Agency Lessons: What your query really tells me

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
I've been on the other side of the query box, sending my hopes out in an email, so I understand how this works. As authors we hem and haw over every word in our query. We seek feedback from our close writer friends and perfect strangers, hoping someone can tell us the magic words to include so an agent will love our story as much as we do.

I'm here to tell you that you're worrying about the wrong thing.

Not to say that you don't need a well-crafted do. But instead of worrying about whether you should use the word "which" or "that" (yes, I've seen this exact heart pounding situation), you should be focused on making sure your query shows you did your homework.

Because even a well-written query can leave a sour taste in my mouth if the author shows they haven't done the footwork of researching the industry.

So what are these red flags?

How about bad word counts. No, your MG novel shouldn't be 110K words, and your YA shouldn't be 30K. And by sending a query for a novel with the wrong word count doesn't show that your book is so unique. It shows that you haven't researched the industry to understand the standards. Yes, there are books out there outside of the norm. They are almost never debut books. Before a publisher is willing to take a chance on something different, they need to know you can succeed with the norm. Don't try to be an outlier as a debut author.

A language mis-match will also send your query to the iffy pile. This is where your MG sounds like Machiavelli and your YA sounds like a Shel Silverstein. You should never dumb down your work for children. They are smart and can handle more than most adults give them credit for. But they don't want to run to the dictionary every other page either. Make sure the language in your query matches the language in your book. If your book is funny, your query should be too. Serious book? You got it. Serious query.

An issue I see too often is a plot line that isn't age appropriate. I think This one is the biggest offender. Mostly because it's a sign of someone who hasn't read very widely in the age group they are trying to write for. There are some very clear differences between MG and YA. If you aren't sure where you book falls, you probably haven't read enough books in those age groups. Also note that the line between the two has changed drastically in the past few decades. You need to read widely among recently released books to have a grasp on what today's market looks like.

For many, getting an agent and a publishing contract is a dream. But it's also a business. An entire industry employing thousands of people and bringing books to the masses. This is not a wake up in the morning and decide to have a lemonade stand kind of business.

So before you query, you need to do your homework. Learn what is expected in the industry,but more importantly know what is expected from your reader.

My books are not pieces of my soul

I've been seeing variations of pictures like this floating all over the internet lately.

I'm going to respectfully disagree.

Here's the deal. I do put in hours of work and edits, rewrites and more rewrites. Every book comes with moments of exhilaration and times when I want to throw my laptop at the wall. Each and every book I write is carefully crafted and I put a lot of energy into making sure I give my readers the absolute best that I am capable of giving them.

But that isn't what readers are buying. It makes no difference to a reader if my book flew out of my head in a perfect state on the first try or if they are reading the 36th version. As a reader, I can appreciate the amount of work that went into a book. But that's not what I'm buying. I'm buying a book. It's a book.

So many authors try to turn their books into life-changing, magical unicorns. They buy into the idea that their book is imbued with phoenix tears and dragon blood. And that can set them up for a huge letdown. Because most of your readers are not going to set your book upon the pedestal it rests on in your day dreams.

Seeing your book as a shiny precious can make you do silly things. Like overpricing, turning down marketing and exposure opportunities that are "below" your books status, and not valuing the precious interactions from readers that don't bestow the appropriate level of appreciation on your book. It can make you see your book as more than what it is. It's a book.

Books can be amazing pieces of literature than can change lives, inspire a generation or even bring awareness to those who hide in the shadows. It can do all of those things. But your book doesn't have those powers on its own. It takes amazing readers to accomplish it.

My books aren't tiny pieces of my soul. They don't hold fragments of my heart. If they did, they would certainly be worth more than $2.99.

No, my books are important to me and I hope like heck that my readers love them as much as I do. I love thinking that my books are making a positive impact on readers. But if they do, it's not because they are tiny horcruxes. It will be because readers have taken those words into their hearts and made my books pieces of their own souls.

