Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

#askagent – It’s Fun! April 9, 2010

Filed under: Agents,Life,Social Media — justwritecat @ 2:36 am
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You do know there are some incredibly helpful agents you should be following on Twitter, right? Following now. Agents who tweet about the industry, post links to their blogs, offer helpful tips (on queries, writing, blogging, whatever), and generally do what they can to reach out to writers in an attempt to make the road to ‘publishdom’ less bumpy. Or to agentdom, if that’s a more immediate concern of yours.

There’s a goldmine out there, folks – and Twitter is but one way to get the inside info on things. Case in point: #askagent. #askagent is a Twitter chat, scheduled on a whim, that gives writers the opportunity to ask REAL AGENTS questions about the biz. Please note – there are absolutely no questions allowed about queries (so don’t go to hawk your own manuscript). You can (and should) research individual agents to find out their query and submission guidelines, as well as what genres they’re open to at the time you plan to submit. What you can ask are questions about anything else – what it’s like to work w/ an agent, their take on changes in the industry, views on the use of social media for writers….and just about anything else you can think of that an agent would know.

Last night, I asked if four months was too long to re-send a revised manuscript to an agent who offered to read it again after changes were made. I was worried I’d taken too long to work on the revision. Their replies suggested that wasn’t too long, and in fact – would show the agent I had taken the time to really work on my manuscript. Also, when I resubmit I should remind the agent I was invited to do so. In my mind, I thought waiting too long (which for me, is like a month) might cause the agent to lose interest. I never considered sending it back too soon would suggest my revision work had been….lax. So, good to know that sending the revised manuscript out this month is still a viable option.

The other great thing about the #askagent chat is that you get to interact with agents. You know, as if they are real people. Seriously, when I first started on this journey I felt so nervous by the prospect of interacting with agents. I wasn’t sure how to approach any in a less formal setting. Should I make jokes?  Would offers of baked goods and/or liquor be well-received?  Am I allowed to make direct eye contact, or will that only anger the royalty?

Ok – I’m kidding about those last few things. They agents, not queens and kings.  And while you should NEVER send gifts to an agent until you are officially represented by said agent, they do like sugar as a general rule. But when I started, I was…well, kinda scared by ‘them’. I had this vision in my mind of the archetype agent – someone standing on a pedestal (made out of published books, of course) so high that if she looked down all she could see was some little dot running around, trying to scatter its way up the books (ahem, yes I’m the dot).  Or a bookish sort (and really, I have no idea what that means) sitting at an oversized mahogany desk, looking over his glasses and saying something like “what makes you think you can write?” 

Where, oh where, did I get those ideas?  Who knows?  Certainly not from any agents I’ve actually met (or interacted with via blogs and twitter).  All have been unfailingly kind, helpful and supportive.  Most likely those images were conjured up by my over-active imagination (good for a writer) and insecurity (not good for a writer).   But see that’s one of the problems new writers face – fear.  And the only way to get over that fear (and ignorance, in my case) is to put yourself out there and interact with real, live agents.  You can do that at conferences, via blogs and on twitter.  Yes, you should be professional and courteous – but you can also be yourself (uh, unless your self is naturally rude and obnoxious.  In that case, be someone else). 

So, why don’t you check out #askagent to start – even if you don’t want to post a question, you can follow the chat and see what others have to say.

A few suggestions – some of the questions often asked cover information you can find by doing google searches, reading books, and/or reading agent blogs/submission guidelines.  #askagent is not the place to ask how to query or to find out if an agent wants to read your manuscript on a zombie rockstar who falls in love with a wayward werewolf in a postapocalyptic world (and no, I’m not writing that book.  Sorry – zombies creep me out and anything related to the end of the world as we know it makes me depressed, but I do like werewolves).

To attend the next #askagent chat, you can either do a Twitter search or start following the chat’s host @colleenlindsay  In addition to agents, editors and other book pros attend the chat to answer your questions.


Query Me This…My Queries November 17, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Query — justwritecat @ 11:04 pm
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As promised, below are the before and after queries.  I sent the first one out to two agents, both passed.  Looking back, I’m not amazed by that fact.  More like upset with myself for sending out a clearly not-yet-ready query.  I thought it was…but I was wrong.

