A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Category: Querying

Publishing Paths, a Multi-Author Interview

Like many writers, I liked the sound of working with a literary agent, receiving editorial feedback and signing with a (big) traditional publisher, who would help with marketing. The dream was write full time and earn a living from it. But with the pandemic, the publishing industry catching fire, supply chain issues, the great resignation hitting editors etc, let’s just say 2020-2021 was a particularly bad time to be querying.

What about small presses? Many querying authors only query literary agents, so the competition would be less extreme. I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for cover art or editing and they may still offer marketing advice. But querying was such a passive, SLOW experience for me, and as an active person whose ADHD has two speeds (FAST and sleeping) querying was a terrible match for me. And so I began my indie authoring journey. I’m two books in, with book 3 of my trilogy on preorder. I haven’t had time (or the health) to promote or sell many books yet… though I still love being indie.

But I’m just one person. We all bring different life experiences, skill sets, brains (mine being neurodiverse), temperaments, personalities, needs, expectations and goals to the process. How can you be sure which publishing path is right for you (or for a particular project)? I pursue that by interviewing 5 authors on different publishing paths about why they chose that path, how it meets their needs, why it’s working for them and what turned them off alternatives.

Which publishing path are you on?

Head and shoulders shot of Adam in a red shirt, smiling, seated on a couch with a house plant in the background. Adam had short brown hair, a short beard, blue eyes and is caucasian.
Waist up shot of Maggie wearing a purple, blue and pink scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face, black glasses and her light brown hair half out, half tied back.
Black and white portrait of Megaera in a coloured, checked shirt, short hair combed to the right, wearing dark lipstick, with pale skin contrasting with the black background.

Adam J
Currently pursuing traditional publishing; I have queried once, in 2021 (unsuccessfully), and plan to query another book this year.

Maggie Stone
Pursuing traditional publishing. I only sent a few queries for my first book before pulling back to retool, then switched genres and landed an agent with my second book.

Megaera Lorenz
I’m publishing traditionally with a small press, CamCat Books. I sold my debut novel to them without an agent about a year ago. 

Headshot of Mara wearing a big toothy smile, natural pink/red lipstick, long brown hair flowing over shoulders and a green, embroidered top.
Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Mara Lynn Johnstone

I’m going the indie route for the foreseeable future.

Joyce Reynolds Ward
I am a hybrid writer. While I’m not actively on submission at the moment, I have published around thirty short stories in various anthologies and magazines. My novels, however, are strictly self-published. I had one minor flirtation with small press publication and…it did not go well. I was fortunate enough to get reversion letters for both books before the publisher crashed and burned.

What Appeals Most About Your Publishing Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I like the notion of having a team to work with (an agent, editor, cover designer, publicist) with experience in the publishing industry, who can guide me and my books forward. Also, there is a certain repute in having your book chosen by the various gatekeepers of publishing. While I realize that’s mostly bunk — the true judges of any book are its readers — there’s still that little voice in my mind that says I want my book to be good enough to make it through those gatekeepers.

MS: Echoing everything Adam said. I’m not equipped to do this myself, either in skill or in financial resources. Being in a team, a network, gives me the drive to keep going instead of growing anxious over the small details.

Small Press 

ML: love the collaborative, personalized nature of working with an indie press. The CamCat team has been very supportive. They’ve worked with me closely or at least gotten my input on just about every aspect of the publication and production process, including developmental and line editing, finalizing the cover design, creating a marketing plan specific to my book, and even selecting an audiobook narrator.

Indie Author

MLJ: I like being able to take my books from idea to finished product at my own pace, without having to wait years for other people to decide they’re worthwhile. And I also like having the final say over my own covers. 

JRW–Short stories can gain a lot of visibility for any novelist, depending on the market. Novels are where I really turn myself loose to write what intrigues me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Querying

Adam J: As much as I’d like to say it’s always the quality of the book that makes it worthy of traditional publication, a major element is luck, whether that’s with timing, finding the right person, or hitting the right trend (and sometimes, sadly, luck supersedes quality). There is also a massive time investment often with very little return, and it can be quite a mental struggle to overcome the sheer volume of rejection.

MS: Again, Adam’s beaten me to what I would say. Having a good book isn’t good enough. You have to have a good book that fits what a publisher is looking for now – not that you have to write to a publisher’s specifications, but if they’ve recently acquired (e.g.) two workplace romcoms, they might not be looking for another one right now. Rejection is bad. You can help mitigate it with the right support group, but it’s still going to hurt.

Indie Author

MLJ: Definitely getting the word out. Building an audience is slow when you don’t have a publisher’s advertising budget. 

JRW–Market churn for both the short stories and self-published novels. I tend to say that marketing changes every quarter–that is definitely true for self-publishing, and sadly these days it seems like the magazine market is much the same way.

Which Skills or Life Experiences Help You On Your Chosen Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I’ve worked both as a professor at a large institution and as a government consultant, so I’m used to things moving far slower than they really need to (oh, bureaucracy) and I’m also used to rejection, as in consulting you don’t win every contract you bid on. I suppose these impart upon me a certain measure of patience and a thicker skin, both necessary survival traits for the world of traditional publishing.

MS: Also a government person and used to things moving slowly. But I also had a previous life as a musician, so balancing love of creative arts with the (unpleasant) practical aspects of that life (rejection and whatnot). Also, dealing with mental health issues for decades means I’ve built a library of coping mechanisms for when rejections come.

Small Press

ML: I have a lot of professional experience writing educational copy for a general audience, which is an advantage when putting together succinct, snappy pitch materials (such as query letters, blurbs, synopses, and elevator pitches). I’m good at boiling complicated concepts down to their essentials.

Indie Author

MLJ: I’m good at organizing and planning, all that meticulous stuff that’s stereotypically not always part of the artist brain. I’m very glad that I can keep track of everything that needs doing! And my secondary interest after writing has always been visual art, so I’m working on levelling up my skills to where I can reliably make my own spectacular book covers. I’m getting there.

JRW: A couple of years working as a complex securities litigation paralegal as well as ten years of special education case management has helped with the organizational piece.

Why did you prioritise this path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: Admittedly, when I started writing, it was the only way I knew existed. I’ve learned much since — including that marketing kidlit through indie publishing is one of the hardest paths to take (kids don’t buy books online). As I write middle grade, I’m sticking with traditional publishing for now.

MS: This path, if successful, would be most compatible with my skills. I’m not a marketing expert/business manager. Obviously, even with traditional publishing, there’s housekeeping stuff I’d have to take care of, but traditional publishing puts me in a network with shared resources, and has a wider distribution network than I’d be able to establish on my own.

Small Press

ML: I prioritised traditional publishing as opposed to self-publishing because I knew it would help me a lot to have the support of a team that understands how the industry works. I’m a good writer, and I enjoy certain parts of the marketing process, but I have very little business acumen and almost no budget for things like advertising, hiring a professional editor and cover designer, and so on.

Indie Author

MLJ: My original plan was to get an agent, and seek fame and fortune in traditional publishing. But after fifteen years of querying, with multiple novels and many near-acceptances, I finally decided that I was better off self-publishing the many books I’d written in that time.
The current state of the publishing industry made it an easy choice: I’d been active on Twitter at the height of publishing activity there, and I saw firsthand how many editors got laid off from the big publishing houses during the pandemic, how many agents had to leave the industry due to burnout or unsustainability, and how many trad pub authors weren’t getting any more support from their publishers than the average indie writer got from their friends. Self-publishing is a far more viable option than when I first started querying.

JRW: While my short stories have found homes, my books generally received rejections along the lines of “love your voice, love your work…can’t sell it.”

If you haven’t already said, why did you choose against
alternative publishing paths?

Adam J: I’d love to make writing my full-time job, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I also know that the best way to make money (as any kind of author) is with a back catalogue to build a following on. If I go for indie publishing now, and fail, my chances of making it into traditional publication are even less, and I don’t have many books to market. But if I go for traditional publishing first, and fail, I’ll have a back catalogue of books that I think are publishable to turn around and market as an indie author.
I’ve set myself a milestone: if I write ten publisher-ready books and still can’t get a publishing deal, then I’ll turn to indie publishing.

ML: Mostly due to the reasons I mentioned above. However, I was always open to alternatives if the traditional path didn’t work out. I had a three-part plan: try querying agents first, then go directly to small presses that accept unagented material, then do self-pub if the other options didn’t work out. I’d been querying agents for about six months when I saw that CamCat was having a pitching event on Twitter, and I decided on the spur of the moment to toss my pitch into the ring. They liked it, I sent them a query, and a couple months later I had signed with them. I couldn’t be happier with how it worked out.

MLJ: I found that the support I’d been hoping to get from an agent and a publishing house wasn’t likely to live up to the hype, while I could get similar support from a network of writer friends. Better, in some ways! 

If you haven’t already said, what do you see as the main advantages of querying agents, querying small presses, self-publishing or a mix?

Querying Agents

Adam J: There used to be more that traditional publishing could offer over indie publishing, but it’s fairly balanced now. One of the nice things about traditional publishing is that your primary investment is time — even if you don’t get a large advance, you still do not have to pay people to edit your book, design your cover, or (sometimes) run a marketing campaign.
And there are still connections to bookstores, school visits for kidlit, or major conferences that traditional publishers can get, which indie publishers may find more difficult. However, with indie publishing, you have full control, and everything can happen much faster: when you are ready to publish your book, it gets published.

MS: A benefit of having an agent is that I no longer have to focus on a sub list. She reaches out to editors, checking in with me on the way to see if I have input, and handles all that. It takes a load off of me so I can focus on writing, and leaves open the possibility of landing a contract that will be more financially beneficial to me.
Small press, while it means me still handling my own subs, has a faster turnaround time. There are also smaller advances (or sometimes no advances), but the contracts are often one-book, meaning you can easily change your mind after your first book if the experience doesn’t work for you anymore. Indie gives you complete control, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Small Press

ML: The main advantage of working with an agent is that they help authors navigate the complexities of the publishing process and also give them opportunities to get their work in front of publishers and editors who wouldn’t otherwise look at it.

Querying small publishers directly cuts out the middleman and spares authors the agony of finding an agent (not just any agent, but the right agent), which really is a brutal slog. For books that don’t necessarily fit the mould of whatever mysterious marketing trends agents are currently looking for, this can also be a good alternative.

Self-pub gives authors the most control over every aspect of the process, from book design and editing to income from sales.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents can (hopefully) get you a contract with a big publisher, who will (theoretically) spend a lot of money on making your books famous. Small presses are more likely to accept your manuscript than the big publishers. Self-publishing gives you all the control you could ever want over your own work: you can publish a book any time you want, with no gatekeeping in the way. Doing a mix of both can get you the best of both worlds.

JRW: mixing both provides me with more visibility and flexibility.

Again, if you haven’t already said, what do you think are the cons of querying agents, small presses, self-publishing or a mix of both?

Querying Agents

Adam J: The downside to traditional publishing, aside from there being so much luck involved, is the timescales. Querying will take months, then subbing may take months after that, then your book must be slotted into a publishing schedule, and maybe your book comes out two years after you actually decided it was ready to publish.
I exaggerate a little, and certainly smaller presses who accept unagented submissions can move faster, but the timescales are still quite long.
For indie publishing, the biggest downside is the huge investment in both time and capital required. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky and become a runaway success, but if you truly want to make money, you need to put money in, for a good editor, cover designer, marketing campaign, and anything else you feel would give you and your books a boost in such a crowded market.

MS: I accidentally put a couple of cons in the last question, but really Adam hit a lot of what I’d say. I’ll add for agents that if after you sign with an agent, you decide you want to write something that’s outside of what they represent, you could find yourself looking for supplementary representation, or possibly looking for a new agent, which takes time you could spend writing.
Smaller presses can also sometimes be a total unknown, or collapse after years of success if the wrong person leaves.
Indie can be a huge gamble, particularly if you don’t have a good support network to guide you away from bad decisions that are marketed as easy solutions.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents have more writers clamoring for their attention than they could ever take on, and your odds of getting an acceptance are low, even if you do everything right.
Small presses have a smaller reach and smaller budget than the big publishers; sometimes all they’re saving you is the hassle of putting the book together into a final product yourself.
Self-publishing comes with no one to tell you no – for good or ill. If you publish a book full of errors with a terrible cover, because you didn’t get enough feedback from others (or didn’t listen to it), that’s all on you.
Going the hybrid route can be both time-consuming and tricky to orchestrate, with far more balls in the air. Best of luck, everybody! Make your choices with eyes open. 

Small Press

ML: ​​Querying agents is a slow, agonizing process that requires a lot of time and mental/emotional energy. Even if you do get a yes from an agent, they might not be the right fit for you or your book. I’ve known several authors who went through multiple agents before finding a good match. As gatekeepers in the publishing industry, agents are also going to filter out books that they don’t think they can sell easily in favour of whatever they see as marketable and on-trend. This means a lot of interesting and innovative books will never make it out into the world if querying authors decide to shelve them instead of trying alternative paths. 

Working with small presses directly can have pitfalls for authors who don’t have access to legal knowledge or resources. Without an agent, you’re more likely to end up signing an unfair contract. (I strongly recommend using the Authors Guild’s contract review service if you go this route.)
And of course, small presses have more limited resources than the larger publishing houses that agents tend to work with. That translates to smaller advances and less of a marketing/production/distribution budget for your books. However, not all small/indie presses are created equal in this regard! Some of them offer an impressive amount of support for their authors in all those areas.

