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Query Tips from An Agent — Week of 03/20/2015

I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

The following query/writing tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont), but do not reflect any particular query. Some apply to querying and the writing process in general, others only to my personal tastes. Enjoy!

 

1) Don’t query until you’re ready to send the full manuscript or proposal (nonfiction). For all you know, one second after you click send I’ll make a request. This happens. I’m building my list, attached to my phone at the hip, queries come in right to my phone like a text, and if I love a premise or the sample … I request! Nothing annoys me more than requesting material and hearing, “Oh, let me write a proposal” or “Can I send you the first three chapters next week?”.

No! Don’t make me wait. You cannot fathom the amount of queries that I receive in seven days… Be. Prepared.

 

2) Emailing me ten pages of your manuscript does not a query make. A query is 3-4 paragraphs: introduction, pitch, bio. In my case add five sample pages. That’s a query. I want one. Give it to me now! I kid, but you can’t the idea.

 

3) If you are going to copy and paste your query and sample five pages into an email make sure it’s not obvious, because THAT is tacky. I suggest sending a practice copy to yourself to see if it appears copy and pasted. There’s often a weird, vertical blue line on the left margin that screams I’VE BEEN COPY AND PASTED HERE. Avoid it.

 

4) Don’t insult *insert any genre of book* in your query. I probably read said genre, and may even represent it. Nix the negativity. Keep your query positive. If you introduce negativity you will put said reader into a negative frame of mind, and believe me the last thing you want is an agent feeling negative when reading your material. Keep. It. Positive.

 

5) Writers’ conferences are a great way to connect with agents, editors, yourself and the craft.

 

6) Take workshops in your genre. Take workshops outside your genre. Take workshops about the craft. Take any workshop. I’m an agent and still attend craft workshops. Why? Because only fools and the dead stop learning. Authors all have different processes and you may discover a new one that affects your writing for the better tremendously.

 

7) Respect agents and editors’ time. If they are having a private conversation don’t butt in. Wait and approach later. The same goes for your favorite (or any) author. Keep in mind not every meeting should be about pitching material. Don’t always sell. Be a person. Treat said agent/editor like a person. Sometimes we just want to talk about how cool it is the absinthe is legal in New Orleans. Chances are said agent/editor will ask what you do and if you have anything. We are looking for the next book to fall in love with. So, keep your cool.

 

8) Don’t start a story with the weather. It worked once. In the 1800s. Barely. Google Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford and you’ll find out exactly what I’m talking about.

 

9) I had a Twitter exchange with my pal, editor and author Kate Brauning, she said:

 

10) Those first 30-50 pages Kate is talking about are called “the set-up”. We should be introduced to most of or all the major characters. The struggle many authors have with the set-up is playing introductions without boring everyone. Tension and conflict need to fill every word of your story. There is no time for idle chitchat. Every word must propel the story forward or develop characters in a meaningful way.

Also, by tension and conflict we do not mean fisticuffs or fireballs flying every which way. Conflict is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a noun: a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one” and as “a verb: be incompatible or at variance; clash.” Nothing in there is said about violence. Body language, dialogue, even opposite uniforms can cause tension or conflict. Example:

Mary sauntered into the classroom, biting her lip to keep from smiling. Everyone would love her new Star Wars tattoo. How could they not? Darth Vader had been the ultimate galactic badass for over three decades. But then it happened… She halted halfway to her seat, feet stuck to the floor, eyes narrowed on Louis’ arm. Besides the fact he sat at her desk, he also sported a Darth Vader tattoo! Almost just like hers! The curves of that black helmet. Hints of inky light reflecting off its awesomesauce shiny plastic. Even Vader’s eyes seemed to stare back at Mary. Hard. Mocking. Cruel. And worst, Louis wore a matching smile.

Sure, that little tidbit of prose sucked, but there was tension and conflict, no? And all Mary did was walk into class!

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s query and writing tips. If you have any questions, feel free to email them to SlushLord at gmail dot com. Thanks for joining in and remember to check back next week!.

 

Query Tips from An Agent — Week of 03/13/2015

I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

The following query/writing tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont), but do not reflect any particular query. Some apply to querying and the writing process in general, others only to my personal tastes. Enjoy!

