The *exact* query that got me my agent

Note: Title says it all! Below is the query I sent to Elana Roth Parker that kicked off my debut’s journey to publication. If you compare the book I queried to the book that’s hitting shelves, you’ll see that SO much has changed—including the title! We added about 20k (58k is pretty short for YA), changed the themes of the plot significantly, and tightened things up to help pacing. As far as timing, it will be 3 years and 2 months from the date I sent this query to my publication day.

I have so much to say about querying, but one huge note:  please DO NOT copy this exactly, especially if you want to query Elana. She’s going to spot that from a mile away. The below query was the result of 2+ years of research, tweaking, and learning the rules of querying AND FOLLOWING THEM. Ultimately, it’s the book and not the query that gets you an agent. Put in the work, and don’t give up.

Dear Ms. Parker,

I am seeking representation for my upper YA novel THE RED BRIDGE WARS—a reimagining of Homer’s The Iliad set in modern day San Francisco. With the sharp pace of Claudia Gray’s Firebird series and the emotional pull of Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places, I believe my work may be an excellent fit for your list.

A beloved socialite drowns, and her family and fiancé argue over who is to blame. The dispute devolves into the Red Bridge Wars, a turf battle between three street gangs: the Boars, the Herons, and the Stags.

Eighteen-year-old Valerie Simons knows the gangs are dangerous – her own brother was shot and killed by a Boar two years ago. She also knows his death was her fault, and the depression that rocked her after he died has never left.

Still, neither danger nor depression can sway Valerie from wanting to join the elite, beautiful Herons and use their connections to find her brother’s killer. It doesn’t hurt that her longtime crush, Matt, is slated to become leader of the Herons. But the Stags recruit her instead, throwing Valerie into a world she cannot predict. Her new commander – the dangerous and volatile Jax – promises to help her get her revenge, and Valerie’s wariness gives way to hope.

Then Matt asks her to help him end the Wars for good – but doing so means betraying the Stags. Torn between old love and new loyalty, Valerie races ahead of the police to get what she wants. In the end, only the city’s adage remains true: no one wins the Wars.

THE RED BRIDGE WARS is complete at 58,000 words. My book features multi-racial characters of varying sexual identities and touches upon issues of mental health and gentrification.

I am a Bay Area native currently living in San Francisco, where it is often foggy but never dull. I work as a publicist at Counterpoint Press in Berkeley, CA, am a member of SCBWI, and am a regular attendee of the AWP and ALAC conferences.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Shannon Price

Book Review: Anna Bright’s THE BEHOLDER

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“THE BEHOLDER is a joy—marvelous characters, twisting plot lines, and pure heart. This book is honest and true in a way I wish I could write. Despite its swoon-worthy boys and ample talk of gowns, THE BEHOLDER carries no trace of the frivolousness that, truthfully, usually leaves this reader skipping pages. Bright intelligently captures the insecurities and high emotions of being a teen and gifts her readers with a loyal, steadfast heroine with questions, qualms, and fears that challenge her throughout her journey.

I loved this book, and can sincerely say it’s bigger, more brilliant, and powerful than its summary would have you believe. Fans of Heidi Heilig and V.E. Schwab will find many things to love, here.”

Add on Goodreads!

You Shouldn’t Query Your New NaNoWriMo on Dec. 1—And Here’s Why

For those of you reading who have crushed your NaNoWriMo goals—congratulations! While I’ve never completed a proper November NaNo challenge,  my first manuscript was assembled in a 30 day/50k marathon. I still remember the moment I finished: I was sitting at my dining room table in the head chair on a late August afternoon. I saw that word count cross 50,000 and immediately started crying. I couldn’t remember another moment where I’d felt so proud about something I’d accomplished.

If you’re reading this after 30 days of later nights, earlier mornings, and forgone social engagements—I cannot applaud you enough. YOU DID IT. And I hope you got your moment.

But, for the love of all that is good on this planet, don’t you dare query your fresh NaNo project tomorrow.

There are SO many reasons for not to query your NaNo immediately (the obvious one being that December being a traditionally busy month, both for those who celebrate Christmas and those who need to get a lot of work done before the end of the year)—but I’ve narrowed it down to what are, in my opinion, three of the most logical reasons not to shoot yourself in the foot by querying on December 1st:

1. It’s too short. 

50,000 words is not a lot.

It is a lot to write in 30 days—that’s valid. But it does not mean your manuscript is a book.

As a writer and future author, it’s critical to know the typical lengths of books for the audience you are writing for. This post by Chuck Sambuchino lays it out really well. Exceptions do happen, but they’re rare—and after busting your butt for 30 days, you don’t want to approach querying from so narrow an angle as “maybe I’ll get lucky?”.

When agents see word counts that are egregiously low (or high) for their age group, it’s an automatic red flag. Search #querytip on Twitter and you’ll see tweets from a lot of frustrated agents getting books that radically deviate from standard word counts.

Learn all you can about your genre and target age group (and yes, they are different things). Go to the library and check out every book on publishing, even ones that don’t relate directly to what you’re working on (the more you can learn about the industry, the better). Get to know the ballpark word counts, and make sure yours fits. Don’t blow your chance with a dream agent by turning them off with word count.

