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Querying a complicated book: Dissecting the elephant

Hey guys! I’ve been busy getting back into the grad school semester and moving into my new house (!!!) so this post got delayed quite a bit. But I’m desperate to procrastinate on data analysis, so here we are, at long last.

As promised, in this post I’m going to go through my successful query letter line by line and talk about why it worked. But before I get into that, I want to talk more broadly about what you’re trying to achieve with your query, the basic guidelines for what needs to be in there, and some faux pas to avoid.

This post will be particularly helpful for you if you’ve ever said anything like, “I don’t know how to write a query for this book, it’s too complicated.”

NOPE. WRONG. No book is too complicated to query. Trust.

THE FEVER KING is complicated. It’s a character-driven literary fantasy, with a couple subplots that tie in so closely to the main plot that they were impossible to leave out of any summary. Plus, I had to take care to make sure my setting didn’t come across as too dystopian (the book is not, in fact, dystopian, but it’s hard for it not to sound that way in limited space), and to tease out what made my magic system and the magic-training-program elements of TFK fresh. Cause I mean. We’ve all read about viral magic and magic schools before. What made my book different? That was something I had to bring out in the query.

I got my agents through cold querying with this query. This query also had a near-perfect full request rate. That’s a little unusual, and is likely in part because I had a line about being in Pitch Wars in my query, and also because I got a fast offer and nudged people who hadn’t responded yet. So keep that in mind.

What is a query supposed to do? 

Put simply, a query is supposed to get an agent to read your pages. That’s it.

Forget gimmicks and fancy conceits–you just need to convince an agent that you have a good story, and you can tell it well. Well enough for them to spend five to thirty minutes reading your attached material, anyway. (nb: Some agents request you don’t send any attached material, actually–so for these people, you’re trying to convince them to request a partial or a full, not just read your pages. But no pressure.)

This means making sure your query shows that you’ve got the following:

An interesting character in an interesting world with an interesting problem.

If you’re writing contemp, replace ‘interesting world’ with ‘interesting setting,’ but the point is still the same. (You’ll also notice these are the same ingredients that I previously said are super important for your first pages.)

Why are these important? Well, that’s a longer post for another day, but in brief:

  1. Interesting character: If we’re gonna follow this person through the next 60,000-120,000 words of your novel, we want to find them interesting. Not likeable, not necessarily, but interesting. We want to care what happens to them. Who gives a fuck if the world is ending, if the world belongs to Boring Dave? Boring Dave can go stuff it.
  2. Interesting world: No white room syndrome. This is the least important for a query, because you don’t wanna waste too much time talking worldbuilding when you could be talking stakes–but at least hint that there’s something cool going on here if you’re writing SFF.
  3. Interesting problem: This is the most important part of your query. It’s the stakes! What is the MC trying to accomplish, and what happens if they fail? I want to specify that this interacts closely with #1, interesting character. Don’t just say that the world will end. What does the MC stand to lose, personally, if the world ends? He’ll never reconcile with his estranged daughter. She’ll never finish composing her magnum opus. Whatever. Even if you have massive world-shattering stakes, as is often the case in SFF, make sure you show personal stakes, too!

Agents are super busy people. They have to read client work, edit client work, liaise with editors at publishing houses, do some marketing, read contracts, negotiate contracts,  revise contracts, console distressed clients, celebrate elated clients, distribute ARCs and promotional material, stay on top of their reading lists, meet with editors, go to conferences, drink coffee, oh, and somewhere in here they have to read queries and requested materials. And respond to them.

Why is this important?

It’s so you understand the conditions in which agents will be reading your query and pages. They’ll be tired, stressed, need to do about fifty other things, and they just sat down with their first coffee (or it’s the end of the day and they want to clear their inbox so they can go home to their husband/wife/kid/cat/dog/goldfish). They have hundreds of queries to get through.

Given this, you need to make sure that you are clear, concise, and specific. You know how tired you are when you stayed late at work and haven’t had dinner yet and it’s eight PM and you’re cranky and coming down with the flu and you STILL got stuff to do? That. Imagine agents are reading your query in that condition. Yeah, maybe it’s a little worst-case-scenario, but better to assume the worst, right?

Write a query that would make total sense, and be engaging, even if you read it under worst case scenario conditions.

Of course, I did promise this post would focus on querying complicated books, right? So, how can you make your complicated AF book digestible for our friendly but exhausted agents?

