Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 12.

So, if you read 'Part 1' of this series, you're just about caught up to me.

It turns out that Jane and her partner really liked my revisions, so -- heavy sigh of relief from me.

They have suggested that I wait until after the holidays to have them market the book. And they want to market it by featuring it in their January 2014 newsletter, which goes to  about 2,000 industry insiders. How cool is that?

In the interim, I received three assignments from them:

1. They asked me to do a conversational bio that didn't look like a c.v.  Yikes. The only other bio I have is the three-sentence deal that I used in my query letter, or the one paragraph thingy that has been used for introducing me at CLE lectures.

Another mental block that I had to overcome ... It took me a week or two, but I did it. It wasn't as bad as writing a synopsis!

2. Next, I needed to draft a sales-pitchy blurb. For some reason, that wasn't as awful as doing the bio, maybe because I know Jane will be editing it.  Blurb is now done.

3. My final mission is to read the whole book again and make sure it's as perfect as possible, without adding or changing scenes. I.e., without messing with it. This one's going to need another week for me to gain a little distance from it.

As to communication methods with my agent, well, right now I'm mostly using email. With my continued lunatic hours, it's the best way for me, and I'm sure I won't be interrupting her day with intrusive phone calls. Besides,  I'm a brand new client of a top tier agent, and I know she's got to be rocking and rolling with year-end deals. I'm not about to be a pain her ass, even though she's welcomed me to call  anytime. I see no need to bother her.

Come her January newsletter, though, I may be more antsy!

My best advice after this incredibly grueling journey?

1. Believe in yourself.
2. Believe in your book.
3. Be open to learning.
4. Be open to criticism, even though it sucks.
5. Finish. A bunch of times.
6. Edit, revise, until it's right, but it'll never be right until you can't do another damn thing to it.
7. Treat writing as a business because it is.
8. Research the hell out of everything.
9. Work your ass off.
10. Don't give up.

And that, dear readers, is the end of this series -- unless/until I have more to report...

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 11

Most of us writers think about getting an agent's offer the same way a romance reader thinks about the heroine getting a marriage proposal from the leading man: 'And they lived happily ever after.'

Except this is real life.

First, I contacted all the agents who hadn't rejected me yet (the 'exclusive' e-mail I had sent around eventually yielded a few 'congratulations and no thanks' from two or three previous non-responders). My email had in the subject line "OFFER OF REPRESENTATION -- CLIENT RELATIONS.'  Can I even describe how awesome that email made me feel? Actually, I can't describe it - I was in a state of suspended animation.

My 'offer' email resulted in a few more auto-responses, plus one or two more rejections. And from the three lecturers? Two agents admitted to 'sour grapes' for lecturing me about the exclusive, another asked me to give her a week to read 'Client Relations' before accepting the offer. And that agent was also fabulous. So suddenly, after all these years of writing, revising, getting smacked around at conferences, attending wild and wooly writers' classes, dealing with faceless Internet comments -- suddenly, I was wanted.

That was beyond disorienting.

Anyway, I agreed to give the other agent a week to read, but you know what? After talking to Jane on the phone, a lot of things clicked into place. I checked her website, Publishers Marketplace, and a bunch of other blogs and sites over and over, giving myself my usual headache. I'm such a pain in my ass.

The next day, I told Jane 'yes' and the other agent 'no.' And sent all the vacationers and remaining non-responders an email notifying them. Which really did feel great. Even better in retrospect, since I can now accept that this actually happened to me!

Then what?

The agency sent me their contract. Back to my usual ways, I researched what clauses to look out for, searched for a publishing lawyer to review the contract, and got one to review it for me -- over Labor Day Weekend, no less. I discussed those comments with Jane's partner the following week, which was far easier than negotiating separation agreements! She finalized the contract.

But it wasn't until I received Jane's countersigned copy that I breathed again.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 10

So here's where things started getting really cool, really hairy, and really nerve-wracking.

My UPS packet to Jane Dystel was delivered to her office on Friday, August 16. On Monday, August 19, I received an email from Jane, asking for the entire manuscript. Via return email, not via snail mail. And me, being so cool, said, um, yeah, sure, uh, yipppeeeeeeee!!!! No, seriously, I wrote back, 'Thank you so much...' and, anal as I am, asked if docx was okay.

