On Querying:

(I’m slowly making my return to blogging. My husband recently deployed and I have a bit more free time on my hands. Happy to be back!)

A few weeks ago I got an email from a fellow writer who’d read my Holy Crap: I Have an Agent! post. As well as offering congratulations, she asked for advice on querying. At first I was surprised and flattered, but not long after opening her email I started to get a feeling of… I don’t know. Unworthiness? I’m so not qualified to be doling out advice! When I told my husband this, he said, “Uh, why not? You’ve been querying off and on for the last year and now you’ve landed an agent. You’re totally qualified.”

Shouldn't everything in life be this cut and dry?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized he might be right. While I’m certainly not an expert on querying (is anyone?), I have had a fair amount of experience and I’ve gained some wisdom that’s probably worth sharing. 

Below are the top ten things I’ve learned regarding the query process. Of course, the following advice only applies once you have an edited, critiqued, revised, sparklingly clean, complete manuscript, as well as a compelling query letter…

1) You won’t know if you’re truly ready to query until you send out a few letters. Of course you shouldn’t  send out your first batch of query letters the same day you type The End at the bottom of your first draft.  It goes without saying that there should be much critiquing, editing and revising before you ever contact an agent about your manuscript. But, you can theoretically spend ages  seeking feedback and tinkering with your story. At some point, scary as it is, you have to be DONE. That isn’t to say you won’t want to revise again (and again) sometime down the line–especially after you start receiving replies on that first batch of query letters.

2) Put a blurb about your manuscript (and possibly a short excerpt) on your blog, and don’t forget your easy-to-find email address. Last fall I had an agent (one who is legit and respected, but isn’t open to unsolicited queries) happen upon my blog. She read the blurb and excerpt I’d posted about a previous WIP, and emailed me to request pages. Talk about surprising! While most agents probably don’t spend a lot of time trolling writer blogs, it does happen. Why not entice them any way possible?

3) Take advantage of helpful agent-focused blogs like Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre’s Literary Rambles, Krista V.’s Mother. Write. Repeat., and  Jay Eckert’s Sharpened Pen. These people have graciously put hours and hours of time into their agent lists, databases and interviews. They are amazing resources! I learned about new agents, agents’ tastes, current clients, sales, query pet peeves, and more from sites like these. Querying is incredibly time-consuming, and accurate information on agents and agencies is sometimes hard to find online. Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s quicker (and easier) to cross-check information that’s already been compiled for you than it is to start from scratch.

4) Stay organized. Be on top of outgoing queries and incoming replies. Know which agents you’ve queried and when. Know the name of their agency. Know their usual response times, or if they’re of the no reply is a no school. And keep querying! I tried to have about eight queries out at all times. When I received a pass, I sent out a new query letter. Rejection is easier to take when you know you’ve got other options out there. On the flip side, when I received a request for pages I sent them immediately, PLUS a new query letter to a different agent.

5) Follow the blogs of agents who interest you well before it’s time to query them. More often than not, they post wish lists, favorite published books, and/or general hints about their tastes. This is a fantastic information to reference when personalizing query letters, and also a great way to gauge whether an agent might be interested in your concept.

6) Follow agents who interest you on Twitter. I reluctantly joined Twitter about a year ago (I did NOT need more social media to suck up my time!). Now, I’m so glad I did. Not only is Twitter is an excellent way to connect with other writers, but it’s taught me so much about querying and literary agents. Many agents tweet tons of helpful publishing information, plus hints on what they’re seeking in their slush. I also made a habit of following the clients of my top-choice agents. A lot can be revealed about client/agent relationships (or lack thereof) through social media interactions.

7) Participate in blogfests, contests and online conferences like WriteOn-Con, especially if they relate to query letters, pitches, voice, or opening lines/pages. Not only are blogfests, contest and many online conferences free, they are a great way to get feedback and connect with writers in the same stage of the journey as you. Plus, they keep your mind occupied while you obsessively refresh your email. Added bonus: Contest finalists often receive prizes like critiques and/or requests.