How do I unravel this tangle of thorns?

We-ellllll, this is always a tough position to be in. I really hate staring at a blank page. Probably, you do too.

So write something on the page.

I suggest you write all the main beats of what happens in your book. Just the main plot! We’ll get to important subplots later. (“B” plots and “C” plots and any other alphabetics can be left out entirely.)

Now go through that main plot and figure out where, in that series of beats, the story has its first major twist. Usually, this is where the stakes become clear. The moment where you could say, hey, if MC doesn’t accomplish X, they might die/lose the person they love/the universe will dissolve into eternal darkness.

Great. Cool. Erase everything that came after that point.

Yes, of course your whole story is important, but you aren’t writing a summary, you’re writing a query. You want to hook the agent right where they’ll say, oh my god, I have got to read more of this. You’ll write a query up until where the stakes become apparent, and then stop.

After you’ve established the parameters of your query, write down what the stakes are. “A must X or else Y.” It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Now write down your setting. You may or may not need to name it. Probably not, if I’m honest. Yes, I’m sure your name for your world is super cool, but it probably doesn’t tell us anything new or clarify your query much. I can see you’re unpersuaded, so we’ll come back to this.

Write down your MC: their name, and one important thing about them.

Write down one other character. ONE. And their name. And one important thing about them.

(Okay, I’ll give you a second character, too, but ONLY if the second is either the love interest or the villain. And you don’t get to name this one in your query.)

Write down your important subplot. I don’t mean the romance. I don’t mean the side quest. You only get to include a subplot if it ties into your main plot in such a way that you couldn’t describe one without the other.

Write down a list of random cool things about your MC/the world/the story that you’d like to fit in if you have space. You probably won’t have room to include any of these, but hey! Hope springs eternal.

What should I include in my query?

The meat of your query should be no more than 250 words. Ish.

This doesn’t include personalization and comps/bio, or so I’m told. Probably, if you can write it shorter, you should. But if not, then you don’t have to count this part toward your 250.

(Listen, though…listen. You can probably get your query shorter. You can probably get your book shorter, too. Your debut book does not need to be 150,000 words long, I promise you. But this is also a post for another day.)

Your query should include the following:

  • Brief summary of the main plot of your book, with no more than two names (both characters, or a character and a setting)
    • Mention where your book takes place (interesting world)
    • Mention who your book is about (interesting character)
    • Mention your MC’s interesting problem
  • A line making the stakes–external and personal–clear
    • This is the “A must X or else Y” bit (see above: the interesting problem!)
  • Comps and details
    • Comp titles: where would your book fit on a shelf, if it were acquired by a library that shelves similar books together?  (“BOOK1 meets BOOK2”) These help agents see there is a market for your book, and also make it clear what they can expect going in. I know, your book is unlike anything that ever came before it. Although I’m sure that’s true, you should still choose two or more comp titles.
      • You can use comp titles based off your plot, but you can also use comp titles that reflect something about a character, or a theme, or even a writing style
      • Comps can also be for books whose fans you think would like your book (“would appeal to fans of BOOK3”)
      • Comps can be authors, not titles (“for fans of AUTHOR1”)
      • Make sure these are realistic. Don’t comp to any book that is being made into a movie. Do comp to a book published in the last 5 years.
    • Word count of your book.
      • Curious what the industry norms are for your category and genre? Check out this helpful blog post on LitRejections!
        • You can also look up the word count of other books in your category/genre on AR BookFinder, just keep in mind that non-debuts are allowed to be longer than debut books, and word count often expands while revising with an editor, so the book may have been queried shorter.
  • Brief bio
    • You don’t have to include this if you don’t have any publishing credits. On the other hand, sometimes it’s fun!
  • Personalization
    • Why did you query this agent? Mention any #mswl posts here.
    • Also mention if they requested your materials in Pitch Wars, #PitMad, #DVPit, or similar.
  • Bit about how you have attached however many pages they requested. Thank them for their time and consideration.

It’s really important to pay attention to two things when writing your query: be specific, and remember your stakes.

Specific as in…don’t be vague. Don’t try to be all suspenseful by using lines like “he’ll uncover a secret that could change the world as he knows it!” Okay, what secret though? How would the world change based off said secret? Just tell us. Spoilers don’t exist in queryland.

Stakes: I’ve been over this, but it bears repeating. Why should anyone read your story? What is the tension? What will keep your reader turning the page? What does your MC stand to lose if they fail? Bonus points: Why are they particularly likely to fail?

