Authors & Speakers Network Blog with Larry James

Monday, July 15, 2013

Anatomy of a Winning Query

Rachelle Gardner, Guest Author

Have you noticed that agents tend to talk a lot about what not to do in a query, but less about what makes a great one? It think it’s because the good ones are each unique; it’s hard to come up with a formula that makes a terrific query. But the unexciting or badly composed queries have a lot in common with each other; many people make the same mistakes, and we’re just trying to help you avoid them. It’s much easier to say what not to do than describe what to do!

queryLetterNevertheless, I’ve been wanting to write a post answering the question, “What makes you immediately want to say YES to a query?” Yesterday I got the perfect opportunity. I received a query that made my heart palpitate and my fingers stumble all over each other as I typed the response requesting a full manuscript. I couldn’t wait to read the book. Why? What made me have that reaction? I’ve tried to analyze it, and here’s what I came up with:

1. The first paragraph put me right into the middle of a provocative scene. The writer described, in first person, something that had happened to her that was fascinating. Not something general like “I had cancer” or “I was a teenage model” but an actual scene like from a novel. It was brief, only a few sentences, but it completely grabbed me, partly because of what the scene was, and partly because…

2. It was so well written. The author’s voice came through; immediately I could tell she was educated, a bit sassy, unafraid to speak the truth. The words were simply put together in a pleasing way. They spoke loud and clear: GOOD WRITER.

3. The book she was pitching happened to be an area of interest for me–a spiritual memoir–and an unusual one. She’s had a unique journey and she has a fun way of telling about it. I love the freshness of it.

4. The topic she’s writing about happens to be one that I think is selling strongly right now.

5. The query was clear, to-the-point, and well organized. The first few paragraphs gave an overview of her story so I’d know what her memoir was about. She wrapped up that section with a really funny hook (or log line) that summarizes her book. She briefly described the structure of the book and the themes it encapsulates, and she defined her target audience (a pretty big one). Then she told me about herself: her degrees, her writing credits, and her awards. So she told me everything I needed to know in her query, while keeping me interested the whole time.

6. The author is fresh from an MFA program, which by itself wouldn’t necessarily draw me in, but combined with her obviously compelling writing (even in the query) and the fact that she won her university’s most prestigious writing award last year, it impressed me. I could see potential beyond this one book because she’s more than a person with a story to tell; she is a writer.

discouraged7. Did I mention she was a really good writer? Even in the query, her way with words had its way with me.

8. The book she was pitching immediately seemed like it could be really big. I felt like she was tapping into something many people could relate to. It brought to mind Eat, Pray, Love and The Glass Castle, two of my favorite (not to mention bestselling) memoirs. I could envision a review in People magazine.

This is the most important part: It’s not the query, but the book. The idea was strong and fresh; the writing in the pitch was so good that it seemed likely the writing in the book would be strong. The query is important in that it shows me your writing skill. But in the end, the query’s not the thing. The book is. Do I want to read it? Do I think others will want to read it?

These are the things that drew me in, but there is also something indefinable about why a query grabs me, just like you can’t always describe exactly why you love a particular book, movie or TV show. It’s just so good, you’re tempted to say. Sometimes all the elements combine together to hit you in your sweet spot. When that happens, it’s pure magic.

BONUS Article: How to Write a Query Letter ~ NOTE the link at the bottom of this article for more on query letters by Rachelle Gardner.

RachelleGardnerCopyright © 2013 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. Rachelle Gardner is an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, representing both fiction and non-fiction. She’s looking for mainstream commercial projects for both the Christian and general markets. In non-fiction and memoirs, she looks for authors with established platforms, strong marketing hooks and an understanding of how to use social media. Non-fiction authors must have a book proposal and three sample chapters to be considered. She’s also seeking all kinds of fiction, and authors must have a completed manuscript to be considered.