8 ) Keep an open mind about feedback from CPs/betas, blogfests/contests, and agent replies. Not all critiques are good critiques, but there’s room for improvement in any work. I tried to keep a flexible attitude about my pitch, query letter, and manuscript. When I received a critique, I truly considered it (sometimes for days) before deciding whether to make the suggested revisions. At the end of the day, this is your work. You don’t want to have eventual regrets about making changes you aren’t truly comfortable with.   

9) Make friends at all stages of the game. I’m the last of my CPs to snag an agent. At times, this sucked. They were all moving forward, finalizing agent-requested revisions, going out on submission, and making sales(!) while I was stuck in the query trenches. However, when I ended up with two offers of representation and needed to make a choice, I was so thankful to have friends with experience who could offer sound advice. That said, while having writing friends who’ve progressed farther than you on the path to publication is fantastic, it’s also great to know people who are flailing in the same stage as you. Commiseration is a powerful thing, and sometimes it’s nice to know you aren’t alone.   

10) Know there are no guarantees, but that everything happens for a reason. Personal story time: A few months ago I had a phone call with an agent. We had a nice little chat during which she told me she torn and wasn’t ready to offer representation, but offered some revision notes and asked me to resubmit. I was ecstatic. All I had to do was revise to her notes (which were good) and I’d have an agent. I poured my heart into that revision and was so pleased with how it turned out. I sent my manuscript back to her and spent the next week vibrating with excitement: I was positive I was going to get an offer! Imagine my disappointment when I received her reply and another comment about being “torn,” accompanied by an additional list of new issues she had with the story. She wanted me to revise and resubmit AGAIN. At that point, I had to make a decision. Would I revise indefinitely for an agent who didn’t seem to truly love my story, or would I consider her feedback and continue my search for an agent who “got” what I was writing? I decided to move on, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sure, I was discouraged at first, but I eventually realized that had I not completed the original revision for that first agent, my story wouldn’t be what it is today. I might not have received the offers of representation I eventually did.

There are no guarantees, but every query, every request for pages, every revision, every NO…

What about you? Do you have any fantastic querying advice to pass on?

Good news, good news, GOOD NEWS!

Remember how I was going to take a blog hiatus? Well, I’m thinking there’s no better time to interrupt that hiatus than to share some pretty amazing news… I’ve signed with a literary agent!

There’s a lengthy story behind my search for an agent. Here’s the moderately exciting condensed version (because I’m aways curious about how others arrive at agentdom): I wrote a story, queried it, and soon figured out it wasn’t fit for publication. I trunked it. I wrote another story, queried it, and soon figured out it was in need of rewriting. I shelved it. I wrote another story, truly believed in it, queried it widely, raked in some requests and then some “This is lovely, but I just didn’t fall in love” rejections. I revised, then revised again, queried some more, raked in some more requests. And then… THEN…

I scheduled a vacation with my family. I resolved not to stress about writing, not to query, not even THINK about querying. I climbed on a plane with my kiddo and turned off my phone. I flew, then landed. I turned my phone back on. And, of course, there was an email from one of the agents who’d been reading my full: I’d like to schedule a phone call to talk about your story.

Isn’t that always the way it is? When you stop obsessing, big things happen.

I spoke to the agent on April 29th while I was in Georgia, the day my husband graduated from Ranger School. She offered representation. Naturally, I was thrilled. A fun side note: A few months ago, my husband and I set goals for 2011. His was to get through Ranger School. Mine was to sign with a literary agent. Though I didn’t actually sign with an agent on that day, I had serious interest. It was as if my husband and I both hit our goals right at the same time, and it was very cool.

I happen to have a picture from April 29th (because all blog posts are better with pictures!).

After speaking with the offering agent, I emailed the agents who were reading partials or fulls of my manuscript and asked them to get back to me within ten days (serious torture for an impatient girl like me!).

