4.18.2011

HOW TO LAND AN AGENT AND A BOOK DEAL

Matthew asked...
For a few years I've been working on a teen/YA novel (just like 80% of the country it seems), and while the current draft is far from submission quality, I was wondering how you were able to get into contact with a publisher like HarperTeen? By no means am I asking for you to read my manuscript, but I'm just curious as to the details on how you were able to effectively contact someone like Jodi Reamer and Harper.

so, Matthew was kind enough to allow me to post this question on my blog, because i think this is a BIG question. 

it's a question that's basically asking: How do I get published?

and while i know that the majority of you who read this blog are all very intimately acquainted with the Query Letter and the Query Trenches and The Publishing Journey of Perseverance, i think there are a good number of quiet (lurking) readers who might not be as familiar with these things. and so. because i remember all too well what it was like to be dazed and confused in the face of Publishing: The 8th Wonder of the World, i want to touch on this subject. i want to talk about it. just a little bit.

THE QUERY LETTER OF WONDER

the query letter is your golden ticket to Hogwarts. it's one page and 15 seconds to capture an agent's attention. it's like Willy Wonka and Harry Potter had a baby and the result was this piece of paper that gave you a snazzy scar and a lifetime supply of chocolate to ease the pain of it all. because querying is hard as hell. it hurts like hell. it's like Voldemort is hanging out in your back pocket and your forehead is splitting open and Hermione won't stop yapping about you doing your Herbology homework and Cho Chang just decided to dump you for Robert Pattinson. then you get home only to find your mom has made cabbage soup, AGAIN, and maybe you want to throw your laptop out the window, but maybe you'll just bang your head against the wall for a few hours, you're not sure. 

that's what it's like to query. seriously. i wish i were lying.

but to answer your question? this is exactly it. i queried. i queried and queried and queried. i queried bad and i queried okay and i queried mediocre until i learned to query good well. i studied the industry. i read a trillion agent/editor/author blogs. i ate books for breakfast and dinner. i studied the craft, the process, the rules and regulations. i DEVOURED the internet. Queryshark. Miss Snark. Nathan Bransford. The Rejectionist. Rachelle Gardner. Kristen Nelson. Editorial Assten billionmillion others.

(spoiler alert: i still read all of these blogs. almost daily.)

then i joined the AbsoluteWrite forums and they changed my life. i scoured thread after thread dedicated to agency information. i made lists and spreadsheets and double-checked them against the information on Preditors and Editors. i lived and breathed agentquery.com and querytracker.net. i shoved books in my pockets and carried them with me to work. i googled until my fingers were covered in letters and my face was paper-mached in research. i spent countless nights hiding from laundry and social responsibilities just to be able to sit under flickering fluorescent lightbulbs and read one more article about landing an agent or undergoing revisions or what on earth an SNI was.

that's how i found Jodi Reamer.

which brings us to:

THE SUBMISSION PROCESS OF OH GOD THE AGONY

Jodi found HarperTeen, not me. because basically, if you're interested in being published with a "Big Publisher", most won't accept submissions from unagented manuscripts. this is why i first had to find an agent. once you write a query letter that's enticing enough to, well, entice, you send off your manuscript to the requesting agent. if the agent loves it, the agent will offer representation. once you've accepted representation, you then proceed to do one of two things:

1. Revise, and then go on submission to editors
2. Go on submission to editors

most people will spend some time working with their agents to polish their manuscripts. how much and how long is entirely dependent on you, your agent, and the state of your manuscript. either way, once both of you feel ready to pitch the book, your agent will compile a list of acquiring editors (at different publishing houses) who she thinks might like the book. 

and then.
you wait.

response times vary. sometimes it takes a day. sometimes it takes two years. sometimes the book doesn't sell at all. there are no guarantees. you never know. you rip your heart out of your chest and you wrap it in a cover letter and toss it into the ocean. and you wait.

so my advice to you, Matthew, if you're seriously interested in getting published? is to learn everything. read everything. study all of it. try to understand as much as you can about the way things work. 

and then finish your book. 

finish it and revise until you've beaten the manuscript within an inch of its life and only then consider querying agents. you don't want to put out anything but your best work because you deserve the best. because it's never good to get eager and jump the gun. it almost never pays off.

so read blogs. read books. know your genre. understand what it means to be a writer in this new-fangled century and then own it. because it's not impossible. it's nothing you can't achieve. and though it may seem daunting in the beginning? the more you know, the less scary it becomes.

so hang tight!
keep your head up!

and write the best damn book you can write.

-----

what do you think, dear friends? can you suggest some of your favorite writer/agent/editor sites for Matthew to peruse? maybe share some tips and/or tricks you think will help him on his journey?

HAPPY MONDAY EVERYONE.

may your inboxes be bursting with full requests and agent offers in multiples of 1000.

<3

22 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

Terrific post, and let me just echo the support for Absolute Write. It's the most awesome resource for writers ever created short of a Dictionary.

You can get help with your writing, find a beta, get help with the evil query, goof off, complain when it's not working, ask someone to kick you a swift kick in the butt when you're what isn't working. There are writers who hang out there (some with decades and best sellers under their literary belts), agents, editors, etc.

I love that place.

Misty Provencher said...

All of it is true, Matthew. Read, learn, write. Tahereh is right that the more you know, the less scary it becomes. Some of it, you learn along the way and lots of the learning comes by making mistakes. Keep on keepin' on, brother.

Vee said...

