What I Want on my Pizza

…or in my queries.

The hubby and I have been eating a lot of pizza lately. Namely because it is rather okay to eat when cold, and new babies often necessitate cold-food eating. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian–Canadian bacon and pineapple. Yum! Although, I won’t turn my nose up at pepperoni or mushroom and black olive. Still, even the thought of a Hawaiian pizza makes me drool a little bit.

Similarly, while a well-written query letter is edible, there are certain queries that make me pay a bit more attention, that make me email the author back asking for a partial, a proposal, or even a full manuscript.

I have had several conversations with authors about what stands out to me when I am reading through the slush pile. Sometimes it’s a certain spark–something in the tone of the actual letter. Or sometimes it is in the fantastic writing, itself–the story, a certain character, the beautiful language. However, there are also a few tangible things that really impress me, as well.

1. Numbers Both online and in person. In other words, platform. An author needs to be connecting online via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, his website, his blog, his online newsletter, etc. If all of those overwhelm you, pick two or three that you can grow consistently. Start with ten minutes a day. He also needs to be speaking (and keeping track of how many people attended each event) as well as writing for print publications. If the author is a nonfiction writer, then he needs to focus on non-fiction articles. If he is a novelist, then aim for literary journals.

2. Names I often request a partial or a full if the author mentions that a certain celebrity or high profile person is willing to endorse her book. If that person has the endorsement included in the email, then I am even more impressed. Obviously, most of the endorsements come after the book already has a publishing house, but it never hurts to have those connections ahead of time.

3. kNowledge 🙂 When authors mentions things I like, information gleaned from my biography, I take a closer look at their query letter. I don’t mean that you should be a creepy stalker for the agent you are interested in (that would probably have the opposite effect), but you should research the agent. Know what she wants to read; know what interests her.

4. Names Oh, I mentioned that one before? Spell the agent’s name correctly in the query letter. My name has an ‘h’ at the end. I have rejected authors because they spelled my name incorrectly. All right, I am not that cruel–I did read through the query letter before rejecting, but it did nothing to gain brownie points, and speaking of brownies…

5. Nuts I don’t like nuts in my brownies, but I do like chocolate chips. So, you know, if you really want me to take a look at your query, be sure send me some. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Just like most people will eat any kind of pizza, every person has his/her favorite. Each agent has certain things that he looks for in query letters, but building your platform, connecting with high profile people, and doing your research about that particular agent will definitely help your query letter stand out among the hundreds in the slush pile.

Questions: What tips/tricks have you learned to help your query letter shine? Did they work? What hasn’t worked for you?

 

Nuke the Slush Pile

Photo Credit: 02-11-04 © Maartje van Caspel / istockphoto.com

What is a slush pile?

Have you ever read a market listing for a book publisher that reads something like, “Receives 2,000 submissions a year; publishes 20?”

The 1,980 manuscripts that didn’t get published are the slush pile. They are the mountain of unsolicited—and largely unpublishable—manuscripts that land on editors’ desks every day.

The slush pile also represents your competition.

I’ve spoken to more than a few writers who became discouraged at the sheer numbers of manuscripts out there and gave up on ever getting published. That’s unfortunate because it’s possible to move that slush pile out of the way.

Here are three simple practices that will help you stand out from the competition.

1. Learn Your Craft.

Believe it or not, most wannabe writers never take the time to learn how to write well. If you will take the time to study, learn, and develop your craft, you will stand head and shoulders over 90% of the people out there who say they want to be writers. Thus, when you submit a query or manuscript, your writing will stand out as superior.

Trust me. Good writing gets noticed.

2. Be Professional.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to make a living at writing or if you just see writing as something to do on the side. If you want to be taken seriously, then you have to approach your craft as a professional. That means properly formatting your manuscript, proofreading it carefully, and following the publisher’s guidelines to the letter. It also means being courteous, not missing deadlines, accepting editing and critique. It means committing yourself to turning out the best product you can–every time you sit down at the keyboard.

If you adopt a professional approach, you will distinguish yourself from many writers who do not take the time to learn (or practice) the etiquette of the publishing industry.

Do this and you will move more of that slush pile out of the way.

3. Network, Network, Network!

Over the years, I’ve learned that personal networking with editors, agents, and other writers can greatly accelerate your journey to publication (assuming you’ve learned your craft and are acting like a professional). And the best place to network is at a writers conference.  Consider this: If you had the choice between sending a query to an agent or editor (who will probably have a stack of them piled on her desk) or sitting down with her for fifteen minutes and pitching your idea in person, which would you prefer? At a writers conference you can meet that agent or editor face to face. You might not be able to attend a conference every year, but try to make at least one. It’s an investment, but it’s one you won’t regret making.

Learn your craft. Adopt a professional approach. And network, network, network. Keep these three principles in focus—and persevere—and sooner or later you’ll find yourself in print.

Because you’ll not only move the slush pile out of the way, you’ll nuke it.