Writers Conferences–HA! Remember those? Workshops, panels, sitting across from editors and agents, breathing the same air… Oh, the good old days! I’m sure somewhere down the road we’ll be in the same room together again, scarfing cheese and grapes from the appy trays and crowding around the bar. But until then, here’s some sage advice from a couple years back, whether you’re pitching in person or online. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a Zoom pitch in our future… Have I mentioned I’ve been having nightmare about Zoom? Anyhow…
So you’re getting ready to pitch your book at your first writers conference because you think you’ve finished the ms. But have you? Here’s something few new writers realize: you haven’t. Then how do you know when you have finished? When you send back the publisher’s galleys. Galleys? What are galleys?
Oh boy, do you have some work to do.
So between now and then you need to go over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, looking for plot holes, continuity slips, characters inconsistencies, etc. This is also a good time to use a beta reader, a critique partner (highly recommended), or someone you trust to give it an honest, critical read, and not someone who’ll just say “It was great!” because they don’t want to damage your fledgling writer ego. (Look, I may as well hit you with it now–the World of Writing is a World of Hurt. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can dab your cryin’ eyes and get back to work.) But here’s a caveat to all that critiquing–DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! If your betas are worth it they’re not criticizing you, they’re critiquing the work. And it’s better hearing it from them first than having it rejected by an editor or agent because of some very fixable flaw. So do the work now and get it over with because you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Your work will need to be as perfect as possible, and that’s the whole work, right to THE END.
One thing that is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE is that you MUST have a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT before you start pitching it. Why? Let me tell you something about agents and editors: they are being bombarded by submissions. My agent alone gets up to 200 queries a week. If you get a submission request and you don’t send your manuscript within a month, trust me, she’ll forget all about you. Strike while the iron is steaming and before you move out of her memory. But again, only after you’ve polished that manuscript until it’s pink and screaming.
The Basics—Genre and Word Count.
You know what your manuscript is about, but how would you categorize it? And what is your word count? A typical fiction novel is 75,000 to 100,000 words, though most check in around 80-85k. Round this number to the nearest thousand. The editor doesn’t have to know it’s 82,437 words. You also need to know your genre. This is key as this is how you’ll not only narrow your search for an agent, but once you’ve found one, it’s how she’ll target it to editors. Common Fiction genres are:
literary commercial mystery romance
women’s fiction humor/satire historical new adult
young adult middle grade children’s picture book
espionage thriller/suspense LBGTQ military
horror fantasy sci-fi graphic novel
Or any combination of. Some of the popular genres, such as mystery and romance, also have sub-genres, ie, “cozy” mysteries, like Agatha Christie, or historical romance, or spec-sci-fi.
Common Non-Fiction genres are:
history sports biography science
memoirs narrative pop culture cultural/social sci
travel political humor gift books
health/fitness gardening photography self-help
true crime art adventure business
how-to journalism religion cookbooks
celebrity current affairs
You need to be very familiar with your genre and word count, as you’ll need it for your presentation or query. It’ll be one of the first things the editor or agent will want to know. Know that many, if not all non-fiction genres take submission on a proposal, which can be the first three chapters and an outline. But as a fiction writer, they’re out of my purview, so do your research for current submission requirements.
Finding your Perfect Editor/Agent
The majority of publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. Though some do, such as genre pubs, but if you target one of the major houses without an agent, really the only way you’re going to get to them is through pitch sessions at writers conferences or the direct recommendation of one of their clients. Unless you’re lucky enough to know the latter, you’re going to have to do some legwork for the former. Because there’s nothing worse than meeting with an editor or agent face-to-face and having them say, “Sorry, I don’t represent that genre.” From which the luminescent glow of your crimson face will no doubt show the world what a minor league player you are. So do your homework.
- Read other authors in the genre of what you write, and target those editors or agents. Look in the acknowledgement page and see who the author thanks. Look through the books you’ve already bought, go haunt your local bookstore, or flip the preview pages on Amazon. Then when you’re querying the agent, or sitting down for a face-to-face, you can say your book is a cross between “this writer and that writer with a touch of another writer thrown in.”
- Literary Marketplace (LMP). If you don’t know what it is, time to find out. Available in hard copy and database at most local libraries.
- Manuscript Wish List , the websiteMSWL or the hashtag, #MSWL. Find editors and agents, and see what they’re looking for.
- Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity. Love love love this blog. Too much publishing info to put down on this entry, so go there and see for yourself.
- Go directly to the agent’s website, and see what authors they represent, and what books they’ve sold. This is even more important for an editor. Go directly to the publisher’s website. An editor or agent may say they LIKE something but if they’ve never SOLD it, they may not be a good fit. A SALE is always a more reliable indicator.
Targeting your Editor or Agent
Now that you know your genre, and how to research an agent, or an editor, you need to target which one will fit your style. Compare the list of visiting editors and agents to what you write and see if there’s a fit. If an editor only publishes literary fiction and you write sci-fi, chances are, no matter how well you write, they will not accept your submission. Same goes with agents. If an agent’s specialty is romance, and you write essays, you’re going to strike out. Too many times writers will submit to agents that don’t represent their type of writing, and then can’t understand why they get rejected. I can’t stress this enough: It’s better NOT to submit than to submit to the wrong editor and/or agent. Don’t think they’re just going to fall in love with your western and grab it anyway, when all they’ve previously sold is cookbooks. That happens VERY rarely in the real world. Save yourself a lot of needless rejection angst and just do your homework.
Now hop to it!