Formatting and technology. I'm such a nerd.

Three days later, she asked for an exclusive.

I wasn't sure what that meant in the agent world, but it sounded damn promising. Normally, I'd research the term 'exclusive' to death. But I was en route to the vet's office, my daughter needed a ride, and I was checking emails on my iPhone. I fired back an email to say I'd queried other agents and hadn't heard anything yet, which was totally true.

Jane then asked for a two-week exclusive, to which I immediately agreed. I mean, what am I, crazy? Hell if I knew exactly what I was agreeing to, but we're talking about a request from Jane Dystel, for crying out loud!! If she'd asked me to jump off a bridge (okay, what mom hasn't used that line on her kids?), I probably would've done that, too. I also agreed to contact all the other agents, to advise them of her exclusive.

Little did I know, until I got back home that night and fired out the promised emails to the other agents, what an 'exclusive' meant (no, I still hadn't researched it -- very unlike me, but sheesh, I was so excited!). I received auto-responses from the vacationing and otherwise-occupied other agents, of course.

I also received three very stern responses from agents, two of whom hadn't even gotten back to me at all over the preceding ten days. Those responses essentially lectured me that (1) I couldn't grant an exclusive when I'd already submitted partial or full manuscripts to other agents; (2) an exclusive inures solely to the benefit of the agent, who is locking out the other agents' ability to compete for the book; and (3) any agent requesting an exclusive is worried about competition, because they aren't A-List agents who can compete without exclusives.

That's when I scrambled to research what an agency exclusive meant. And I found out that, yes, I had screwed up because other agents had, in fact, received my manuscript (reason #1 above). I had therefore committed a big faux pas. But the two-week period, which ran basically through Labor Day, could hardly matter to the vacationers and non-responders, so if it inured to the benefit of Jane Dystel, who'd moved so quickly on my book? Well, more power to her. She SHOULD have an exclusive. And Jane Dystel is on the tippy top of the A-List. So ## 2 and 3 were, as I used to say in my briefs, utterly inapposite.

I clarified to Jane that I'd submitted fulls or partials of the manuscript to other agents whom I'd met at conferences, but that no one had gotten back to me on them yet. I didn't bother telling her that all I'd gotten the far was a lot of grief for granting the exclusive. Certainly no one had told me they had started reading anything I'd sent -- not even the synopsis! So why was I feeling so defensive and worried?

I've since read on many other sites that granting an an exclusive under these circumstances is a bonehead move. And -- something that had occurred to me -- if the exclusive agent rejects the book, everyone else will know about the 'no.' But you know what? NONE of the blogs or posts or comments I've read on the subject has said that the agent asking for a brief, two-week, exclusive, was the amazing Jane Dystel.

And, given that it was Jane, well. I'd do it all over again.

Between August 23 and August 27, all I knew was that Jane had been reading the book. It was a hell of a longgggg weekend. I checked email incessantly. Nothing. I went back and forth with the other three agents, apologizing for my breach of etiquette, wondering if they'd still read 'Client Relations' once Jane nixed it.

On August 27, Jane sent me an offer of representation.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 9

When's the best time to query? Hell if I know.

I had planned on the spring, but I wasn't ready. The months passed, and I still wasn't ready. Come early August, I wondered if my work would be reviewed by summer interns still in college.

I figured most summer interns would be gone by mid-August. I figured agents would be going on vacation, too. But if I waited until Labor Day, when the publishing world lurched back into high gear, I might get a brand new batch of completely inexperienced interns, and agents would be far too busy getting back to piled-up desks and in-boxes to want to deal with me.

So I decided to send out my queries and pages in the August 10 - 15 range.

I basically went in order of my list. As each email went out, I updated the status. I contacted a total of fifteen agents, ultimately, and I'd say a dozen or so were agents I had met at Query Roulette, conferences, or through webinars. The last few were 'cold' queries, including the agent I ultimately signed with -- Jane Dystel.

Most of my queries and pages generated auto-responses, like 'We will only respond to those queries in which we are interested,' or 'I am out of the office through Labor Day.'

Two came back with personal responses (both from Query Roulette agents): First, 'Hi Terri, Thanks for the email. I'll try to read this before I go away for vacation, otherwise I'm back after Labor Day...' and the second, 'Terri, please let me know if you receive an offer of representation...'