Self-pub requires a ton of time and business smarts that not all authors necessarily have (looking significantly at myself, here). If you want professional editing, cover design, advertising, etc., you’ll need a significant budget, too. Some of the horror stories about Amazon pulling the plug on KDP authors and holding their earnings hostage for inexplicable reasons also give me pause, although I know KDP isn’t the only player in town when it comes to self-publishing.

Indie Author

JRW: The effort required to stay current with recent publishing trends in both magazines and self-publishing is not very different, and striving to gain visibility without spending my life on social media is sometimes a challenge.

Has ‘marketability’ of your writing influenced your publishing path?

Adam: You can get: ‘amazing book, wonderful, but too different and we don’t know what to do with it.’
If you don’t fit the definition its very hard to market. If you have runaway success they all want it because there’s a market for it.

JRW: I have run into this with indie competitions. ‘Excellent writing, different take on this concept, we’re cutting it in the first round.’
These are the competitions dealing with reviewers. They don’t seem to be interested in stuff that’s all that different from trad pub.

Do you identify as marginalised and has that influenced your publishing path?
Does the level of innovation in your writing influence your path?

MLJ: I write my characters inclusive to resonate with everyone as much as I can. I don’t have to care if an agent resonates with it.

JRW Gay couples, lesbian couples, bi couples, throuples, I write them all.

Adam: The fun of writing fantasy is you get to just play and be as representative as you feel like. This is the yellow civilisation, this is the green civilisation —we don’t have to do this anymore. My first book had a female lead and people said ‘you can’t do that.’ -doesn’t apply now.

Have Publishing Industry changes impacted your choice of publishing path?

MLJ: I self published because I gave up on that long list of agents. Everything I’m hearing about the industry now is not what I was told it would be previously. So I’ll self publish while all that is going on and wait till things change.

Adam: I started querying in 2020, first book, so I don’t know any different.

JRW: I started in the 90’s. You could directly query a lot more publishers. I did nonfiction for local journals, just before electronic submissions kicked in. Still the same thing, ‘love your voice/ work/ can’t sell it.’ Jamie Ford sat me down at a workshop and said, “You’re 90% there. You should be trad publishing.” I was going to query, but it was 2020 and we know what happened next.

ML: I came into this right before Twitter fell apart, summer 2022. Started to establish myself in Twitter #WritingCommunity, was finding all these agents and writers, then it crashed and burned. I slid in right before that happened, finding my publisher through a Twitter contest.
A friend was doing one pitch contest on Discord -DVPit- but it was impossible to keep up with and it sounded terrible.

JRW: That’s the element of luck. I was all set to do a big break through reading. A few day’s before the ceiling of the bookstore fell. There is such an element of luck.

Did any Other factors influence you?

JRW: I went to an editor panel with several friends, small press, self pub, all in between, all middle aged ladies at a convention in 2012. We walked out at the end going, “New York does not want us” in 2012.

Were there any surprises on your publishing path? Good? Bad? Did they affirm your choice, or did you stick to your guns despite them?

MLJ: I was a little surprised how hard it was to get an agent since everyone was saying I was doing everything right. I was surprised how little support publishers were giving.
The promise was you would have more people on your side who would make you more successful. Then a big book got 4k for a year to get by and I thought really? That’s not the dream I was promised! So maybe its not that different to go it myself.

JRW: If you can crank out two books a year, in the 90’s, it was a nice living. A friend’s joke was, “Oh that’s Conan the Hot tub. That’s Conan (elsewhere).”
A friend of mine was part of a group of later, middle-aged women midlist writers who reliably turned out 2-3 books a year and hit their deadlines. In about 2008 they decided to form an indie co-op that became the Book View Cafe in order to promote their work. Shortly after Kindle, Smashwords, and then Draft2Digital kicked in. That was when self publishing really took off.

MLJ: All those new indie options made it professional and easy at the same time. Before all the authors had to be on Tik Tok or whatever. Nowadays even the trad authors are pressured to self-promote just like the indies, so the publishers can save some money.

MS: Now if your book is indie its no longer true its dead to trad. If its not identical to 90% of what’s out there -women’s/ romantic comedy- they won’t take it. Most people don’t have the money to make a self pub book popular enough to be taken on by trad publishers.

JRW: Some are spending 9k to make 10k. That’s the deep dark secret of 20BooksTo50k.

MLJ: Amazon does prioritise books that sell better to show up more in ‘you may also like.’

Adam: Its never been easy. Entrepreneurship has always been hard. Some paths will cost money and be better than others but there are paths.

Querying: what is or would be your limit of queries sent before you shelve a book? Is that a factor for you? Or is how many books you shelve a factor?

Adam: ‘10 books. If I have 10 books that haven’t made it, I have 10 books to publish.

MLJ: I didn’t have a limit because 15 years ago I thought that was the way to go. So I didn’t consider change till I heard how the industry was changing.

MS: I don’t have a set number for sub. When I’m done I’m done.

MLJ: I never had a set limit for querying, since the plan was to keep going until I got there. I sent out hundreds of queries, for multiple novels. It was only in the pandemic era when the publishing industry started visibly changing that I decided to switch gears and throw all my efforts into the indie side of things.

What advice would you give on choosing a publishing path for a particular book/ series?

MLJ: I’d tell my earlier self to seek out more writer friends earlier, and do more networking. I didn’t have writer friends. I didn’t know there was a writer club in town until I’d published my first book. The friends I have now across the internet would have been so helpful earlier on. Yes you’re good at writing. But getting someone else’s feedback is always helpful. There will always be people who know stuff you didn’t realise you needed to ask and who have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.

Adam: Read more. Read 50 books a year. I did it last year, MG books. If you don’t read you will not know what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve seen a marked improvement in my writing since reading those books. Like a lot of people I thought I’d read them all. I read all the genres.

MS: One piece of advice that always make me cringe a little bit is read widely in your genre. It gets pushed so hard the genres collapse in on themselves. You can tell when you’re reading a romance book by someone who only reads romance books and they always sound alike. I would say its equally important to read outside your genre and to be aware of your genres conventions.

JRW: Ask yourself what you really want–and decide which path is most likely to provide that option

ML: I would say to start by checking out resources like this that break down the different paths so you know what the different options really entail before you get started: https://janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/.
And be cautious about some of the advice that’s out there in the various writing communities online, which can be misleading. For instance, one thing I come across a lot is this notion that getting an agent or going self-pub are the only viable options. Hardly anyone is talking about the route I went, selling directly to a small press.

Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Joyce’s Website

Twitter: JoyceReynoldsW#1

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Related Reading

Querying Your First Novel

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Becoming an Indie Author Part 1
and Part 2 (Book Launch).

Signing With an Indie Publisher (a multi author interview)

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

Querying Your First Novel

Congratulations on finishing your novel! Savour the moment, then buckle up. There’s a whole new skill set to learn, resources to peruse and critique partners to work with, on your query and synopsis craft. To help you with this, and on the challenging and honestly, often discouraging querying journey, I’ll also delve into networking with querying writers for mutual support (you’ll need this!).

Crafting a Query Letter: Suggested Steps

Research: the Content of Query Letters

If you google ‘what should I put in my query letter’ you’ll get a list like:

-Greet the agent/ publisher by name

-write a hook for your book

-pitch your book in 2-3 paragraphs and around 300 words

-include two comparison titles which give an idea of the tone and style of your novel (within its genre and audience range, published in the last 1-5 years)

-write a short bio, including your day job and publishing credits (if applicable)

-thank the agent/ editor for their time

Research: How to Write Effective Queries

Query letter ingredient lists will tell you what goes in a query letter, but often neglect to tell you how a query letter is written. For example, the above list says nothing about how to craft a pitch which clearly introduces your main character, your conflict and the main characters personal stakes in it. It gives no advice on crafting a query likely to entice anyone to read your opening pages. To learn how to do these things, I suggest reading detailed resources like:

Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post (a fictional query, which uses humor to nail pitching).

Susan Dennard’s first (and annotated) successful query letter.

My detailed query letter and query pitch break down.

Then read some of the 600+ successful query letter examples in your genre linked to this spreadsheet.

Take notes on what the above resources do that you haven’t, what they do more effectively than you have so far, and any ideas they give you for revising your query.

Query Revising and Critical Feedback

This is how I write and revise queries. Whether you’re editing for the first time or are mid-revision, I hope it gives a good idea of steps you can take to avoid VERY common premature querying.

  1. Revise query, multiple times.

2. Cross check query with notes on query letter ingredients to check you’ve included everything.

3. Read successful queries and detailed query advice blogs above (again). Make more notes on what they do well and you’re still revising.

4. Revise your query using step 3’s insights.

5. Feedback. Get writer feedback on your query. Author bias can blind you to how successfully you implement everything you’ve read. And as you know everything about your book, it can be very difficult to tell how clearly you’ve communicated your character, conflict and stakes to someone who knows nothing. As for your novel, so with your query letter and synopsis, fellow writers are your rear and sideview mirrors, helping you see your blind spots.

6. Content Revision. Revise using writer feedback (suggestions which fit your story, its tone etc). Your goal here is to get all the details that belong in a query pitch in, everything that obscures key pitch ingredients out, and to word everything clearly enough for unfamiliar readers to understand. This may take more than one round of feedback and revising.

7. Wording Revision. It’s easy to go round in circles of query pitch feedback, revise, query pitch feedback revise. BUT, I suggest once you and your readers are happy with your pitch contents, get one more round of feedback. When your pitch ideas are solid, it’s easier for other writers to suggest removing unnecessary words, rearranging your ideas for effect, or adding imagination catching details/ adjectives. Your goal this time is to polish your wording for maximum reader impact.

What Feedback Should I Discard?

Some query feedback might be, ‘but what about’ and ask you to explain EVERY thing your query mentions (or alludes to). In your query, it’s unimportant whether the murder victim was found inside, or outside, or on which day of the week. The ONLY thing that matters is the victim was found at your MC’s house, because that’s the inciting event which gives your MC personal stakes and pushes them into the conflict. The ins and outs don’t matter and are details which can overload the reader, and obscure your character, conflict and stakes.

As with beta readers, its handy to get feedback from multiple people. Do multiple people flag the same points as needing editing? Or does one get hung up on things you don’t think matter -and no one else seems to think they matter? And while feedback will aim to make your pitch sound great, does it represent your story and tone well enough? Or is that great suggestion open to misinterpretation, and potentially selling a story other than the one you wrote?

Query Readiness Checklist

According to you and writers who gave you feedback, does your query pitch clearly:

State your conflict, MC’s role in it and your MC’s (and world’s) stakes?

Include details which make your characters motives/ goals/ conflict/ stakes unique (eg. the MC is the only one without special powers)?

Evoke the tone/ style of your novel?

Is it around the 300 word mark?
(SFF may have good reasons for being nearer 400, but if you have only one point of view character and one main conflict, a 500 word query letter probably has details it doesn’t need, which can weaken your pitch.)

Do the writers who gave you feedback think its ready?
Yes, some feedback will be subjective and not a sign of unreadiness. No, not everyone will realise when they are or aren’t being objective, including you and all of your critical readers. This is where it gets messy, and having multiple people’s feedback agree can help you make decisions about what to edit and overall readiness.

A word of warning, “That sounds great to me, I don’t have any(more) suggestions,” may not mean your query is agent-ready. It may just mean that person hasn’t read enough successful queries, or spent enough time revising their own, or had enough experience critiquing pitches to identify and suggest possible improvements. So when using feedback to help you decide whether your query is ready, consider whether feedback from multiple writers agrees, AND how much pitch critiquing experience the people giving it have. If you know someone whose quite experienced with pitching and they can’t see any objective holes/ weak points -that’s a good sign of readiness.

Querying Resources, written on envelop with wax seal.

Realistic Expectations

Premature Querying

Querying writers I know have tended to either confidently begin premature querying, or not know when to stop editing and begin querying (or do both in that order.) So how can you judge querying readiness?

  1. After each major edit, did you shelve the book and query long enough that when you returned, you clearly, instantly spotted multiple areas for improvement? (For me, this is a good indicator of whether I still have the ability to view my work objectively, or have edited it too many times and lost perspective).
  2. Acting on the Best Feedback. Yes, as the person most invested in your book, you know it best and will spend the most time evaluating its and it’s pitches readiness. But don’t undervalue critical feedback just because it surprises you. Keep an open mind when considering critical reader feedback to act on. If you’re unsure, try it out. If it doesn’t work, you can be confident you’ve edited based on the best feedback you have and made your book and query the best you can.
  3. Do you think you AND and a second round of readers think you addressed the areas of development/ clarity your first critical readers raised?
    As a pantser, for me this step is crucial. My latest wip has been through three rounds of feedback, the first and second compensating for my tendency to underwrite, the third to forth targeting specific critical reader feedback and elaborating on ideas that gave me.
  4. If after 2+ rounds of critical reader feedback and editing, all you are doing is taking a word out here, substituting that word and generally making minor changes, then it sounds like you’ve done the best you can alone, with feedback. It’s time to let go, and send out your first round of queries!

