Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We Got Sharked!

Well, we met the Query Shark, Literary Agent Janet Reid! Saturday morning, Donna (post laser eye surgery trauma) and I made the trip to Lehigh to have our query letters, to bits.

The morning started with a talk by Janet where we got to hear firsthand just how funny and abrasive she is. She's definitely the sort of person who knows what she wants, and goes after it and doesn't make apologies. Definitely qualities you'd want in an agent.

Some of the more interesting tips and tidbits we learned from her at the talk were:

1) Have a separate email address for querying agents. We'd never considered this before, but it makes sense, you want to have an account that you use just for that. It's good for helping you stay organized, and it's handy for avoiding accidentally emailing a potential agent something embarassing. Plus, you know you will see every email. The last thing you want is to accidentally skip an agent's response because your eyes glaze over it. Or worse. Have the email end up in your Spam folder. Yikes!

2) Don't offer exclusives. I think this topic of simultaneous querying versus one agent at a time is always up for debate but 10 times out of 10, what we hear is this is not a good idea. It can take awhile to hear back from agents and you can be waiting for a long time. Now this is different from when an agent asks for an exclusive. Then you need to discuss that with them and try and have a time limit. But in general, as much as you want to make your dream agent feel special, don't do it with exclusives. Make your query rock and meet their standards instead. Everyone expects your submissions to be simultaneous.

3) Put ALL of your contact info at the bottom. Janet told a story about a writer who she tried to contact for representation but couldn't find because he had a server problem with his website which crashed and thus his email, connected to the website went down as well. She had to work to track him down. This was unusual: NOT THE NORM. Most agents aren't going to work to track you down and find you. They can't contact you? They move on. So don't be afaid to list your email, your second email, your website, your blog, your twitter, your facebook, your myspace, your cell phone....and so on and so on. It might feel silly, and maybe not every agent will ask for that, but trust me, you want them to find you.

4) Don't overestimate yourself and don't underestimate yourself. If you make any sort of sweeping announcements or claims like....
"I'm the next JK Rowling"
"I'm the next Stephanie Myer"
"I'm the best writer in the world"
"My book will change your life"
"People NEED my book"'re going to sound amateurish and look like a fool! Don't do it. It will get you rejected. Let your writing speak for itself.

And on the flip side. Don't bring yourself down. It also makes you look bad. Dont say...
"I've been rejected 50 times. You're my only hope!"
"Agent X loved it, but didn't have time." Honey, it doesn't matter how nice your rejection was, no means no. Don't tell agents about your rejections.
"I know you're really busy..."
"I'm just a lowly writer and you're a great amazing superstar agent."

So then...drama and shenanigans ran rampant. Janet handed back everyone's query letter that she critiqued for the afternoon workshop.

My query: did not exist.

Donna's query: Janet didn't approve of Donna's 3 POVs.


We were both freaking out.

I mean...what do you when your workshop piece dissapeared or your workshop piece is unworkable? steps Suzie Townsend, YA agent extraordinaire. Who reassured Donna, that while 3 POVs are not so kosher in adult fiction, it's perfectly all right in YA (I mean, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...anyone? anyone? Yeah that was 4 POVs but same idea). Joanna Volpe, another YA agent (with the Nancy Coffey agency), also popped on over to help out.

And Suzie was sweet enough to let me email a copy of my query to her which she personally critiqued for the workshop.

WHEW! Drama and trauma averted.

We headed to lunch at Wegman's (which I LOVE). Seriously! Who doesn't love Wegmans?

And then it was time for the workshop.

Janet basically drilled these ideas into us.

Your query MUST tell the agent:
1) Who your main character is
2) What happens to them
3) What choices she/he/it has to make
4) What consequences might come if they make the wrong choice/fail/run out of time...

She went around the room asking everyone, whose your main character, and what happens to them. It was shocking how many people got this answer wrong or didn't seem to know what happened to their characters. I mean, it's your book, your character, you'd think you know. But here's the problem...

A query is NOT a synopsis.

You can't possibly fit every detail and plot point into your query. You need to get right to the heart of the story.

Think of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (yeah I'm going original title). How would you query it?

Harry Potter knows there's something different about him.

Wrong! (As Janet would a really scary way)

Ok try again...

Harry Potter gets an invitation to wizard school.

Now Janet would say...."And?"

So you try again.

He finds out that the dark wizard who killed his parents is trying to come back to power.

Ok, now you're onto something. How is he trying to come back to power?

By stealing the philosopher's stone.

So what does Harry have to do?

He has to keep the dark wizard from the stone.


