Most querying writers hope for a literary agent, but what if you get a pitch party like and ultimately are offered a contract by a small press? How will you know if they’re the right press for you, or for this particular book? And what would signing with them be like? In these interviews, I talk to authors Nikky Lee, Alexandra Beaumont and C.G. Volgars about their experiences of querying, determining that the press making them an offer was right for their book and signing contracts with their small presses.

What was your experience of querying?

Nikky's head shot.

Nikky

Which pitch parties did you participate in and what responses did you get?

Pretty much everything I was eligible for: #SFFpit, #Pitmad and #PitDark were the main ones. 

All up I got 18 likes from agents and publishers across 10 twitter pitching events.

The most interest I had by far was at my first pitching event, #SFFpit in Jan 2019, where I got 6 likes in the one event. Unfortunately, I blew it because my book wasn’t ready. 

Lesson learned: don’t waste your pitch party “debut” pitching a book that isn’t ready. 

I had the most success at the #SFFpit events – 10 of my likes came from those. I was pitching under Adult and YA. My book sits in that awkward New Adult space ideal for 18-25 year olds, though it could happily be read by a mature YA reader or adults who enjoy YA reads [YA crossover being the latest term for this].

How long were you querying all up?

Nikky Jan 2019 to May 2020. But in that were two periods where I stopped querying to do a round of revisions. In hindsight, I started querying too early. The book was not ready and it became pretty clear after that first batch of queries. I like to think of that as my test run. I stopped querying and did some big structural edits and a lot of darling killing. When I came back a second time, it was in August 2019 and I queried fairly consistently with it until May 2020.

Was your contract a result of cold querying or a pitch party?

From #PitDark. I got two likes from my editor at Parliament House Press in that event. 

How did the way you got it and how long it took compare to your expectations?

Nikky To be honest, I expected to be querying for a while. I’d read stories of people querying hundreds of agents until one finally said yes, and all up I barely queried 30. I was prepared to query 100 agents before shelving the book and working on something else.

Alexandra's head shot.

Alexandra

I pitched in #Pitmad in Sept, #DVPit and #Pitdark in October 2020. I got more speed on it by the time I did #Pitdark. It suited me better because my book is dark fantasy. That was how I found the small press that is publishing it. The responses I got were pretty good. Someone on Twitter commented, “That’s like something Neil Gaiman would write,” and I thought, “Great. Publishers and agents looking at pitches might , if I’m lucky, see that someone thinks its like Neil Gaiman.” I thought, “No way is my writing close to as good as Neil Gaiman’s, but I’ll take it if it gets me the exposure.”

When did you feel like you got the hang of pitching?

Alex I think at my second party I got a feel for pitches. I’m quite a straight spoken person, so it took me a bit to get a feel for writing really evocative pitches. I think for the second one I upped the drama a bit more. Its high drama stuff, which I guess is how you get the attention.

I never assumed that this would go anywhere, partly because my partner is a development editor and has worked with books before, as have some of our friends, and everyone said it’s really hard to get a publishing contract. I went into it hoping it was going to go somewhere but also with a very realistic expectation that probably it wasn’t going to. That said, their support and experience really helped get me over the line and helped me know what to do.


C. G.

C. G.’s Querying Experience

Looking back, I can’t lie–it wasn’t the most fun time period in my life. Every time I got an email alert, my heart jumped into my throat. A twitter friend suggested using a secondary email purely for queries, so I wouldn’t have a mini heart attack at every Gmail notification. That definitely helped. But no, I didn’t really enjoy querying. 

That said, I met a lot of talented writers through #AmQuerying and #StrictlyWriting and learned a lot about pitching and querying with them. Also, because I’m with an indie press I’ve been able to incorporate some of my pitches into promo materials and even parts of my query and synopsis into marketing copy. Querying was rough, but it made me practice explaining and selling my book to people. So, I guess I got something out of it. Meh.

When did you feel like you got the hang of pitching?

I felt a lot more comfortable pitching the second time I started querying Static Over Space. The first time I had no idea what I was doing: I didn’t know the rules of writing a pitch. I didn’t know what made my story stand out. I didn’t know how to connect with other #AmQuerying authors. 

The second time was about a year and a half later. I had several killer pitches ready that I’d been retooling for months, I had a good group of writer friends to help me hone them, especially the #StrictlyWriting gang. Most importantly, I knew what made my writing stand out–VOICE. By the time I jumped back in, I felt really excited and pumped!

Which pitch parties did you participate in and what sort of responses did you get?

The first go-around I was doing everything under the sun–#Kisspit, #Pitdark, anything you could remotely fit a genre fiction under. The second time I knew I had to be real and narrow it down. My first pitch party after rebooting was April 2020 for #DVPit. I got 16 likes… three of which were actually people in publishing! [In Twitter Pitch Parties, liking tweet pitches is reserved for agents and publishers to request submissions, but some writers always forget and like pitches anyway].

How long were you querying all up?

My querying journey was spread over three years, but totalled two. The first year and a half, I got one full MS request from a cold query and no Twitter pitch love. After I stepped back and retooled, I queried for 6 months before an offer was made.