The First Query Round

Querying in rounds is popular among Twitter’s #WritingCommunity. While those 5-10 queries are out, you’re taking a break from editing your query, hopefully talking to other querying writers, and perhaps pitching in pitch parties. This gives you more time to learn about querying and pitch craft, and to distance yourself from your query. After getting 5-20 form rejections -variations on ‘thanks, but no thanks, my opinion is subjective, other agents may disagree, etc’, you’ll likely realise you’ve learnt some new things. You may find that your query is not so ready as you had thought (many of us do to a greater or lesser extent ?).

Sending batches of queries gives you time, space, and a chance to revise, so agents you query later get a stronger version of your query. This is why I highly recommend not querying any agent you have any emotions about in the first round. Seriously, pick 10 or so agents who represent your genre and audience age, whose MSWL only vaguely relates to your manuscript (or just ticks ‘surprise me’), and query those ten agents.

“But what if one of them offers to represent me and there were others I wanted to query first?”, you ask. I’ve talked to several hundred querying writers, and do you know how many got an offer of representation on their first round of queries? Zero. Some got full requests, when querying their second, third or later novel, but they all resulted in rejection. If you can’t bare the thought of not having an agent you’re keen on in round one, pick the one you’re happiest to be rejected by, and query them.

Rejections

Time for the bad news. Expect rejections. Many of them. Expect form rejections, which will occasionally not even include your name or will spell it wrong. “Dear Author, Your book is not a good fit for my list at this time. Other agents may feel differently. Best of luck -Agent.”

You’ll see many variations of this. Some are helpful, for example, some form rejections say “the pages didn’t pull me in”. Then, you know your opening chapter, and perhaps manuscript need editing. So you can post pone sending your next round of queries until you’ve finished editing (yes, you may well need to pause querying to edit your MS. This is not unusual).

Do Rejections Signal an Issue with My Query or Pages?

Many rejections unfortunately, leave you guessing. Does my query or manuscript need more editing? Or did the agents not fall sufficiently in love with it to help me edit it to publisher submission standard? Do I need to work on my craft, or did the highly subjective (and competitive) nature of the industry mean I missed out on one of very few client vacancies at an agency?

If you keep getting short, vague form rejections, yes, your query may need editing and agents may not be reading your pages. But how many form rejections signals this?

I suggest seeing how many agents you want to query in total, then deciding after how many form rejections you want to edit your query package. That way, you’ve still got people to show your hindsight-benefitted, most polished query to. For example, if you’re only querying 60 agents, consider getting more feedback and editing at the 20 and 40 rejections marks, so you don’t get 50 rejections, THEN realise you need to fix something after most agents have rejected your query.

Personalised Rejections

These are RARE. I’ve had a form rejection from someone who requested my full manuscript. Yes, you might get personalised feedback on a query and opening pages an agent really liked, but didn’t think they had the editorial or marketing experience to take on. But don’t expect personalised feedback. Even if you get a full request, be aware that you may get not only a rejection, but a form rejection. When I first started talking to querying writers early in 2020, personalised feedback for (full or partial) requests was the norm, but unfortunately that has changed.

Why Was My Manuscript Rejected?

Reasons we’ve read about and discussed in one of my querying groups.

“The pages didn’t pull me in.”

“There wasn’t enough voice/ the voice didn’t resonate with me.”

“I don’t have the burning passion required to provide one or more sets of edit notes to prepare your novel for submission to a large publisher and to sell it.”

“I don’t feel I have the editorial experience to help you prepare this particular book for submission.”

“Don’t believe I have the knowledge/ experience or contacts to sell this particular book.”

“One of my clients has or is planning to write something similar to your book,” and existing clients come first.

I say ‘particular book’ because maybe they rep SFF and you sent them an SFF of a sub-genre or with a strong theme or element they don’t have experience with. So your book could be ‘of the genre’ an agent represents and still not the right fit.

Then there are things form rejections are too polite to mention: underdeveloped characters, underdeveloped plots, structural issues like lack of story tension and pacing, and general craft issues.

If you’ve bothered to read this post down to here, I doubt you’ve skipped enough homework to have this issue, but critical readers only have so much time to analyse your writing and communicate feedback to you, and sometimes things get missed that way. That’s another reason I like a second round of critical readers for everything -they may catch things the first round missed, or tried to tell you, but couldn’t convey clearly enough.

If there’s any chance you still harbour unrealistic querying expectations, here’s literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s list and rebuttal, covering unrealistic expectations all the way to promotion and sales.

Don’t have a ‘Dream Agent’

Bearing in mind everything I’ve said about rejections, don’t have a dream agent. As you’ll see in Jericho Writers article Having Realistic Expectations, one agent may receive several thousand queries a year and sign 2-3 authors a year. In New York, those are the odds. The chances of you getting an agent aren’t good, while the chances of being offered a contract by your dream agent are astronomical.

When researching an agent, I’d just take a cursory look at why they may be a good fit for you and your books -or why not. Then read/ view a bare minimum of details to perhaps personalise your query (if you have a relevant connection) and try not to get attached!

So the odds aren’t good and querying is a ton of work- Now What?

Find Your Querying Community!

If you’ve read the How I Got My Agent or Indie Publisher interviews on this blog, you’ll notice a common theme is how important and helpful community has been to these authors. I created a group of querying writers on Twitter in March 2020, then one on Discord in September. Sharing our experiences, advice and helpful resources we found with each other (I’ve cataloged resources here), taught me pretty much everything I needed to know about having realistic expectations. Being in querying writer groups also made participation in pitch parties an infinitely better experience.

Where Can You Meet Querying Writers?

I’d search hashtag’s like #AmQuerying or #Querying using the search function on your favourite writing community social media. If that’s Instagram, Blue Sky, Mastodon or the dead bird app, you’re likely to find individual writers posting about querying that way, and have the opportunity to interact with them.

Before & During Twitter Pitch Parties

Tweet to say you’re pitching, on the party hashtag. If you’d like to trade pitch feedback, say so. To get to know other pitching writers, ask them to share a pitch, mood board or other information about their novel to encourage them to interact.

If you’re happy to comment (word is this is just as effective a boost as RTs) on fellow writers pitches, say so. Talking to writers by commenting on their pitches and replying to their comments on yours is a great way to get to know fellow querying writers and to make friends. If you’re not in a pitch DM Group, its also a great way to feel less alone in a sea of pitching writers.

But I think the best option (in addition to posting) is trying to find a Direct Message Group of pitching writers, where pitch feedback, comments and rts may all happen, along with conversation and company. This gives you people to ask party, agent or querying related questions of, to get help from and to cheer on and be cheered on by. Its my favourite way to pitch in parties and the sole reason I’ve pitched in so many. Other writers make it fun, I’ve enjoyed their company and they’ve helped motivate me when the odds would otherwise have made me give up.

Finding Querying Writers On Discord

Originally a space for gamers to create their own forums, a lot of writers groups started on Discord in 2020. The Strictly Writing Discord Community (of which I’m co-admin) has a channel for querying discussion, one for seeking/ giving pitch feedback and one for seeking/ giving query letter and synopsis feedback. If you’d like an invite to access it, send me a message on my contact page, or reply to my posts about Discords on Blue Sky or Mastadon.

To search for other Discord servers, you can you use your social media search bar to see who’s been posting about their server, by typing ‘Discord’ and ‘#WritingCommunity’/ writers into it.

Where can I find Literary Agents?

For resources introducing you to literary agents (including warnings on finding a reliable, non-shonky one), databases to find literary agents and what they’re looking for, and advice on communicating with them, see Querying & Literary Agents in my Querying Links post.

How Long Do I Query?

This is a question to which I think every querying writer should have an answer. Sure, it would be great to sign up with a literary agent and a big publisher. But how many years and hours of your life are you prepared to invest in that process? And what if the novel you’re querying isn’t the one that will appeal to literary agents (or that publishers think will sell)? What if no-one you submit to feels the connection and burning passion required to help you edit that first novel and sell it?

If you post saying you’re thinking of giving up querying, many well meaning writers will reply encouraging you to keep it up. But some writers don’t sign a contract with a literary agent until their third, fourth or later book (or don’t get a literary agent).

So how long are you prepared to query each wip? If 100+ agents represent your genre and audience age, will you query them all? How many rejections suggests this book is not marketable (money making enough) for agents/ big publishers to take it on? 50? 100? Every agent you can find? Do you have other wips you want to query and when will it be their turn? And how long do you think you can sustain balancing querying, writing the next book, your life and wellbeing? (Burn out is real, and mental health matters!)

Things I Suggest Considering While Querying Long Term

How is my mental health?

When do I need a break from querying and how long for?

Have I fallen out of love with writing, and do I need to take time off querying to focus on writing and just enjoying the creative process again?

Do I know enough querying writers or need to extend my querying community for support?

Am I open minded to querying small presses and if so, when should I start?

Am I open minded to self publishing? Do I wish to learn more about it while querying? If I’m prepared to self publish, how much time do I want to spend querying before switching publishing paths?

If you somehow made it to the end of one of my longest blogs, well done and more importantly, I wish you well on your querying journey!

Further Reading

Query Letters

Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post (a fictional query, which uses humor to nail pitching).

Susan Dennard’s first (annotated) successful query letter.

My detailed query letter and query pitch break down.

Querying Links: Letters Through to Literary Agents

Pitch Parties

Twitter Pitch Parties

Crafting A Quality Pitch

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Expectations

Having Realistic Expectations by Jericho Writers.

Rachelle Gardner’s list and rebuttal of unrealistic expectations.

Querying Writer Communities

My Craft and Querying Discord.

Or search your favourite social media for ‘Querying’ and ‘Discord’ and see what you can find.

Publishing Paths Interviews

Halla Williams #Pitmad Success Story

Signing with an Indie Publisher

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

Halla Williams #Pitmad Success Story

What lies beyond querying, should we be fortunate enough to have a literary agent offer us representation? In this #Pitmad success story, Halla Williams describes how she came to write the March 2020 #Pitmad pitch which led to signing with her literary agent, and what signing and the early stages of working with her agent have been like, over the course of a year like few others (2020).

What was pitching your Epic Fantasy like?

My first experience of pitching felt like jumping in at the deep end without learning to swim first. After I’d got the manuscript as polished as I could, even getting a developmental edit to check the very complex multi-POV plot worked,  I went to a writers’ day run by the SFF publisher at Gollancz. I paid £65 to go but it was worth it. Gollancz authors like Joanne Harris and Ben Aaronovitch and some agents and editors were doing panels and then they moved around the audience tables, heard what you were doing and gave you feedback. It was so useful. Jo Abercrombie loved the written pitch he kindly agreed to read. One of the Gollancz editors hated my very under-confident spoken version. I realised that I had no idea how to sell this book verbally.

I thought, ok, I need to slow down and think about what sells. What were the ideas that people could relate to and latch onto, that evoke what I’m offering – which is really complicated and multi layered, and doesn’t have clear main characters and doesn’t have a single clear plot? It was going to be a struggle.

I started writing my query then and foolishly sent it too soon to Joe Abercrombie’s agent and ‘said Jo Abercrombie liked it.” I got a form rejection. Those first few are hard because they just confirm that dread that it’s not going to be easy. So I took it slowly because I knew I didn’t know how to sell it. I only sent them out gradually. 

Query Feedback

I started getting in touch with people on Twitter who were also querying. We talked and my query evolved. Then Flights of Foundry [an SFF convention that went online because of the pandemic] came up. There was a lottery for a critique of your query by Jose Iriarte and Elle Ire. I was lucky enough to win a place only 6 people got. I sent it off in advance and they were going to give feedback on the day but the connection was awful. They said, “We’ll email it and you can send your next draft as well.” Jose didn’t like it and Lisa loved it. She really related to the query and he didn’t at all. Then I re-wrote it based on that feedback and Jose said he was amazed at how much I improved it based on what they said. I thought, “Oo, I’m feeling a bit more confident now!”

What was your experience of pitch parties and follow up querying?

After that I wrote a few pitches in response and shared them on Facebook for people to respond to. I looked at feedback and went by my gut to choose which ones to pitch. I pitched in #Pitmad and got no likes. Then I pitched in #SFFPit and botched it. An American agent liked my pitch. He said on his Twitter, “Find out about me. It’s a wooing process. Don’t just send me stuff and don’t know who I am.” So I did loads and loads of research. I wasn’t aware of how far back in the past it went but I picked the most appropriate connection I found. I just got a form rejection back and was disappointed. But at the same con I mentioned earlier, Flights of Foundry, he said, not knowing I was there, “Don’t do what this stalker did and dig years into the past to find something that connects you.”

Elise: And you sat there going, “Awesome. That was me…”

Halla: Yes! I was mortified even though I wasn’t digging through his trash, or hacking his account! I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Just because you’ve got a like doesn’t mean anything. You still need to be able to connect with that person. Just be yourself. Have confidence that you’re offering something that will connect with that person. Don’t scrabble around like an idiot, trying to find a connection that isn’t there.

Query Length

By the time we got to the March Pitmad, I knew my query said what I wanted it to say. It was nearly 400 words – outside the guidelines for what people say is an appropriate length for a query! But the more good examples in high fantasy I see, the less I think it should go down to 300.

Elise I saw a post where an agent reported on average query length in their inbox. Some went up to 450 and the agent believed there were appropriate reasons for them to be that long. I guess that’s the problem with hard and fast rules -they don’t apply across the board.

Halla: It’s quite a long complex novel. At that point, it was 130k words of epicness.

You never know if someone’s going to like the enigmatic ex-mercenary, or the courtesan or if they’re going to be attracted to a rebellious Fae. Skimping too much means you could leave out the ideas that could appeal to the right person.

