As a writer, I’m constantly challenged to add to my character descriptions. In my middle grade/young adult novel series, Sammy and the San Juan Express, I constantly search for ways to define the protagonist (hero), Sammy. Recently a dear friend and editor, Vera Haddan, reminded me of this quote from Maya Angelou that helped me add to Sammy’s identity. This is what I hope Sammy does in her adventures, Sales the Deal, Presidential Bear, and the upcoming Alpha She Wolf.
I’m sendin out an average of five agent queries a day. As I do the research and prepare each letter, I’m also watching the emotional roller coaster ride I’m taking. Emotions are important to me, partially because of my training as a counselor, and mostly because my protagonist in, Sammy and The San Juan Express, is a highly emotional being.
This morning, I noticed that for some agents I’m positive and feel good about sending my query. I can hardly wait to hit the send button. I know they will respond soon with a request for my manuscript. Then, I bump into someone who represents the best writers I’ve ever known, or their credentials include a doctorate in English Lit, and my self confidence falls through the floor. I can barely type their email address let alone include the first fifty pages, which I’m sure should be thrown in the dumpster or deleted immediately.
Reality check— take a deep breath, stand, stretch, downward dog or a short walk. I have to remind myself that agents, as my daughter said, “put their pants on one leg at a time.” The truth is, agents need good writers. They’re looking for the next Harry Potter or The Book Thief, and every query holds the promise of being just that—even mine (or yours). So back at it you bad-boy or girl. Click those keys, search those agents, and with the confidence of J. K. Rolling, get those queries out—now.
In a writer’s critique group I presented my Agent Query process. I hadn’t realized how comprehensive and time consuming the process had been over the past three months. I thought it might be helpful to others.
I begin by completing my manuscript. It has had a multitude of readings over the past years by many fellow writers and friends. It is ready to send out.
I then prepared a query letter using research online at:
Many agents request a query letter only, but some also asked for a synopsis—your kidding, right? Nope, absolutely true, and when you think about it, with all the queries they receive, reading a synopsis before requesting a partial or full manuscript makes sense. I researched and created a two page(ish) synopsis of my 66,000 word novel. I used the same resources listed for researching the query letter.
Finally, having finished my novel, and creating a query letter and synopsis, I am ready to send them out … almost. Yet another step is acquiring or building a database of agents. (I’m estimating the next few steps take about one hour per agent, after creating the query and synopsis). I identify agencies that handle novels for my market, Young Adult and Middle Grade, and enter them in a spreadsheet. The resources I use for my agent research are:
- ARA—Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.
- Guide to Literary Agents—Book and Online at Writer’s Market (Subscription required)
- Directory of Literary Agents
- Literary Marketplace-Directory of Book Agents
- I subscribe to Publishers Lunch by Publishers Marketplace
- In addition to these online resources, I am a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). Their membership manual—The Book—has a comprehensive list of literary agents.
Once I compile my database (I build it fifty names at a sitting), I research each agency to identify the specific agent I will query, their current authors (hoping to find something similar to my work), and personalize my query. I also, very carefully, read their submission requirements, (some want query only, some want query and synopsis, some want query, synopsis, and partial manuscript). I give them exactly what they ask for.
Finally, after this time consuming, but fruitful, exercise, I email (or mail) my query to the agent (I’ve sent out twenty so far).
Enough already, I’m exhausted. Time for a coffee break, then back to agent queries for Sammy and The San Juan Express.
Eighteen queries emailed and my first milestone—I received my first rejection email. My first for Sammy and The San Juan Express, that is. I’m not sure if I should be pleased or upset. On the one hand, one agent … wait, another email. Make that two agents, did not feel my novel fit their needs. On the other hand, this puts me in some good company. If the web is correct: Agatha Christie received five years of rejections, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)= twelve rejections, Louis L’Amour= 200, Dr. Seuss= numerous rejections with a note: “Too different from other juveniles,” Chicken Soup for the Soul=140, Stephenie Meyer’s (Twilight)= fourteen rejections, and one of my favorite authors, Jack London = 600. Needless to say, even the very best receive rejections, and even some of the very worst are published.
And, as Literaryrejections.com says, “Rejection is an imperative test of one’s character.”
Isn’t life grand.
Where did the idea for Sammy and The San Juan Express come from? Years ago I vacationed with my two children in the San Juan Islands. We’d spend two or more weeks on a 28′ Chris Craft with a small sailing dinghy in tow. It was magical watching how they adapted to their new environment. Two urban kids suddenly transformed into sailors, fisherman, divers, and explorers. During the day they would swim in warm coves, or spend lazy afternoons in the dinghy. In the evenings, with no television or radio, we’d play card games, and I would make up stories about pirates, goblins, and lost children living on the islands. And so, some thirty years ago, the seeds of The San Juan Express were planted. Many years later, they began to sprout.
What is Sammy and The San Juan Express? As a critique partner put it, “A young adult, middle grade novel about an orphan girl.”
The elevator pitch on the back of my business card: Thirteen year old Sammy is faced with her mother’s death, a drunken father, and being shipped off to live with her uncle, a bush pilot in the San Juan Islands. In two enlightening weeks she saves a sea lion, uncovers a plot to kill seals, is kidnapped to be murdered, and discovers her hidden gift. Only her strength, courage, wits, and a little help from her friends above and below water, determines whether she dies or lives to enjoy her new found power.
In parallel to blogging about creating my young adult/middle grade novel, Sammy and The San Juan Express, I will be blogging about my current writing activity—which is, creating an agent query letter. Kapow! It’s done. Not without grinding of teeth and cursing at critique groups comments (Not to worry, I’m most appreciative). But, three week into summarizing a 65,000 word adventure novel into three short paragraphs (266 words), many readings and many revisions, it’s ready to be sent out.
Now to compile a list of YA/MG agents, customize my email for each agent, and send them out. Nervous? Yes. Sweaty palms? Not yet, but I’m sure I will be when I push the send button.
Some years ago I began a young adult novel. I had a story in my head and it asked to be let out. I had no idea that I was releasing a monster. An exciting, beautiful monster to be sure, but monster non-the-less. I called it, Sammy and The San Juan Express.
I had written professional articles and interviews for many years, and I’d maintained an around-the-world travel blog, but this was my first full length fiction work. I figured I’d get the story down on paper, then do some edits and maybe, if I was lucky, get it published. Hell, I actually was pretty sure I’d get it published.
Six years later, I’m crossing t’s and dotting i’s, and preparing agent query letters. My optimism has been replaced with realism and I’m hoping someone, out of the hundreds of agents I’ll be contacting, will read my query and want to see my manuscript. As for being sure I’ll be published by a traditional publisher, that’s been replaced with the realization that anyone can write a story, but only a true writer can make it a novel.
At the encouragement of a friend, and as I begin to send out my query letters, I’ll tell you about my journey from business non-fiction writer to novelist, and bring you along as I learn out how difficult finding an agent really is.
SIX YEARS AGO:
I began my journey with a simple synopsis, and research. I wrote my idea for a story, on my computer. It covered about twenty pages. I also went online and searched for anything I could find that might educate me on how to write a novel. It began with excitement and anticipation of an extraordinary story that might take three to six months to complete. I was surprised on many levels.
More to follow: