The writer’s life is as unstable as walking along the edge of a cliff. Once you begin the journey though, there is no way back.
I have just returned from Singapore where I spoke at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC). I’ll blog about the festival later but first I wanted to write up the pointers I took away from Fran Lebowitz’s session.
Fran Lebowitz was a New York literary agent with Writers House for twelve years representing three New York Times bestsellers. Now she lives in Singapore.
Fran began her talk by saying that agents and publishers are overworked. They have unsolicited manuscripts piled high on their desks. They may be having a bad day when they read your query letter, so you have to come in with the right attitude. You have to be self-aware. Your query letter needs to be clear and pointed.
A query letter should contain -
A punchy one liner about your book
When – When so and so meets so and so
Who – Matt Spencer is a five year old dental surgeon.
The one line pitch can be formulaic.
A brief synopsis of about 4 sentences
Don’t be obscure when writing your synopsis or write it in a flowery way. Don’t be mysterious. Be concise and to the point.
Your brief synopsis should include these points:
Title of book
Genre – A young adult novel
Setting – Set in the back streets of ….
About – a 17 year old gangster …
Full of action and romance…
‘Title of your book’ takes us on a journey of….
Don’t be too small or homey. Find something in your life that is relevant, funny, different or something that you’re excellent at and put that in the letter. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with writing. It’s there to make you stand out.
In your first or second paragraph mention the genre you’re writing in.
Also say ‘if you like this book, then you’ll like…” (include your title here)’
Read books similar to yours and look at the acknowledgements. If they mention an editor or publisher and it’s a recent publication target those people to send your pitch to.
You can find out a lot of info on ‘Publishers Lunch’
The query letter needs to be smoothly written.
If you are on social media it’s good to mention how many followers you have etc.
Browse through internet discussions and make sure you know what new genres are coming up. For example New Adult fiction is the latest genre for readers 18 – 25.
If you’ve been published before mention your other titles, which territories they are sold into and the quantity sold.
If your book is based on a true story or has anything to do with your life put this in your bio
Send out pitch letters in batches of 5 to 10 and include 3 pages of your writing.
Fran said that if you get a lot of rejections then maybe your novel just isn’t good enough and you need to submit something new.
While this maybe true, my first novel, The Garden of Empress Cassia was rejected by one agent and six mainstream publishers.
Most of the replies to my query letters were worded,
“We regret we are not able to make an offer of publication”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t feel it’s quite right for our list at the moment.”
Then there was another that said,
“We found your manuscript charming however, sadly, there is not a big enough market to make publishing this particular manuscript viable for us.” And they inserted the reader’s notes. “Although it is much better than the general slush-pile standard, I believe the writing is too naive and sweet for young readers today.”
The Garden of Empress Cassia was eventually picked up by Penguin Australia and has been my most successful novel so far. It has won and been shortlisted for a number of awards both in Australia and internationally with rights sold to the US, UK, South America and Korea. It is also widely read in primary schools.
Even though agents and publishers know what sells, it boils down to whether your story has connected with that particular person who is reading your manuscript. Often it’s junior editors who are reading the slush pile. If you get too many rejections but still have faith in your story, paying a good editor to give you feedback is definitely worth the money.
Good luck with your writing!