 The Before:

(note that I included a couple of lines customized to the agent, not included here)

Medical examiner Joe Cooper is a vampire with an insatiable appetite for booze, blood and women—and a hunger for justice. 

Joe would rather be drinking scotch.  Instead he’s up to his fangs in murdered Innocents, partnered with a suck-up profiler sent by the Council, and chasing rogue vampires on a killing spree during Baltimore’s peak tourist season.  Using his vampiristic abilities and skills acquired as a medical examiner, Joe tracks down the vamps responsible for the murders.  When he does, he discovers there’s more at stake than a group of bloodsuckers hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.  And that the vampire calling the shots is the same one who turned him sixty years ago—a female with the darkest of blood running through her veins.  As the story draws to a close, Joe realizes that before you can knock down all your demons, you have to SET ‘EM UP, JOE. 

My 92,000 word manuscript, SET ‘EM UP, JOE, is an urban fantasy similar in style to Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series; with flavors of noir similar to those found in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  It is my first novel and the first of a proposed five book series featuring Joe Cooper. 

May I send my manuscript for your consideration?

Thank you for your time, 

Catherine Misener  (contact information was included with query)

I’m going to comment on why I think this one didn’t work, but first: 

The After

Dear, (again, I included a few lines customized to each agent I queried.  More on this when I compare the two queries.)

SET ‘EM UP, JOE is a 92,700 word paranormal noir similar in style to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.  It is my first novel.

Being undead has its perks.  And for medical examiner Joe Cooper those include inhuman strength, good looks to spare, and the ability to get what he wants from any woman, anywhere, anytime.  Joe’s a vampire with a lust for booze, blood and the fairer sex.  And while Joe could spend all his nights with one hand on a bottle of scotch and the other on some curvy dame, being a member of the walking damned does carry baggage.  That tug on his conscience that for every ounce of blood he takes, he should give a little something back.  So to his other appetites, add a hunger for justice. 

Sure, Joe likes his blood direct from the source—and that doesn’t mean cud-chewing cows or big-eyed deer—but in his world, that doesn’t mean his mark has to die.  Take what you need and never leave the human worse for wear.  When others of his kind fail to follow that dictum, Joe doesn’t hesitate to point out the folly of their ways.  And in Baltimore, the latest place Joe calls home, more than one rogue vamp needs redirection. 

In this novel—the first of a proposed five book series—Joe finds himself up to his fangs in murdered Innocents and chasing rogue vampires on a killing spree during Charm City’s peak tourist season.  Using his vampiristic abilities and skills acquired as a medical examiner, Joe tracks down the vamps responsible for the murders.  When he does, he discovers there’s more at stake than a group of bloodsuckers hell-bent on breaking all the laws that govern his kind.  And that the vampire calling the shots is the same one who has hunted him for decades, the same one who turned him sixty years ago—a female with the darkest of blood running through her veins.  A nasty bit of goods he’s done everything he could to avoid, but the time for running is over.  Joe soon realizes that before you can knock down all your demons, you have to SET ‘EM UP, JOE. 

May I send you my manuscript for consideration? 

Thank you for your time, 

Catherine Misener (contact information, plus personal and character blogs included)

And there you go…two queries.  My thoughts on why I feel the second one is better, and the thought process behind my query next!


Query Me This… November 9, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Life,Write — justwritecat @ 3:57 am
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This is Part One of (what will be) a four-part rant blog on my thoughts on querying.  The first two parts offer my general views or approach to the query process.  Parts three and four walk you through the steps I took when working on queries.  Included are two versions of the one for Set ‘Em Up, Joe.* 

A Query: The Sum of Its Parts

Query:  To pose a question.**

Rather succinct definition.  To the point, though not extremely helpful–unless you think of the question being asked as  “Will you read my work?”  Because that is the fundamental goal of any query.

Here’s a more detailed definition:

A one page letter to entice a prospective agent or producer into requesting and reading your work – provides only brief and relevant information.**

Let’s break that down.  One page letter.  Hmmm….might need to break it down even more. 