 

1) If the POV character doesn’t notice something, don’t mention it! How can we — the readers — “see” or know something if our protagonist doesn’t? In third person Omnipotent this isn’t a problem, but otherwise we are in a single person’s head, remember? We can only “know” what they know.

 

2) The first paragraph of your novel should not be backstory. I don’t want a history lesson about an imaginary world. I want tension, conflict, beautiful imagery (note: this doesn’t mean weather or scenery) and a hook. Keep us wanting to read on.

 

3) Make sure your science “fiction” premise is not already science “fact”. Otherwise, your whole plot will go haywire. Not to mention your story will no longer be science FICTION. For example, if your premise is a woman  being given an artificial/mechanical heart after a horrible accident, but said heart has no whacky effects on her (say, giving her electrical powers, or turning her into a mindless slave) then that’s not science fiction. Artificial hearts are real and people have them. So…who cares? That doesn’t inspire anyone with awe and wonder at the glory of some new science.

 

4) I hate adverbs. I wholly support killing them. I cringe every time I read one. Blame my professor of Gothic Literature. She beat them out of me.

 

5)

 

6) A personal rejection with a helpful suggestion is not an attack on you, your craft, or your book. So don’t respond like it is. That time I took to read, consider, and phrase my thoughts in a constructive way is money I’ll never see. It’s time I could have spent reading/critiquing current clients’ material, or connecting with editors, or anything else that could lead to money. Also, think about this. The more nasty responses I receive, the more it seems like I shouldn’t offer suggestions. And I don’t want to do that. I like pointing out what I think needs work. Should I let you continue you querying a 200,000 word manuscript, knowing that’s about 100,000 words too long to be salable in this market (for a debut)? Maybe, but I would feel bad not doing so.

 

7)

 

8) Lying in a query is a BIG no-no. Even if you don’t get caught, which you will, just don’t do it. No relationship — and it’s called a author/agent relationship for a reason — based on a lie can survive. The end.

 

9) Don’t insult ANYONE or ANYTHING in a query. Keep it positive and professional. For all you know that crack you made about how your vampires don’t glitter offended me. I could be sitting at my computer desk, wearing ten pounds of glitter and playing Twilight LARP. I don’t do that, but how do you know?

 

10) Follow. Submission. Guidelines. First impressions count. Show us you know how the industry works, you can follow directions, and are serious about your dream. Research your dream. Can’t you take the five minutes — seconds? — to look up an agent’s guidelines?

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s query and writing tips. If you have any questions, feel free to email them to SlushLord at gmail dot com. Thanks for joining in and remember to check back next week!.

Query Tips from An Agent — Week of 03/06/2015

Hi All,

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted one of these. Well, I’ve been busy agenting. Acquiring clients, editing material, building a list of editor-contacts, and pitching said clients’ material to said list of editors. So, do accept my apologies. So, anyway, here I am, back at it:

I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

The following query/writing tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont), but do not reflect any particular query. Some apply to querying and the writing process in general, others only to my personal tastes. Enjoy!

 

1) You CAN’T hook me with a gimmicky query. By “gimmicky” I mean trying to wow me with an excerpt from your story as your query. Sorry (not really), but that’s not a query. A query is a professional letter meant to introduce yourself and hook me with a pitch. That means don’t write it from the POV (point-of-view) of one of your characters, write it from… your own? No fancy tricks, no gimmicks, no hard selling. Just good old GMC (Goal + Motivation + Conflict).

 

2) Your query should only be one page. Period. I’m surprised by how many queries go on for pages. Seriously. They’re eyesores and, sad to say, I don’t have time to read all that. I ask for five pages pasted in the body of the email, because that’s as much as I want to read. Not five pages of prose and three pages of query.

So, how long should your query be? One page. Three paragraphs. Introduction. Pitch. Closing. That’s it.

 

3) Along with #2, help me help you. Help ME help YOU! By this I mean you need to write a great query to show me you know what you’re doing. Give me your best so I fall in love with your material and want to champion the heck out of it! I can’t work with or sell something I don’t believe in. That’s one reason I failed miserably at working retail in my younger days. I can’t sell what I don’t love. Lying feels unnatural to me, and if I don’t love your material, I’d be lying when I tell editors how amazing it is.

