Monday, August 5, 2019

Querying agents? Remember to respect and engage

By Steve Weddle

As you know if you've read this site since we launched in 2009, I'm known as the somber, forgiving, helpful person around here.

Over the past decade, we’ve had some here who would make jokes about what was going on in publishing, about something an author had done or said. We welcomed the silliness, as we hope to offer a variety of voices. As you know, this is a serious business meant to be taken seriously.

And we’ve had critics here at DSD post unforgiving looks at some actions out there on the bookternet, usually something characterized as “condescending” or “jackassery” from a best-selling author. I, as you know, have never poked fun nor taken any other authors “to task” for something they’ve done. We are all doing our best out here.

No, I’m the helpful one, the one with tips and hints and honest looks at the business. Which is why I wanted to bring Boomerang for email to your attention.

In the course of querying agents and getting a publishable draft together, authors can make use of many tools and tips, and Boomerang is one of the best, so let’s start there.

Boomerang for email. You can use this for Outlook or Gmail or, likely, a dozen other email programs. While Boomerang does many things, this is the killer for me:

Remind you if you don’t hear back: There are times you need to make sure you follow up within a specific time frame after sending a message. You can select to only be reminded if nobody replies, or regardless. This way you won't let messages slip through the crack and will never forget to follow up with people.

Yes. If you email someone, you’ll get a reminder after a week or two if they didn’t respond to you. Sure, you can drop that email in your “Follow Up” folder and check it during your Friday afternoon cleanups and action captures (or whatever system you use), but wouldn’t it be easier if you just got an email notification?

This would be exceptionally helpful when you’re querying agents. Agents are busy people, often bombarded with dozens of manuscripts each year, nearly all of them far worse than yours. Why should your manuscript suffer because of this? Set Boomerang to remind you after two weeks if you haven’t heard from an agent. Maybe set it for every two weeks on a recurring schedule, or more often if your manuscript is really great. Depending on the quality of your work, every couple days might be appropriate.

Also, keeping in mind how busy agents are, be sure to clarify what type of novel you’re sending. If you’re sending a mystery novel that’s of passing quality, be sure to let the agent know it’s a mystery novel. But, if it’s really, really good, then it’s probably a “literary mystery.” Even better, if the mystery novel is really, really, really good, then it’s probably a “literary thriller.”

Now, let’s unpack that a little. If your mystery contains a murder, that’s great. If it contains a murder and a foreign country, then it’s a thriller. If it contains a murder, a foreign country, and a chase scene, then it’s what we call “cross genre.” Think of something that contains both science and fiction? Science fiction is a really successful type of cross genre. A murder mystery is also cross genre, because it contains murder and mystery. Cross genre is very popular, so be sure to mention that if you want to sell a bunch of books.

Keeping in mind how busy agents are, staying on their radar is essential to getting a good book deal. Let’s face it. Most books out there are not very good. What keeps a great writer from a great book deal? We all know the answer: social media. To get an agent to notice you, you’ll want to send in a manuscript (or at least the part of the manuscript you’ve finished). But you’ll also need to engage with the agents on social media. Agents are always talking about how they’re looking for “engaging” stories. Be sure to engage. Follow the agent on Twitter, Instagram, Ello, Facebook, Mastodon, and so forth. Show the agent that you are following everything he or she is saying. Respond. Retweet. Drop in little reminders, such as, “Oh, what a cute cat you have. This reminds me of the cat in the book I sent you last week. #Twinning.”

Finally, be sure to let the agent know that you understand the business. When you’re querying your novel with agents, include some cover images you think would be appropriate for your novel. You think agents are busy? Try publishers. You think a publisher has time to make all those covers? No. Sometimes a publisher has to hire that done, so be sure to tell the agent whether you have a friend who can make the cover for you, or whether you know how to use CorelDraw or something similar. Publishing is looking to save money. Let the agent know ways you can help.

And, speaking of helping, I trust that this has. I’ll be taking a break from social media, but Dave White has offered to field any cards of thanks or comments you might have. Reach out to him at @Dave_White if you feel the urge. You’re welcome.


Holly West said...

I'm assuming your next Litreactor class will be on Boomerang and other helpful tools for querying writers? Because I'm here for it.

Steve Weddle said...

Just signed you up.