Turns out the wait was worth it. Another offer came in about a week later, from Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management. Vickie had been at the top of my list since I started reading her blog a few months ago. (She has awesome taste in YA literature and does a fantastic Wednesday Reads series. Check it out!) When we spoke on the phone the next day, I just knew she’d be amazing to work with. She’s friendly, smart, collaborative, and has some incredibly thoughtful revision ideas for my story. Still, I made myself think, really consider my choice from all angles, and as much as I liked the first agent who offered, I kept coming back to the same conclusion: I wanted to work with Vickie.

It was seriously difficult to contain my enthusiasm when I emailed her to accept her offer of representation.

Me and my I-Have-An-Agent Bubbly!

So, now I’m agented (so surreal!) and I get to tackle another revision of Where Poppies Bloom, (one recommended by Vickie :)). I can’t wait to get started!

Query Letter Blogfest

I love blogfests, and this one is awesome! Hosted by Alicia, Erinn, Holly, and Pam, & Quita, the Query Letter Blogfest is meant to help writers perfect one of the most vital marketing tools in their arsenal: the query letter (or, The Most Important First Impression You’ll Ever Make). So, check out the query letter I’ve posted below and, if you’re so inclined, leave a comment letting me know what works and what doesn’t.

DISCLAIMER: I’ve only just started to draft this story. While the summary  is the basic gist of what will happen, I’m still ironing out the details. Also, I am inherently wordy. I suspect this query letter has fallen victim to my wordiness. Please do point out fluff if you choose to critique. Also, please do not hesitate to be brutally honest. I’ll probably cry and eat a gallon of ice cream while reading comments, but I’ll handle it and come to greatly appreciate any thoughtful feedback. 🙂 

***Updated to add: I’ve edited the summary of my query letter based on some excellent feedback I’ve received today. The version below is new and hopefully improved…

And on that note:


I’m writing to query your interest in my contemporary young adult novel, Insert Fabulous Title Here, told in alternating points of view and complete at 60,000-ish words. PERSONAL BIT… I hope Insert Fabulous Title Here will intrigue you.

Brilliant loner Lia Bonelli and over-achieving doctor’s son Jace Bryant have been competing to be Valedictorian since freshmen year, but petty rivalries vanish one autumn afternoon when two masked men storm their school bus, hijacking it without explanation. Jace has no idea that the kidnappers are Lia’s cousins, the sons of her recently deceased crime boss uncle. Uncle Ray was the victim of a botched surgery, and Lia’s cousins hold Dr. Henry Bryant, Jace’s father, responsible.

Lia is a secret accomplice to her cousins’ plan—of course she is; duty is everything to her relatives. Plus, her cousins have promised her a cut of the ransom money, exactly what she needs to escape her corrupt family once and for all. But as the abduction drags into days, Lia and Jace grow unexpectedly close. Her audacity gives him courage he’s never had, and his unwavering honesty is more authentic than anything she’s known. Then word comes that the Bryants can’t produce the payment Lia’s cousins demand. When it becomes clear that they’ll do anything to secure the ransom money—even kill—Lia is forced to choose between family allegiance and the very real affection she’s beginning to feel for Jace.

I am a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, YALitChat and Savvy Authors. I have a BA from Washington State University and a background in teaching. Per AGENCY NAME’S submission guidelines, I have ATTACHED/PASTED WHATEVER of Insert Fabulous Title Here to this email. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Katy Upperman

Can’t wait to see what you think, and thank you in advance for any feedback you offer! Also, you can click HERE to check out the list of participants. Please do take a moment to drop by to offer critique on a few of their query letters.

Thankful Thursday

Oasis for YA knows that the surest way to get good things in life is to be thankful for what you have.  So why not encourage a group thankful-fest once a week in which we all send out good energy and hope to get some back in return? Plus, participating in Thankful Thursday is a great way to connect with other writers.

Here are the rules:
1.  Do your own blog post on what you’re thankful for today.  It doesn’t have to be book or publishing related (but it can be!).
2.  Be sure to grab our badge and include it in your post.
3.  Post a link to your blog in the comments here so that others can find you.
4.  Go forth and share your gratitude!  (And when friending new blogs, be sure to let them know you found them because of their participation in the meme.)