Getting that down into a Twitter pitch was hard but the same applies – get in the appealing ideas. Although there are so many pitches going by that you may not get seen by agents, it’s still great practice.

Elise: From the pitch parties I attended in 2020, I think if you’re writing adult there’s a chance, but for YA Fantasy the odds of being seen by the industry seem astronomical. I’ve had a few press likes in SFFPit, but that’s the only party my YA Fantasy has got industry attention in. I can see myself querying publishers and then self publishing.

Halla: That’s what I thought I was going to have to do.

How did you know that you have the right agent?

Good First Impressions

After I got the like in the March PitMad, I did some digging into him and I could see that he was a new agent. I liked what he’d been posting and how he came across on Twitter. When I sent the query in, he responded almost immediately. He rang me up and said, “I know people don’t normally ring, but I really like what you sent me and can I have the full please?” No one else had shown interest. He sounded really nice on the phone. We had a chat and a laugh. Afterwards, I realised I hadn’t sent the full to anyone, so I had to format it… chapters a third down the page… Times  12 New Roman 12pt. I worried whether I’d got the right, most up-to-date version. It only took me four hours, but it was really intense between feeding a small child and other things going on to distract me.

He emailed me the next morning and said, “I’m a few chapters in. I really liked when… has anyone else got it?” He was obviously really keen.

Three days later he said, ”Can I call you and talk to you about it?” I thought, is this going to be a revise and resubmit? A phone call was a good thing, but I didn’t know how good. I was having a hell of a day the day he wanted to call me, so I put it off to the next day. 

More Good Signs

He called me up and said it was as brilliant as he hoped. He gave me some constructive feedback so I’d get a feel for his edits: “This is happening off stage and is reported. You need to write some actions scenes and get a thrill pulse going.”

He told me so much about my novel that resonated with me that I thought you get what I’m trying to do. We had a good chat and formed a good bond. 

I got the references off him. He only had two other clients before me. He’d said, “I want to work with you for your whole career, not just this book.” That was what I wanted and needed. I thought he’s an agent with a small list, I’ll get loads of attention. And he seemed to be a rising star. I was pretty sure he was the one. But the other person who had my query was someone I was really interested in, so I did nudge her and she said, “Send me the full.”

Good References

Just after I sent her the full, I got his references and they were glowing. Both authors were keen to talk to me and sing his praises. Apparently, he’s got a great eye for edits!

I ended up emailing the other agent and saying, “I’m sorry, I’ve made my decision.” It just felt really right and I wanted to move forward. I contacted him and said “I really want to come and work with you. Let’s do it.” And he seemed delighted!

What was signing your agency agreement like?

There were a couple of things I wasn’t sure about, so we talked through the contract. After that I was happy and celebrated and posted a picture of me and my contract – blurred out – on Twitter.

And the next client he signed after me won the Rivers of London Prize. So he’s been able to talk to editors he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. That book is fantasy, so it has opened doors to talk about mine. I’m very happy about that.

Halla holding up her contract.

What stage is your book at now, and when might it go on submission?

2020 was a difficult year in terms of getting things done and moving forward. I got my full edits in January (2021). We’re going to make the changes we need to make, then we’ll go on submission. You think you’re going to just do some revisions then it’s going to go out there, but because it’s a big, complicated book, it’s going to take longer than I’d imagined.

Elise: Did he give you feedback officially to do some edits earlier? Has it been multiple rounds?

Halla: He gave me some things to work on when we did the signing at the end of May. I got some broad comments in December. The people he’s signed since are behind me in the queue, so they’re going to take longer. Somebody told me a publishing house editor had hers for 5 months before she heard anything.

Elise: It seems to be the thing with traditional publishing – that it will take time full stop – at all stages.

Halla: However keen I am to push it on and hurry it, you’ve just got to wait for other people.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

How much of it feels like luck.

Just connecting with the right person at the right time is staggeringly unlikely. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve also got to be lucky. Lots of people saying no isn’t necessarily because you’re not good. There are so many reasons why people say no that have nothing to do with you. 

I had been getting to the point where I’d queried for a while and I was wondering if it was the pages and whether I should cut the first few chapters. You get to a point where you feel like you should change something. I’m glad I didn’t because I didn’t need to.

What advice would you give people in the querying trenches?

Get lots of people to give feedback on your query and don’t believe everybody. Just take on board what makes sense to you and opens your mind to how other people are perceiving what you’ve written. You know the story so well that you can’t know what the words you’ve chosen are suggesting to other people. They may come across quite differently. Ask people to tell you what kind of person they’re finding that character to be. Are you finding that person engaging? What is charming about what I’ve written? What stands out to you? Really interrogate that. 

[I was one who gave Halla feedback on her query. She wasn’t afraid to seek clarification or additional feedback from people who’d already given her feedback. I remember being impressed by how much her queries developed from one revision to the next.]

Different people are going to like different things about it. Take what seems to you to be good advice.

But if you’re trying to write lots of subtlety, you have to cheat it. Make your pitch not quite as complex as it is, to get an agent to read it. You’ve just got to get them to pay attention enough to get hooked into reading. Then they’ll see that it’s subtle and complex.

It is collecting together the ideas that make a good pitch, rather than trying to convey the essence of the story.

I think my pitch makes it sound a bit like a romantic relationship between Ashari and Westorr. That isn’t the case, but there is something about the ambiguity of that relationship which is intriguing. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin, but it was accurate as written and enough to pull somebody in.

More About Halla

Halla Williams writes high fantasy. She’s also a developmental and copyeditor and sings in an acoustic duo called Telhalla.

Having grown up in the small town of Nailsea in England, Halla studied Drama at Exeter University. She then toured as an actor for six years, performing in everything from Shakespeare to comedy musicals to children’s theatre.

Halla singing.

Although she discovered many wonderful places, she came back to live in Bristol, near where she grew up, to work as an English teacher. After 16 years, she left teaching to become a proofreader and editor and finally finish Song of the Storm.

Bristol’s live music scene is a particular joy for her and she sings regularly at the ‘famous’ open mic at The Oxford pub in Totterdown. Her favourite local band is the Dusk Brothers.

As a fantasy reader, her favourites include Robin Hobb, Janny Wurts, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Mercedes Lackey and Brandon Sanderson. She has a Facebook page and you can follow her on Twitter if you are interested in the writing/publishing process.

You’ll find her website here.

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Further Reading

If you’re curious about the alternative -signing with Indie publishers- here’s my interview with three authors about how they found, signed with and knew they had the right Indie Publisher for their book.

For more information about querying, all of my favourite querying resources are linked in Querying Links: Letters & Literary Agents.

You’ll find my best advice on query letter structure and a query pitch breakdown in Comprehensive Query Letter Tips.

Signing with an Indie Publisher -3 Author Interviews

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 publisher signing 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.


Signing with an Indie Publisher -3 Author Interviews

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

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

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

If you’re sad the Twitter referred to in this post no longer exists, I recommend trying Blue Sky. This Guide will help you get started.

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.

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.

Comprehensive Query Letter Tips

Letter flap in old fashioned door with 'letters' on tarnished silver metal, painted black background, white painted wooden panels at all four corners.
Photo by Gemma Evans

There’s a general structure for query letters and query letter pitches, but there are also specifics about which literary agents may have differing personal preferences. In the query letter tips below, I outline what I’ve learnt from giving feedback on an estimated forty queries, and reading a similar number of successful ones. I’ll provide structure and advice on specifics (with tips on how to identify literary agent preferences).

Beginning Your Letter

The Greeting Yes, you want your greeting to be professional, but the formal “Dear Mr/ Mx/ Mz etc” may sound distancing. It also requires you to check a female literary agent’s marital status, and runs the risk of misgendering a literary agent. As a literary agent is a potential partner in bringing your book into the world, I prefer Dear First Name, as do a few literary agents in this thread. If you’re not sure how best to greet an agent, you might like to do a search of their @ on social media, #AskAgent and ‘greeting’ to see if they’ve posted a preference.

If you Prepare Queries for Multiple Agents At Once -make sure you have their name right! Have a system to ensure you fill details like names and personalisation correctly —every submission. I fill in the email subject line for all first, name each, personalisation each, then copy the pitch. Sometimes I alter the bio to suit the agent, then paste my sign off and contact details. Is spelling an agent’s name wrong cause for rejection? Not for Kortney Price -just don’t call her “Dear Sir”.

Line One

I never begin with ‘I am seeking representation for…’ If your query is by email, your subject line will probably read, “Query, TITLE, Genre, Audience Age” -so the agent knows what you want. If you’re submitting via Query Manager —again, they know. Besides, can you imagine receiving a few hundred (or thousand) queries a month beginning with the exact same phrase?

Paragraph One

There is a lot of advice saying that the title, genre, audience age, wordcount and comp title paragraph goes after the pitch. I’ve come across agents wanting to read the pitch first (eg. Carrie Howland & Pam Phonomena ), and agents who don’t mind (eg. Anne Rose). Query Shark insists the pitch goes first. But I’ve also seen advice to put the manuscript title and word count upfront (eg. Susan Dennard).

I include my title, genre, audience age and word count with personalisation. That way, the agent knows my genre (which could be Scifi or Fantasy from my pitch) upfront, and my word count shows straight away that my manuscript isn’t in dire need of editing and isn’t a hard pass on those grounds. (My comp titles go in a separate paragraph after my pitch.)

Personalisation -What Does it Mean and Why Does it Matter?

For some literary agents, a polite greeting by name is enough for personalisation (eg. Maria Vicente, Naomi Davis ). Other agents like to see indications you’ve done your homework about them, or their agency (eg. KT Literary). To see if a particular agent has a preference beyond being greeted by name, do a social media search of ‘@(whomever)’ and ‘personalisation’ with ‘#AskAgent’. If you’re lucky, the agent you’re querying will dislike personalisation sentences altogether (like Jessica Alverez), and you won’t need to bother.

If You Add Personalisation, What Should it say?

Don’t be weird -eg. don’t tell them the dream you had about them. Or gush about how wonderful they are. If you’ve had prior contact, via a conference for example, or if an agent liked your pitch party pitch, that’s worth opening with. (Embed the pitch or paste its text and a link to it above your query pitch).

If you’re keen on a particular agent and research their clients and books, you could mention how either is similar to yours (yet also different -your work not being a duplicate). Alternatively, you could Google literary agent interviews/ profiles to see if your share a taste in books or films (as Peter Knappe likes), or have other shared interests impacting your writing.

What if you don’t fancy researching 50+ agents?

I personally don’t look at interviews and sometimes not even at social media at the query stage. It’s a time consuming investment which I suspect is unlikely to pay off. I check the agent’s long Manuscript Wishlist, and their MSWL tweets, filtered on this site and make a connection between my novel and the agent’s MSWL. If the agent doesn’t have MSWL, I make connections to particulars on their agency or personal website. If that doesn’t turn up much, you might jump straight to the pitch -the most important part- as Mandy Hubbard and Naomi Davis advocate.

The Pitch

The Hook

A concise hook and that packs a punch about your MC (who is ideally a hook too) or something unique about your premise/ story, is an ideal way to begin. You want your hook to say “this book is interesting, original and you want to read my pages.” If you struggle, perhaps write and revise your pitch first, then decide what the hook should highlight. Writing a Killer LogLine by Graeme Shimmin may help.

Orienting the Reader in Your Story

If your querying SFF or a setting crucial to plot that isn’t contemporary Earth (or you query America with a non-American setting) -orient the reader. Begin with a clear indication of time and or location. Example, ‘It’s 1923 at the Bermuda Triangle…” If you don’t state genre until after your pitch, you could suggest it with genre-specific clues (eg. airships signals steampunk), within the pitch.

The MC

Woman with brown floral crown wielding dagger, seated in a green dress.
Photo by Ferdinand studio

This isn’t just an introduction. This is your chance to tell a literary agent what makes your MC different to the many other’s in your genre and their inbox. It’s your chance to show off some of your MC’s personality. You can do this in how you describe them and their job, or their wants or goal in the first line. In introducing your MC, you want to show an industry professional a character they want to spend time with. You’re persuading them to follow that character’s journey throughout the story. Try and show something about your MC which is relatable, invites a reader to make a personal connection and to root for your MC.

The MC’s introduction is also a place to begin showcasing your novel’s voice. To help develop your voice, consider how would your MC describe themself? What would they want others to know about them? What would their friends or family say about them? Is there a key sentence of dialogue or narration you can adapt from your MS into your MC’s intro?

Inciting Incident

This may not be a sentence of its own. It might follow on from the MC intro or even combine with it.

Eg. “College student Lizzie didn’t plan on receiving her education by distance, but when a loan shark’s fists show up wanting the money her absentee uncle owes them, life on the run is suddenly appealing.”

You might also want to include how the inciting incident makes the MC’s initial goal or want harder.

“Lizzie thought balancing part time work with completing a dissertation was hard, but meeting assignment deadlines while dodging armed thugs is a whole new project.”

Conflict & Stakes

Two white birds grappling in mid air.
Photo by Chris Sabor

Clarity & What’s Unique

At this point, it’s crucial to remember that a literary agent has no idea the “government” your “rebels” are rebelling against are aristocratic werewolves, who hunt unsuspecting plebs at full moon. This section of your query isn’t just about making your conflict clear, it’s showcasing what’s unique, and how the protagonist and antagonist interests clash. SFF writers, if you name anything which doesn’t exist outside your story world —tell/ show the reader what it is. I’ve critiqued a few SFF query pitches where “whatever-that-thing-is” is crucial to the plot, and its frustrating reading.

