Publisher/agent hunting – Is it raining outside?

Remember back when you were a wee bairn and you were getting ready to go outside? Mom would look out the window and grab your suspenders [or whatever billowy fabric made it easy to dig her claws into you] and say, “Not so fast, short stuff, it’s raining.” She’d wrap you up in a slicker, boots, and shove an umbrella in your hand. Of course, by the time she was finished with you, you had a full bladder and were dancing around like a caterpillar walking on hot coals.

Mom was preparing you for inclement weather in order to protect you from the elements. And that’s what today’s post is about – preparing you so that when you go outside into Query Land, you’re wearing the right clothes.

I see way too many authors who have no idea who is sitting on the other end of that query letter. Holy verbs and nouns, Batman. This is just all kinds of scary.

Eager Beaver

I understand excitement. You should see the beagle when she knows we’re going for walkies with promises of designer doggie chewies and margaritas afterward. Typing “The End” to your manuscript is catnip. You run around your office, dancing on all the furniture because you’ve traveled a long road. It’s intoxicating, and your pants are on fire to get it out to query.

And this is where Eager Beaver collides with the weatherman. The idea of seeing her manuscript between covers is all-consuming, and rather than look outside the window for a weather check, Eager Beaver starts blasting her query letter to anyone with a pulse – or an email address. Eeek! That opens Eager Beaver up to all kinds of potential heartache. Are they a vanity press in disguise? A POD? Or commercial trade publisher? Do they publish what she writes?

I read these queries and instantly know if they’ve researched us or not. Oftentimes I feel like the mom who gets all worried seeing a little kid wandering around without his mommy. He’s not my kid, nor do I want him to be, but I want to protect him until Mom shows up. There have been many times I wanted to write in my rejection letter – YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHO I AM! RESEARCH FIRST, QUERY LAST. Thankfully I’m one of the good guys and wear white nearly every day. But geez, what if I wasn’t?

Honest to God, there is nothing worse than being published badly. I have a whole collection of horror stories of Eager Beavers. Their one consistent comment is, “I didn’t know.”

They didn’t check the weather.

Look out the window, my darlings

You’ve poured your heart and soul into your book, so honor your writing and yourself by taking great care during the query process. You wouldn’t go to a butcher for a tonsillectomy, would you? Nor would you go to a cardiologist for a tonsillectomy. You need the right surgeon to perform your surgery. Same goes for your book.

This requires long, lingering looks outside the window for that weather check. Is Agent HooHa the right one for you? As I told the oh-so-fabulous Unknown Writers Group in Reno this weekend [and may I just say that if you’re ever in Reno and are looking for a great group of writers whose first names are all Friendly and who totally have their shit together, stop in for one of their meetings] that I’ve been writing a novel and thought Agent HooHa would be a perfect fit for me. Then I read several books she’s repped, and I got a much better feel for the type of works she’s looking for. She isn’t the right choice for me.

And that, my darlings, is how you really know what clothing choices to make when you glance out your window.

Writer, Know Thyself

“I’m headed for da big time!” Well, maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. Self analysis is really  hard. That’s why we lurve our agents so much. They do the heavy lifting after we’ve written The End. But before we do the agent/editor hula dance, it’s helpful to check our inner weather. Do I want an agent, or will I query editors directly?

If you really, really want an agent, then don’t be querying editors at the same time because once you get that representation, they may want to query that same editor. I’ve had this happen a few times, and I know it drives agents buggy. I’d already rejected the work when the authors queried me, then the agents unwittingly queried me again – which I rejected again, stating that I’d already rejected the work on such-and-such a date.

Agents will want the names of editors you’ve queried so they don’t get all repeat-y like. Word to the wise; give them a complete list and don’t lie. I daresay, those agents were none too happy with their clients. Distrust in this business is a deal-breaker.

Think Professional, Act Professional

Always remember, a query is a job interview. Do you show up to an interview dressed in your gym clothes, smelling like a men’s locker room after a basketball championship and have no clue as to what the job entails, or are you dressed professionally and have researched the company and can speak about their accomplishments, and have a good command of the job you’re applying for?

To do all that, you gotta look outside to see if it’s raining.

11 Responses to Publisher/agent hunting – Is it raining outside?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Another good reason to go for agents *first* is that many publishers/editors demand exclusivity from the first contact, whilst the vast majority of agents only ask for it when they request further materials. Sometimes not even then.

    Therefore, you can reasonably query…making sure your query is ready for prime time and your list is well-researched…your list of agents in a relatively short period of time and don’t run the risk of your valuable manuscript tied up for months…or even years…with a slow-responding publisher. (Lynn, I’m betting YOU wouldn’t tie up a manuscript for any longer than necessary, but I have a feeling you read faster than a lot of people ;))

  2. CarolRose says:

    Wonderful advice, as always, Lynn! 🙂

  3. CindyLou says:

    I have to admit, this is a hard one for me. I wrote “The End” about six weeks ago and on one memorable day I had to unplug the computer and put it in its bag on the top shelf of my closet so I wouldn’t query. I need my beta’s back first. Then revisions. Then more betas…. Egad.

  4. Ninja, I’m also a lot smaller, as well, and have pretty niche criteria. I’m not as swamped as many, so I can process queries very fast. Full manuscripts, not as fast, and there are times when I blast through three months and wonder where the time went.

    But I always assume that I’m not the only eyes reading a manuscript and have been known to pounce very quickly in order to beat out my competitors.

  5. NinjaFingers says:

    I would assume that too, but *some* publishers certainly do expect exclusivity right off the bat.

  6. That’s interesting, Ninja. I’ve never heard of editors asking for exclusivity – only agents.

  7. Arrrgh! I meant “inclement,” Cat…

  8. Patty says:

    This is excellent advice and I appreciate you taking time to educate us!

  9. NinjaFingers says:

    Well. Maybe I’m completely wrong, then ;). I’m careful about education, but I’d say you still know way more about the industry than I do.

  10. Great post and much needed reminders. We’re going to include this in our This Week for Writer’s post tomorrow on our blog.

  11. Helen Ginger says:

    Great advice, especially to look at it as a job interview.

    Straight From Hel

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