Saturday, July 05, 2008

2008 Query Checklist

Since, as one astute poster has noted, we’ve opened our submissions to include just about everything, we thought it a good idea to post a query checklist for writers. We are getting quite a few queries, as you can imagine, and most of the queries contain glaring problems, discrepancies, or omissions. We thought this might help. Also, click here if you’d like to see a sample query.

KEEP IN MIND: This is a general list based on our requirements. MAKE SURE you check the requirements of the agency you are submitting to before including or not including the items listed below.

Good things to have in a query:

  1. Project vital statistics—title, word count per MS Word (not page count unless specified in submissions guidelines), genre (fiction: suspense, mystery, romance, etc.), type (fiction/nonfiction), category (YA, middle-grade, etc.). If it’s mainstream, say it’s mainstream and not that it’s a mix of romance, mystery, and science fiction, because mixed genre equals mainstream.
  2. Project descriptions—one-line synopsis of entire work for the opening paragraph (some call this a hook); one-paragraph synopsis of entire work for second paragraph or so
  3. Publishing credits/related publishing credits, if you have them
  4. Credentials (for nonfiction), if you have them
  5. Brief description of what you’ve done to prepare yourself for writing for publication, if you have done anything (degrees, workshops, etc.)—We also like to know if you are active in a nationally recognized writer’s organization. Do you go to their conferences or attend their regional meetings? Also, if you hold office in one of these organizations let us know. Some agents like to see contest placements, but typically this doesn’t help us much unless it’s a major award like a Pulitzer or an Oscar (Edgars, Ritas, etc.).
  6. YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION--This should go without saying, but some writers leave it out or give an e-mail address that doesn't work. Also, remember to put agency e-mail addresses on your "not spam" list so you'll get responses that don't bounce.

Bad things to have in a query (or conversely, good things often left out):

  1. Anything that distracts from your project, such as personal information--Please don’t be offended by this, but we don’t want to know who you are unless it has to do with publishing. Let us explain: If you’re published, we want and need that information, or if you have an MFA or have taught literature in the college level, then we want to know that. However, we don’t want to know that you are married and have three kids or are divorced or live on the streets or have an interesting day job unless it relates directly to what you’ve written. At the query stage, we’re only interested in what you’ve written. If we go beyond the query stage, then we’ll be interested in who you are.
  2. E-mail attachments--Don’t send us an empty message and attach your query to it because it will be delete it unread. Why? Click here to read a post we did on this in 2006. REMINDER: We know this can be an easy way to blanket send queries; however, shot-gunning agents is not the best way to approach seeking representation. The proper way is to research each agent before sending him or her anything. Shot-gunning is another quick way to get an instant rejection from most agents.
  3. Testimonials—Please don’t tell us your book has been read by ten, twenty, thirty or even a hundred people and they all loved it. This is useless information and therefore not something that should be in a query letter.
  4. Publishing credit details--Don’t tell us you’ve been published and leave it at that. If you’re published, then we need to know what you’ve written, who published it, and when. Give all the facts or leave that part out, because if we receive a query and the writer says he or she has been published and says nothing else about it, we’re going to assume that the writer isn’t proud of the fact. If you’ve been previously published, we need the title, publisher, date published and sales information, if you have it.
  5. New Author Status--If you’re a new author and you don’t have any publishing credits, you don’t have to tell me you’re a new author. Just say nothing about your publishing history and I’ll figure that out on my own. Authors published by HarperCollins tend to note this in their queries; if we don’t see publishing credits, we’ll get the picture.
  6. The Wrong Name of the Recipient—Please make sure you address your letter to the agent you are trying to query. Yes, copy and paste can get you into trouble if you aren’t observant. Also, spell the person’s name correctly, especially if misspelling it turns it into something embarrassing. “Dear Agent” is also a no-no, as is “To Whom It May Concern.”
  7. Extra Redundant/Worthless Information--Don’t tell us you’ve just finished your fiction novel and are looking for an agent. We actually have people put this in the Subject line. This is wasted information. We already know that you’ve finished a novel and that you are seeking an agent; otherwise, why would you be querying us? The mental picture we get when someone puts this info in their query is them typing the last word of their MS, ripping it out of the printer and dashing it off to agents everywhere—no editing, no revision, just a raw manuscript that they want to get rid of as quickly as possible so they can start enjoying the fruits of their labor.
We have probably missed a few things here, but this will give you a general idea. We will try to update as we can. We did this quickly to get it posted, so we're sure there'll be more on this later.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gatekeepers Response