One Page.  ONE.  Not three, not one-in-a-half.  One.  Yes, it’s possible.  Yes, it’s what agents typically want.  If you can’t boil down the premise of your novel to one page, you may need to rethink things.  More on this later when I discuss how I worked on my query.

Letter.  This is actually important to think about.  A letter is a form of written communication.  When you are writing a letter, you consider the recipient as you craft it.  This means you consider your audience and structure how and what you write accordingly. 

A note to your mom might be done on the fly, filled with more lax prose or cutesy language.  Maybe you share a beef or make a snide remark about something that’s got your jammies in a bunch.  A letter to an agent, not so much. 

The query should be professionally approached, written and sent.  Think of it as a job interview (in a way, it is…you want to be hired as a writer), and put your best self forward.  Warning–this next sentence is very long. If you’re reading this out loud, for some strange reason, take a deep breath first. 

If your best self is a ranting, whining, angst-ridden writer who believes the only thing standing between his book being on the shelves of every bookstore in the world and author obscurity is an army of agents, editors and publishers who wouldn’t know a good book unless you told them they were a mere request for a full away from it–get thee to a shrink.***  Or your spirtual advisor of choice.  Or the group of friends and family who always get that creative types are perpetually misunderstood and underappreciated.  But whatever you do, don’t query.  Not until after several therapy sessions and some serious self-contemplation.  And maybe a stiff drink because you need to chill. 

Agents are not the enemy.  If you send a query that is in any way pushy, rude or disparaging of the industry- you’re your own enemy.  Politeness, respect and an appreciation for the process is a better way- to not only approach an agent – but to approach anyone.  And why would you not want to be professional?  Don’t you want to be treated that way?  Remember that whole do unto others lesson you learned as a child?  The lesson doesn’t become moot when you make the transition to adulthood.  I stress this part because lately I’ve noticed an alarming trend in agent blogs.  Many are sharing common problems with query letters they receive (and pass on).  From what I gather, many queries are borderline rude.  Some go so far as to criticize other agents or editors, or the industry as a whole.  I don’t get it.  Why would anyone want to be part of something they seem to hate so much??  Anyway, point made.  Be a professional (as in you want to be a professional author, right…so start by being a professional writer).

** From the best source for finding information–Google (o.k., maybe not, but my dictionary is upstairs and honestly, I go online for just about everything anyway).

*** Never underestimate the power of a good shrink.  Er, psychiatric professional. 

Entice.  Ooh, this is a good part.  I’m all a tingle here.  Again, we must turn to our trusty google dictionary.  To entice means to lure; to attract by arousing desire or hope.  And while the lure part almost sounds a little stalker-like, the rest is great.  To attract by arousing desire or hope.  I mean, doesn’t that get you all a tingle, too?  Arouse, desire, hope.  Good stuff.  It’s what you want your novel to do, right?  So you need your query to do that, too.  

How do you entice?  Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have dismissed that lure part so quickly, because what is another word for lure?  Bait.  And when you see the word bait, what do you think of?  Come one, quick word association 101.  Bait: Hook.  Ah, now we’re cooking, because the HOOK is what gets the interest of an agent–in fact, it gets the interest of any reader. 

So you want to lure an agent by dangling that hook, that thing which makes your novel a must-read.  Now, you don’t actually say that.  You don’t write something along the lines of “this is the greatest book you will ever read!”  or “you must read this book, it’s the next BIG THING!”.  Because first, that’s just obnoxious.  Second, and please don’t take this personally (I don’t), but really?  The greatest book ever?  Cuz, there are some really, really great books out there.  I’m not saying your book isn’t incredible, but pride goeth before the fall and all that. 

You don’t state your book is fab–you show it.  Show, don’t tell.  I know you’ve read that before.  This goes back to the One Page part, but essentially you need to present that which makes your book unique/fantastic/at least a great read.  Seriously, you need to let the agent know why your book is what it is–the premise and how the premise is met.  This is where that ever elusive thing known as voice comes in.  Entice an agent by offering a glimpse of your novel—the tone, the character(s), the conflict, the driving passion if you will.  And you allow your voice to come through it all.