How did the way you got a publishing contract and how long it took compare to your expectations?

Interesting question. I don’t love that it took as long as it did… But there’s also no question in my mind that this version of Static Over Space is infinitely better than the first one. So double meh.

Querying Specs

AuthorsHome CountryGenreAudience AgeHow long did you query and
where before signing your contract?
Nikky Lee🇳🇿 (New Zealand)Dark FantasyYA crossover1 year & 3 months
Mostly in US, some UK.
C.G. Volgers🇺🇸SciFi FantasyYA Crossover3 years, mostly US, some UK.
Alexandra Beaumont🇬🇧Dark FantasyAdult4 months
(NB: this is exceptionally rare)
Uk, US & Europe.

How did you know you had the right publisher?

Alexandra's head shot.

Alexandra

You kind of go with the one you’ve got the offer on right?

Elise not necessarily. [We had an off the record conversation about other writer’s experiences confirming this statement].

Alex I did get an R and R, with a publisher that was more of a coffee subscription box who published books on the side. I didn’t go with them. 

When I researched Gurt Dog Press, they seemed very friendly and professional and I liked the artwork that they’d done and some of their other books. A lot of their other authors seemed to have good experiences. 

Elise Was there any particular person you had contact with who made you feel that way about them?

Alex I spoke to the editor and the marketing manager. They seemed to be everything that I expected and were really friendly. They’re early on in their publishing house journey. It was quite nice in a way, having a first novel being out with a publisher that’s also starting out, both being in it together. They are working on expanding and have had some great successes in their first year, so it feels like a really exciting place to be.

Elise Do you know who they sell to?

I think it’s mostly Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and online, but they’re looking to expand. Some of the authors have got their books placed in local bookshops too.

Nikky's head shot.

Nikky

What struck me about Parliament House Press was they had a good range of books and they published regularly—they were clearly an indie press working towards becoming a mid-sized publisher. 

They also had a “monster shop” section in their online store, which I loved. And I could see my book fitting into that. They also had very professional looking covers.

On the business side, they had recently teamed up with a digital distributor to help spread their books. 

Audiobook rights were on the table too—I’m a big fan of audiobooks so that really sold it for me that this publisher was future focused and knew where the trends were. 

I contacted three of their authors, and they had nothing but good things to say. There were the usual caveats of going through a small to mid-sized publisher e.g. you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and put in the effort to market and promote the book. But to be honest, you still have to do that anyway, even if you’re published with the big 4. And I work in marketing, so that bit wasn’t so daunting.

C. G.

I had sooo many signs Outland Entertainment was the right place for SOS! First, my editor, Alana Joli, made a really funny Avarian joke while we were discussing Outland’s offer. I knew right then not only did she understand the story, but really understood the characters and world. She also has a great sense of humor and a keen eye for what makes a story shine. Her idea to switch Yula’s gender (a big Wookie-like character) to female will forever be one of the most genius edits for Static Over Space ever.

The second sign was when I saw the Art Director and Founder’s art portfolio and larger career. Jeremy Mohler not only teaches art at the college level, he’s worked with some of the biggest comic book names out there- Marvel, Blizzard, and IDW Comics. His street cred and art style was exactly what I’d always dreamed of finding for SOS.

Third, I sent the contract to the Author’s Guild Legal team [the Author’s Guild offers free Contract Review to paying members]. They looked over the contract, gave me a few pointers, but overall agreed it was really fair and even-handed.

The final green light was from someone I trusted inside publishing. Through #LatinXpitch I’d made a connection with an editor from a prominent imprint. He wasn’t looking for a YA SciFi when we met, but he’d remained a trusted mentor. Later when Outland made the offer, he asked around and gave them the thumbs up!

What stage is your novel at?

Alexandra's head shot.

I’m waiting on the full edits, and the book will be out in April.

C.G's headshot.

I just handed off the MS to my editor [January 10th]. From here we’ll do initial editing, then copy editing, then layout!

Nikky's head shot.

I’ve just finished my first round of edits from my editor. There’ll be a few more to come in the next six months or so. My publisher has already set up the digital preorders for it. 

We’re looking at a tentative April/May 2020 release for book 1. It’s still too soon to say for Books 2 and 3.

What Advice Would You Give Querying Writers?

Alex

I don’t have a lot of advice that I imagine people aren’t already doing, but perseverance is definitely a strong part of this. I was initially like I’ll just query 10 favourite agents and that didn’t go anywhere. My main one is everyone understandably thinks I’ll go through an agent, and my books will go to the big publishers and be published by the end of the year.

But that’s not always the case. I think there needs to be more recognition of other routes to publishing. Like it’s all valid. I came through it not knowing a lot about the small presses and only thinking about the big 5, but then I got into it and thought ok, there’s a mid band of publishing houses and a whole load of small presses as well. At the end of the day, getting your book out doesn’t have to be in that way. Getting a book out is still an achievement.