(You’ll notice that in Chuck’s post, he says 50k is healthy for a MG book,—but you still shouldn’t query for reasons 2 and 3 below)

2. It’s a mess.

A lot of writers I see participating in NaNo know this already, but it’s worth discussing.

If J.K. Rowling wrote 50k in 30 days, she wouldn’t send it to her editor the next day. If [insert your favorite author here] wrote 50k in 30 days, they wouldn’t send it to their editor the next day. No way.

I promise you, I promise I’m not saying that because the writing is bad—but it’s probably not your best.

When you write so quickly and never look back, you miss things. You will call a character’s brother “Chad” in one chapter and “Charlie” in another. You’ll write a character walked out of a room, only to magically be back in the room a paragraph later. And how long was Aunt Martha’s hair in Chapter 2? Which side was the hot guy’s dimple on again? You may not remember—and that’s okay! Inconsistencies add up when you are not allowing yourself time to revise. I had more than a fair share of characters reappearing in rooms when I went to revise my NaNo project.

Be patient with yourself and with your work, and give it the time it deserves. This may mean 3 more drafts; maybe 10. You only get one shot to query—make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished to perfection before you ever hit “send”.

3. You need more than a manuscript to query.

But I wrote the darn thing! Yes, you wrote the darn thing. I will say once more that that accomplishment is big, special, and worth celebrating. You are worth celebrating.

However, you’ll need more than a manuscript to query.

Before you hit “send”, you should have an arsenal of materials at the ready, and then those materials should be formatted to the guidelines that apply to each agency. These guidelines are not the same for all agencies, so take your time to review the agency’s website and make sure what you’re sending them is what they want (and nothing else. If they want more, they will ask).

Things you should have at the ready:

  1. Manuscript
  2. Synopsis
  3. Query Letter

I also recommend having chunks of your MS saved—Chapters 1-3, the first 50 pages, etc.—as docs, so that you can more quickly assemble your emails to agents. Don’t forget to properly title your files with your book’s name as well as your own, lest your work be  in a swamp of docs called “NaNoWriMo2017_FINALFINALIdidit.docx”.

That’s all for now! Whether you hit your NaNo goal or not, I’m proud of you. Every day that you get in a chair and write out the story of your heart is a victory, and victories should be celebrated (just don’t celebrate with querying too fast)

-Shannon
@spricewrites

How I Got My Agent: By The Numbers

Now, for a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long, long time—how I got my agent! I remember how interesting and inspiring it was to read other writers’ How I Got My Agent posts while I was querying, so I hope someone out there finds inspiration in mine.

A few useful terms:

ER= email rejection
PR= partial request
FR=full request
NR= no response
R&R= revise and resend

I wrote and queried two books before writing the one that got me my agent.

My First Two Books

Manuscript #1 -YA Fantasy

Total Queries Sent = 45
ER = 26
PR = 2
FR = 3
NR = 14

Time Spent Querying = 10 months

Manuscript #2 – YA Fantasy

Total Queries sent = 52
ER = 29
PR = 0
FR = 3
NR = 20

Time Spent Querying= 5 months

*Note: 5 months isn’t a long time to query before throwing in the towel. For me, I realized quickly that this wasn’t the MS that was going to take me anywhere, and my heart was already invested in the book I wanted to write next.

The Winner

Total queries = 27
ER with no requests made= 4
NR= 10
Partials= 0
Full Requests= 3 before notice of offer of rep; 6 after notice of offer of rep
FR to R&R= 1
FR to Offers of Rep = 3

Time Spent Querying: 5 months

The Takeaway

All things considered, the time it took between writing my manuscript to getting an offer was fairly quick. My first draft of the MS that got me signed was made on August 25, 2015. Six drafts later, I sent my first query on June 14, 2016. After just five months of querying, I received an offer of rep from Elana Roth Parker (woohoo!).

Ten months between writing a first draft and querying is pretty fast. I don’t necessarily recommend such a timeline if you MS is your first book ever. If it’s your first book, you’ll probably need more time to edit, revise, get feedback from your CPs, etc.

I only felt confident about querying when I did because a.) I was working part-time and using every waking second of my off hours to write/edit and b.) because I’d been through the querying process twice before—in other words, I’d been around the block and I knew when my book was as strong as I could make it. Don’t rush your MS, and don’t rush to query and/or enter Twitter contests without a complete, polished, perfected MS (and synopsis) at the ready.

I targeted agents I felt were a good fit for the book and for my career as a writer. Querying a lot like job hunting—you want to find an employer who you’ll enjoy working with as much as they enjoy working with you. Same goes for an agent. It’s better to have no agent than an agent whose goals and vision for the book don’t align with yours.

Lastly, I hope that everyone reading this knows that it’s standard procedure to notify all of agents you’ve queried (and are still waiting to hear from) once you’ve received an offer of rep. I sure did, and even though many of the responses were passes I got quite a few “thank you”s for sending those emails at all. Cement this into your brain now—BE SURE TO NOTIFY ALL THE AGENTS YOU’VE QUERIED ONCE YOU RECEIVE AN OFFER OF REP. This is keeps agents from spending time on an MS that’s already been scooped up. It’s also a cue to them to be all “hey, someone is interested in this book, maybe I should too.” And, it’s just polite.

So, there you have it. How do my querying numbers and times compare to yours? Got any burning questions about what my rejections said, or do you need tips on forging ahead in the query trenches? Let me know!

S.P.