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Authors & Speakers Network Blog

Larry James is a professional speaker and the author of three relationship books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” His newest book is “Ten Commitments of Networking.” Larry James also offers “Author & Speaker” coaching. Contact: AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. CelebrateLove@cox.net – More than 110 articles especially for Authors & Speakers at: www.AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com

Subscribe to Larry’s FREE monthly “LoveNotes for Lovers” eZINE. Contact: CelebrateLove.com, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. – CelebrateLove.com and CelebrateIntimateWeddings.com

NOTE: All articles and “LoveNotes” listed in this BLOG – written by Larry James – are available for reprint in magazines, periodicals, newsletters, newspapers, eZINEs, on the Internet or on your own Website. Click here for details.

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Add Larry James as a “friend” to your Facebook page: http://www.Facebook.com/larry.james
Follow Larry’s “once daily” Relationship Tweet at: http://www.Twitter.com/larryjames
Follow Larry’s “Relationships” BLOG at: http://CelebrateLove.wordpress.com
Follow Larry’s “Networking” BLOG at: http://NetworkingHQ.wordpress.com
Follow Larry’s “Weddings” BLOG at: http://CelebrateIntimateWeddings.wordpress.com

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Benefits of Having an Agent

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, Guest Author

Today I’m covering some back-to-basics information. While people have always asked me about the advantages of having an agent, I’ve noticed an increase in the frequency of the question in this age of independence and do-it-yourself. People want to know: Do I need an agent? If I had one, how would they help me? Is it worth paying out 15% of my revenues?

Not everyone wants or needs an agent. Your job is to assess your situation and decide if it is the kind of partnership that would serve you. Here I offer you an overview of the ways the right literary agent can enhance your writing career.

manuscriptWhat kind of publisher do you want?

You only need to consider an agent if you’re interested in pursuing traditional, full-service, advance-and-royalty paying publishers. If you’re 100% committed to some kind of self-pub or subsidy publishing, you can probably do that on your own, although many agents today offer publishing services.

Preparing Your Manuscript

An agent can help you prepare and polish your proposal and manuscript before they’re submitted to publishers. Agents know what’s sellable in the current market, and they can help make sure your materials are top-notch before submission. They can help with everything from revisions on your manuscript to showcasing your platform in the most impressive way possible.

Submitting to Publishers

When your proposal is ready for submission, an agent has a big-picture view of all the possibilities, and they have information and experience that tells them which houses might be best for you. They have relationships with editors and an awareness of the editors’ preferences and current needs. The agent knows exactly how to submit your project to publishers so that it gets the proper attention. Often the agent has multiple conversations with publishers at the submission stage—answering questions, providing further information.

Offers from Publishers

When offers come in, the agent knows how to respond and how to negotiate the initial offer (at the Deal Memo stage). This is typically the time when the amount of the advance and the royalty rates are discussed, along with other key terms that may include the rights being sold, whether the publisher wants an option on the author’s next book, and the author buy-back discount. If there are offers from multiple publishers, the agent sets up a formal auction to decide the publisher.

But What if You’ve Already Secured a Publisher?

All the the functions listed above assume that you need a publisher. But sometimes an author is already working with a publisher when they begin considering an agent. In this case you’re asking, “Does the agent serve any function beyond the initial submissions and sale to a publisher?”

The answer is yes—read on below. But also, consider that even if you already have a book deal, signing with an agent will mean that your agent can help you with all the above functions—on your next book. By then they will have been working with you for some time, they’ll know you, and be in an even better position to help you take the next steps.

Negotiating the Contract

Most publishing contracts are 15 to 25 pages of legalese spelling out what rights the publisher is buying, and what rights you retain. The contract details how much money you’ll make on each format of your book and on every different kind of sale the publisher might make. It details how much it will cost you to buy your book from the publisher, whether the publisher wants an option on your next book, when you are eligible to get your rights back from the publisher, and whether your right to publish other materials is restricted. A typical boilerplate publisher contract that hasn’t been looked at by an agent usually doesn’t contain the most favorable terms an author could get if they tried (and I am not just referring to money). And most attorneys do not understand the implications of much of the language, unless they specialize in intellectual property.