That’s the main thing i’ve taken away from it: not everyone’s going to be best selling authors and that’s ok. It depends what your ambitions are, but as long as your story’s out there, that’s the main thing for me.

The small press I’m going with is Swedish so I don’t think it needs to be in your own country. I was originally like ‘I’ll only query UK agents’ but someone said to me, “It’s a fairly international audience these days so you don’t need to pigeonhole yourself in your own country.” I think there’s no reason not to go wide.

Nikky

This is hard because everyone’s journey is so different. But based on my own experience, make sure the book is truly ready before you send it out. That means beta read -several rounds if need be, edited and proofed to the best of your ability. I blew my chances with several major NYC agents because I sent it to them before it was ready.

As for querying, I do think it is a numbers and timing game, and I do think it’s smart to try different avenues for getting noticed i.e. cold query, twitter pitching, conference pitching where possible.

C. G.

Find a great writer, preferably someone in the industry, to give you real, no-holds-barred feedback. After querying the first time I sent my MS to three #AmQuerying authors that I knew were amazing storytellers and Gina Damico, a YA author with several published books who offered novel consulting through Grubstreet

I couldn’t afford to pay her to look through the entire MS, but I got her advice on the first chunk. She told me, point-blank: here’s what you’re good at, here’s what you have to work on if you’re going to break through querying. It was painful at first. I basically had to rewrite half my book! But in the end, it was worth it. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Alex

It’s become a Twitter #WritingCommunity cliche, but I never expected the level of support and community there is on Twitter. I’ve met some great people in a Query DM Group who have read the opening chapters. I’d say while the online presence is helpful, don’t worry too much about it.

Its easy to go down the rabbit hole of spending a lot of time thinking about your writing, and having an author platform -I work full time in a busy job, so my time is fairly constrained. Making sure you’re not spending all your time doing all of this stuff is important for your sanity.

Speaking as someone who both wrote a pitch and signed a contract within half a year, it was a big effort to do all that and I kind of gave my life over to it for half a year. So my reflection and advice to people doing this for the first time is: its great and do calve out time to do this stuff if you’re passionate, but don’t kill yourself, because the market will still be there next year.

C.G

Yes! Edelweiss.plus is a great way to find comps for books that have no comp. And trust me– I would know!

Alexandra

Alexandra's head shot.

Nikky

Nikky's head shot.

Alexandra was raised on fairy tales, folklore and legends. She followed adventures at every turn: exploring the old parts of London, taking part in medieval re-enactments, and writing in every spare moment. ​ When not writing, Alexandra has a wanderlust for exploring new places, roaming the countryside and taking part in Live Action Fantasy Role Play. (Meaning she’s often covered in mud, grass and leaves.) Her passion for exploring new worlds drives her creative endeavours. Her debut novel, Testament of the Stars, will be published in April 2021 by Gurt Dog Press.

On Testament of the Stars:

Astrologers govern the lives of both the blessed from the plateau of Gemynd and the downtrodden from the planes of Rask.

When Einya reluctantly joins the settlement’s ruling star-cult, she thinks only of the rights it will give her: the permission to marry her Raskian lover. Instead she is thrown onto a treacherous path of betrayal and political strife, trapped within the cult persecuting Rask.

Forced to drink the blood of the stars and steal their thoughts, Einya ends up at the heart of a fierce rebellion, caught between a fight for freedom and the strange luring power of the stars.

Alexandra’s website.

Nikky is a New Zealand-based writer who grew up as a barefoot 90s kid in Perth, Western Australia. With eight years in content marketing and copywriting, she’s published numerous articles on behalf of businesses and for magazines.

In her free time, she writes speculative fiction, often burning the candle at both ends to explore fantastic worlds, mine asteroids and meet wizards. She’s had over a dozen short stories published in magazines and in anthologies around the world. Her debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar—a dark tale of a girl bonded to a monster—will be published by Parliament House Press in 2022. Nikky’s Website.

C. G. Volgars

C.G's headshot.

CG Volars is the debut author of STATIC OVER SPACE, that Gender-Bending Scifi coming from Outland Entertainment in Spring 2022. 

CG currently resides in California with her family and two grey cats—Skittles and Rosie. In her spare time, she writes, uses potty language and collects SciFi pins. Join the #SpaceShip today at www.StaticOverSpace.com.


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Further Reading

For more information about Pitch Parties, see this post.

For definitions of different publisher types and pros and cons of publishing with them, see Writer Beware’s: Small Presses and Hybrid Publishers & Vanity Publishers (I’d steer clear of the latter!).

To avoid infamous publishers, see Writer Beware’s Thumbs Down Publishers List.

A great place to see other writers experiences with particular publishers is Absolute Write’s Water Cooler: OFFLINE for site renovations (last checked April 6). Updates on its return here.

Another useful site in researching publishers is Preditors & Editors, which is unfortunately in maintenance mode, but you’ll find their resources and updates on their Facebook Page.

For more Querying and Publishing resource links, see my Writers Resources Page.

If you’re wondering what Finding & Signing with a Literary Agent is like, see this interview with Fantasy Author Halla Williams.

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