Today I’m thankful for Literary Rambles, a forum focusing on all things children’s literature, hosted by Casey McCormick. Now, if you’re reading my blog, you’ve most like heard of Casey’s, but if you haven’t you’re SO missing out! Trust me, I speak from experience.

Last year I queried a manuscript. I “researched,” but I did it the hard way, and frankly, I probably didn’t do as good a job as I could have. There’s information about pretty much every agent out there, but it’s scrambled and sometimes dated and often hard to find. Agent research can be intimidating.

Good news! Casey has taken much of the difficulty out of the process with her Spotlights–in-depth profiles on dozens of the top agents representing kidlit. She shares information on what they’re looking for, their editorial style, query pet peeves, client lists, sales records, submission guidelines, and web presence. She also includes thoughts on an agent’s buzz, as well as links to interviews they’ve done. Truly, it’s just about one-stop shopping for anyone about to dive into the query trenches. And if that’s not enough, Casey’s also done helpful posts on blog topics, royalty statements, beta reading, character arcs and more.

As I prepared to contact literary agents about the book I’m currently querying, I spent HOURS combing Literary Rambles for information, clicking interview links, and perusing comments other readers left about particular agents. And because of this, I was able to select agents who I truly believe are a good fit for me, and my query letters are personalized and thoughtful.

Casey’s blog is organized, well-written and comprehensive. I can’t get over how selflessly she’s given of her time in an effort to help other writers.  So this Thursday, I’m thankful for Casey McCormick and Literary Rambles.

What are you thankful for today?

Tales from the Trenches: To Be, Or Not To Be…

… Prepared, that is.

So, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m querying. Several amazing agents are in possession of my full manuscript, and we’re nearing the time I should begin hearing back from some of them. In the back of my mind, I’ve had this cheerful yet persistent voice reminding me to prepare a list of questions to ask should one of these agents want to speak to me about my manuscript and possible representation. Promptly, a darker, more pessimistic voice sneers, “Don’t do it! You’ll jinx yourself!” Then, last night, I had a little epiphany.

With it being awards season and all, I was thinking about the actors, directors, singers, and producers who take the stage to accept awards. They fall into two pretty distinct categories: Those with a prepared speech, and those who wing it. While I’d rather watch the winners who are flustered and weepy and completely unprepared, it’s the winners with the succinct, heartfelt, well-written speeches who come away looking like professionals. And that’s what I want to be should I ever have the pleasure of speaking to an agent on the phone: Professional.  

So, I’ve buried the fear of jinxing myself and assembled a list of must-ask questions so I’ll be prepared if I happen to get that oh-so-exciting phone call. Here they are:

1. How close is my manuscript to “ready?” What are its strengths? Weaknesses?

*2. What do you think my comp titles would be?

3. How collaborative do you intend to be? What kinds of editorial/revision ideas do you have for my manuscript?

4. Do you represent a book, or an author? How do you see us working together in the future?

*5. Would you expect me to only write for one age group (YA) or in one genre (contemporary)?

6. What are your submission plans for my manuscript? Do you already have houses/editors in mind? How many will you submit to at a time?

*7. If my manuscript doesn’t sell in the first round of submissions, will we go on subsequent rounds?

*8. Are you willing to sub more than one manuscript at a time? In the same genre? In different genres?

9. How are fees and charges for submission charged ? What kinds of charges should a client expect to pay, and how is it accounted for?

10. What’s your disclosure style during the submission process? Will you give me all the details of editor feedback, or just the most constructive criticisms?

11. What is your communication style? How quickly are you usually able to respond to client inquiries? What is your preferred method of communication?

12. What are the terms of your client contract? *How is it different from contracts at other agencies? (Assuming there is a written contract…)

13. What are your commission rates?

14. How long have you been an agent? What do you love about it? Do you see yourself agenting into the foreseeable future?