Character Role

I’ve critiqued pitches where there’s a big external conflict, and the query pitch doesn’t state the main character’s role in it. No matter how elaborate your external plot and story world may be —character is key. You’ve got to sell your MC at every stage of your pitch. Don’t stop with “MC joins the rebel fight against the evil empire.” Say what drives your MC. If you can, include something unique the MC draws on to fulfill the role only they can play in combating the evil empire.

Stakes

“Or the world will be destroyed” might be your stakes. But the reader doesn’t know much about your world, or its rebels. They’re just vague entities and faceless people the reader has no emotional attachment to. Why should we care if either dies? But if the evil empire demolishes the suburb where dear old grandad, who inspired your MC to join the Justice League lives, and he’s going to die and your MC will be devastated, then we’ll care. ‘Stakes’ can mean external stakes, but if you want to have an emotional impact on the reader -make stakes personal to your MC too.

Complication

Sure, my MC is 16. The uncle they love dearly -their mentor- is dead. Their parents have been abducted and they’re under siege by a vastly more powerful enemy. But what if something else amps up the stakes? Speeds up the ticking clock? There’s already a war between two kingdoms in my novel, but both sides are humans. Until a monster horde unleashed by a third ruler with an unknown agenda rocks up, and the entire continent is threatened.

Examples of this; in fleeing for her life, Lizzie discovers that not only are loan sharks after her uncle’s money, but her uncle has indebted himself to the mafia to pay back the loan sharks. Or the rebel learns the aristocratic werewolves are allied with vampires to dispose of political opponents. You might want to mention how a complication threatens your MC (and their dog for good measure) and makes their role in the conflict more difficult.

End with Tension and or an Impossible Choice

The rebellion needs your MC’s help to fight the vampires who threaten everyone’s families. But it’s the full moon, and a werewolf aristocrat (mistakenly) suspects your MC’s best friend joined the rebels and is after said friend’s blood. There’s no-one to defend said friend, unless your MC abandons the rebels. In other words show how, to fulfil their goal and save the day, the MC must risk or sacrifice something precious to them. Or mention the complicating threat your MC can’t see, which is charging at them sideways, then end with that tension.

Man standing with back pack on, at fork in leaf carpeted forest path, bright trees on the left path, dark shadows on the right.
Photo by Markus Spiske o

The Rest of Query

Business Paragraph

As said above, your title, genre, audience age and word count (if you didn’t share them above) go here. Different literary agents may hard pass on the basis of differing word counts for the same genre and audience age range. This thread by Kelly from Rees Agency gives an indication on certain genres and ages.

Comp Titles

How many do you need? Two seems preferred, as indicated by former Literary Assistant Christina Kaye here. The most common advice I’ve seen on these is published within the last five years, with variations being within the last three. Choosing two such titles shows there is a market for your book and that you know what it is. If you struggle to find a title of a similar style book to yours, you can cite major elements in common.

For example, one of my titles is to comp a complex political and military conflict, while the second is for friendships and mentoring relationships. If you want to use older comps, it’s worth checking if a particular agent is ok with them, as three agents on this thread were.

Finding Comps

I Google (genre), (audience age), top 20/50 books of (2020/ 2019 etc), sometimes including ‘Goodreads’ or ‘Amazon’. Local librarians can be a great help. They tend to be avid readers, so I’d describe your novel to them and see what potential comps they can recommend. If you’re struggling to find a comp (most of us do), bear in mind vague or ill-fitting comps can be worse than none, as Jim MacCarthy warns. For more information about comp titles and advice on how to find them, see this post by An Willis.

Bio

Put it last -you’re pitching a novel, not yourself. So keep your bio brief and highlight why you personally are qualified to write this book. Include any publishing credits or writing qualifications, including life or #OwnVoices experiences related to your MC, their situation, or your audience. For example, I write YA and my bio mentions that I’m a teacher.

If you’re a debut author (I wouldn’t state so), and have participated in a mentorship (eg. Author Mentor Match etc) I’d include that. It demonstrates dedication to your craft and your willingness to grow as a writer. I’d also mention if you’re a member of a writers society, example Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, for the same reason.

If you don’t have writing qualifications, or publishing credits, you might just mention other qualifications, your day job, family, being a cat’s slave etc. As James Gowan says -simple is fine. Furthermore, this isn’t just the “Why I’m the right person to write my book and a professional writer” paragraph. It’s also the “here’s an insight into what I’m like as a person you may want to work with paragraph.” So you may want to include a fun fact and or show personality in your bio’s writing style.

Sign Off

I wouldn’t worry about, “I have attached x in accordance with your guidelines”. For an email submission -they’ll assume you have, unless you aggravate them by not following guidelines. But do thank the agent/ acquiring editor for taking the time to consider your work.

Contact Details

I‘m not going through Query Shark’s archive to find and link the blog in which she said not to include the words ‘phone no.,’ ‘email,’ ‘twitter’ ‘website’ ect because literary agents will recognise them. I’m just going to say, save words in the precious word count by stating each of your contact details on a new line.

The Query Letter Feedback

I can’t say enough about how important it is to get other writers, with no idea what your novel is about and fresh eyes, to give query letter feedback. If you can’t see the wood for the trees, seek feedback from writers you know, post offering to trade it, or join a Discord Server to trade it. If you’d like to join mine (which is open to all writers for craft & querying discussion), let me know by replying to my posts on Blue Sky or Mastodon or via my contact page.

As with your manuscript, judging when your query letter is ready to submit is a difficult decision. Premature querying is common (tips on avoiding that here). Circumstance with critical readers and my editor prevented me from premature querying not once, but twice.

Author bias can you blind you to ‘obvious’ mistakes or unclear sentences etc. Critical readers have an important role to play in helping ensure your query package is truly the best you can produce without a literary agent or editor’s assistance.

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Further Reading

Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post uses humour in a fictional pitch to accentuate everything your query letter needs to get right. Susan Dennard’s successful query letter is annotated with what to do for each section.

If you’d like to read more about the pitch, see my pitch crafting post.

For a list of resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents, see this post.

What’s Querying A Novel Like?

As a member of a querying writers group, I’ve watched writers wait 6 months to receive full manuscript rejections, or go months without receiving so much as a form rejection for queries. I’ve learned a lot about having realistic expectations and how to tackle the querying process. In these querying interviews, I interview some of those writers, with the aim of giving newly querying writers insights into what to expect on your journey, and advice. And to give those of you already on your querying journey a chance to reflect and possibly tweak your approach to querying.

Where Are You Querying From & Which Genres?

(Scroll right to see Debbie Hadad’s details).

Cheryl
Burman
Alexandrina
Brant
Susan
Waters
Juliana Savia ClaytonMelissaDebbie Hadad
FromUKUKCanadaUSAustraliaIsrael
GenreHistoricalFantasyScifiDystopianScifi
How long for?3 years2 months?5 months7 months (Tapered off July to write second).1 month1.5 years

What did you Think Querying Would Be Like?

Susan Way, way back I thought it was going to be every door slamming before I could get near it, but then when I learned that normal people can get literary agents, I realised I could be one of them. But at any point you get reminded it’s going to be hard and you’re going to get lots of rejections.

Alexandrina This is not my first time querying. This time round I wanted to go in with my excel spreadsheet and make it as ordered as possible. 10 queries at a time, wait 2 months, do another 10. I came into querying with a definite plan. I didn’t stick to it.

Debbie I think I underestimated how disheartening it could be and how much emotional energy it takes to keep going. If only you could just hand it to an agency to keep submitting or if there was an app like Book Tinder! Put your query up and if an agent likes it they swipe right and get your pages!

Melissa I did a lot of research and had an idea of agents taking a long time to respond, or not at all. I knew it was pretty hard to find an agent -if at all. I never planned to write a picture book. I’m not relying on this to get an agent.

It would be wonderful to be traditionally published for that kind of validation…

Cheryl

What has Querying Actually Been like?

Susan's head shot.
Susan’s Querying Experience

I definitely know now that literary agents are normal people. Some of them have giant egos. Some of them are very, very humble. You learn which one you might want to work with.

And Twitter is a good way to see, at least, from what they choose to put out there, what they might be like. You still get an idea of their sense of humour and professionalism. It’s a good place to look for red flags, if nothing else.

Susan Personalisation, I don’t know what to do with that. Eg. “I saw on September 17th that you like spaghetti”. [My blog on query letters will address this later this week, and be included in my newsletter going out Oct 23rd].

Cheryl's headshot
Cheryl’s Querying Experience

In the UK you can only really query agents directly. The big publishing houses don’t take direct submissions, like some of them do in Australia. It’s a really time consuming process, just hunting down agents who potentially might be interested.

“Because that one (Cheryl’s second novel) is totally in my control… I have made the decision to self publish that. It could have been a minimum of four years before Keepers got on the market. I’ll be on my walking frame by then, so I just want to get it out there. I’m not interested in making gallons of money. That would be nice, though that’s not going to happen.

Alexandrina reclining in a hollow tree trunk.
Alexandrina‘s Querying Experience

Every rejection you get is a knock back. That feeling of ‘do I need to leave this for another month? Do I need to hold back on my next batch? And re-work it and look for more querying partners?

Elise Do you feel like you’re overthinking or being a bit too cautious?

I always go by the reactions I have per round. If I haven’t got a reaction out of ten or from agents with similar things on their list then something’s not quite right.

Alexandrina For my third round, I’m focusing on the whole novel, not just what could be wrong in the opening. There’s always a chance I could get that full request, so I want the whole novel to be the best.

Elise How long do you think querying might take and how long are you prepared to pursue traditional publishing?

Alexandrina I could send 100 queries then call it quits. It depends how much feedback I can get.

Debbie wearing a shirt saying 'Just Don't Care.'
Debbie’s Querying Experience

I sent out a few, then waited a few months. It’s like, will you please reject me? I rewrote my first chapter 6-10 times after letting it sit for a year. Then I got a request.

What have been your Biggest Learnings so far?

Alexandrina Be more social. I never actively searched for a critique partner via Twitter. I never found DM groups. Pitch parties… I feel like I have more confidence to say, ‘Hi. I see you’re doing x, y, z. Do you want to swap pages?’

Susan How much you should be ready to put yourself in a box. They want you to be clearly one thing. I wrote a book about an 18 yo, and it’s not really a dystopia… but it might be, and there’s serious situations, and comedy, and I don’t really know how to do comps but please just read this!

Melissa It’s well worth paying for services like Query Tracker. I learnt the value of it when it was discussed in my query group. Looking back, I probably queried prematurely. I had revised a lot. I did have feedback. But I think I needed to go through again.

Juliana’s Learnings

I didn’t make too many tweaks. I know a lot of people make many on their first pages. I think that way lies madness. At some point you have to let your baby go.

About a month in, when I wasn’t getting the response that I wanted I reached out to an editor, @AmQueryingH, and she’s amazing. She did my query and first five pages. I had the bones of the query, but she really amped it up and that was the query that got me a couple of responses.

I didn’t realise how competitive the market is. Its more about being better than good enough. And a million other things that you don’t know about.

That was such an eye opening moment. It wasn’t my writing. It wasn’t that it was a dystopia. It wasn’t that he thought it wasn’t marketable. It was just that he already had that book.

You don’t have all the reasons why (for a rejection). Sometimes that makes it sting a little less. Sometimes the bourbon makes it sting a little less. And cuddling the cats and a very supportive husband…

Debbie’s Learnings

People always say don’t take it (rejections) personally. To pick yourself up after a rejection is hard. After a while you develop fatalism. It’s like “has my rejection come through yet?”

The more I learned, the more I realised I didn’t know. I learned you need to let it (your manuscript) sit. You are completely blind to the first draft. You have to have other eyes on it. When you read for someone else you pick up patterns. You need someone to help you notice yours and break you out of them.

Listen to feedback you trust. Listen to your gut. If you listen to feedback from everyone, you’ll go mad.

Be willing to implement advice. Get rid of things you really like if it improves the story. You need to be confident enough to think you’re good enough and humble.

You’re blind to your manuscript’s faults because you’re so in love with it that you can’t see what’s wrong with it.

Like phrases you use too much. I removed characters and rewrote from third person past tense to first person dual point of view.

What Advice would you give to Writers Beginning Their Querying Journey?

Melissa I don’t put all my eggs in one basket. You can’t rely on one path to get you through. Have a process for dealing with rejections. (Some writers)… have a dream agent or a few dream agents in mind and I feel like that’s setting yourself up for disappointment.

Alex Take on feedback. Actively look for feedback. Know this agent looks for this because of this interview.

Susan Even if you do fit into more than one category, you have to know how to make yourself fit into the boxes the agents want to fit. Accept that you’ve got to follow the established rule for comps. Actually read at least enough of them to understand why you’re comping it. Ask people who have experience with querying… who’ve gotten to have informal conversations with agents (at conferences). Go to any conferences available to you. If not, find people who’ve been there (not stalking ?).

Cheryls’ Advice
Cheryl's headshot

Do not start querying until you are super, super happy with your manuscript. Give it to as many readers as possible and beg for their honest views. Re-write. Re-write.