 

4) No agent is far better than a bad agent. This might seem counterproductive, but believe me, it’s not. A bad agent can destroy any chance of your baby getting published. Whereas if you don’t have agent, he or she can’t.  Before querying an agent you need to research said agent. What are their sales like? What’s their experience in the industry? Talk to some of their previous and current clients.

Also remember that a bad agent isn’t necessarily a scam artist. They could just suck at their job. Maybe their heart is all in it, but they have no idea what their doing. For example, I sucked at retail. I wasn’t trying to scam anyone, I just sucked at it. My heart wasn’t in it, that’s all.

 

5) Lying in your query is really, really, really stupid. The Internet reveals all. And agents do know how to use the internet. I usually fact check what a querier offers as credentials in their query. Did you really have a short story published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction? It’s pretty easy to find out. Are you actually a speech writer for President Obama? Again, that’s easy to find out. So, don’t lie, because I don’t want to work with liars. Not to mention starting a relationship on a lie is never a good thing.

 

6) Agents have submission guidelines for a reason. The first test in your career is showing us you are able to follow guidelines. Plain and simple.

 

7) I am. A man. And my name is “Lane”, not “Laine” or “Layne”. Misspelling my name isn’t really the issue here, nor is addressing a query to me as “Ms. Heymont”. The issue is you haven’t done your research. If you Google “Lane Heymont” a picture of me literally pops up. I’d like to assume I look like a man, but who knows. Basically, how hard is it to Google me? That’s the most basic research you should do. If you’re not going to put in the least amount of effort into procuring an agent what does that say about your dedication to the craft and you dream itself?

 

8) Accusing an agent of potentially stealing the ms you’re querying them about is not a way to find representation. Just no. Sorry, but I have no interest in stealing your story. Why would I? As an author I want to create my own story, which I’m far more interested in yours. Not to mention (sorry, everyone) a thousand people probably have thought of the same thing. Yep, your plot is most likely not original. But, what is original is your voice. And that I cannot steal, because it is your voice. So, get over yourself. This may seem crass, but I don’t appreciate being accused of stealing or you insinuating I am a thief.

 

9) Telling me you’re going to change the very definition of a word is … silly. Just don’t do it. Yeah, Shakespeare did it, but he’s Shakespeare, so he gets a pass. Again, this may seem crass, but I’d rather help you out than let you keep inserting your foot in your mouth.

 

10) I might seem really mean on Twitter, and probably here, too. A client told me as much, but she said it’s astounding, because over the phone I’m the nicest person. *shrug* I think me being nice goes for email correspondences. All I can say is I love authors. I’m an author. Sometimes we all need tough love. When I first started out years ago I wish I had someone  tell what the deal was early and honestly. But alas, I learned the hard way. So, you shouldn’t have to.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s query and writing tips. If you have any questions, feel free to email them to SlushLord at gmail dot com. Thanks for joining in and remember to check back next week!.

5 #Subtips For Writers

Kate Brauning

As an editor and now as an author, I know it can be tough to write a great manuscript, write yet another one, slog through the query trenches, go through edits, release that book into the wild, and still keep your sanity. I tweet on my #subtips hashtag on Twitter to share thoughts and tips as I learn them, but several things keep coming up in the slush and with my clients as I edit. So, here’s some of my advice for those most common issues:

1) Keep writing. When you’re querying, when you’re on submission, when you’re waiting, keep writing. Having another project to put your energy into is a great way to help balance the nerves, time, and stress that goes along with publishing. Plus, if you decide to shelve that first manuscript, you’ll be well on your way to having a new one completed, and if you…

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Query Tips from An Agent — Week of 02/06/2015

I’m an agent at The Seymour Agency. My fellow agents include Mary Sue SeymourNicole Resciniti, and Julie Gwinn. We represent a range of genres from Christian/Inspirational to Fantasy/Science Fiction and a great deal of Romance.

The following query/writing tips come from my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont), but do not reflect any particular query. Some apply to querying and the writing process in general, others only to my personal tastes. Enjoy!

 

1) Waiting a week to query about a query is not appropriate. Chances are I haven’t even seen it yet. I’d imagine the same is for most agents. I opened to queries just this past week and have already received hundreds. Looking to build my list, I actually go through each query one-by-one. Why am I so slow? I read every query several times, including the sample five pages I ask for. A quick read. Then a close read. Usually I know right off the bat if I want to request more, but feel obligated to give each query (person) a proper look over. I would — and did — want the same.