What should I avoid while querying?

Gimmicks. No gimmicks. Seriously. If you’ve thought of it, so have five thousand other people. Don’t write your query from the POV of your character, especially. That one’s egregious. Ditto for rhetorical questions. “What would happen if…?” I dunno, you tell me.

Also don’t say this book is the first in a planned series. It may well be! But pitch it as standalone (and make sure that it is). People like to use the phrase “standalone with series potential.” That’s what THE FEVER KING IS, but I shied away from using that phrase myself, because it’s become so ubiquitous I almost worried that agents would see that and be like, ‘yep, bet it’s not actually standalone tho.’ This may be my own neurosis speaking, though.

  • Definitely don’t say “with strong series potential.” Translation – this book is not standalone in the slightest.

Don’t get caught up talking about how your book is trope-breaking, stunning, thrilling, genre-warping, any of that. It may well be all those things, but this is where the adage “show, don’t tell” comes in handy. Prove your book is all these things! Don’t just tell us. Also, saying this shit kind of makes you sound like an asshole.

Relatedly, keep your genre simple. Where would your book be shelved in a brick-and-mortar bookstore? Even if “dark neo-fantastical cryopunk literary romance” describes your book to a T, just…please, just say “fantasy” or “sci fi” or “contemporary romance” or whatever.

And definitely, definitely don’t say your book is “a little bit of everything”–that makes it sooo hard to pitch! Who is the audience for a LGBT cowboy paranormal: Western fans or paranormal romance fans? If you make yourself too niche, then you’ve…made yourself too niche. Even if your book is in fact about gay vampire cowboys (tbh this sounds cool, someone write this for me), figure out if you think it’s more a cowboy book or a vampire book and label it with the appropriate genre. You can maybe add one descriptor, like “dark fantasy” or “political romance” or something, just don’t go nuts.

Don’t forget to say your book is MG or YA, if it is. If it’s adult, you can probably leave this out.

  • For readers whose book defies age categorization, you don’t need to say in your query that your book has “YA/adult crossover appeal.” Let your agent determine that. Choose one.
    • I was also in this situation, so I feel you.

Keep the number of named characters/places in your query to a minimum. Like, two. Otherwise it gets kind of confusing and messy. Most of the time, even if you need to mention a third character, you can get away with using an epithet in place of their name. You’ll see that I did this in my query, later in this post! Worlds usually don’t need to be named, either. I’m sure your world has a name, but that name doesn’t need to be in your query. The exception would be, for example, if you’re writing about a war between two nations. In that case, you might need to name both countries so the reader can keep the sides straight. If you do this, though, you might consider only naming your MC and using epithets for other characters in your query.

Multi POV books: No, you should not write your query with all of your POVs. Yes, sometimes people do this, and sometimes it works. Consider yourself the rule, not the exception. Usually there is one character who is your main character.

  • “But, Victoria, they’re all my main characters!” Okay, but who is the mainest main character? If you really sit down and think about it, you’ll realize that there’s only one character whose story this REALLY is. Promise. No matter how complicated and intricate your book is, someone has more to lose. Someone carries the story, emotionally. Game of Thrones – the first book in ASOIAF – has a zillion POV characters, but it’s really Ned Stark’s story. See? And your book isn’t more complicated than Game of Thrones.
    • Usually your mainest main character is the character whose POV the story opens on. Exceptions: Game of Thrones, again, which starts with a rando who dies pretty much immediately. But it’s a good heuristic all the same.
  • I know it sucks to have to only talk about one of your multiple awesome storylines, but trust me, this is actually a good thing. Now you get to expand that arc more, talk about the character’s stakes, their background…. You only have 250 words, remember? Make them count.

Follow guidelines. You risk your query being trashed unread if you don’t. Especially, make sure your subject line is what is requested. Some agents want it to have “query” in the subject line. It’d suck if your query went to spam!

Similarly, don’t include attachments unless solicited. Your query will go to spam.

Think twice about including links, too. This isn’t because an agent won’t like it, but because when I included links to my blog and twitter in my email sig, my query went to people’s spam. Eek. I ended up deciding, if they wanna read my twitter, they will probably google me anyway.

Victoria’s query!

Whew! Okay, now. What did my query look like? Why did it look how it looked?

I’ll post it in full, then go through and talk about it on more of a line level.