-Cheryl

Tell them you’re not just interested in where the commas are. You really want to know if the story works and how do the characters come across. So ask questions. [For an example of possible questions, see my chapter one critical reader checklist.]

Think about your comps very carefully. Think about style, tone, voice -is it similar? Don’t be too specific about the story.

Make sure you read the submission guidelines very, very carefully. If they ask for 50 pages, send 50.

In terms of getting your manuscript ready, make sure you’ve actually written it technically properly… point of view… dialogue.. make sure you learn those things from other writers. From reading books like Dave King and Renee Brown’s Self Editing for Fiction Writers.

Because an agent’s just going to throw it out the door… they need just the slightest excuse to move on to the next one.

Juliana’s Advice
Juliana's head shot

After living the rejections, it gets easier. It really does.

By my 80th rejection it was, “well at least I heard back. That was nice.” I had 5 agents say, “That wasn’t for me, but I hope you’ll keep me in mind for future work.” So make sure you read your rejections all the way through, because it usually comes at the end if they say that…

If they say “I’d love to read this”, that means they want the full…

Keep track of it. Query Tracker is a really good website.

For my future queries, I have that sheet with who wanted more and whose responses were kind and personalised. I got a couple that were kind of scathing like, “consider joining a critique group.” Like, I am. I got one that just said, “Thank you. This isn’t for me.”

I can’t emphasize enough: have a support system. Nobody gets it like a writer gets it.

Debbie’s Advice

Seriously, make a list of 50 people. Collect 100 rejections. Treat it as an exercise. Be persistent. It’s a long long process. Finding an agent by Friday is like walking down the street and finding a bag of gold. It’s like going on a first blind date and expecting that person to be the one. You need to date a lot of weirdos before you find the one. It’s the same with querying.

Agents have to practically marry your manuscript to represent you. They’re going to be going over it so many times and pushing it to other people.

I need to make a decision if I’m going to keep querying or self publishing. I really love my books and I think they are publish worthy. I believe they will find a home in readers hearts. You can’t know if there’s a cavern of gold and you’re centimetres away. We don’t know how far we are from the cavern or if there is a cavern.

I kind of want to say don’t give up because you could succeed tomorrow, but you don’t want to be querying forever.

Debbie wearing a shirt saying 'Just Don't Care.'
Debbie Iancu Hadad

Two short stories of mine appeared in the anthology ‘Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone (Tales from the Year Between, Book 1)’. Currently querying a couple of YA SFF novels, participating in three different anthologies, writing vss on Twitter and buying way too much stuff on Aliexpress. For my day job I give lectures on humor and serve as a personal chauffeur for my two teenagers. Residing in Meitar, Israel. You’ll find her on Twitter @debbieiancu.

Susan's head shot.
Susan Waters

lives in Ontario, Canada. Her writing, however, usually features her east coast roots, whether by landscape or by culture. Her first novel is an upper YA Speculative Fiction she hopes is the first volume in a series. Currently she’s penning an adult romantic comedy while plotting half a dozen stories, most of which blend science fantasy and humour. You’ll find her on Twitter @storiesbysusan.

Cheryl's headshot
Cheryl Burman

lives in the beautiful Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, UK. Her first novel was a fantasy middle-grade trilogy but she has since taken to adult historical fiction. Her co-authored novel The Shanty Keeper’s Wife is currently being queried and she has also written a  romance set in Australia in the 1950s. Her current WIP uses the Forest of Dean as its backdrop and is a magical realism novel about a young woman who becomes a hedge witch – and a little bit more.At the end: She also writes short stories and flash fiction, a few of which have won prizes. She also writes short stories and flash fiction, a few of which have won prizes. You’ll find her on Twitter @cr_burman.

Juliana's head shot
Juliana Savia Clayton

I write young adult novels and picture books. Currently, I’m working on a YA Romcom. I am an active SCBWI member, serving as the Indiana chapter’s Volunteer Coordinator. I am also a member of the Indiana Writers Center. In my day job, I edit environmental documents, and I have one published non-fiction article in my field. You’ll find her on Twitter @kidlit_writer.

Alexandrina reclining in a hollow tree trunk.
Alexandrina Brant

Raised on a diet of Tolkien, Doctor Who, and Agatha Christie, Alexandrina Brant grew up around the city of Oxford, England. After graduating from the University of Reading with joint honours in Psychology & Philosophy, she hightailed it to London to study a Master’s in Linguistics at UCL, where her focus was sociolinguistics and dialect blending. She currently lives in Yorkshire with her husband and two warring cats. Her short stories have been published in several local anthologies and she is working on a Steampunk novel about a linguist’s journey to rescue her fiancé and a Doctor-Who-esque sci fi about lesbian aliens trying to save a corrupt planet. She keeps up with the bookish community on Instagram @lingua_fabularum. You’ll find her on Twitter @caelestia_flora.

Melissa's headshot
Melissa-Jane Nguyen

is an Aussie freelance writer and editor and mum to two little ones. She has writing published in Kidspot and Essential Baby, she sends out a fortnightly newsletter that combines aspects of writing and parenting, and she runs a short story publication with her sister. Melissa is currently working on querying and writing picture books, planning a middle grade novel, and letting a young adult manuscript marinate for a while before turning it on its head and rewriting the entire thing. Melissa is (sort of) becoming an expert at juggling lots of projects simultaneously. If you can get her to sit down for a chat, she’s partial to any kind of tea and will happily relate all she’s discovered about celebrities and topics she has no real interest in but has researched thoroughly as a result of falling down rabbit holes. You’ll find her on Twitter @MJEditing.

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Related Reading

Querying Your First Novel

Crafting A Quality Pitch

Resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents: this post.


Twitter Pitch Parties & Pitch Tips

Twitte Pitch Parties + Mentoring Programs

I will no longer state how many pitch parties are on Twitter or have moved elsewhere, because as Twitter falls apart the number is constantly changing. In this post I’ll try to include updates on pitch parties current locations, links to their current websites and note when parties have been discontinued. I’ll give detailed advice on effective pitch and party preparation and on making the most of #WritingCommunity support. (Hint, RTs are the beginning -not the end!).

But First… Is your book Ready to Query?

Have you edited your MS for every aspect of character, conflict, story tension etc you’ve read up on? Have you received constructive feedback from critical readers focused on making the book a better reading experience? Did you edit again and possibly get a second (and third round) of critical readers? (Especially if you’re a fellow pantser ?). Is your query letter up to scratch? Have you researched its contents, how to ‘sell’ the book to literary agents or acquiring editors in your pitch, and received critical feedback?
If not, see this post to kick your query letter into shape!

Which Pitch Party is for Me?

#IWSGpit Most fiction. January 25, 8am-8pm EST, 2024 TBC. IWSG

#KidLitPit Children’s books from PB to YA. January 26th 11.59pm in your time zone (all/ any), 2024 TBC. Website

#SFFPit Fantasy, Sci-fi, Speculative Fiction. August, 8am-6pm EST (Not yet scheduled for 2023. Its unclear if it will continue).

Savvy Authors Pitchfest begins 9am Feb, June & Oct 2024 TBC. This event is by registration on their Savy Authors Site.

#PBPitch -Picture Books- February 16th 2023, June 15th & October 26th, 8am-8pm EST, 2024 TBC. PBPitch Website.

#PBParty Picture Books. March 1, midnight to 1am EST OR 6pm -8pm EST via Google Form. 2024 TBC. PBParty Website.

#WMPitch -Picture Books through to YA- April, 8am-8pm British Time Cancelled? Website no longer exists.

#MoodPitch Fiction, all audience age ranges and genres. November 2023 cancelled. The organisers are hoping to deliver an April 2024 party, but are currently unsure on which platform. Moodpitch website.

#Smoochpit Romance. This is pitching to a mentorship program, not literary agents. 8am-9pm EST May 12th 2024, TBC. Website

#SWANAPit writers from South West Asia & North Africa (countries listed on website). May? Cancelled? Website no longer exists and Twitter account inactive since 2022.

#APIpit Asian and Pasifika Writers, May 5th 8am-8pm 2022. No 2023 dates. Cancelled? Website not updated since 2022. APIPit Website.

#Pitmad Most fiction & non-fiction. (2022 TBC): March, June, September, & December, 8am-8pm EST. Pitmad Website Pitmad is discontinued as of 16/02/2022.

#LGBTNPit Authors in the Queer Community, special focus on trans & non-binary authors. April 14th 2022, 8am-8pm. LGBTNPit Website. Discontinued as of May 2022.

#CanLitPit for Canadian authors. Cancelled 2023. The organiser aspires to move to a new platform in 2024 and has left Twitter. CanLitPit Website.

#PitchDis for authors with a disability & neurodivergent authors. Post-poned till 2024. PitchDis Website.

#DVpit -Marginalised Writers- August children’s and YA, Adult has moved to Discord (announced here, as of May 2023). Discord invites will be delivered via their newsletter. DVpit Website.

#KissPit Romance. 9am-9pm EST, May 6,. Discontinued as of July 2021.

#PitDark Dark Fiction. May 25th & Oct TBC, 8am-8pm EST, 2024 TBC..

#JoyPitch The opposite of Pitdark, for ‘light hearted feel good fiction and non-fiction’ of all categories and age ranges. June 1st, 8am -8pm, 2024 TBC. Joypit website.

#FaithPitch -Christian Fiction- September (2022 TBC). FaithPit. website Discontinued as of March 1st 2022.

#QueerPitch LGBTQIA+ Authors, August 1st, 2024 TBC. Queer Pitch Website.

#LatinxPitch -For Latino Writers of PB-YA Fiction- September, 8am-8pm CDT, 2024 TBC. Latinx Pitch Website.

#PitBLK For black authors, has been postponed to Fall (date tbc, announcement here). PitBLK website.

Indie Book and Author Parties

#ReadGala All authors, genres and categories. Thursday, May 25th & Nov ? 2023. Website

#SelfPitch For upcoming or recently released self-published and indie-published books. 7am-7pm PDT 13/7/23 Adult, 13/7/23 for Kidlit. Website

Preparing For Pitch Parties

1. Read Pitch Crafting Advice & Successful Pitches

If you haven’t taken this step, chances are there’s a lot you don’t know or understand about how to write a successful pitch. If you don’t know where to find tweet pitch advice, mine is here for starters.

Reading as many strong pitch examples as you can also helps. To find them, search the pitch party hashtag and the hashtags you plan to pitch on. The ‘top’ feed may have some great examples, but it also has rather ordinary pitches by people with lots of rts them, so I also suggest skimming ‘latest’ too.
A third source of inspiration and understanding is successful query letter pitches. Here’s a spreadsheet of 600+ successful query letters by genre.

2. Comparison Titles & Formatting

Use comps in your pitches. They can indicate more about tone, setting and themes than you have room to indicate in your pitch. For party pitches, you’re not limited to books published within the last 5 years (unlike query pitches). Film or tv series and older books are ok. Ideally your comps will be recognisable to agents and publishers, and or contrast with each other (e.g. my MG tweet pitch comps were MATILDA X kids INCEPTION).

Alternatively, you could have a notable twist on a comp, e.g. gender-swapped (fairytale/ well-known story) or for example Downton Abbey —with witches. Putting your comps in ALL CAPs at the top of your pitch can help them stand out and encourage industry folks to read and pay proper attention to your pitch.

3. Party Hashtags

Agents and publishers will search genre, audience age and marginalised writer hashtags to find pitches of interest to them. Parties like SFFPit have their own official hashtag lists, which aren’t always the same. So whichever party you’re pitching in, check if it has its own hashtag list and if so, use hashtags from that list, so your pitches are seen by industry professionals. I’ve linked every pitch party I know of’s website above.

As you’re identifying the main relevant hashtags for your pitch, and having already chosen comp titles, now is a good time to type your pitch and hashtags into a post or do a character count to check each pitch with comps and hashtags fits the platform or specified party character limit. If you’re struggling with this, you might want to skip to step 4.

4. Get Feedback on Your Pitches

There are a few options for doing this.

Pitch Feedback Parties

#Mockpit (their website hasn’t been updated since 2021) and #Practpit used to exist, and be practice pitch parties run on a particular hashtag, day and time. I’ve deleted my Twitter account, so I can no longer search the above two hashtags to see if these parties are still running, but you’re welcome to search both stags on Twitter and see if you can find recent tweets on them. If they are still running, they’re a great way to get pitch feedback if you’re new to Twitter and have few contacts, or want additional opinions on pitch revisions.

Asking For Feedback

Alternative to the above, you can tweet/ post on other platforms asking for feedback, or search your pitch party’s hashtag for anyone offering feedback. Or you can or do a search of ‘Discord’ and ‘#AmQuerying’ to look for servers which may have pitch feedback channels. If you’d like to join my Craft & Query Discord Server (which has pitch, query letter, synopsis & beta reader channels), let me know by replying to my posts about it on Blue Sky on Mastodon, or via my contact page.

5. RT or Comment Lists

Tweeting offering to add writers to a twitter list where you can RT or comment on each other’s pitches is a good way to encourage each other and to boost your pitch visibility. With so many people pitching in parties, its also an increasingly popular idea. If you don’t want to make your own Twitter list (which stores handles of people pitching so you can check their feed or pinned tweet), I suggest searching the pitch party hashtag for people offering to put writers on their lists.

