Please welcome guest blogger, Lois Winston! Lois is an award-winning author and designer as well as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Her latest book, ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN (January 2011), the first book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Thank you for being with us today on Attacking The Page, Lois!
Once you’ve successfully attacked the pages of your manuscript, you need to remain in attack mode for the next step in your journey toward publication. Today I’d like to offer some insights on why authors receive rejection letters based on their query alone. The biggest reason shouldn’t even be a reason because you’d think the author would know better, yet it’s one of the top reasons most authors are rejected by editors and agents: The author hasn’t done her homework.
Many writers spend months or even years writing a book. Then, as soon as they type THE END, they start shooting off email queries to every editor and agent whose email addresses they can find. They devote little, if any, time into researching those editors and agents and wind up submitting to editors and agents who don’t handle what they’ve written.
My advice? Do Your research! All publishers and most agencies have websites. Many editors and agents have blogs. And even if an agent has neither a blog nor a website, the agency most likely has a listing on Publishers Marketplace and will be listed in the various yearly guides that are published.
However, even before you begin researching editors and agents, you need to know what you write. Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? Apparently not. It’s amazing how many authors are totally clueless about genre. Take this exchange, for example, between an agent and a writer during a pitching session at a recent conference:
Agent: So tell me about your book.
Author: It’s a mystery called THE WHODUNIT CAPER.
Agent: What kind of mystery?
Author: The kind where there’s a murder and my heroine, a middle-aged former go-go dancer who now works as a customer service rep for a car dealership, figures out who did it.
Agent: So this is a Cozy?
Author: Well, she does get cozy with the parts salesman, but she’s also got an ex who wants to get back together, and she’s torn between them. And she’s also developing the hots for the detective on the case, so there’s lots of sex when she’s not trying to figure out who the killer is. So I guess it’s a three-way cozy.
Okay, I did take a little artistic liberty with that to make it more entertaining, but the bottom line was that the author really didn’t have a clue about genre and sub-genre. Every genre and the sub-genres within them have certain conventions. The big three genres in commercial fiction are Romance, Mystery, and Speculative Fiction. As a writer you not only need to know which genre your work falls into but which sub-genre or sub-sub-genre because there are different conventions for each.
For example, a Cozy Mystery won’t have graphic violence or sex. An editor who buys only True Crime novels is not going to be interested in Amateur Sleuth books. Some editors buy across several genres, but some don’t. Sending a query about your cozy mystery to a editor looking for noir mysteries is a waste of your time and hers. Same with sending a category length romance to an editor looking for single title romance and women’s fiction. Likewise, an agent who handles suspense might only like gritty suspense, not romantic suspense. An editor who buys YA (young adult) books might only want historicals and contemporaries, not paranormals, and not because she doesn’t like paranormals but because she already has enough and needs to balance out her list.
Research editors and agents by the genres they handle AND by the individual books they’ve recently bought and sold. You can often find this information on the Deals section of Publishers Marketplace or by reading the acknowledgements in recently released books in your genre.
Another great resource is to join writing organization where you’ll often find the most recent news on what agents and editors want by subscribing to their loops. Authors are very giving people, and the networking that goes on within writing organizations can be phenomenal. Published authors are always posting industry news, and the industry news is often about what their agents and editors are looking for.
So to sum up, if you want to cut down on the rejections you receive, take the time to research the editors and agents you query.
Here are a list of sites that you might find helpful:
This site has both a paid version and an abbreviated free version. Many editors and agents post their recent sales on the site. Many agents have a page that lists what they handle and how to submit. One caveat, though — some agents don’t believe in posting their sales. They feel that this information is proprietary between the author, the agent, and the publisher. So just because you don’t see a listing of sales for the agent or agency, it doesn’t mean there haven’t been sales.
Association of Authors’ Representatives
AAR is an organization of independent literary and dramatic agents. All AAR members must adhere to a strict code of ethics which includes not charging fees for reading manuscripts. There are a lot of scams that prey on needy authors. Make sure the agencies you query are members of AAR. Not every agent in the agency needs to be a member of AAR, but the head agents should be members. AAR also has a database where you can search for agents.
This site bills themselves as the Internet’s largest and most current database of literary agents.
Predators and Editors
This site not only has a database of both agents and publishers but a rating criteria.
Writers Free Reference
This site lists agency email addresses. More and more agencies are accepting emailed queries from authors, but follow the agency guidelines. Most will not accept attachments. Post everything in the body of an email unless asked to send an attachment.
2009 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
This book is updated yearly. The editor also maintains a web presence and a blog.
Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents
Jeff Herman is both an agent and the author of this extensive yearly guide.
In addition, there are writing organizations with many resources for their members. Some have websites with resources for non-members as well as members. These include:
American Crime Writers League
Horror Writers Association
International Thriller Writers
Liberty States Fiction Writers
Mystery Writers of America
Romance Writers of America
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers
Western Writers of America
Thank you for guest blogging today, Lois! This list of resources is great!