“Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.
I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond, Va., in October. Although I couldn’t go to all the faboo sessions being offered, I took a ton of notes at those I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (<—Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)
This was the first year JRW offered workshops (they usually have panels only). Here is what Folio Literary Management agent of awesome Michelle Brower had to say about queries during her (fabulous) two-hour workshop.
ON THE HOOK
- She reads queries for about 20 seconds, so speak with authority, panache and charm to hook her immediately.
- It’s all very subjective, so do your research.
- She tries to be all over the Internet, letting people know what she wants to see.
- She likes when writers say they’ve targeted her—they have read her client’s work or interviews, etc.
- The purpose of a query is to make anyone want to read it—like the back of the book cover.
- She notices too many queries are too vague.
- She likes to see market comparison (“It’s like Ahab’s Wife meets The Time Traveler’s Wife“) because she has to do this comparison when she pitches it to editors. What would it be next to on someone’s shelf?
- However, avoid comparing your work to Twilight, Harry Potter, The DaVinci Code, the classics—or two things that just don’t fit together.
- Where does the book start?
- It should be interesting and different in some way.
- She doesn’t see many queries with this, and it’s important.
- It should not just be EMOTIONAL—that’s a pet peeve of most agents.
- Why are you the right author for this book?
- Awards, conferences, publications, life stuff that makes you an authority on the subject matter, etc.
Set-up—Ishmael, a man who has never been to sea, signs up to go on the Pequod.*
*We can see there is conflict even in the set-up.
Conflict—Ahab is crazy and wants to get the white whale; Ishmael is caught up in this madness.
- For nonfiction proposals, it’s about:
- The idea
- The writing
- The platform—your bio applies 100-fold here.
- Do you have TV or radio connections? A mailing list? Media access? Social media, etc.
ON NONFICTION AND MEMOIR
- The stronger your platform, the less of a NF book you have to write for the proposal—you still submit the proposal and tell people how you will sell it.
- Memoir is “a weird mix”—like a new genre, she says.
- You write the whole thing before you send the proposal/query.
- You need a GREAT platform or a literary presence (like with fiction), and your book should be good
- It’s the art of fiction but the business side of NF.
OTHER WORDS OF WISDOM
- Querying is tough, but remember that not every agent is for you—you want your agent to be energetic.
- It’s to your detriment if she took on the book and didn’t love it.
- Keep the faith—one of her clients was rejected 80 times!
- Now he’s sold two books and one is being optioned as a film with Coté de Pablo!