Or...he'll be back and he's evil and he kills people and it would be bad...very very bad...OMG (small dramatization of how stressful it is to answer these questions so rapidly while in public).

But basically, you're getting down to the main idea, the main plot.

Sure Harry was always different, didn't know he was a wizard, goes to wizard school, joins the Quidditch team, becomes friends with Ron and Hermione. But you can't put all of that in a query.

So what you might say (and mind you, I'm no expert on queries yet either, but I'm trying)...

Harry Potter, must stop the dark wizard who killed his parents from obtaining a stone that will allow him to return to full power.

Maybe not the greatest query opener in the world. But this does the trick. The IMPORTANT pieces are there. We know the main character, we know what he has to do, and we have a sense of of the consequences--really evil wizard in full power.

Feel free to revise what I did in the comments with your own Harry Potter query. I'm sure you guys can rock it better than me.

Anyway, aside from meeting Janet, being terrified and getting fabulous query advice, the highlight of the day was probably meeting YA agents Joanna Volpe, and Suzie Townsend (Thank you sooooooooo much, Suzie!), and Janet's intern Anna Roberto who just moved onto interning for Little Brown and is super sweet and has great taste in books (she's already shaping my TBR pile).

Everyone was really sweet and helpful! All in all, it was a pretty good day!

Top Row (L-R) Joanna, Donna, Frankie
Bottom Rown (L-R) Anna, Suzie


  1. Sounds like an awesome day! Thanks for being so thorough, I found this really encouraging. It makes the idea of querying a little less scary.


  2. Very cool! I totally expected Janet Reid to be a no-nonsense lady with a great sense of humor. But really, passive aggressive doesn't work in a query? Damn. There goes my angle...

    Plus, Wegmans rocks. That's all.

  3. Sounds wonderful! And isn't Joanna nice?

  4. Thanks a TON for the bit by bit breakdown of how to frame your story in a query letter. I'm totally bookmarking this post.

  5. Great post Frankie! Glad you enjoyed the workshop and got some good advice :)

    That's a great picture of all of us!

  6. I'm glad it all worked out in the end! What a nice thing of Suzie to do! I'm a little scared of Janet, to be honest. I <3 her blog and query shark, but seriously...she frightens me.

  7. Awesome! This totally helps me crazy I posted about this today and you posted the answer!

  8. Sounds like a fantastic day! Thanks for really taking us through the whole process, it was nice to see how it really needed to be done!

    I would be terrifed trying to explain the basic concept of the book in front of everyone! I would have turned red in the face just at the thought!

  9. Awesome post! Very informative as always. And super cute picture of all of you! :)

  10. Thank you for posting this. It really got me thinking about my WIP as a whole and how to break it down to figure out the heart.
    Great post--Thanks.

  11. That was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I liked this post. I am going to be thinking about the HP rewrite, but I gotta jet to an interview.

  13. A little adult book you may have heard of called THE HELP has three POVs.

    Just sayin'.

  14. The Geeky Wife, You're welcome! And it was an awesome day. Querying is tough (so we hear) but don't be scared. Anyway we're about to start querying like mad we'll definitely keep you posted.

    Simon, hahaha, no your passive aggressive will get you rejected. And YES! Wegmans!!!

    Caroline, it was great and yes, Joanna was such a sweetie! Loved her!

    Laurel, You're welcome! And awww thanks!

    Suzie, Thank you!! Glad you approve and it was so great meeting you and I agree, that is a rather nice picture of us:-)

    Heather, Suzie was soooo nice. And Janet is scary, but in a good way. She's scary in the way agents are supposed to scare you.

    Kelly, Yay so glad this helped! That is funny how the posts worked out.

    Jen, yeah it was scary, but we got through it!

    Sarah, aw thanks, thats so nice of you to say, on both counts! :-)

    Christine, you are welcome! Glad it helped.

    Elle, no problem, thanks for reading:-)

    Jonathon, Go for it! I know I didn't do justice with that query, but hopefully illustrated the main points of what you need.

    Maggie, AHA! I had a feeling they existed! And you of course are the queen of multi pov! Awesome, thanks for the tip:-)

  15. I got to be scared of Janet every day, IN PERSON, when I was starting out....

  16. Joanna, Yikes! So this must mean nothing scares you now, right?

  17. Fabulous post and advice. That picture is too cute. What a great day!

  18. Love this post! Suzie is my super fabulous agent and she rocks! She keeps saying Janet is not as sharkly as she seems... I'll be in NYC to meet her and my editor next week, so I hope to find out for myself. =)

  19. Wow, what an experience! Sounds life-changing, almost. Nice to see the photo of my two favorite agents. :) Thanks for sharing!


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