A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Tag: Querying Advice

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.

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