6. Join a DM Group

Pitch parties can be lonely, stressful and discouraging affairs on your own. Creating or joining a Group DM on Twitter, or a Discord Server to share pitches for RTs and comments, and to chat, commiserate, celebrate successes and cheer each other on makes Party Day much more enjoyable. It gives you a community, whereas spending time on the party’s hashtag feed on your own may give you the feeling of being a drop in the ocean.

If you’re new to pitch parties or have questions about anything, including agents or publishers who like your pitches, a DM Group gives you a bunch of people to ask directly. And as many people in my DM groups have said: pitch parties are more fun in a DM group!

To find people creating DM groups, search the pitch party hashtag in the Twitter search bar. (Alas, having left Twitter I can no longer offer to add you to the dying pitch group dm that was once a great place I pitched in parties with company in).

The easiest way to share your pitches in a DM is to hit this button

Twitter Pitch Parties & Pitch Tips

on the bottom right of your tweet after you pitch it. Then select ‘Send via Direct Message’ and select the name of the DM group from the menu. On computer, you can also copy the url from your browser, paste it in the DM and hit ‘enter’ to share it in the group.

7. Tweet to Explain Pitch Party Etiquette

It never hurts to tell your followers you’re pitching and that they can support you by boosting your impressions and visibility on hashtag ‘top’ feeds to industry professionals (you may like to include a mood board for your wip in this tweet). Your followers can boost by comments (which are more effective for Twitter algorithms) and RTs (which make your pitch more visible to writers, who can then comment on them). If you don’t have many followers and aren’t getting many comments or RT’s, the other hashtag feed industry professionals can search is ‘latest’, which shows up EVERYONE’s pitch at the time they tweet it.

The other important thing to tweet is the explanation that during a pitch party a ❤️ is how literary agents and indie publishers request submissions, and that non-industry likes cause disappointment, or leave us fighting hope as we sift through tens of ❤️ ‘s wondering if even one is an actual request.

8. Mind Set

2021 March’s #Pitmad saw over 570k tweets on the hashtag (yes this includes LOADS of RTs). Its possible your pitches won’t be seen by industry professionals and its VERY common not to get industry requests. Some agents and publishers made under 20 requests -period not just per genre- in March’s 2021 Pitmad. But if you go in expecting nothing from the industry, and prepare with the goal of improving your pitch craft, making writer friends, and of testing how your pitches are received by fellow writers to learn what works well for future parties and query editing- you’ll be all set for a positive experience.

9. Decide Which Pitch to Tweet First

This is important because your first pitch will get the most impressions, as people who are supporting pitching writers are most likely to retweet and comment during the first hour. So try to identify which pitch sells your character best, makes your conflict and stakes the clearest and most engaging, and ideally also the pitch which has the most voice.
To get maximum retweets and or comments -pitch it in the first 1/2 hour. If you’re not sure how to write a pitch, or don’t know the difference between a pitch, a log line or a blurb (book pitches are different to both and must include certain things to be successful), here’s my post on tweet pitch crafting.

But when do you tweet your other pitches?

Hourly for some parties, but only 2 or 3 pitches max for others. Parties tend to get increasingly quiet after 1pm -especially in the finale hours- so you may wish to tweet all your pitches by as early as 1-3pm. That said, I saw a few agents tweeted that they were beginning to check Pitmad pitches in the last few hours of March 2021’s Pitmad, so if you are online during the party, checking when agents are online is your best way to decide. You’ll sometimes find their ‘I’m checking out (insert party)’ tweets on the party hashtag’s ‘Top’ feed, including agents searching party hashtags the day after the party. If you have particular agents or publishers in mind, you could also check their twitter profiles, as they will normally tweet when they start checking pitches.

9. Schedule Your Pitches on Twitter

Yes, you can use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, but now you can use Twitter to schedule, so everything is in one place. Whether you’re home all day and awake during a party, sleeping because your timezone isn’t compatible with the US east coast, or working -or both- scheduling pitches takes pressure off you during the party. If you’re online, scheduling lets you focus on retweeting and or commenting on others pitches.

To schedule pitches on Twitter

1. Hit ‘tweet’.

2. Type your pitch.

3. Select this button (beside the emoji button).

Twitter schedule log

4. Select your time and date.

Timezones: If you’re not on US EST time, most parties run on it, so check your party’s times above (its often 8am to 8pm but again, not always) and convert them to your timezone! If you’re pitching from Australia or New Zealand, remember it’s often the date after the party because we’re a day ahead!

5. Hit ‘confirm’ (top right).

6. Then you’ll see your pitch again. Hit ‘schedule’ (bottom right).

10. Pin your Pitch

This is so writers you know and kind random strangers can easily find and retweet it -if you’re also retweeting other writers and your feed is cluttered with RTs. I’m hearing a lot about how comments do more for Twitter’s algorithms, so I suggest commenting on pitches if you can and asking others to do so for you. (Bear in mind this only works if they’ve got time and it isn’t midnight or 2am in their timezone -fellow Aussies -and Kiwis- I feel your pain!)

To pin your pitch to the top of your profile, after its tweeted, hit the top right ̇ ̇ ̇ then select ‘pin to your profile.’

11. During the Party

Get in your DM group and or the party’s hashtags to comment on each other’s pitches. When you find pitches of writer friends, associates or pitches you like, reply saying what you like about them. We’re all nervous, so acts of kindness like words of encouragement can really make people’s days. And yes, hopefully you will get some of what you have given -and you will have earned it.

12. After the Party

Celebrate, commiserate -ask how writers how they fared and share anything you learnt or ideas you have for next time with anyone likely to participate again. If you pitch in a future party, try and connect with the writers you’ve met this time and see if you can continue supporting each other in future. This is also a great chance, via DM group, Discord or tweet, to offer to trade query letter and synopsis feedback with querying writers.

Whichever pitch parties you participate in, Good Luck!

If you’d like a concise PDF of most of these steps, you can download it on the right. (Note: this pdf isn’t post death of Twitter updated).

Pitch Parties By Calendar Month

(To see them listed by type as above, select here)

January  #IWSGpit, #KidLitPit & (#AuthorMentorMatch -mentoring).

February #SFFPit???, #PBPitch, Savvy Authors Pitchfest

March #PBParty

April #MoodPitch?, #Revpit (Revision & Editor Mentoring).

May #APIPit???, #Smoochpit, #PitDark

June #JoyPitch, #PitchDIS???, #PBPitch, #CanLitPit???

July  

August #LatinxPitch???

Sept #SFFPit???, #PitBLK???

October #PitDark, #PBPitch. #DVpit?, Savvy Authors Autumn Pitchfest

November #MoodPitch?

Dec

*All party dates on this post are correct as of November 2023.*

MORE Pitch Parties.

My Pitch Crafting Tips

For a list of resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding & Communicating with Literary Agents, see this post.

Writer Mentoring Events

There are three mentoring programs which involve matching writers with mentors, who will provide manuscript editing notes and help writers hone manuscript for submission, #Pitchwars mentors also help with query package edits. For #AuthorMentorMatch and #Pitchwars the mentors are authors, for #Revpit they are editors.

#AuthorMentorMatch, is run by @AuthorMentorMatch in February.

#Revpit is Revision & Editor Mentoring for MG, YA & Adult Fiction, which begins with pitching on Twitter in April. For more details, visit the Revpit Website.

#RogueMentor is a new mentoring program offering mentorships in Northern Hemisphere Summer, Spring and Fall. For more details, visit the Rogue Mentor Website.

#Pitchwars mentors profiles can be viewed and the submission window for writers to submit via email opens in September. For more details visit the . Discontinued in 2022.

Critique. #PassorPages by @OpAwesome6 is for query critiquing. For details on which genres and audience ages you can receive feedback on and when visit their website. Round one is in February, with rounds throughout the year, the last in October.

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Bird's eye view o long bookstall tables with books arranged across it, sellers seated  on one side, buyers standing on the other.
Am I selling my book to the best of my ability? Photo by Maico Pereira 

Whether you’re pitching to hook literary agents or readers, either way, you want to do it WELL. This blog focuses more on pitches for literary agents and publishers who take unagented work, but there’s still plenty for querying writers and indie authors both to learn. (And indie authors will have more wriggle room than this blog implies. It becomes ‘know the rules and know why you’re breaking them’ more for indie authors than traditional publishing pursuing writers).

Book Pitch vs. Blurb

On Twitter, you will see people use ‘pitch’ and ‘blurb’ interchangeably. A pitch is NOT a blurb. A pitch aimed at literary agents or publishers will not get you requests if it doesn’t include specific ingredients, address them clearly and well (see below). Pitches often conform to particular formulas, like ‘Character is X, but when Y happens character must A or else incur terrible C.’ There are variations, which include essential pitch ingredients (see below). Whereas, a back-of-book blurb may or may not include all the essential ingredients of a pitch. A blurb may also include bonus details to appeal to readers, like thematic statements. (Thematic statements are mostly NOT included in pitches because they take up limited space and are usually not what sells a book to industry professionals).

Book Pitch vs. Log lines

You may see people advising, ‘Don’t name characters in pitches. State their role or what makes them unique instead. Definitely state their uniqueness, but I suspect this advice confuses log lines with a pitch. A log line is generally telling the audience (eg. at the movies) they’re in for a wild ride or a fun journey. It’s not trying to get a literary agent or publisher to care about or take interest in a main character. Its not trying to persuade busy agents and editors that they like this character so much or relate to them so well that they want to spend their limited time reading about this character. ‘Little Timmy’ is more likely to generate sympathy or to be relatable than ‘little no-name’. So I advise against log lines in Twitter pitches (in a query letter it may work), and for either, I say name your main character!

Basics

Over the past year, I have critiqued an estimated 100+ tweet pitches for various parties (not including revised pitches). This has helped me note patterns in essential ingredients and maximise opportunities to hook a reader. However, quality ingredients don’t guarantee a quality end product. So I won’t just list ingredients, I’ll explain why it’s important to address them well, then give advice on how to do so.

Essential Book Pitch Ingredients

Main Character
Inciting event, central conflict & stakes
Character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve conflict and avoid stakes or impossible choice the MC must make

Before we dive in

Remember that your pitch isn’t just saying ‘this is a great novel’. You’re telling an industry professional why they want to represent your novel. So how does your novel differ from others in your genre? What is unique about your character, inciting event, conflict, stakes & character growth? As you draft and revise your pitch, keep checking that it highlights what is most unique and compelling about your novel. Try to be as specific as you can in your pitch.

Note For SFF & Multiple POV Writers 

It’s tempting to write an opening which introduces the wonderful world you have created -but don’t. In a tweet pitch and even in a query letter, you aren’t selling your fantasy or scifi setting. You’re selling an intriguing character, with a compelling personal role to play in a conflict involving significant personal stakes. This is why it’s so hard to pitch multiple points of view. Its also why, if your novel has multiple points of view, I recommend giving the main characters a pitch to themselves, to do justice to each character’s arc. You may also write like to attempt a 2 pov pitch. A two pov tweet pitch normally has a sentence to introduce each character and a third sentence explaining their roles and stakes in the conflict.

Character

Seated, brunette woman wearing fancy red headdress, black lipstick and a green silk, floor length dress wielding knife curved, jagged silver bladed knife.
Photo by Ferdinand studio 

Your main character is your hook. Your goal is to introduce them that piques interest and or invite a literary agent or publisher to connect with them. (Do name your MC- thats a mental hook for details about them to hang on and makes more sympathetic than ‘random, un-named office worker’.)
A character description could be a single adjective, or a job title. Ideally, it will show or state what your character draws on to help them confront the conflict and be specific to your character.
Eg. fear of swimming from near-drowning as a child, in a story of personal growth in which she sees a child drowning offshore at a deserted beach. However you introduce your character, consider: what is the most unique thing about them? What helps them resolve the conflict and what are the most engaging word choices to show or describe that?

Character Intro Examples

“17 YO Jorden’s specialties are baking apple pie, hand to hand combat and leaping before he looks.” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad @debbieiancu.

“Elective mute Ashari remembers nothing before the void in her mind.” -Halla Williams @hallawilliams1.

If you’re struggling to find space for an engaging character introduction, you could use the inciting event as your hook and frame your introduction with it, as I have done here. “Thrust to power by death in the family, peace-born Ruarnon…” -Elise Carlson.

Inciting Event and Tension

You might like to frame your character introduction with ‘when’ to lead into the inciting event. ‘When’ is a good opening to lead into a collision of worlds, desires or wills etc. It amplifies the fact that the character we’ve just met and connected with is about to have their world turned upside-down and leaves us wondering how and what the outcome will be. (Try not to use the phrase ‘turned upside-down’. This phrase is common to many stories and can sound generic. If you use it, highlight the way in which that character’s life is changed. Or their emotional response/ reaction, to keep the focus on what is ‘unique’ about your story). Ending with a clash of wills with another character, or clash of morals between the character’s beliefs and actions -with an obstacle to their goal or resolution of the conflict- is a good way inject tension.

Inciting Event Examples

“His suicide mission: Build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.” -Debbie Haddad.

“Having lost her memory in a storm, she chooses the unlikely safety of becoming a mercenary for the enigmatic Captain Westorr.” -Halla Williams.

“Monsters live under beds, but Julie is sure there’s one in her ceiling.” -mine.