15. How many clients are on your list now? How many clients would you like to have?

16. What sales have you made recently? (Assuming I can’t find this info on my own…)

17. How involved is your boss/other agents at your agency in your client relationships?

18. What do you expect from your clients as far as production in a given year?

19. What qualities do you like in a client? What do you think makes a good working relationship between you and a client?

20. When you receive a new manuscript from a client, how long does it usually take for you to get back to her with feedback?

*21. How do you handle clients wanting to work on similar projects/subject matter?

22. For what reasons would you terminate a relationship with a client? What if, for some reason, I should feel our relationship isn’t working?

*23. Would it be possible for me to contact a few of your clients?

*24. Do you have any questions for me?

* Recent additions thanks to input from a few generous and well-informed writing friends. Thanks, Kate Hart, Heather Howland, June G. and Caroline Tung Richmond! Many of the other questions were compiled with help from brilliant posts at Literary Rambles, and Writing For Children and Teens.

Okay, so those are the questions that feel really important at this totally-in-limbo stage of the game. Am I missing anything glaringly obvious? Please let me know in the comments!

Tales from the Trenches 2.0

And the querying continues…

I don’t think I talk about querying and agents and writing and publishing all that much. Mostly, I reserve those topics for my blog, or for conversations with my CPs and writing friends, who are all in varying states of the querying/submission process. They appreciate and embrace the crazy, because like me, they’re all neck deep in it. Occasionally I’ll bounce ideas off my husband, or vent if something isn’t going well, and occasionally my parents or in-laws will ask how things are going and I’ll give them as brief an update as possible. But really, I don’t talk about querying and agents and writing and publishing all that much.

Or so I thought…

First, a little background: Junie B. Jones is a hero in my home. If you aren’t familiar, Junie B. is the star of the very popular chapter book series written by Barbara Park.

Junie B. is precocious, clueless, funny and manages to get herself in to all kinds of mischeif. My husband and I read a chapter or two from a Junie B. Jones book to our daughter every night before she goes to bed. Now, my daughter is only three, but she LOVES her Junie B. Like, laughs-out-loud, constantly-quotes (“Hello. How are you today?”), asks-for-a-new-book-every-time-we-go-to-Target kind of love. Still, imagine my surprise when the other day she looked at me and asked, “Mommy, can your agent get me some Junie B. books?”

Yeah. Clearly she doesn’t *quite* get the role of a literary agent (or the fact that her mommy doesn’t have one yet!), but she knows that agents deal in books, that they’re able to do super nice things and that they might just be capable of making magic happen. And that’s probably a deep enough knowledge base for her for now. 🙂

Tales from the Trenches

Okay, so, I’m querying. And I’m going crazy. Every time I see a new email in my inbox I get a sick feeling in my stomach, something between excitement, nervousness, dread and hopefulness. I’m constantly hopping between optimism and preparing myself for the worst. My husband and other family members are continuously telling me, “Chill out. It will happen!” Yeah, that’s easier said than done when you’re so deep into this process of putting your work out there for others to judge and, in many cases, turn down. Crazy-inducing as it is, rejection is a big part of the querying and eventual publication process.  

I share the following story because hopefully I’m not the only person whose subconscious tortures them while they’re trying to sleep. The other night I had a querying nightmare. In this nightmare, I got an email from an agent who’d read my manuscript. Her note wasn’t exactly a rejection, but it definitely wasn’t an offer of representation either. It was merely a list of typos she’d found in the manuscript. Tons of them. My misspelling on the left, and her corrections on the right. How humiliating! I woke up with my stomach turning somersaults. The first thing I did was check my email to make sure the dream wasn’t some weird glimpse of the future, then I spent the rest of the day second-guessing all of the requested material I’ve sent in. Let me say, my manuscript is NOT riddled with typos. And I’ve never gotten an email from an agent that wasn’t gracious and complimentary. But still.

When I told one of my CPs about my dream, she laughed and said, “Oh, you are so in the trenches.”

Yes. Yes, I am.

Anyone else in the trenches? Crazy behavior? How do you deal?