Hope In The Slush by Callie Deitrick

If you have written a book or a proposal, let me start by offering you my congratulations! Writing a book is no small feat and even the most experienced of authors struggle with the process. But, now, as I’m sure you know, comes another daunting challenge: the slush pile. Unless you have an inside connection, it is likely that you will be sending your work through an unforgiving email portal from which you may never hear back. This is, no doubt, quite frightening and often discouraging.

Depending on the agency, the slush pile might get tens or hundreds of new manuscript pitches and proposals a day. Since agents are already pressed for time, the importance of making your submission stand out at a quick glance goes without saying.

While the odds may seem unfavorable, I am here to tell you that they are not impossible. This past April when I was reading through the slush, I found a nonfiction proposal that immediately caught my attention. The letter was crisp, the book had a clever hook, and the author had exceptional credentials. We immediately reached out to the author, who was also being courted by other agents, and we successfully signed her shortly thereafter. After a few weeks of revising with the author, we sent the proposal to a carefully selected group of editors. Enthusiastic responses led to multiple meetings. In the end, the book was sold for six-figures! From start to finish, we sold the book in just 10 weeks.

If you send us a well-crafted letter and show that you’ve done your research, and present yourself and your project in a compelling way, I guarantee that your submission is already better than many of the submissions agencies receive. Emails that come to the slush often exhibit minimal effort in following our guidelines or researching our agency. Know your customer (us!) and what we are looking for. We frequently see wild conspiracy theories, genres we clearly state we don’t represent, and even the occasional scam (one scam tried to blackmail us into paying them in Bitcoin), so I promise that if you put the time and energy in, you will be carefully considered.

Try not to get discouraged. Just because you don’t hear back from one agency doesn’t mean that your book will never get sold. Agents want to find great material in the slush as much as you want to find a great agent. Trust the process and know that when you find the right agent it will all be worth it.

-Callie

How To Maximize the Writer’s Conference Experience by Cherise Fisher

A writer’s recipe for success in publishing is 20% talent, 40% preparedness, 35% networking, and 5% luck. This is an unscientific conclusion, but true nevertheless. A strong writer’s conference is designed to improve preparedness and create an environment for networking. So if you want to make the leap from writer to author, attending a good writer’s conference is money well spent. So how does a person go about maximizing the writer’s conference experience?

Look for a conference that suits your needs.

Self assessment is a key life skill. Where are you lacking? Are you an MFA student who has spent years working on your novel with prestigious writing mentors but have no clue as to how to market yourself? Opportunities to network with editors and agents will be important for you. Are you a lawyer by day and an avid romance writer by night? You might want a conference with workshops that can help develop your talent. Are you an expert in your field but know nothing about publishing? You might need basic information about first steps. The ideal writer’s conference for you will be one that suits your needs and fits your interests.

Know what you bring to the table.

Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you might have a full manuscript, a cover letter, a proposal, a synopsis, or some combination of all of these. Just be clear about what you are prepared to share. But do share something. I never understand why a person will come to a conference, sit down with me, and then tell me that they will send something to me in a couple of months. You should have something to email an editor within 24 hours (provided he or she has asked for it).

And now I’m going to contradict myself: it’s also okay to not promise anyone anything. Your first conference might just be one where you soak up as much info as you can. The conference will be there next year and you can pour all of what you learned into your work and presentation for the next go round.

Know who is at the table.

Look at which presentations, panels and workshops you want to attend and research the participants. It’s flattering (and a smidge creepy) when I meet someone at a conference who can quote me from an article I wrote four years prior. In addition to the ego massage, the research time they put in makes it clear to me that they believe I’m the right person for their work.  When I’m sitting in front of someone whose work is not at all aligned with my interests, it’s a pitiful waste of time.

Be memorable.

You will meet many people at a writer’s conference. I risk sounding like your mother here, but first impressions are important. Dress smartly, give a good handshake, smile, sit up straight and/or lean in when we’re talking. Present your best self.  Bring business cards. They can be simple: name, number, email, perhaps website, title of your book, or your area of expertise.

Also, get your elevator pitch together. You have ninety seconds to communicate what you have and what you need. One time after a stimulating panel, a man came up to me to introduce himself. He explained that he had sent me a query a week before and then proceeded to tell me the plot of his novel, minute by minute. By the time I got through the third verse of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go” (in my head, of course), I decided to relieve the long line behind him by gently putting my hand on his shoulder and asking, “Are you planning to recite the entire novel?” Don’t be this guy. Be succinct.

And finally, Breathe. You are in a community of like-minded people doing what is best for your journey. Enjoy the experience.

-Cherise

How To Write The Perfect Query Letter by Nicki Richesin

Every famous author (even the esteemed Mr. King and Ms. Rowling) has had to write a query letter and was rejected on more than one occasion. Sometimes dozens of times. Take courage in knowing that this is just part of the process.

Congratulations! You have polished your manuscript to every inch of its life and are ready to find an agent. You have researched and identified a few agents who represent the same type of book you have written and would be a good fit for your project. Now you are finally ready to write your query letter. Deep breath. It’s not that hard, I promise.

Your query letter should be well-written, thoughtful, and short. How short you ask? Remember Shakespeare’s advice that brevity is the soul of wit!

I like to read no more than three paragraphs (four is pushing it) that amounts to one page. Remember this is the first impression of your writing, so you should demonstrate your skill. I would suggest sharing your letter with your fellow writers and trusted advisers. Does it capture their attention and intrigue them?  

In the first part of the letter, you should briefly explain in one sentence why you are contacting the agent. Personalize your note by describing why you believe this particular agent would be interested in your book.

In the second paragraph, include your book’s title, word count, and genre/category. Then offer a three-to-four-sentence synopsis of your book. Focus on the story’s premise and try to express what makes it compelling to the reader. The description should be written as succinctly as one you would read on the back of a book or jacket copy. You should refrain from explaining in detail all the twists and turns of the plot. When in doubt, better to leave it out.

The queries that have impressed me the most are clever and beautifully written, but also demonstrate an awareness of the marketplace. I am on the hunt for a writer who has identified the story’s hook- one that not only grabs my attention and makes the story unique and surprising, but often completely unexpected.

Finally, include a short bio, offering information about your background that pertains to your work or your writing skills. Add any relevant publication credits, writing degrees, memberships in writing communities or organizations, awards, and grants. You want to prove your commitment to your writing career. So feel free to include anything special that you bring to your writing background, perhaps in your research or career. You can always include something personal that will show you’re an interesting person.  

Please note at WSA, we request that you copy and paste the first ten pages of your novel in the body of the email.

That’s it. I know you may be tempted to share more information with agents, but it’s better to keep it short and sweet. Best of luck and keep writing!

-Nicki