Here’s the query I sent my agents:

Dear Holly and Taylor,

Sixteen-year-old hacker Noam Álvaro has spent years trying to take down the corrupt leaders of Carolinia, who deport refugees like his parents with deadly efficiency. But when a viral magic outbreak kills his father, destroys his home, and infects him with technopathy, Noam’s best chance of survival is to accept help from the charismatic Minister of Defense.

Minister Lehrer wants Noam to join his elite military unit. With his criminal record, Noam has no place in high command. But taking Lehrer’s offer would give Noam access to government servers—and the opportunity to leak the Carolinian Chancellor’s secrets. He could make a real difference, finally, for the refugee cause. So, he’ll let Lehrer teach him the science necessary to perform magic. He’ll become the powerful technopath Carolinia wants him to be. And then he’ll use that power to tear Lehrer’s government apart from the inside.

But when Noam learns Lehrer is planning his own coup to overthrow the Chancellor, he wants to trust him. Lehrer could be a powerful ally; and as the last survivor of a genocide against witchings, Lehrer understands what it’s like to be oppressed. Yet Lehrer’s own son—the boy Noam loves—insists Lehrer’s not as virtuous as he seems. As Lehrer’s plan unfurls and Noam realizes he may have to kill for the cause, he must decide how far he’s willing to go for the greater good.

SHADOW AND BONE meets Antifa in THE FEVER KING, a YA fantasy complete at 109,000 words. THE FEVER KING will appeal to fans of VICIOUS, with a diverse cast and #ownvoices representation of Jewish, diaspora, and bisexual characters as well as characters with mental illness. It was featured in Pitch Wars 2017.

I think THE FEVER KING will appeal to you in particular due to Taylor’s interest in character-driven twisty fantasies with unique settings (an alternate, speculative North Carolina seems to fit that!). Also, Holly has expressed interest in genre-bending stories–THE FEVER KING is a blend of fantasy and science fiction, as magic in this world can only be performed if one understands the scientific principles behind it. For example, telekinesis would require knowledge of physics.

Like Noam, I grew up in Durham, North Carolina and have an enduring fondness for computers and collard greens. This is my first novel.

Per your guidelines, I have included the first ten pages in the body of this email.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Victoria S—
(writing as Victoria Lee)

You have probably noticed that I broke some of my own rules in this query. Yep. We’ll get to that.

This query is 416 words long in total. The “meat” of it–the summary–is only 232, though, so we’re within the recommended word count limit.

So…I do a lot in this query. I cover a lot of ground. We get some worldbuilding, some details about the magic system, important stuff about the MC to make him seem like a real person, personal stakes, world stakes, plot, subplot, and I even slide in a casual line that makes it clear this book has an LGBT romance without outright saying “this book is LGBT!”

Let’s dig in.

Dear Holly and Taylor,

I addressed to first names because, although I’m from the South, it felt more natural to me here. Idk. You can also use last names, as long as you get people’s genders right. It’s up to you. Just don’t say “Dear Agent.” Kay?

Sixteen-year-old hacker Noam Álvaro has spent years trying to take down the corrupt leaders of Carolinia, who deport refugees like his parents with deadly efficiency.

I pitched this book as YA, so I had to make sure I included my MC’s age up-front. I also named my world (plus two characters, eek). Yep, broke a rule already! My book has a major political plotline, but that’s actually not why I named Carolinia in my query. I did that because Carolinia is an alternate history North Carolina, and I wanted a concise way to convey that. My setting is one of the coolest things about my book. It’s one of the things that hooked my Pitch Wars mentor, so I wanted to be sure I brought it up in my query.

I also mention that Noam’s a hacker because this tells us something about who he is as a person. He’s not a student, he’s not a soldier, he’s a hacker. Not programmer, either. Hacker. We already know something about what kind of person he is.

Later that same sentence, we learn he’s an activist. What is he activist-ing about? Refugee rights. Why does he care? His parents are refugees.

So, this is a ton of information crammed into a single sentence. And it’s specific information, too, which provides some sense of personal stakes and character development right off the bat. You should almost always start your query by introducing your interesting character and their interesting problem. (Like I said earlier, you can also introduce interesting world, but only if you have to/have space. It’s not as important.)

But when a viral magic outbreak kills his father, destroys his home, and infects him with technopathy, Noam’s best chance of survival is to accept help from the charismatic Minister of Defense.