I third the Absolute Write love (personally, though, I think AW blows the dictionary out of the water in the helpful stakes). I seriously don't think I would ever have sold anything without those forums (or maybe I would have. But it would've taken ten years longer, or something).

Moving on from the AW love, great post Tahereh. Really, the only way to get published is to write the best book you can and then send it into the world and hope for the best. And then write the next book. And so on and so forth, until you strike a home run :)

Anonymous said...

Do you think a person should actually write the book/story first though? Before researching all about publishing, agents, query letters, etc...is it best to just write your book or story first, revise, edit, etc...
Also, do you think it is possible to write an amazing book ...without having researched all about the "how-to's" , etc. So much information out there on how to structure and make your novel so much more effective...but is it possible to simply just write? just write? (even without a background in writing)...or am I missing out by not thoroughly researching, reading, learning the ways to do it? to refine it?

Tahereh said...

that's an excellent question, Anon -- and thanks for bringing it up.

the short answer is: it depends.

the long answer is one i'll try to address on the blog soon.

AND HEARTS FOR EVERYONE

Em-Musing said...

You say it well, and I'm definitely going to be checking out Absolute Write. Thanks

Kaitlin Ward said...

Great post, Tahereh!
Add me to the list of people who LOVE AND ADORE Absolute Write.
Not only is there so much information on every type of writing and agents and everything you could dream, but I also don't know how I would persevere on this whole trying to get published thing if I didn't have the friendships of people I met through that forum.

Jared Larson said...

Tahereh, you make me cry. And I'm a grown man. Thanks for the inspiration to keep going.

Theresa Milstein said...

Excellent post. I agree with you completely. I'm not agented yet, but I've been around long enough to have a good sense of the business.

And your analogy for querying? Perfect.

Eeshie said...

This is just awesome. Why are you so awesome?

I have a problem. I've always always always wanted to write, but I don't think it's going to pay too well unless I write about vampires or magical kids. So I'm thinking I'll be something science-y. But I love writing, so I'll miss out on it if I become something science-y. WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!


Ps. I'd be so honoured if you looked at my blog.

Hint hint.

Peas out. :P

Michael Offutt said...

Thank you very much Tahereh for writing this blog entry. It meant a lot to me to see behind the curtain.

cherie said...

Agent Query also has a writing community site: Agent Query Connect. It's where writers from all genres convene to talk shop, find critique partners or groups, learn how to navigate the publishing biz, and get query critiques.

sally apokedak said...

Great, great, great post.

I would add Verla Kay's Blue Boards as a great resource for anyone doing children's (PB to YA). Once you register you can get to the response times boards (for how fast agents and publishers are responding). There is a load of info on those boards.

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

Next on my list after I fix my Web page http://www.earthquake-book.com/
Go research more agents and write the Golden Query of Wonder.
For anonymous - Of course it's possible just to write. That's What NanoWriMo is for. Water For Elephants is a NanoWriMo book. But after Sara wrote it in Nano and celebrated the first draft, She REVISED IT MANY TIMES before sending it out so that it could become a New York Times best seller and a movie. Write from your heart the book you want to read. Then after a suitable period of rejoicing, begin the revision process. When you mine your own story for richness, you will be well rewarded. I just finished my 5th draft of my Nano novel Second Chances and I think I want to begin the Golden Query of Wonder. Enjoy the journey! Best of fortune to all of us.

Stoich91 said...

Oh, psaw. All this 'hard work = success' stuff you talk of...and we were looking for the EASY WAY OUT (guess there is no easy way out?) haha :D I love this post. Best collection of writing resources ever on the best ever BLOG! :D And I am not even that partial or related!!!

Leslie Rose said...

Fantastic, as always. Loved "beat your manuscript to within an inch of its life." Perfect advice.

salima said...

Hi Tahereh (and Matthew),

I would add two more things: possibly Cheryl Klein's blog at http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/. Matthew---she's a wonderful editor who worked on the last two Harry Potter books. Her blog is accessible and informative.

Also---joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is often my first suggestion to everyone. They're an international organization, and they hold regional conferences at which you can meet agents and editors and receive feedback on your work. They can help you establish a critique group, meet other writers, and basically connect you to the industry goings-on. They make all this publishing stuff look much less daunting. Their site is www.scbwi.org, I think it's $70 a year to join, and it's well worth it.

Good luck!

Bethany Robison said...

I'd say probably the most important thing to know is that everything takes longer than you think it will. Don't expect instant gratification and don't get frustrated when things feel "slow".

Writing takes time, editing/revising takes time, researching takes time, querying takes time. Everything is iterative - and that's okay. Try. Fail. Learn. Try again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'm totally bookmarking this post. :) Thanks, Tahereh, for listing all the sites - mega helpful!

Ishta Mercurio said...

I'd like to second Verla Kay's boards, and also to mention Editorial Anonymous' blog. It's a great, no-holds-barred, honest look at the do's and don't-s (how the heck are you supposed to punctuate that???).

And this was a great post.

And to the anonymous poster: I think it's fine to just write for a while. But at some stage, if you want to sell that sucker, you're going to have to revise and polish. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. But definitely at some stage. And you could maybe get an agent by stumbling around in the dark, but why do that when you could turn the lights on, do your research, and query appropriately? I look forward to Tahereh's post on that subject.

Jennifer Jackson said...

You describe the pain quite well!

Ikhlas said...

Great post! I definitely understand that pain well. -_-

Some great resources, as well...

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