This is a response for Charles who was kind enough to post a comment on "The Truth Behind the Power" on 6/23/08 that brought up some good points. When we went to respond, we felt the length made it more of a post. The comment is below in italics and our response is beneath it.

"This just seems to prove the point about gatekeepers. Sure, the readers make choices, but it's like going to a restaurant and being given a menu - and agents and editors determine what's on the menu. Of course, they try to guess what will sell, but the point is unless readers have already declared something "edible," low chance for an author to get it through the gatekeepers. When even many agents have stopped taking unsolicited QUERIES, of all things, the writer has been fenced out several times. Face it, you have tremendous power from the writer's point of view."

Fortunately, agents and editors don’t make the decision as to what’s on the menu—readers do. We are all—writers, agents, editors, publishers, distributors and bookstore owners—driven by the entertainment marketplace. Writers want to be looked upon as artists, but publishing is a business, and like any other business, we are all part of a manufacturing process. Writers provide the raw material, some of which, unfortunately, is not compatible with the manufacturing process, and therefore, it must be rejected. The sorting out part of the process falls upon agents and editors, and because of that, they are the most visible to writers. However, the rejection part of the process begins with readers and works backward through the editors and agents to the writer, not the other way around.

Writers actually have most, if not all, of the power. They just have to realize it. Case in point is the seven-figure deal—who gets most of the seven figures? The editor? The agent? It is the writer, AND RIGHTLY SO (at least in most cases). Writers are immortalized, while agents and editors just fade away. For example, I can go out on any street in any city, large or small, and ask ten people if they know who Stephen King is. Most of them will at least have heard the name. However, if I go out on that same street and ask ten people who William Morris is, most won't have any idea, nor will they care (unless he's selling bootleg gasoline). Try this: Can you name Edgar Allan Poe's agent? Ralph Waldo Emerson's? **See what I mean? That's just how it is, and we're okay with that. Unfortunately, many writers don't see it this way.

While it seems that writers are powerless minions, and there will be days that they are, they are not nearly in as bad shape as it may seem. Writing is like any job—ups and downs, sometimes within a few minutes. It can be tough, but it’s what some people want to do.

And that leads me to the following:

  1. Remember, you DO NOT have to have an agent to get published.
  2. The thing about gates is there is always a way around them. Climb them, dig under them, squeeze through the bars, pick the lock, etc. I’m being completely serious here when I say that there is a way to make sure you get published and have a career in the publishing industry. The most straight-forward path to publication has always been there and always will be there. Unfortunately, it is not one that every writer wants to put the effort into or maybe they just don’t know about it. We’ll give you a hint: Sex in the City. No, we are not promoting the show, but there is one aspect of it that can help new writers everywhere. The answer is there, if you just watch the re-runs--as many as you can stomach--and pay attention.
  3. ***
**By the way, we know Poe and Emerson didn't have agents--at least none we're aware of (which proves our point...again)--but we can't wait to see how many comments it generates. Back in the day, publishing was just a little bit different.
***There's another hint on how to become a writer hidden in this post as well. Maybe even two.

Hope this helps.
Robert and Sharene

Monday, June 30, 2008

Before Posting Your Work

In my next few posts, I‘d like discuss the different kinds of trouble writers can get into by not totally understanding the language in a publishing contract or being afraid to ask questions about one before signing it. It behooves every writer to be very careful of what she/he signs, as it can come back to haunt him/her later in ways not even conceived of at the initial offer stage. If something in a publishing contract is not understood, it’s best to find someone who understands literary contracts to help you. If you don’t fully understand the document you are about to sign, then maybe you shouldn’t sign on the dotted line until you do. An agent will cost 15% of your advance and future royalties, but if you don’t understand the complex language in a publishing contract, the potential cost can be much, much greater.

