I needed to take it slow, because I've committed to the long road. And writing isn't just about the final goal, the end product. As corny as it sounds, it really is about the journey and enjoying every minute of working on that story.

Dawn Simon said...

KM, so many of us submit too early. And I don't think what you said is corny at all. Something cool about blogging is being able to follow other bloggers' journeys, sharing in the successes and trials, and cheering each other on.