Sunday, October 25, 2015

Following Directions

It's really simple.  Just follow the directions.

So, in our last post we looked at the query letter heard round the world.  Ok, it wasn't that big of a deal and little did I know at the time it was going to be "the one".  But 15 days after sending out the email (and through the holiday season no less) I received a response.  It said: 

Send me three chapters.

Wait a tick, you think.  That query you sent.  You didn't attach a sample?  Three chapters is kind of standard.  Even if the agent didn't ask for sample pages, what's the harm in including them, right?  If they don't like your query they can just ignore them and if they do like it they can get right to the good stuff.

Well,the point is, the agent didn't ask for sample pages in their submission guidelines.  It was very clear: send a query letter only.  These were the instructions put out into the world by the person you are hoping will be impressed enough by your writing to take you on as a client.  Kind of a first interaction between author and agent.  The agent is saying "I have a certain way of doing things.  My methods may not be understood by you, but I have stated them clearly.  Can you respect my time and profession and respond in kind?"

And my answer was, "Yes.  Here is specifically what you asked for.  No more, no less."

I think it is critical to research your agent before querying.  Not just for an indication of what kind of work they want to represent, but for how they want to do the dance we call querying.  Dragging someone into a Tango that's trying to Foxtrot is only going to result in bruised shins and broken toes.  If your first impression on an agent is that of a.) Someone who doesn't do a minimum amount of research into a very important process in their professional career or b.) Someone who doesn't respect a potential business partner enough to comply with a simple request before the relationship is even formed, then I think it's unlikely the relationship will even get off the ground.

It's also entirely possible that something as innocuous as asking that the query letter be sent without a sample could be a simple test to weed out the serious queries from the spammers.

So off go my first three chapters.  I've entered a new chapter in the process with this particular agent:

The request for a partial.

Tune in next time for the next step.  I'll give you a hint: It's not a request for chapters 4 through 6.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Query Letter

This is about how much progress it feels like you're making writing your query letter.

So here it is. The one that got me the golden ticket! This was probably the four-thousandth version of my basic pitch for the book. The first two paragraphs set up the basics of the story and hopefully engaged the reader enough to keep going. The third paragraph is a little more indulgent, trusting that the first two, brief paragraphs had earned me enough capital to spend on a few flourishes, a few fun turns of phrase. This paragraph also revealed more about the conflict of the story and concluded without a resolution to that conflict; in fact, the query only takes the reader to the halfway point of the book.

Paragraph four is straight genre, word count and title along with a minor info dump of themes. It's scary putting that last part in, but I was trusting the first three paragraphs did their job. Agents are interest in knowing what audience the story will appeal to and identifying some of the issues explored in the book help them do that. Some people put this at the top of the letter, but I think, just as in an actual book, you have to grab your audience from the first sentence.

Finally, the personal touch. I was prompted to sen this query to Laura due to a tweet I saw that morning. Mentioning the tweet as well as how my story lined up with her personal tastes as expressed on the agency website allowed me to connect my work to this individual, not to a mass audience. I believe even when everything else is in place, forgetting to make this small personal connection will prevent even the best query letter from standing out in the mountain of slush sent to an agent everyday.

Take a look at the actual letter below. You'll see there is no magic in the prose. It takes constant revision and tightening to get a proper rhythm to this kind of letter. And it never feels natural to reduce an entire book (or even half of a book) down to three paragraphs. Furthermore, what appeals to one agent may not appeal to another. Everything is subjective and timing is something you can't predict or control.

Tune in next time to see how this letter resulted in an immediate offer of representation! (That's a little joke for the newbies).

Dear Laura,

Coming into her senior year after a jilted suitor posted private sexting messages onto the school Facebook page, Mila Cavanaugh is struggling with her new notoriety.  When she meets Rup, an unnervingly hot and domineering college student, she learns any problem can be solved by a master manipulator for the right price. 

Each time Mila stumbles Rup is there to help her back up, but each new favor requires Mila to fall deeper into Rup’s sphere of influence.  As his recompense goes from inconvenient to criminal, Mila finds herself moving away from Rup and toward her best friend’s brother Blake who is always there for her, asking nothing in return. 

Just as Mila’s life starts to resemble normal again, a new threat emerges: a grainy video taken after a long night of partying, one that could ruin more than just her reputation.  In trying to contain the video Mila learns that Rup has been behind every problem he’s ever solved for her.  Now he’s offering to make the video go away forever, but his price is a night alone with him.  Giving herself over to Rup could bury her worst mistake under the weight of an even greater one, costing her something she can only give away once.  If she can learn Rup’s true identity and expose him as the monster he really is, Mila may be able to get the upper hand in a game she didn’t even know she was playing.

UNSEND is my 65,000 word YA contemporary novel inspired by the RUMPELSTILTSKIN fairy tale.  While there are no angry dwarfs or spindles of spun gold in this retelling, there is peer pressure, manipulation, sexting, stalking, and self-image issues.

Seeing your tweet this morning about unexpected retellings of classic tales and reading your wish list at Red Sofa's website gives me hope this story will be a wonderful fit.  Per your submission guidelines, I have not included sample pages and will keep myself from being incarcerated until I hear back from you.


Shawn Keenan

Friday, October 9, 2015

Punch It, Chewie!

We're out of Carbon Freeze!

Well, here’s an entry I wasn’t sure was ever going to get written.  Today I am an agented author.  That’s right, a real human being, with experience at selling books to publishers, nay, an actual career doing so, has said, “Yes, I will spend my time championing what you wrote.  I will speak in its favor and put it in front of people who can mass produce it and sell it to other human people.”

I have a literary agent.  Or she has me.  We’re still working out the dynamics.  To the uninitiated, this means what I said above but it doesn’t mean other things.  I am not a published author.  I do not have a published book.  What I have is a partnership with one of the gatekeepers.  A professional in the industry who acts as a vital go-between for authors and publishers.  And there are a lot of authors and a relatively small number of publishers.  Agents are queried every year by thousands of authors and only a handful of those submissions result in an offer of representation.  Having an agent is a critical step and one that took many years to accomplish, much longer than it did to write several books.

So it’s hard to overstate or understate the momentous occasion signing up with a literary agent is for an aspiring author.  My moment was today.  I’m super grateful Laura Zats of Red Sofa Literary saw something in my manuscript worth going to bat for.  There will be many more hours spent honing the story and, with any luck, countless hours more working with a publisher doing the same thing once it’s picked up.

I look forward to sharing the story of my journey to this point on this blog over the next several months and even more in sharing the journey that still lies ahead.  Thanks for tuning in.  I hope to make this blog informative to those interested in writing and entertaining to those who just love to read.  Truly, I hope to be entertaining to all, even the illiterate.  I will endeavor to post amusing pictures at regular intervals; I’m not above pandering. 

If you know someone interested in the process of getting published, point them my way.  I’ll also be updating on twitter @shawnpkeenan, so go follow me there as well (Follow me?  I sound like a cult leader).

Anyway, more to come soon. 

I think things are about to get interesting.