I really liked the first agency, and was delighted that the agent herself actually promised to read what I'd sent. The second response was from another agent I'd also liked tremendously, but it had me baffled. She wasn't making me an offer, she hadn't indicated she was reading anything. Was there some hidden meaning I didn't understand? (The answer came, about two weeks later.)

Email queries and submissions are soooo easy to do, really. Once you have all the shit out of the way (see my previous posts re the manuscript, the query letter, and the synopsis), all you do is follow the agency submission guidelines, block and paste into an email, and swishhhh. It's off into cyberspace. Along with the screwed-up 'Dear Agent X' query that goes to Agent Y's email address... 

Certain agents, though, don't take email queries. I noticed that with some agents who were either closed for queries, or the head of their agencies. And for someone with mobility issues like me, well, the idea of snail mail - like going to the USPS for Priority Mail, or the UPS Store - makes it even more discouraging.

Everyone I was querying took email, either because their sites allowed it, or because they had given me their email addresses, so no biggie.

Except for one agent.

This was someone I really wanted to query, albeit as a 'cold' query. She had gone to Georgetown Law School (like me); she wrote on her agency site that she wished she saw more 'great story telling;' and her bio said she had 'an abiding interest in legal subjects.' I believed 'Client Relations' would fit the bill, with its plot lines, and strong legal theme. I read all of her interviews, including a few where she discussed self-published books. Her openness to spotting new talent had caused her to sign a few best-selling self-published writers.  Although I never wanted to go the self-pub route, I liked how this agent embraced the reality of self-pub and technology, instead of denying its influence (like so many other agents).

On the other hand, the agent was Jane Dystel - and she's one of the top agents in New York. Which is to say, the universe. (Hey, I'm a New Yorker!)

I discussed the snail mail hassle with my husband. You know, like, 'Should I bother? She's never going to take me, anyway. Everyone else takes email. Maybe I should wait for the others to get back to me....' But, with his encouragement, I headed to the UPS Store the next day with my submission packet: Query letter, synopsis, and Chapter 1.

Around bedtime that night (of course, when else?), I realized I'd forgotten to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope per the agency's submission guidelines. So I sent that out to Dystel & Goderich Literary Management under separate cover, the next day, expecting to hear nothing for a really really really long time, and bracing for the worst in the interim.

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 8

Since I'm reliving this summer's painstaking steps, here's another one:

I wrote a two-page synopsis.

The idea of that makes me shudder all over again. Yup, boiling an 88,000+ word book into roughly 700 words, omg.

I turned to Writers Digest and Chuck Sambuchino again. Chuck has some great examples of effective synopses, using mostly movie plots:

Formatting, again, rules the game.

Same set-up at the top of the page:
    Single space, on separate lines, left align:
    Telephone number

And across from that on the top, single space on separate lines, right align:
    Word count

Start double space, then all caps center:

After you're done staring at your blank screen, start with a zippy hook that mentions your protagonist immediately. The first time a character is mentioned, use all caps for the name. (I mentioned a total of four main characters in my synopsis.)

Leave out the subplots, use the present tense, and TELL THE ENDING. The synopsis is pretty much all telling, no showing, unlike the book.

Which is why it sucks to write it.

But you have to. Work hard on it. Take your time. Again, I ran mine by Chuck (using his editing service - he was fastttttt!),, and Laura Kingsley (the freelance editor I hired near the tail end of the whole process).

I sent my synopsis with ALL my queries and pages, even when it wasn't requested.

With my agent research in place -- well, actually, it was a never-ending process; my manuscript theoretically done (again) and properly formatted; my query letter finalized (again); and my synopsis finished -- I was as ready as I would ever be.

And I thought, if I didn't land an agent in August, I never would. In which case, I'd crawl into bed, cover my head with pillows and blankets, and never get up again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 7

Before I sent out my queries and submissions per the agents' guidelines or specific requests, I did some incredibly mundane crap.

First, I checked my manuscript formatting. There are websites and blogs on this. I think I relied a lot on, but I also used,, and a few other sites.

