For Writers: 10 Tips From the Slush Pile

February 15, 2019

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the querying process is a scary, yet exciting, time in a writer's life.

 

You've done it. You wrote the book, you hated it, you scrapped half of it and rewrote it, revised it ten times, and are finally read to send it to the querying trenches of beloved literary agents. You're excited, you're scared, and rightfully so! Agents gets hundreds of query letters a week, and that adds up really fast. You have a short space to hook that agent into wanting to read your pages and, hopefully, requesting the full manuscript.

 

As a writer, I feel your pain. Querying my first completed manuscript was nerve-racking, but after awhile the nerves got better. I only had one full manuscript request, which didn't turn in to anything, but I'm still proud of that first book. Now I'm working my way through my second manuscript, this time with CPs, and I have a good feeling about this one. 

 

As an intern with North Star Editions, a publishing company home to both Flux and Jolly Fish Press, I've come to learn a lot about the slush pile, what agencies want and don't want, and queries themselves. Flux and JFP get hundreds of queries a week and, as an intern, it's up to me and a few other girls to read through them all. There are things we look for when reading queries, and if the submission doesn't follow the guidelines, there's a good chance we'll say no to the manuscript. 

 

Without further ado, here are my 10 Tips From the Slush Pile:

 

1. Follow Directions

This may sound like common sense, but I assure it is not. Agents and publishers tend to put exactly what they want to see on their website, Twitter, MSWL, etc. Only put what they ask for. If they want everything pasted in the body of the email, paste it. If they don't mind attachments, choose your preferred method. Not following directions will get some negative points against you from the starts. 

 

If they specifically say what they want to see in your query, and where, cater to that and add what they're asking for.

 

I've seen my fair share of queries that did not in fact have a query pasted inside. 

 

 

2. Perfect your query

This means looking at examples of query's that have working for other writers. See Nelson Literary Agency's Pub Rants for some good examples! Many authors/agents will put up queries that works and didn't work on their websites to help authors. Take advantage of this!

 

This also means having people who have and haven't read your book before take a look and tell you if they understand, if it makes them want to know more, and helpful tidbits you may not realize from being so close to the project.

 

 

3. Check Wishlists

Agencies and individual agents will put their wishlists out on their websites, Twitter, and MSWL. Look at them! If your book falls into a category that they're desperately wanting, there's your sign to query! That being said, don't be afraid to query things that aren't on their wishlists, unless it's specially on their Don't Want list. And, if you're still questioning it, a simple Tweet at the agent can do the trick. DO NOT PITCH THEM YOUR BOOK if you do this. If you can't find your type of book in their wishlist, ask them if they would be interested in Sci-Fi, historical fiction during the French Revolution, or whatever it is that your book is about. Agents are there to find new talent and books that make their heart sing!

 

 

4. Edit/Revise before Sending

Another one that may seem like common sense, but alas it is not. Do not send an agent/publisher your first draft. As someone who used to hate drafting, I now know that your book can only get stronger the more you revise it. Get CPs and Beta Readers and listen to their ideas and edits. Your job is to make it the best book it can possibly be before you send it to an agent or publisher. While some agents are editorial agents and are willing to work on a book that needs some editing, they aren't going to choose something that needs another year of work. At least, I don't think so. Your book will go into edits again if you get an agent/book deal, but that doesn't give you a pass to not edit in the first place. CPs and Betas are your friends, let them help you!

 

 

5. Don't be Overbearing

I've read so many queries that turned me off so much that I didn't even want to read the accompanying chapters. I usually soldier on and read the opening pages anyway, but that nagging feeling that the query left with me doesn't really go away. Basically, don't toot your own horn or try and toot mine. Don't assume anything of the person reading it, and using "you"can be a turn off for some. Don't be the person that says "You're going to love this so much, you'll never agent anyone else again." You'd be surprised what people say. 

 

 

6. Show Your Voice

You have a short time to convince someone that your book is the right one for them. Showing your voice, and maybe some of your character's voice, is one way to hook whoever is reading it in. Giving your query your voice is really going to help it stand out. That being said, don't be overbearing with it, like I mentioned in Tip 5. But, showing me your voice in the query is going to get me excited to see what the actual pages sound like.

 

This doesn't mean have half of your query be your bio. 

 

 

7. Hook Us

Your hook is your first line. It's a tidbit in your query that draws on my curiosity. It's the beginning to everything you're trying to get us to say "YES" to! Publisher's Weekly just did a blog article on opening hooks; they're important! They're the first thing your readers see that's going to help them decide if the book is worth the rest of their time or not. Not every opening line is going to be your hook: it can also be in the query/marketing copy/etc. What is it about your book that's going to make the reader flip the pages?

 

 

8. Draw Us In with the Opening Pages

If your book really gets interesting in Chapter 7, then that may be a problem. You either have the first few pages or the first few chapters to make an impression. Really hook us with your opening line and the beginning pages. That's what's going to make me say yes and make my bosses take a look at it after me. 

 

Your opening should make me interested in the characters and make me want to see where the story goes next. It doesn't have to open to a big battle or explosion, but it needs to be something that makes me think about the characters and what happens after the pages end.

 

 

9. Don't Put Your Eggs in One Basket

Many people probably have that one agent that they want to represent their book. They've done their research and this is the person for them, they just know it. Heck, I did that with my first book. 

 

But, don't go all in for one person. You want to spread your little book wings and fly! Give other agents the chance to read your manuscript as well. You never know who is going to connect with it and be the best champion for your story. 

 

 

10. Be Yourself

I think this is the most important one. Don't try and be someone else in your query. I'll probably realize that when I go to read your pages. You want to be authentic, and make a connection with your reader. Be honest and let your talent shine! Your book is what's important.

 

 

 

There are so many great tips for querying out there, including how to write one. The great thing about being in the querying trenches is that you're not alone! Go on Twitter and you'll find tons of writers in the same spot as you, and this is a great way to connect. Many writers start groups for #amquerying writers and offer support and encouragement through the process. And while you're querying is a great time to start your next project. Or take a much needed break. Whatever you do, don't let rejections get you down. They happen to everyone! This line of work is super subjective and a project that's not a good fit for one person may just be what the next has been looking for! 

 

What's the best querying advice you've ever gotten?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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