 

2) Don’t quote your own book in a query. You waste precious space and doing so makes no sense. At least to me. The point of a query is to hook with Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC), not a description or piece of dialogue read out of context. (c/o Carly Watters)

 

3) Also, it’s good to write your query with confidence. It’s GREAT, in fact. However, megalomania is not an attractive trait in anyone let alone a potential business partner. Telling me your manuscript will make billions of dollars and beat out both Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey only says how unrealistic your expectations are. Dang, how much pressure do you think that would put on me if I DID decide to represent you? Basically, keep your delusions of grandeur out of your query.

 

4) Don’t send me any dystopians. I’m tired of them. Dead tired. Everyone is writing them. Worst, everyone is writing their dystopian in the same way: Great war ruined world/country. Now the majority people belong to a lower class of intense poverty. Except the ruling class, which is super rich. Lower class people resent/dislike rich people. Conflict ensues. Lower class rebels and overthrows rich people. The end. Oh wait, for some reason this ruined world is full of advanced technology.

Even I wrote something like this a while ago, and it sucked. So much, my agent and I trunked it. It took me some time to realize how crappy it really was.

So, stop. Just stop. If I don’t even like my own dystopian novel there’s little chance I’ll like yours. Just saying.

 

5) 43,000 words a novel does not make. That is a novella. Novels are 50,000+ words, and 50,000 is the minimum. Follow genre guidelines. Debut fantasy/science fiction should run between 80,000 – 95,000 words. Mystery, maybe 70,000 – 85,000. Everyone says different things, but these are general guidelines. Learn them. Then Follow them.

 

6) In general, I do not represent young adult (YA) in any of its incarnations. Not even fantasy/science fiction. Why? Because I write it. The idea of any actual or perceived conflict of interest lives a bad taste in my mouth. This not to say I won’t submit a YA novel a current client has, as long as I feel it is SUFFICIENTLY out of genre from what I write (fantasy). Of course said client needs to be okay with my representing their YA, knowing I’m in the market as well.

Now on to the next tip, because I feel like I’m babbling … er  … babble-typing?

 

7) Another thing I HATE is starting your story with a dream. It’s not only cliché, but a nasty trick. Look, a scary monster in the woods! Cool! Oh wait, never mind. Annoying.

 

8) A query should be 3 – 4 paragraphs. Four is a stretch. No more than one page. MAX. All I want to see is GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). And a bio. If you want to tell me why you think we would be a good fit that’s cool, too. But, you should be right. Sorry, I do NOT enjoy overly machismo protagonists.

 

9) Want a lame, but decent example of GMC? Here: Dirk wants to do X because of Y, but Bill doesn’t want Dirk to do X, so Dirk must do Z to defeat Bill and accomplish X.

 

10) I hate First Person present tense. It feels like I’m getting kicked in the skull. But, guess what, I just signed a client and his manuscript written in First person present tense. BRILLIANT story-telling outshines everything. Even in that horrible tense this guy’s novel kicked arse. It was too good not to sign. So, take everything above this with a grain of salt. That probably pisses you off, like I cheated you or something. Why listen to these tips if an exception exists? *shrug* There is no accounting for taste, and you should be writing as if you’re the rule, not the exception.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s query and writing tips. Thanks for joining in and remember to check back next week!.

Promoted! So… Contest!

Enter to win a 1 page critique from me, Lane Heymont, junior agent at The Seymour Agency!

Marisa Cleveland, romance author

Friends!lane copy

If we’re friends on Facebook, then you probably already know I’ve been abandoned – yet again! But it’s all good. In fact, it’s all GREAT!

Literary assistant Lane Heymont has been promoted to junior agent with The Seymour Agency! You can read his new profile here: http://www.theseymouragency.com/About-Us.html.

In celebration of his promotion – and my abandonment – I’m offering another contest for writers, and this time entrants get to help me and get Lane’s professional opinion on their first page.

The rules are simple.
– Polish your first page
– Enter the Rafflecopter contest

It’s that easy! But it’s also completely random.

Here are the details:
– At the end of the contest, Rafflecopter will randomly generate five winners
– Marisa will email the five winners with congratulations and specific instructions on how to submit their first page to Lane
– Lane will provide a detailed critique on…

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