Ultimately, this is the formatting I used for the manuscript of 'Client Relations:'

TNR 12 point, double-spaced
Title page
   Upper left align -- single space, separate lines: my name; address, telephone; email
   Upper right align: Word count, rounded to the nearest hundred
   Double space down six times, center align:
          TITLE (all caps)
   Then one double space, center align:
          By: (initial cap)
   Then another double space, center align:
          Author's Name
Page break
Now for the actual manuscript, that starts on the next page after the title page -
    Page 1: Start page numbering here, but no page number or header on this first page
    After page 1: Headers on every page
          Upper left align: Weiss/ CLIENT RELATIONS
          Upper right align: Page x
Before every chapter, including chapter 1:
   Start each chapter on a new page
   Skip six double-spaced lines down to insert the chapter title, even if it's just a number
   Skip three double-spaced lines down to start the text

After the drudge of formatting? Spell check the damn thing! You're probably so blind to the book, even after all your beta readers etc., that you can't see any goofs, right? So then save the spell-checked version as a new document and compare it to 'final' version. Do that about another ten times. : O

How boring is all this? I know, I know, it made me totally crazy, too. But the look you'll give your manuscript when all this is done will be so awesome. You'll look like such  a professional! Which is, after all, what you want to be.

That's why you want an agent in the first place.

Keep telling yourself that as you view the document in full page mode for the twentieth time, and find all the places where a new chapter begins six double-spaced lunes down on the same goddamn page as the last one.

Okay, still awake and with me?

Using my query list to check off whom I had queried and what I needed to do (send pages, mark them off as 'no response' or rejected, etc.), I went to each agent's website to check their submission guidelines. Unless I had received a request for pages, and a personal email address from the agent (either at a conference, Query Roulette, or a webinar), virtually no agent will open any attachment.

That means copying and pasting your query and the first whatever pages or chapters of your  work - exactly in accordance with THAT agent's guidelines - into the body of the email. Then check the block-and-paste job in the email for spacing, para tabs, etc. in the text of your email Yeah, after all that formatting grind I just told you to do.

Because, trust me, if the agent wants the whole book, you'll be so glad you did such a professional formatting job.

And try to quadruple-check that Agent A doesn't get Agent B's letter (sigh).

More to follow...

The Great Literary Agent Race, Part 6

Now for the query process in August 2013...

I had kept track of those agents I'd met at conferences who had either requested a query or pages, along with those I'd met at the WNBA-NYC Query Roulettes, and those who'd expressed interested in 'Client Relations' following the webinars I'd taken.

In fact, I had a list of every agent I'd met, queried, or wanted to query, using a fantastic free internet site: This site allows you to keep your own private query list, with notes on each agents (i.e., I noted when and where I'd met them, what they'd asked for, what they were like, etc.). You can track when and how they were queried, when they responded, etc. This really kept me organized.

In addition, I used to look up other agents whom I hadn't met but wanted to query. The site has direct links to agency websites - very smooth and easy.

I didn't query any agency without reading their blogs, reviewing their agent bios to see who might be a good fit, then Googling all interviews given by each agent I liked, to be sure that querying them made sense for my book and for me. Checking the agents' book/client lists for genre and any writers I recognized was also mandatory.

Other places I looked for agents to query? Chuck Sambuchino's Guide To Literary Agents blog (, Publisher's Marketplace (you can see who does deals frequently, what genre/s they sell, how they pitch books, etc.). Also Twitter runs a 'what I'm looking for right now' day for agents to post their wish lists. I read the 'Acknowledgements' pages of my favorite writers. The 'Absolute Water Cooler' website also has an extensive library about writers' experience querying agents, as does ''

Basically I researched the hell out of agents to determine which ones to query.

So how did I write the actual query letter?

I read a zillion blogs -- including a few agents' blogs that ripped queries apart; I took a few Writers' Digest query-oriented webinars; I went to agents' presentations about queries at the writers' conferences I attended; I took my query letters to the WNBA Query Roulette for agents' reviews and comments; I had Chuck Sambuchino (one-on-one meeting at the 2011 Writers Digest conference) review it; I posted it online at; I edited and revised and gave myself headaches... and honestly, I was still catching mistakes and tidying it up through mid-August 2013.

Of course, my biggest fear happened: I sent a query to Agent X in an email addressed to Agent Y. Inevitable, when I was sending out about fifteen agent queries in one fell swoop, but nonetheless embarrassing.

Oh, I need to tell you more mechanics before I actually sent out my stuff.

Coming up next!