Shit’s getting real. THE FEVER KING is a fantasy, so we have to learn about the magic system. And we do. Magic is a virus: literally. A virus that steals everything Noam loves, but in the same stroke, gives him magic powers. And note the specificity here: not just “an incredible power!” The virus gives him technopathy, in particular.

Also, interesting problem ramps up: Noam is this anti-government rebel hacker, right? But now he’s got to ally himself with someone from the government? Sounds like it’s gonna be a bad time.

We also learn something about the Minister of Defense, before he’s even named. We know he’s charismatic. Interesting. Why did I choose to specify that here? Because it shapes how we read the rest of the query. It shapes how we interpret things the Minister of Defense “does” in the query. It maybe even makes us a little suspicious of him.

Good. That’s what I want.

Minister Lehrer wants Noam to join his elite military unit. With his criminal record, Noam has no place in high command. But taking Lehrer’s offer would give Noam access to government servers—and the opportunity to leak the Carolinian Chancellor’s secrets. He could make a real difference, finally, for the refugee cause.

So, there’s a lot to unpack here. We get another name. (A third!!! I know, I know. I tried writing this query with “The Minister” and it looked dumb. Do as I say, not as I do. But also, good chance to point out: rules are made to be broken. And here, it worked.)

The plot ramps up in this paragraph, and we get to see how it directly interfaces with Noam’s pre-existing drives and biases. It also demonstrates that Noam has agency: he plans to defy Lehrer to try and bring down Carolinia from the inside. He’ll get to use his power (technopathy) and previously-mentioned skills (hacking). And he’ll be driven, the whole time, by his desire to fight for refugee rights.

This para does double duty for character development, too, because we learn Noam has a criminal record.

One comment: if I could rewrite this paragraph now, I’d try to make it more clear that the Carolinian Chancellor and Lehrer aren’t the same person. It felt obvious to me at the time, considering Lehrer isn’t a Chancellor, he’s a Minister of Defense. But it could still be clearer that there’s a shadowy subvillain here in the form of the Chancellor.

So, he’ll let Lehrer teach him the science necessary to perform magic. He’ll become the powerful technopath Carolinia wants him to be. And then he’ll use that power to tear Lehrer’s government apart from the inside.

Subplot time! There’s a magic school/mentor-mentee relationship element to this book. Again, double-duty: I describe the magic system. It’s science-based. These couple lines also develop the stakes further, and underscore Noam’s agency/characterization: he’s only cooperating to achieve his own ends. Also note that this subplot is integral to my main plot, not secondary to it.

But when Noam learns Lehrer is planning his own coup to overthrow the Chancellor, he wants to trust him. Lehrer could be a powerful ally; and as the last survivor of a genocide against witchings, Lehrer understands what it’s like to be oppressed.

And this is the crux of the plot. This is the point where, as I mentioned before, the true stakes become clear. It’s not just that Noam is fighting the government he hates. It’s that he’s fighting the government he hates, allied with that same government. The question Noam struggles with over the course of the book is whether he should trust Lehrer.

These two sentences lay out why Noam does have reason to trust Lehrer. They also do some important character development for Lehrer, and tease out the complicated relationship Lehrer has with both magic and Carolinia.

Yet Lehrer’s own son—the boy Noam loves—insists Lehrer’s not as virtuous as he seems.

Never mention anything good without mentioning why it also sucks. Noam has reasons to trust Lehrer…but he also has damn good reasons not to. One, because Lehrer’s part of this government, for all he claims to want to help change it. Two, because the one person who ought to know Lehrer best says that Lehrer’s not-super-awesome.

Furthermore, that person is someone Noam loves. Subplot ahoy! But this subplot is integral to my plot, because it plays into Noam’s main internal conflict: Trust Lehrer or not? If he trusts Lehrer, that means not-trusting the boy he loves. If he trusts the boy he loves, that means giving up on a potential chance to change Carolinia for the better.

Bonus points for making it clear this is an LGBT romance.

As Lehrer’s plan unfurls and Noam realizes he may have to kill for the cause, he must decide how far he’s willing to go for the greater good.

And here, we learn what Noam might have to give up for the cause. This is a story about moral decay. That comes through in this sentence. This is the ultimate choice Noam must make.

As such, it’s the ultimate stakes. So even though there’s a lot more story than what I’ve talked about so far, for query purposes I stop here.

