Thoughts on Queries

I have a lot of links to share today!

First, Justin Kramon, my former writing teacher who I’ve mentioned before, has come out with a book trailer! This is a new trend. A lot of authors are advertising their new books with commercials in the similar vein that movies get. Check Justin’s out at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjPArc8xA_k. I can’t wait to get my copy!

Some agent has started a blog with particularly bad excerpts from query letters that he gets. Check it out at http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com/. (Slush pile is the term used in the biz to refer to unsolicited queries).

Speaking of the slush pile, I have some pieces of advice to throw out from what I’ve seen so far. First of all, it’s remarkable how many people don’t follow the guidelines that the agency sets forth. Just about every agency these days has a website, and each agent meticulously explains how they want queries to be formatted. Some want synopses or sample chapters included while others simply want the letter. Some even have electronic forms on their websites to replace emails. Andrea Hurst’s guidelines call for just the letter without anything else. More importantly, her website clearly says that she is no longer accepting unsolicited queries by unpublished writers. In other words, only send the query letter if she’s requested it from you at a conference, if you have a previously published book, or if you have been referred to her.

But guess what: we still have a slush pile of unpublished writers. And a lot of those queries have sample chapters attached.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. Getting the agent is the first path to getting published, and that query letter is your first opportunity to make a good impression. But a lot of queries don’t follow guidelines and are poorly proofread. In fact, today we got one addressed to someone at a different agency!

I once heard that some famous author recommends spending three months on your query letter before sending it out. I would take that advice seriously. Especially when all I look at is the query, I use it not only to judge the story but also the writing and how easy the writer will be to work with. If the query letter is filled with misspelled words, I’m going to wonder if the entire manuscript is misspelled (and how likely am I to be to request to read something that hasn’t even been proofread?). And if it doesn’t follow guidelines, I’m going to wonder how professional this writer could be if we signed him or her.

Those are some thoughts and insights as I embark on my second week of the internship!

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How I Got Here in the First Place

So one thing a lot of people here have been asking me is: how did you end up on Whidbey Island if you’re not from here?

A more pertinent question in my opinion, with the same answer, is how did I end up with an internship in the first place?

I don’t remember when I started looking for internships, but I think it was in November. I’ve known for years I want to be a published author; since getting to college I’ve decided to have a back-up plan and set my eyes on the publishing industry. And right now that back-up plan is more like the realistic plan.

Anyway, I decided the best way to start in the publishing industry is through an internship. I first tried to find an agency or publishing house near my parents’ house in Michigan, but guess what: that industry isn’t exactly thriving in Motor City (not to mention the other industries). My parents suggested that I ask my former writing teachers for suggestions because this world is nothing if not about networking. This did turn up one lead that unfortunately fell through.

Since my contacts in the publishing world were minimal at best, I had to give up that route (although my grandparents, who belong to a writing association, continued to keep an eye out for me). So I emailed agencies whose blogs I follow. I got a couple of interviews, but ultimately those fell through. Around April, I was getting nervous, so I went on Publishers’ Marketplace and started visiting the website of every agent listed (I only got through to the D’s, I believe. There are a lot of agents!) If it looked like there was the infinitesimal chance of it possibly being a good place for me to get experience, I emailed them asking if they by any chance wanted an intern.

This did get me a few responses, but luckily I landed an internship before having to panic anymore. Sometime during this process I found Andrea Hurst and Associates through the blog Guide to Literary Agents, emailed her, and my internship got set up. It was her idea to share me with WIWA and for me to come all the way out to Whidbey Island.

The moral of the story is that while contacts probably help a lot, they are not necessary.

As a side note, a lot of people also seem surprised that I would come all the way to the other side of the country where I know absolutely nobody just to do an internship. I myself was a little apprehensive that it would be a lonely existence. But I’ve moved around throughout my life, and the good news is that here everyone speaks English! All the people on Whidbey Island are so nice, friendly, and helpful that I slipped right into the community. After all, how can you feel lonely when you go grocery shopping at a market on the other side of the island and run into your boss?

Last thing I read: A manuscript under submission

Thoughts on Day 1

Sorry about the absenteeism. In the midst of packing, driving, flying, conferencing, finding-wireless-internet-ing, I’ve not had time or resources to tend to my blog. But all that is about to change.

Yesterday I started my work as an intern at the Whidbey Island Writers Association (WIWA) and Andrea Hurst and Associates. It was a long day but definitely worth it.

I arrived one day before the Saturday Chat House Conferences, one of WIWA’s most important events this year, meaning I entered into a whirlwind of last minute preparations and panicking. Because whenever an event is about to happen, be it a birthday party, a writer’s conference, or a wedding, things are bound to go wrong and the organizers are bound to have to scramble.

WIWA is largely a volunteer organization, with the conference being planned and executed entirely be a committee of volunteers. This means that they are doing the conference on top of their real lives; they are doubly busy. So there was plenty for me to do. It started with me being trained on how to handle credit cards for tomorrow when latecomers want to register, and then I graduated to folding maps, stuffing envelopes, and alphabetizing. While the work was not entirely intellectually stimulating, it was necessary for someone to do and I basked in my own efficiency (it was nice to be able to do something right after spending five minutes arguing with my stick shift to please stop stalling).

I was going to write about the best part of my day, but then I just couldn’t pick a moment. Was it when I met people I’ll be working with this summer who I’ve corresponded with through email and today I got to see they were actually 3-D and really, really nice? Was it when the sun shone down on me as I did my first solo (without anyone I knew on the road with me in my car or another) drive? Or was it when I got to eat dinner in a room full of successful writers and agents?

Since this blog is about writing, I guess I’ll pick the latter. First off, I’d been researching the authors ever since I found out I would be going to the conference. So even though I hadn’t read her book (yet…I really want to, though!) when I got to have a conversation with Susan Wingate about my writing ambitions and about what it is like to be a full-time writer, I was pretty jazzed. And then I ate dinner at a table of agents: one with the Sandra Dijkstra agency, one who works at Andrea Hurst Literary Management, and one who I later heard is one of the most successful agents in America. Yikes. The crazy thing is, they’re all nice. And they all eat. And they all avoid dessert (well maybe not all of them). They’re real people.

I don’t know why this comes a surprise to me since I want to be an agent and I consider myself a real person so logically that would mean an agent could be a real person. But somehow it’s heartening to know. Because while I might not know much about agents yet, I sure do know about real people. So how hard can this summer be?

Famous last words.

Last thing read: Chapter 15 of Careless in Red by Elizabeth George. (I highly recommend it, by the way. More on her later)