I recently entered a contest called The Agent’s Inbox sponsored on the blog Mother.Write. Repeat. (Kristavandolzer.com) Occasionally Krista opens her blog up for up to twenty people submit queries and first pages of their completed manuscripts.
"An Agent's Inbox" came about because I felt like the blog needed a lift,” Krista said. “Also, because all the existing blog contests focused on first pages and/or shorter pitches. I hated writing shorter pitches, so I thought it would be cool to see the whole query (and simulate an agent's inbox in the process). I can't schedule them as regularly as I used to, since they do take a significant amount of time and I usually don't know when I'll have the time until the last minute, but I enjoy hosting them.”
Each contestant is asked to critique at least three other entries, and a guest agent awards an opportunity to submit anywhere from the first 250 words to an entire manuscript. Krista said she “knows of two writers who signed with the agent who judged the round of "An Agent's Inbox" they entered. “I would like to make it three.”
I recently entered one where the prizes were a first chapter (3rd place), fifty pages (2nd place), or entire manuscript for review (first place.) Posts are public, so anyone with an internet connection is free to comment. While Krista asks that people “please keep comments constructive, it’s a little like Shark Tank for writers.
We’re all experts in writing that isn't our own, yet we’re too close to our own work and need another set of eyes. I had already run my book through a group of great first readers who provided enormous feedback. I also hired an editor to smooth out repetition and fix my numerous typos. (My editor also found where I had spelled a character’s name two different ways.) Breakfast with Neruda, which had gone through a litany of terrible titles, was ready to be seen.
Putting your “baby” out there for display is like watching your son walk into Kindergarten the first day. You know he’s not perfect, but he’s perfectly yours. Will he survive? Will he be bullied? Will he bite someone back? Make friends? Learn anything? Have permanent scars? Refuse to go back?
If you do “the agent’s inbox” or any other public critique, boldly go, but wear a suit of armor under your wet suit.
The driving question for criticism is “did you keep reading? If not, why did you stop?”
Most critiques heeded Krista’s request to remain constructive. In my case everyone who commented said they were intrigued by my story and would read on. The big hitches were in the query letter. Queries are hard. I’d rather write another novel.
How many of you have written unintentionally terrible query letters? I see thousands of hands in the air. (Try writing a bad one. It’s cathartic. If you look up booksandsuch.com, under the blog posts look for Rachel Kent’s bad query contest. It’s a hoot.)
With the aid of former literary agent Mark Malatesta’s services (literary-agents.com) I learned the important steps to crafting a query, how to pick agents, and other components of marketing oneself. It’s a ton of work. You may spend as much time devising a query and researching agents as you did writing your first draft.
My query covered the following:
Short synopsis of book, 1-2 paragraphs
Word count and genre
Why I contacted this particular agent (even though this was a contest, I still researched her and found an appropriate quote)
My writing background
My contact information
Some agents ask to acknowledge if submissions are simultaneous
Most comments said my query was too long, and the agent commented “Query: I really like the premise but each paragraph can be trimmed to get to the meat. Get to the point a lot more. Even your bio is a bit long-winded. Keep to facts. Overall: Even though I think the query maybe tells me a lot but not enough in a way, I'm still intrigued. It's a different story. It stands out. I'd read on.”
Not all submissions fared so well. Some addressed the agent by her first name only. I can’t stress this enough: UNLESS YOU HAVE MET THE AGENT IN PERSON, DO NOT ADDRESS HIM OR HER BY FIRST NAME ONLY.
Others had typos in the query and/or the 250 word sample. One samples began with a long description of the temperature. There’s sort of an unwritten rule to avoid weather reports. In a 250 word sample, essentially the first page, you have no room to engage the reader if he or she is stuck in cloudy weather.
Overall, most submissions were admirably polished, and most participants were gentle in their comments to one another. I received good suggestions, and revised my query based on the agent’s and others’ minor suggestions.
So how did I do? I won second place, so I sent the agent my revised query and first fifty pages. I’ll keep you and Krista posted on whether this agent and I work together.
Labels, agents, writing contests, query,