SHADOW AND BONE meets Antifa in THE FEVER KING, a YA fantasy complete at 109,000 words. THE FEVER KING will appeal to fans of VICIOUS, with a diverse cast and #ownvoices representation of Jewish, diaspora, and bisexual characters as well as characters with mental illness. It was featured in Pitch Wars 2017.

Guess what? You don’t have to use books at all for your comp titles. I used a political movement.

I’d call my book a dark literary political science fantasy, but here I stuck with “fantasy,” as you can see.

It’s 109,000 words. It’s too long for YA. Don’t be me.

I also mentioned the ways in which TFK is #ownvoices here, because this is important to me. I want to make it clear that when I’m writing about Noam being bisexual, I know what I’m talking about, because I’m bi too. Also, I laid out all the ways in which this story was #ownvoices that I was comfortable mentioning. (It is #ownvoices in a few other ways too, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying so in my query–and that’s okay!!!! You don’t have to own up to any identity you don’t want to.) You should say in which ways your book is OV in your query. If your MC is Black and Muslim and queer, and you are Muslim and queer, don’t say your book is broadly #ownvoices. Say it’s #ownvoices for Muslim queer characters. If you aren’t comfortable saying what your book is #ownvoices for, I honestly wouldn’t mention it at all…but that’s just me, and it’s completely your decision.

Keep in mind that #ownvoices was designed to help marginalized groups. It doesn’t just mean that you share an experience with your character–your book isn’t #ownvoices firefighters. It’s for experiences you and your characters share that could have led to marginalization in the publishing industry.

I also mentioned that my book was featured in Pitch Wars here, because I feel like that suggests my book has been externally vetted to a certain degree and heavily revised. Both good things.

I think THE FEVER KING will appeal to you in particular due to Taylor’s interest in character-driven twisty fantasies with unique settings (an alternate, speculative North Carolina seems to fit that!). Also, Holly has expressed interest in genre-bending stories–THE FEVER KING is a blend of fantasy and science fiction, as magic in this world can only be performed if one understands the scientific principles behind it. For example, telekinesis would require knowledge of physics.

This is my personalization paragraph. I mentioned things on my agents’ wishlists which I felt like my book fit, and I was specific about how it fit–I didn’t just regurgitate their own interests back at them. I also took the time to reiterate that my setting is cool (alt history spec NC!) and that my magic system isn’t generic (science magic!).

Also, I broke one of my own rules. I said my book was genre-bending. This is, like, the ONLY situation in which you should do this. My agents said they wanted something genre-bending on their mswl. That’s why I mentioned it. That’s the only reason. And I didn’t mention it in my other queries.

Like Noam, I grew up in Durham, North Carolina and have an enduring fondness for computers and collard greens. This is my first novel.

I don’t have any non-academic pub credits, so I used my bio line to be cute. Don’t @ me.

Per your guidelines, I have included the first ten pages in the body of this email.

Boilerplate line.

Victoria S—
(writing as Victoria Lee)

Best practices, if you’re planning on using a pen name.

OKAY THAT’S IT!!!!

I hope this was helpful for some of you.

I know I made a lot of “rules” in this post, too, but as with all rules:

WT6Hk

More query-writing resources

Here are some blog posts and websites from across the net that I think you might find helpful:

My fellow Pitch Wars mentee June Tan discusses her query

QueryShark: an agent dissects queries that work…and don’t

Gloria Chao on common query mistakes

Carlie Sorosiak’s query tips

Susan Dennard’s querying blog post series

How I got my agents!

Back when I was querying (and if I’m honest, even before), I used to loooove reading these posts. “How I got my agent.” Yes. Please. Tell me everything. Let me drink from the font of your wisdom. Let me bathe in the waters of your experience. Actually, ok, this metaphor is getting away from me.

ANYWAY.

I really liked reading these posts, is my point.

So, naturally, now I have to write one. I can’t promise wisdom, or watery experience, but I’ll do my best to be entertaining (at the very least).

You may already know I did Pitch Wars, but for people who don’t, I’ll recap: Pitch Wars is a contest hosted by the inimitable Brenda Drake, and involves submitting a query + pages to mentors who are agented authors or other publishing professionals. Then, just like with querying agents, those mentors have the option of requesting more material from you (think: synopses, partials, full manuscripts). If you’re one of the lucky top 4% (or whatever the statistic was this year) and are selected, you spend the next several months revising your book with your mentor and developing querying materials. At the end, short pitches and excerpts (totaling 300 words) are posted on the Pitch Wars blog. Agents then read the pitches and comment if they’d like you to send them more material.