Your agent understands the contract, and their job is to make sure your rights are protected and you are getting a fair deal with the best terms possible in your situation. They know which terms are most important to negotiate given your own goals and publishing scenario. Most importantly, they won’t allow you to sign a “bad” contract that would probably come back to bite you in the long run.

copyeditsInteracting with Your Publisher

Once the contract is signed, you are on a long road with your publisher in which you’ll go through the process of:

• writing your book,
• dealing with several rounds of editing
• having your book cover designed
• possibly having your title changed
• promoting your book in cooperation with the publisher’s marketing department
• launching your book

Throughout this journey, you will have many questions, and your agent will have the answers. Whenever you have an issue (for example, if you think you may not meet your deadline) your agent will handle it with the publisher. Whenever there is a conflict, such as a cover design you hate, your agent knows how to go back to the publisher and facilitate a satisfactory resolution.

It is this day-to-day partnership that is most valuable to many authors. An agented author is never alone on this publishing journey.

An Agent is Your Royalty Statement Watchdog

When your royalty statement comes, it will probably be confusing and hard to read. You may have no way of knowing if it contains mistakes or if you’ve been paid the proper amount. Part of an agent’s service is that they analyze your royalty statements to be sure your sales are being properly accounted for.

Constant Input and Education

Your agent can be a great source of knowledge about the industry. They can offer you a wider perspective whenever you have a question or concern. When you hear industry rumors, your agent usually knows what’s true and what’s not. Many agencies also offer concrete help and education for their clients, on topics that concern authors such as how to use social media to market books, or how to make the most of a writers’ conference. Some agencies have regular webinars for their clients, some have retreats, and many offer an online forum in which their clients can communicate and support each others’ careers.

Strategic Career Management

One of the best values an agent can offer is brainstorming with you about your “next book” and the entire direction of your career. They can take into account your personal goals and the state of the publishing marketplace to help you determine your next steps. If you have three different book ideas on the table, your agent would offer guidance as to which would probably be your best bet. They are keeping your brand in mind and will want to help you maximize your sales potential over the long term.

Ancillary Services

These days, literary agencies are doing more than just representing books to traditional publishers. They’re offering their clients multiple ways to be published, whether it’s traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a hybrid method. They’re always on the lookout for new opportunities for their clients.

Still, Not Everyone Needs an Agent

It’s up to you to determine whether a partnership approach to publishing would be right for you. I’m not trying to convince you to get an agent! But for those who’ve asked, I wanted to point out the benefits.

RachelleGardnerCopyright © 2013 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. Rachelle Gardner is an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency, representing both fiction and non-fiction. She’s looking for mainstream commercial projects for both the Christian and general markets. In non-fiction and memoirs, she looks for authors with established platforms, strong marketing hooks and an understanding of how to use social media. Non-fiction authors must have a book proposal and three sample chapters to be considered. She’s also seeking all kinds of fiction, and authors must have a completed manuscript to be considered.

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A&SNetLOGO150

Authors & Speakers Network Blog

Larry James is a professional speaker and the author of three relationship books, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” “LoveNotes for Lovers: Words That Make Music for Two Hearts Dancing” and “Red Hot LoveNotes for Lovers.” His newest book is “Ten Commitments of Networking.” Larry James also offers “Author & Speaker” coaching. Contact: AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. CelebrateLove@cox.net – More than 110 articles especially for Authors & Speakers at: www.AuthorsandSpeakersNetwork.com

Subscribe to Larry’s FREE monthly “LoveNotes for Lovers” eZINE. Contact: CelebrateLove.com, P.O. Box 12695, Scottsdale, AZ 85267-2695. – CelebrateLove.com and CelebrateIntimateWeddings.com

NOTE: All articles and “LoveNotes” listed in this BLOG – written by Larry James – are available for reprint in magazines, periodicals, newsletters, newspapers, eZINEs, on the Internet or on your own Website. Click here for details.

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Add Larry James as a “friend” to your Facebook page: http://www.Facebook.com/larry.james
Follow Larry’s “once daily” Relationship Tweet at: http://www.Twitter.com/larryjames
Follow Larry’s “Relationships” BLOG at: http://CelebrateLove.wordpress.com
Follow Larry’s “Networking” BLOG at: http://NetworkingHQ.wordpress.com
Follow Larry’s “Weddings” BLOG at: http://CelebrateIntimateWeddings.wordpress.com

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