By the way, one other reason not to state your novel will be the best one that agent will read?  How do you know?  Hey, maybe it will be.  But it’s a subjective call.  Only that agent knows what she or he loves.  Although that does tie in with the next part of the definition–Prospective Agent–which is covered in Part Two.



*In a nutshell (what does that mean, anyway?) – I worked hard on the first query I sent.  I read books on how to write queries, attended a query workshop, asked for outside input…and sent it to two agents (I took the slow and steady approach).  Both agents passed.  So, I did more research–this time, reading agent blogs and pouring over agency and agent guidelines.  My revised query was sent to four agents, three of which requested partials (current status-still on cloud nine due to requests, hoping partials turn to fulls, fulls turn to…oh, you know).  I did research, I read, I revised…and I honestly feel good about the query I sent out the second time.  My sincere hope is that my comments might help any other writers who are struggling with the query process.


Be a Good Scout September 23, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Writing Conferences — justwritecat @ 7:03 pm
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Lately I’ve read a few tweets and blogs that address the issue of professionalism in our field.  Here are my thoughts, based on my recent attendance at the PNWA Conference in Seattle.

I’ll say right off the bat–I’m not a published author.  Yet.  Hey, you gotta stay optimistic.  I wrote my first novel this year.  I’ve revised twice, and polished once.  I’m working on the synopsis, then off it goes.  I mention this because I want to be clear I’ve no one-on-one experience working with literary agents or editors at publishing houses.  The experiences that I’ve had to date include meeting agents at this summer’s PNWA conference.  And those experiences resulted in three agents open to reading my manuscript.  One read the first page of my manuscript, then asked to read the first one hundred pages when it was complete (all were aware my manuscript was then a work-in-progress, though almost done).

If I follow the larger discussion on the difficulty in getting your foot through that first door (an agent), then it seems my experiences were incredibly positive.  And that maybe the things I did in preparation for and at the conference might be worth sharing.  So here goes…

I view being an aspiring writer akin to being a scout.  I’m female, so I was a girl scout-but the guys had it right, too.  The boy scout motto is easy – Be Prepared.  Girls-well, we like to talk a bit more, so the Girl Scout Law didn’t stop there.  In this blog, I’m going to reference some of the advice, specifically:

Be Prepared (Boy Scouts) and Be Courageous and Strong, Be Considerate and Use Resources Wisely (Girl Scouts)

How can we apply those things to the writing life?  To put it bluntly, how can we apply it to making the transition from writer to published author.  Or even just from writer to agented writer?


About three weeks prior to the conference, I made the committment (to myself) to attend the query and ‘first-page’ workshops.  Basically the first involves handing in the query you want to send out to agents.  The second, you fork over the first page of your manuscript.  At both sessions, agents pick from those submitted and read out loud–and offer feedback.  Great opportunity, scary as hell.  Here’s what happened.

Query – I worked on my query for two solid weeks, paring and honing until my original two pages became slightly less than one.  One page.  I read books and posts on how to write queries, posted it online for feedback from a writing group, and read it out loud to get an idea of what it would sound like if picked by an agent at the workshop.  The advice given in those books – and especially, in literary agent blogs – is there for a reason.  Follow it.  This falls under Use Resources Wisely, and includes resources at any conference you attend.

Results – about forty to fifty queries were turned in, mine was one of four read out loud.  The moment I heard my first line read, I panicked.  Part of me wanted to run out, the other part was frozen to my chair.  This was it, time to know if I could follow directions (the books, the blogs) and if I had anything like what they refer to as ‘voice’.  I’d included a compliment to the agent in the second line of my query–something about enjoying the agent’s discussion at the query workshop.  I included it because I knew I wanted to query one of the agents at that workshop, and figured that was a way to let her know I’d been there and paid attention.

Okay, she didn’t like the line.  Said the writer had to get the brown off her nose.  A few people laughed, but then another agent said she liked a compliment and would want me to leave it in.  So, it depends.  Given I wanted to query the first agent, I made a note to get rid of that line.

