Tips on Your Quest for An Agent


Self-publishing my 4-book YA fantasy series, The Conjurors, was an experience that I am so grateful for. Over the past five years, pushing myself to finish the series and learning how to effectively market it has given me purpose and taught me what it means to build a platform and brand for myself.

But I’ll be the first to admit that marketing my books isn’t nearly as fun as writing them. There’s a satisfaction to be had when a sales/marketing strategy succeeds, but, for me, it doesn’t compare to the joy, the oblivion, of losing myself inside the movie in my head. So I decided for my new YA science fiction series, Joan the Made, I would search for an agent and try the traditional publishing route.

I had no illusions that it would be easy, or even possible, to land an agent. I have no contacts in the industry, or published friends to look to for advice or a reference. I’m also a hard-core introvert with the networking skills of a meerkat. But I have a book that I believe is the best thing I’ve written so far, and the willingness to spend a ridiculous number of hours researching agents, personalizing my query letters, and sending out hopeful wishes into the universe.

At first, there was a lot of rejection. But after sending dozens of queries and tweaking my manuscript and letter, interest began to rise. I’m still waiting and hoping that an agent will be interested in working with me. My manuscript is currently in the hands of a few agents, and there are others who have yet to respond.

Here are some lessons I learned along the way that dramatically improved the response rate from the agents I queried.

Revise your query letter when it isn’t working.
After every ten queries, I would rewrite my letter to emphasize a new angle. I adjusted the paragraph about myself, the description of the novel, and expanded why I was reaching out to that particular agent. This was the best thing I did. By the fifth query rewrite, I began seeing a lot more interest in reading samples of my manuscript, and even manuscript requests.

Revise your manuscript if you receive valuable feedback from agents.
A few kind agents gave me words of advice in their rejection notes, letting me know what they liked or what could be improved. About halfway through my querying process, I rewrote my manuscript to incorporate those suggestions.

Try Twitter pitch fests.
I know. I was skeptical at first, too. Condensing my manuscript into 140 characters was a challenge, and what real agents found writers on Twitter? A lot, it turned out. It was also a much-needed ego boost to see agents “like” my tweet and request a query letter and writing sample. One of those agents went on to request the full manuscript. I had the most success with #PitMad and #PitDark. Just be sure to vet any agents who are interested in your manuscript before reaching out to them to make sure they’re legit.

Only target agents interested in your exact genre, or you will drive yourself nuts.
Take it from the girl who queried over 100 agents. There are a lot of agents interested in exactly what you’re writing. Focus on those agents, rather than agents who have broader interests. If you’re writing Fantasy or Science Fiction, I found this list helpful. Another tactic that I tried was looking up who the agent was for books that were similar to mine that had been published and were successful.

I’m a still a newbie at the querying process, so I welcome any suggestions you have for me that I haven’t thought of yet.


5 Authors’ Blogs for Self-Published Writers

shutterstock_136888421Navigating the murky waters of the self-publishing industry can be both intimidating and overwhelming. From the craft of writing to marketing your books, the entire process is a truly intense labor of love. It also stands to reason that many writers are not necessarily gifted at selling themselves. I think most of us would prefer to be locked in a room somewhere, building new worlds. But market we must if we want to live to write another day. With an immense amount of resources out there, it’s hard to know what marketing techniques are effective, and which are a waste of your time (and sometimes money).

Listed below are five authors that I have found provide candid, intelligent advice on writing and marketing your books. Most of the big questions I’ve had have been answered on one of these blogs. Why re-invent the wheel when you can follow in the footsteps of other successful writers who are willing to share what they’ve learned along the way?

Lindsay Buroker
This was the blog that convinced me to self-publish. Lindsay is the author of several series, including Emperor’s Edge and Flash Gold, and her stories are fun, quick reads that I thoroughly enjoy. On her blog, Lindsay is incredibly forthcoming about sharing which marketing techniques worked for her, the numbers of books she’s sold at different points in time, and smart, insightful observations about new trends in the industry and how they can be applied to selling your books.

Hugh Howey
Once upon a time, Hugh Howey was a starving, self-published author just like the rest of us. Now he’s a bestseller, and his brilliant Silo Series (Wool, Shift and Dust) are well-known to any self-respecting sci-fi fan (and personal favorites of mine). But what makes this blog special is that Hugh’s ability to reawaken your passion for the craft of writing, which sometimes can get a little lost in the monumental effort of marketing and selling books.

Tim Ferriss
On the other extreme from Hugh Howey is Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4-Hour Work Week (and many other 4-Hour themed nonfiction books). He is an author and an entrepreneur who has branded himself and his books, and has become immensely successful because of how brilliant he is at marketing. This is not a blog for authors looking to discuss the craft, but if you’re looking for big ideas and are a risk-taker, you’ll find some great strategies on his blog.

C.J. Lyons
I find this blog great for practical advice from a prolific self-published author who practices what she preaches. She writes suspense/thrillers, and has been incredibly successful in her niche. She openly shares what has worked for her, but also acknowledges that not every writer has to be a best seller in order to be successful. Her strategies are thought-provoking and not at all like the generic advice that you find on so many self-publishing websites.

Kami Garcia
Disclaimer – I write YA fiction, and Kami Garcia, author of awesome YA fantasies like Beautiful Creatures, is one of my favorite writers. What I find cool about her blog is that it isn’t all self-promotion about he books. She dedicates time providing insightful input and resources for writers. Kami isn’t self-published, but her blog is a quick, enjoyable read if you’re curious about the kind of things that author’s who’ve already “made it” think about.

Let the plotting begin…

A course more promising / Than a wild dedication of yourselves / To unpathed waters, undreamed shores ~William Shakespeare Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4

Life is never more interesting for me than when I’m plotting out a novel. Suddenly, everything I encounter feels like inspiration. Watching my husband beat a video game, a news article on an exciting archeological dig in Egypt, or a friend’s work horror story all fill my mind like puzzle pieces begging to be put together to show me a bigger picture.

The characters come first – a name, a face, a mannerism. Soon I’m wondering what advice they’d give me about a coworker who is trying to sabotage me, or thinking about how they would react if they woke up in a completely new world. Would they panic? Or would they relish the adventure?

Next, I sense connections between the characters, how their personalities fit together. Romance and rivalries start to emerge, and I find myself empathizing with one character above the others. I’m rooting for that person to win and be happy, logically aware I’m rooting for a figment of my own imagination, but emotionally invested anyway.

Last comes the action. This is my favorite part. On the outside, I’m living my life as usual, driving to work, sitting in meetings, cooking dinner. But as my body goes through the motions, I’m really watching a movie unfold in my mind. The movie stops and starts, rewinds and zips to the end, only to wind up back where I left off. I start to feel like I’m living two lives, one in the real world and one in my head, but I know one thing for sure. Life is thrilling and full of possibilities.

When you are writing a new story, how does your creative process begin?