It’s a great way to bypass the slush pile. In past years, Pitch Wars has been a boon for a lot of writers. Over half of the 2016 mentees are agented now, several have book deals (some of which were six or seven figures). And from our current class (2017), over fifty mentees have offers from agents!

Anyway, yes, I did Pitch Wars. I was mentored by Emily Martin and basically rewrote over half my book during edits with her.

I started querying the day of the agent showcase. I sent out a round to my dream agents (including Holly and Taylor, the agents I signed with–they don’t participate in Pitch Wars). This included about ten people. My plan was to send my query in batches of 8-10, so that I could assess my full request to rejection ratio and change my query accordingly.

Luckily for me, that didn’t end up being an issue. My query was solid. I got full requests pretty quickly off cold querying, and I received my first offer of representation (from a Pitch Wars agent) within a few days of the agent showcase.

Obviously, I was thrilled. This agent was amazing, and our call went great. It was happening. It was really happening.

You can’t send out any more queries after you get an offer, so I only had 22 non-Pitch Wars queries out there in the wild. (One of these slid under that offer radar soooo close; he actually Twitter DMed me and requested my full–after seeing an aesthetic for my book and reading my pitch on the PW site–a mere two hours before I got the “let’s talk” email from the first offering agent!) Lucky for me, almost all of these turned into full requests. 22 queries is definitely on the low side, and everything happened for me on the decidedly very very quick side, so I feel I should offer a disclaimer here: this isn’t a realistic expectation for most people. Moving on….

I nudged all of the agents with my material, including unanswered queries. I got another offer within twenty-four hours.

That whole two weeks was a flurry of anxiety and phone calls with agents, and their clients, and occasionally even an offering agent’s colleague agent. Talking to clients was one of my favorite parts of the whole process. I got to know a lot of really cool writers who have written or are coming out with some fantastic books. I still keep in touch with several of them!

By the end of my two week period, I had a handful of offers and a double-handful of polite step-asides. I also hadn’t heard back from two queries, but at this point, I assumed they were a lost cause. So on that thirteenth day, after a LOT of anxiety and excitement and hope and apprehension, I sat down and started writing my acceptance email for one of the offering agents.

But then…then. I was making dinner and chatting on the phone with my best friend when I got an email notification from Root Literary. I sucked in a deep breath and told my friend to hold on a sec because I had to read this rejection real quick. But what I read…wasn’t that. Holly and Taylor had written to say they were reading THE FEVER KING and loving it so far, but they just hadn’t finished yet. They knew today was my deadline, but by any chance did I have a buffer, and if so, could I give them overnight to finish reading?

So, here’s where I jumped up and down screaming–and also where I had to give past-Victoria her due, because past-Victoria had wondered if something like this might happen to future-Victoria. And in her neurosis, past-Victoria gave other agents a deadline that was one day short of the first offering agent’s deadline.

I wrote back and said yes, of course, because it’s Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty, y’all. Talk about a dream team. Like, when they requested my full off a cold query, I’d been happy enough just knowing they liked my concept and pages enough to want to read my book. I didn’t expect them to read more than half of it, really. And definitely not to email me at the eleventh hour saying they were loving it. What?! It felt so surreal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and think that this might turn into an offer, because after all, they hadn’t finished reading. They could still hate my ending. I felt like by getting excited, I was setting myself up to be devastated later, but … I couldn’t help getting excited, anyway.

The next day, I was in a coffee shop trying to get work done on grad school stuff when I my phone rang with an unknown number. I’d gotten used to answering the phone for every single random call these past two weeks, and gotten friendly with my fair share of telemarketers as a result. But this time….

Yep, you guessed it, it was them, and this was it, it was The Call. Only The Call was gonna have to wait, because I had zero service in that whole town. I had to hang up and drive to a whole ‘nother town and run into my lab building to hole up in an empty classroom and call them back.

It became clear so quickly that Holly and Taylor weren’t just dream agents on paper, they were dream agents in reality, too. Everything they said made it so obvious they really ‘got’ my book and its characters, and shared my vision for its future. Even their editorial notes seemed to highlight little quiet concerns I’d had about the book, but before now, hadn’t been sure how to fix.

