I wish writing groups felt like this (photo via Pexels)
I feel like as someone who works in publishing, both as an agent on the industry side of things and an author in the Young Adult world, I spend a lot of time trying to nudge people to follow the traditional route of trying to get their book in front of the right people. I hear so many stories about terrible query letters and poorly formatted manuscripts, that I try my best to dish out advice when I can, at conferences, on social media, you name it.
This is about to get very insider baseball for a minute, so hang on.
Manuscript Wishlist, or as you’ll see on it Twitter as #MSWL, is a database and a hashtag where agents and editors will post their wishlists in fleshed out profiles (ie: books they are looking for, themes they want to see explored, their favorite reads so you can compare), or tweet out quick blips about the kind of projects they want to see more of.
It’s a pretty spectacular resource, and I’ve definitely gotten a lot of queries sent my way because of it. And I’ve also sent a lot because of it. As an agent, it’s important to know what an editor’s tastes are like, and Manuscript Wishlist dishes it all out, right there, thanks to editor profiles. Yes, phone calls and emails work too, but it’s up there so editors don’t have to paste the same thing a million times.
They launched Manuscript Academy last year, which has a bundle of agents and editors for hire, ready to help critique query letters, manuscripts, proposals, etc. I’m on there, and through it I’ve been able to help plenty of writers polish up queries and pages.
And that’s where this little story begins.
In June of last year, an author named Erica Boyce Murphy booked me for a query critique. Her novel, a work of literary fiction, arrived in my inbox, and I sent her some brief notes within a day… accompanied by an immediate request to read the full manuscript.
Two weeks later, after inhaling the book (and openly crying in a coffeeshop over it), I offered to sign her.
Three weeks after that, the novel had a few offers, and sold to Sourcebooks.
Now, this is an unusual route to publication, I know. But with all the resources available online to pitch your book in unconventional ways, it’s not totally uncommon anymore. There are massive success stories through events like #DVPit, a pitch event run by the incomparable Beth Phelan that also offers up critiques (free though!) from authors and agents and editors. The community rallies together to support writers getting ready to put their work out there.
You can see the same thing happening with Pitch Wars and the like.
The big takeaway? These writers aren’t afraid to ask for help.
If you’re gearing up to pitch your book, or need a hand getting that manuscript where it needs to be, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to get some help. Sure, some you need to be picked for (not everyone gets into Pitch Wars, and not everyone gets a query critique with DVPit), but there are plenty of authors and freelancers out there that can help polish up those pages, a letter or a book.
And the help doesn’t stop there. It’s not a matter of chance, like winning a query critique or being picked for an event, or a matter of paying someone, because not everyone can afford to drop $25 or $50 on a critique.
- Run Your Query By Your Writer: A good query letter is a lot like a good cover letter for a job application… even though you’re querying an agent who will basically work for you. It’s an odd thing, this structure, I know. Share your query letter with buddies, see what they catch that you don’t.
- Share Your Pitch With Non-Book-Writing People: Okay, what does this mean? Basically, don’t just share your pitch with your fellow writer pals who are super familiar with your book, and maybe already querying themselves. Remember, a good pitch for your book should describe your novel a la jacket copy, and that jacket copy is meant to grab readers in the store. See if it grabs your friends who aren’t busy fussing over their own manuscripts.
- Look Up Query Examples, From Authors Who Have Been There: This is different than looking up queries posted on publishing websites, dishing out advice. Look up actual query letters. Plenty of authors post them regularly, to show writers how they got to where they are. I post them on my personal site now and again, as lessons. Templates are great. The real thing is better.
So yeah, ask for help.
Because hey, you never know.
You might go from query critique to a book deal in a month.
And now, as a fun bonus, here’s the cover to that gorgeous book that broke my heart. Erica Boyce’s The Fifteen Wonders of Daniel Green will be in bookstores everywhere with Sourcebooks this April.
Daniel Green makes crop circles. As a member of a secret organization, he travels across the country creating strange works of art that leave communities mystified.He’s always been alone; in fact, he prefers it. But when a dying farmer hires him in a last-ditch effort to bring publicity to a small Vermont town, Daniel finds himself at odds with his heart. It isn’t long before he gets drawn into a family struggling to stitch itself back together, and the consequences will change his life forever.THE FIFTEEN WONDERS OF DANIEL GREEN explores the unexplainable bonds of family, the everyday wonder of love, and the strange mysteries life provides that help humanity light up the dark.