She read the rest – and guess what, all four liked it!  I heard phrases like ‘this is the first one we read where  the writer’s voice came through’ and all four said the query resonated with them.  I wanted to float out of the room on the cloud that quickly gathered around me, but I decided to approach the agent I wanted to query.  I introduced myself, mentioned I’d handed in that last query and said while my work was not quite ready to send out, would she be open to reading it when it was.  She said yes.  And she was polite, friendly and even seemed happy to meet me. 

Which leads me to an aside – agents aren’t evil.  Agents aren’t mean.  Agents aren’t inhuman.  See, we read or hear such things and that myth keeps people from trying.  It scares writers, or at least it scared me.  Agents actually want us to achieve success.  They’re rooting for us!  So, remember that next time you approach one or send out a query or email. Yes, that suggestion goes back to Be Courageous and Be Considerate.

First Page Workshop – oh, this is the really good one.  Not because my first page was read and everyone in the room clapped.  Yeah, that never happens – does it?  In fact, my first page wasn’t read.  But that was okay, because of what did happen.

Note:  I worked on the first chapter for two weeks prior, concentrating on the first five pages.  I received feedback, made changes, read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman–everything I knew how to do to get those first few pages tight and ready.  And what I learned in the process I applied to all the other pages as I finished the novel and did the revisions.  Time spent on improving your craft is never wasted.

Back to the workshop – one of the two agents present happened to be the one I had a scheduled pitch session with later that afternoon.  Nice how things work out sometimes.  After the workshop I approached her, introduced myself and mentioned we had an appointment later that day.  Then I asked the following:  “Would it be inappropriate of me to ask you to read the first page of my manuscript during our session, given it was not read at the workshop?”  She said that was fine and to bring it along.  Be Prepared.   And here’s another one – Be Courteous.

Results – Why am I making such a deal out of this? Well, first, an amazing agent was going to read my first page in a couple of hours.  But mainly, because I observed many other writers try to get an agent to read their first page.  They walked up after workshops, page in hand.  And each time, the agent didn’t take the page.  Agents would listen to a thirty second pitch, but none accepted one of the pages. 

Lesson – never assume, wait for the appropriate moment, and don’t push.

Yes, agents are there to meet writers.  And yes, agents are hoping to find their next client.  But agents also have to go on potty breaks or grab a bite to eat or take a sip of water or refuel with coffee.  And they also need time to be OFF during back to back sessions.  Let’s repeat:  Be Considerate.

I met with that agent and right off the bat, she asked for the page.  She read it, laughed at the right part (I hope, the timing seemed right) and we talked.  At first she said she didn’t represent the genre, but someone else at her office did.  The she reread it, and said she wanted me to send it to her.  She asked if it was complete. I said not quite.  Her response was great – in one breath she said she wasn’t going anywhere, but that I shouldn’t let the grass grow under my feet because you never know when the bottom will drop out under this genre (vampire, paranormal noir). 

We chatted another minute or so.  At one point she leaned back in her chair and just looked at me.  She said I didn’t seem nervous.  I said I’m always nervous when I’m about to give a lecture (I’ve taught at the college level), but somehow that nervousness leaves when I’m in the moment.  She asked if I had any questions, I responded with a no.  Then I thanked her for being so friendly and open.  I admitted I’d been nervous about approaching anyone or meeting with her, but that after hearing her talk at some of the workshops I felt she was approachable and funny and nice.  That seemed to touch her, she thanked me and I left the room.

Another aside – when you are presenting yourself at a conference, even if you have no intention of pitching to or talking with an agent–Dress the Part.  Just like interviewing for a job, you shouldn’t wear shorts or tops that leave nothing to the imagination.  You’re in the role of writer-looking-for-representation, not starlet-looking-for-porn work.  No flip-flops, even if it is summer.  There’s no beach inside the hotel, folks.  Use the conference as an excuse to get a manicure and/or pedicure and/or haircut if you can swing it.  I invested in a new outfit from Coldwater Creek.  Nothing too expensive, but still – it had that quasi-professional feel.  And if you don’t know how to dress (like me), most clothiers will give you advice (shout out to Coldwater Creek).

To read some helpful blogs on things to consider when attending a conference or meeting others in your field, check out 




Last part of being a scout – Be Strong.  And that means, don’t give up.  Keep writing!