Of course, it was the day of my for-real deadline, so now I had to scurry around calling the client whose name they gave me, and also calling a few others whose names were given to me by writing friends. Every single person I talked to just gushed about how amazing Holly and Taylor were. Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.

My hands were shaking when I typed out my acceptance email, and still shaking when I signed the contract and poured the champagne. I’m so delighted to be working with Holly and Taylor, and can’t wait to take the next steps in my publishing journey.

I did find a number of resources extremely valuable during the querying part of this whole process. I recommend everyone check out QueryTracker.  The premium account features let you not only track which literary agents you’ve queried but also where your query falls in a ‘timeline’ compared to other authors using QueryTracker. That can be a little insanity-inducing if you notice that an agent has responded to every query sent on the same day as yours but yours, or you seem to be next up in line to get a response. But overall it was useful just to get a sense for how long people took to respond, what kinds of books they were drawn to, etc.

I also highly recommend using as many tools as you can to learn how to write a solid query in the first place. QueryShark is a great resource written by a top literary agent who revises queries submitted to the blog and shows where and why they aren’t working–and, sometimes, why they are. Reddit also has a really good writing/publishing community at /r/PubTips, where you can post queries for feedback from other users (including agented authors, trad published authors, and industry professionals).

I have a couple planned posts for this blog which might be helpful, too. Next up, I’ll eviscerate my query letter. I’ll show you line-by-line why it worked, and also the parts that maybe could have been better, then suggest some concrete steps for writing a solid query letter of your own.

I hope all of you had happy holidays, and are looking forward to a new year!

My Pitch Wars Success Story Interview

My Pitch Wars success story interview is up! It’s posted over on the main Pitch Wars blog. In it, me and Emily Martin talk about the Pitch Wars application process, revising, and what it was like getting (gasp) the Call.

I hope it’s helpful–or at least entertaining!–to anyone preparing to query, or thinking about applying to Pitch Wars.

Convenient Link Here!

I have an agent! Two, actually.

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I am so incredibly stoked to announce my Pitch Wars fairy tale ending. I am now represented by the most incredible literary agent team ever Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary!

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I T ‘ S  H A P P E N I N G !!!!!!

Guys, this is real life.

Oh my god.

Holly and Taylor are absolutely amazing. They really GET my book, and I am thrilled to have them on my team.  THE FEVER KING is in fantastic hands, and I’m super excited to continue my publishing journey with Root Literary to make this book the best possible itself it can be.

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Pitch Wars 2017, here I come!

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So you might recall that I applied for Pitch Wars, a writing contest hosted by the amazing Brenda Drake. Basically, it involves submitting a query and manuscript to mentors who are writing professionals (think: agented authors, editors). If you get in, you spend the next two months working with your mentor to polish up your manuscript, query, and pitch in preparation for the Agent Showcase in November. That’s when a whole bunch of agents come take a look at the shiny pitches on the Pitch Wars site and mayyyyybe, if you’re lucky, request you send them some pages.

I submitted the second the application window opened in early August, and I found out on Thursday that I got in.

I’m still stunned right now, but LOOK, THERE’S PROOF AND EVERYTHING:

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AND I’ll be mentored by the inimitable Emily Martin, so this is about how I’m feeling right now:

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I honestly can’t even put into words how thrilled and humbled I am that Emily chose to work with me. She’s a brilliant writer who has the most deliciously heartwrenching book ever (you can check it out here on Goodreads!), and on top of that, she’s an incredibly nice person. Who even went to grad school in the city where  I grew up (and where THE FEVER KING is set). Freaking kismet, am I right? No matter what happened with pitch wars, I was determined to be her friend at the end of it all. Soooo I was extra lucky she picked me!

Part of what I love about writing is that it feels like a form of telepathy. You create this world, these characters, in your head, and when you put them into words it’s because you hope someone will read those words and step into your world. That they will meet your characters and understand them like you do. So when someone reads your book and has all the feelings about your characters that you have, when they hate the hateable dickbag and love the mysterious rival and are intrigued by the charismatic villain and share the furious main character’s rage…that’s the best feeling in the world.

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I’m hoping to use this blog to write about my experiences in Pitch Wars (and…maybe beyond? WE’LL SEE!). Soooo buckle up, because there’s gonna be a lot of gifs and a lot of novel aesthetics. I have no self-control like that.

If you want, I’m also hanging out on twitter at sosaidvictoria. I’m pretty active there, so come talk books at me!

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