A fairly recent phenomenon I’m seeing more and more of is that many writers want me to go to their Web sites to see their book or books. If you don’t understand publishing very well, it might seem like a good idea to post your work somewhere online. After all, editors and agents search the Internet all the time looking for writers, don’t they? No, most don’t. So you’re wasting not only effort but time and money also. And what many writers don’t know is that when you place books on the Internet, they are actually published. Therefore, when you sign that publishing contract, you might read the part that has to do with indemnifying the publisher against losses, which is usually under Warranties, Representations, and Indemnities. In most contracts, there is a statement that reads, in part, something like this: “the Work has not heretofore been published, in whole or in part, in any form.” Given that posting a book on the Internet for view is actually a form of publishing, an author can get into big trouble if the publisher is not made aware that his/her book has been posted on an Internet site, a public place where anyone can read or copy the book in whole or part.

Because it’s so easy to publish via the Internet, many publishers are now adding to the language mentioned above. This could mean that if a book is published in any way, shape or form, and the author doesn’t reveal this fact, then the publisher can sue the author for damages if the author doesn’t understand this clause and signs the contract with it intact.

That’s not all of it, either. If the publisher to whom you sell the publishing rights has published the book before this fact is revealed and it has been distributed and is available in bookstores, these folks (distributors and bookstore owners) can also sue you. The lawsuits can also extend to any subrights sold by the publisher. These subrights might be movies and television, foreign translation rights or any of the many subrights that are included in the rights package.

So the best free advice I can give is if you’re planning on ever selling rights to your book to a publisher, it would be wise not to post it or any part of it on a Web site or to allow others to post it. If you have unwittingly done this, then you must reveal this fact to any publisher as soon as it shows interest in your project so that the editor can make a decision based on those facts. As for me, I immediately reject those who tell me they’ve posted their work on their Web site. I feel like it adds too many complications to an already complicated process. If you want to post free stories, make sure they are those you never intend to try to sell the rights to unless you want to go through this hassle.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Busy Summer

Sorry we haven’t blogged much so far this summer, but things have been a little hectic here in “My Indiana Home” country. One might ask why that is and the answer would be that we took a vacation in early June and came home to full inboxes, multiple manuscripts, and a site to update. Then there’s the contracts--not that I mind contracts, mind you, because they translate directly into success, but they can be very time-consuming and producers of eyestrain, especially those sent in size eight font. And there are those sent in that font size.

So here we are, three weeks after returning from the Caribbean, rested, overfed and danced out, and we are finally seeing daylight.

We love that writers everywhere send us their queries and stories and are grateful for them. The big sigh of relief voiced here is that it feels so good to be kind of caught up enough once again to have some time to write on the blog, which we also enjoy. Publishing changes an awful lot, so posts can become irrelevant fairly quickly. This is one of the things I need to address in this post.

We’ve been tweaking our main site at www.wylie-merrick.com since we returned. It needed updating and besides, Sharene has a tech habit she has to feed on a regular basis. Because of the workload described above, the cascade of changes caused by the initial update has not been dealt with entirely as of yet.

For example, we are getting inquiries as to why there are no word count requirements mentioned on our site when we have a blog post (which we recently updated) wherein we lament why people keep sending us books with word counts too high or too low for the range we seek . Notably, we no longer have a page on our main site that indicates our word count requirements, and so this is very confusing to those who scour the site searching for this information. We feel that the word count requirement vary so widely anymore that places them here or on our main site just adds to the confusion.

There are many, many places on the internet that discuss word count requirements so to discuss them or place stiff, unwieldy requirements here is redundant to say the least. If there are questions about this, please feel free to post them here and we'll do our best to help.

Robert and Sharene