Conflict

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Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

An important thing to note with conflict is that in a pitch you don’t create conflict by saying ‘there’s a war on.’ Conflict here doesn’t refer to external plot events. It refers to your main character’s personal struggles within those events. Or to struggles in relationships necessary to achieve story goals, or to moral or ethical dilemma’s your main character faces. Again, inclusion of these personal elements creates opportunity for readers to connect emotionally to your character and story and for your pitch to hook them.

Of pitches I’ve critiqued, I would estimate that half do not clearly state the external conflict and or the main character’s role in it. Author bias really kicks in here. You know your story so well that your subconscious fills holes in your pitch. But critical readers can point them out, so you can fill holes and clarify that pitch for industry professionals. This is where I highly recommend trading pitch feedback with other writers.

Conflict Examples

“But falling in love wasn’t part of the plan…” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad.

“There’s only one way to find out and stop being scared -climb the tree beside the house and meet the THING!” -my picture book pitch.

Stakes

Once you have introduced a character and conflict which has hooked our interest, we need to know not only the external stakes, but the personal stakes your character faces. A pitch in which the stakes are ‘or the world will be destroyed’ is generic. Also, the world/ fantasy kingdom x’ is an anonymous entity the reader knows nothing about, so it has little impact on us. A character however, is someone we can connect with, so when you threaten that character, we feel something. If external conflict is key to your story, be sure to state the character’s role in it and the personal stakes their role entails.

(Conflict and) Stakes Examples

“…completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.” -Debbie Haddad.

“But ‘safe’ is a relative term. For both of them.” -Halla Williams.

Character Growth and Impossible Choice/ More Tension

Perhaps the greatest place to hook a reader into your pitch emotionally is when you state how your character must grow or develop to overcome the conflict. If main character Jane hates estranged uncle Tom, but his knowledge is crucial to preventing granny’s murder, and Jane must forgive Tom’s past mistakes to enlist his help in saving Granny -that adds tension.

Specific demons from your character’s past (or other obstacles/ shortcomings) they must overcome to resolve the conflict are often what makes me lament your book not being in print yet. Think about how your character must change to overcome the conflict they face and try to include it in your pitch. If you struggle to identify how your character changes (I did in my first Pitmad), this may be a sign that your novel isn’t ready to query. It may signal that your main character’s arc needs another structural edit (as mine did.)

Impossible Choice Example

“…she must use her voice or let her captain perish.” -Halla Williams.

But Wait, There’s More

The Save the Cat Formula features an addition that may be difficult to fit in a pitch, but can make a pitch highly engaging to read. This final ingredient to kick your pitch up a level is adding a complication to your character’s ability to resolve the conflict. Then indicate how this complication raises the stakes. What factor makes it even harder for your MC to achieve their goal? Does a friend betray them? Do they lose an asset crucial to success at the eleventh hour? Can you jam this complication and an indication of how it raises the stakes into your pitch?

“When a monster army invades…” (the second conflict in my novel).

Tweet Pitch Examples which got Agent Likes

The above pitch elements may seem like a lot, and you may only fit some of them into each pitch -which is why it’s great you get 3- so you can highlight different elements in each one. Here’s the pitches I’ve referenced above -each reference is often sections of 2 different pitches.

Debbie Haddad’s Pitches (You’ll find her website here.)

Crafting a Quality Book Pitch
Tweet: The day teen eco-terrorist Jorden Lund left Earth he had 4 months left to live.
His suicide mission: build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.
But falling in love wasn't part of the plan and completing the mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.

Halla William’s Pitches . You’ll find her website here.

Late June 2020 update: Halla is now agented -congrats Halla!

How Do I Achieve All This in a Book Pitch On My Own?

You don’t. Whether you’re writing pitches, a query letter or book blurb, you can post on social media asking who’s happy to trade pitch feedback (which will get you more response than asking and not offering to return the favour).

Most of what I’ve learnt about pitch craft came not from reading blogs like this, but from reading MANY tweet pitches. It also came from reading query letters -critically- and providing feedback to help other writers strengthen their pitches. Not all of this knowledge applied directly to my own pitches (to date), but all of it has given me valuable insights.

If you’d like to join a Discord Server focused on querying and including tweet pitch and query and synopsis feedback channels, let me know by replying to my posts about it on Blue Sky on Mastodon, or via my contact page.

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More Book Pitch and Related Resources

I’ve listed the pitch parties I’m aware of, which months they’re held in and links to Pitch Party websites here.

You’ll find resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents, in this post.

If you’re new to social media Writing Communities, see my Social Media For Writer’s post, or Blue Sky Newby Guide to help you get started.

Querying Links: Letters & Literary Agents

Text: Query ResourcesImage: an envelop sealed by a red wax steal, wooden seal stamp lying above it on wooden table top.

Query Letter (&Synopsis) Advice

If you thought writing and editing your novel was the hardest thing you’ve ever done -bad news- its not. Writing a query letter which clearly introduces your main character, conflict and stakes isn’t easy. Doing so concisely is harder still. Crafting a query which invites industry professionals to connect with your character and care about their conflict which overall entices them, may seem impossible, at first. Great query crafting is an art (different to novel writing unfortunately) and requires honing a specific skill set. Luckily, there are many great resources listing the ingredients you need. More importantly, there are resources which model what skilful inclusion of pitch ingredients can look like. This post is a collection of querying help links to help you through query craft, communicating with literary agents and publishing.

Query Craft Links

My tip -don’t use emotionally distancing statements like, ‘it is revealed that.’ Keep your pitch in your MC’s pov with ‘She discovers that…’

Querying Your First Novel. This is my outline of the query letter writing, critiquing, editing and readiness process. It includes having realistic expectations around rejections and networking with fellow querying writers for much needed support in the trenches.

My favourite query letter instructions, in which humour illustrates nailing pitch components, is Patrick Bohan’s Mad Libs Formula Blog Post. It features a fictional pitch involving Bob the Builder and his Deathray.

For a detailed outline of query letter & pitch structure, literary agent preferences and specifics like “how do I personalise?” see my post on Comprehensive Querying Tips.

A good successful, annotated query example is Susan Dennard’s. (She also has great articles covering writing, revising, agents and publishers.) 

For 600+ Successful Query Letters (cataloged by genre, with links to the letters) see this brilliant spreadsheet by Carissa Taylor. It will help you with everything you can do right in a query letter.

For examples of everything you could possibly do wrong in a query letter (and occasional excellent queries) -read QueryShark’s Blog. She’s a literary agent, and the right hand archives list query letters and her critiques of over years. Bad news -yes you have to browse by date. She recommends reading them all. But if for example, you write fantasy and most queries aren’t fantasy and have different weaknesses to yours, I’d read just her comments after the first 10-20 letters or skim for queries of your genre.

Then, moving beyond querying introductions, Advanced Querying Tips -by Sylvia Liu include many tid bits you won’t know not know if you haven’t talked much with querying writers. (Courtesy of @GenevievePuttay.)

When your query is ready, you may like to pitch your novel to Indie Publishers and literary agents in Pitch Parties. Here’s a pitch party list (with their website links), and a post on Crafting A Quality Pitch to help you with that.

Comparison Titles

Part of your successful query will be choosing appropriate comparison titles. These show literary agents there is an existing market for you book and that you know what it is. They can also indicate a lot about style, themes and overall novel features. This article explains comparison titles and has advice on finding them. I recommend googling ‘top 20 (insert genre & age) books of 2020/ the 4 previous years. You could also tell your local librarian a bit about your novel and see what comparison titles they can suggest. Then there are sites like whichbook.net (courtesy of @storiesbysusan), which let you enter criteria for characters and plot, to hunt comp titles on.

When you think your letter is ready, here’s a handy graphic to help you check.

Synopsis Tips

There’s varying advice on how to write a synopsis. I’ve heard “write one sentence per chapter,” but every chapter won’t always be a story beat. Some chapters just allow the reader to take a break from story beats and develop characters subtly -so they don’t need mentioning in the synopsis. I recommend writing only the main beats eg. a line for character/ world introduction, a line for the inciting event etc. A great resource for that is this article by Susan Dennard.

For more synopsis advice and tips on how your synopsis differs from your query letter, see this article.

How to Write a Query Letter site. For advice on synopsis content, voice and more, see this article by literary agent Kaitlyn Johnson.

Text: Critical FeedbackImage: blank page notebook and pencil on a table top.

Query Letter (&Synopsis) Feedback

Writing a query is HARD. Reading guides, tips and especially successful queries is helpful. But how do you know that you HAVE successfully applied most of the advice to your query? One way to assess this unhindered by author bias (knowing the novel and query too well) is getting feedback.

Free Query & Synopsis Feedback

You can Post in a social media #WritingCommunity offering to trade feedback. Some Discord Servers may have a channel for seeking query letter and synopsis feedback (like mine).

Workshops I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a pitch crafting workshop. But I’ve seen the difference it makes to other writers query letters (it’s no coincidence two such writers got agent likes in #Pitmad). If you get the chance to attend one -I’d take it!

Professional Critiques: I’ve heard mixed reviews about the effectiveness of these. So I would ask for recommendations from other writers before paying for one. QueryShark will critique for free if you agree to the critique being displayed on her blog for others to learn from. Manuscript Academy offers paid critiques and paid consultations with literary agents.

Querying & Literary Agents

Before we go into details and agent resources, if you’re new to querying, you might like to read my post on Querying Your First Novel.

Women writing notes and placing sticky notes on a whiteboard.

Literary Agents Introduction

The first thing I stumbled across about literary agents was warnings against disreputable agents and frauds. If you haven’t read up on this, there’s good general information and tips on what to be wary of on Science Fiction Writers of America.
The Basics Eg. ‘why do you need a literary agent?’ ‘how do I submit?’ etc see AgentQuery.

Where and How to Find Literary Agents? See Eric Smith’s A Beginner’s Guide to Looking Up Literary Agents.

Wondering whether to query a new literary agent? Here’s an advice blog on pro’s and con’s.

Youtube Channels with Great Query and Literary Agent Info & Advice include former literary agent Meg Latorre’s Query Tips and Agent Information on her iwriterly channel (which has other great advice). And Alexa Donne’s Getting an Agent videos from her author channel (which is also packed advice).

I’ve listed four databases for finding literary agents below. You can also (if you write an AMAZING pitch, find them in twitter pitch parties. More info in this post).

Literary Agent Databases

Manuscript Wishlist is searchable by genre and gives up-to-date and sometimes more detailed than literary agency profile information on what specific literary agents are seeking. I used it to compile my agents to potentially query long list. You can also search #MSWL on twitter for what literary agents are tweeting they want right now, but they may not have tweeted recently so this can be hit and miss. (Don’t tweet on this hashtag -its only for agents and publishers to tweet on).

Agentquery has a database of literary agents.

QueryTracker is an agent database. It allows you to record agents you wish to query to or not query, and what stage your query has progressed to with particular agents -submitted query/ partial request/ full request, etc. It’s a great way to avoid accidentally submitting to the same agent twice. It also lets you record whom you think it’s inappropriate to submit to, so you don’t waste time reading about them again if you search the database multiple times. Premium ($25 a year) lets you see where your query is in any one agent’s queue and has other features.

LitRejections

I like this database because it has extensive lists of individual agents, agencies and genres they accept by country, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and some European countries. You have to be a member to view lists, but it’s free to join.

If you use databases, blogs or lists to find literary agents -CHECK THE AGENT WEBSITE for up-to-date SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Also check they ARE CURRENTLY OPEN to unsolicited submissions, to avoid being rejected or ignored for acting on out of date or incorrect information.

Communicating With Literary Agents

For Cheat Sheets/ Templates to contact literary agents for a range of reasons, see this excellent post by @themoosef.

FAQS about Agents Offering Representation, from agent phone calls to contracts are answered thoroughly by Agent Query in this article.

When You Get The Call, here are some questions to ask the literary agent offering representation, by Bookends Literary Agency. And some questions a literary agent may ask you, by former literary agent Mary Kole.

When You Get An Offer here’s an article of things to consider while deciding if you’ve found the right agent for you and your book, by a writer who said “no” to an agent.

Publishing & Marketing Resources

As with agents, you could google publishing agencies. If you do, be wary of vanity presses masquerading as traditional publishers. These will charge you for printing and do very little to promote sales of your book (Austin Macauley tops that list). In general, if they find you or anyone offers you a deal that seems too good to be true -it’s probably a lie. Also be wary of hybrid or ebook publishers claiming to be ‘traditional publishers’ -if they may expect you to cover some costs, they aren’t traditional publishers. And if they only sell ebooks -whats the difference in their profits compared to a publisher who also sells hard copy? It’s worth finding out before you consider signing anything.

Types of Publishers/ Publishing & Choosing One by Joanna Maciejewska (c.o. @cr_burman).

Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity has a comprehensive list of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions (in multiple countries). It also has a long list of articles about self-publishing and other useful resources such as contests, and where to get reviews.

Author’s Publish is a mailing list. One of the emails they send regularly is a comprehensive, free ebook guide to publishing. Their emails also contain reviews and lists of publishers and magazines accepting unsolicited submissions.

Profit and Loss –How Publishers Decide What to Publish, by Jane Friedman.

Small Presses

3 Unique Research Methods for Identifying Small Publishers by Jane Friedman.

If you publish directly with a publisher, The Society of Authors and Authors Guild both offer legal advice on publishing contracts to their members (c.o. @GenevievePuttay).

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Related Reading

For a list of pitch parties to pitch your novel in, see this post.

For advice on crafting query letter or short pitches, see this one.

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