Agency Lessons: Referrals

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
I'm way behind in queries so I've been reading them in massive quantities in my attempt to catch up so I can re-open. Whenever I read queries in quantities like this, I always find trends. Some of them good. Some of them...not so good.

The newest trend in my inbox...referrals. Unfortunately, these are not doing anyone any favors. So let's clear the air on referrals, what they are, and what they get you.

What is a referral?
A referral is when a current client or professional who I respect sends me an email to let me know about someone who they think would be a good match for me. This is someone else willing to put their name on recommending an author and their work to me. These emails are usually short and sweet and let me know about the author and a little about their book. 

These emails let me know that a query is coming my way. They do not take the place of a query and they aren't a golden ticket. More on that in a bit.

What it is not?
Anything that is not a the above situation. Someone telling you that I might be a good match for your work is not a referral. Someone I don't know giving you my name is not a referral. Someone mentioning that I represent books like yours is not a referral. Basically, if I didn't already know your query was coming, it's not a referral. 

Also, while we are talking about other people, a referral is not a querying service emailing me on your behalf about your book. These are actually the worst and I have never requested a manuscript from one of those queries. Don't do this.

So what does a referral get you?
I'll be honest, not much. For some agents, a referral moves you up in line, so you get your response a little faster. For me, a referral basically gets you a longer look. When I get a referral, I tend to take my time reading the full submission, even if I normally would have stopped reading after the query or pages. 

Sometimes I query will get you a slightly more personalized query. I try to always add in a little something specific when I respond to queries, so with me, this isn't special treatment for a referral. Keep in mind every agent will be different with how they treat referrals.

What doesn't a referral get you?
That golden ticket I mentioned earlier. Yeah, it doesn't come in referral form. At the end of the day, I still have to love your work. Just because one of my clients or a trusted friend in the industry thinks your work is great, doesn't mean that I will. Publishing is highly subjective and just because I love my clients work doesn't mean we love the same kind of stories. 

A referral is not a guarantee that I will request your manuscript and it certainly isn't a factor in deciding to offer representation.

At the end of the day, referrals are one of those things that can sound magical when you are just starting out. Having another author offer to refer you to their agent can sound like a dream come true. Just keep it all in perspective. It's a lovely thing to get, but not the glass slipper waiting to make your dreams come true. Just keep writing and querying, because that's how all of my clients came to me.

Reviews: Still a crucial part of the marketing plan

Last Friday I talked about why my marketing plan for Rite of Revelation will not just be a rinse and repeat of my last plan. But today I want to talk about one aspect of my plan that will not be changing. Reviews.

When I set my publication goals for Rite of Rejection, I decided I wanted to get 50 reviews in the first month. If I can be honest, I pulled that number out of the air and my own perceptions. If I was looking at a new book, by an author I'd never read, seeing 50 reviews left me with the feeling that this was probably a pretty decent book (unless of course there was nothing but one and two-star reviews).

So I picked 50 based on a gut feeling.

Now, before we go any further, let's just get one thing out of the way. Everything from here on out is pure speculation, based only on my own experience and the anecdotal evidence of other authors. Amazon is super secretive about how all their algorithms work and everyone there is tight lipped about numbers and metrics. So anything I say (or that anyone else says) about how Amazon works should always be assumed as our best guess. Unless Jeff Bezos is your BFF. If that's the case, you can believe him (also, you should call me).

Here's the deal.

I haven't done any real marketing work for Rite of Rejection since February. But here we are, nine months after release and the book is still selling moderately well. There's been a slight slow down, but given the lack of marketing that should be expected.Still, the book continues to sell without any extra effort on my part.

And if I'm not the one selling it, it can only be Amazon.

Ah, Amazon and their crazy secret algorithms. I'm pretty sure one day alone with their data guys would be all I needed to completely rule the world. Thanks to consistent sales and a good number of favorable reviews, Amazon includes Rite of Rejection in their fantastic marketing machine. That means it periodically is included in customer "You might enjoy this" emails that are sent out and it shows up under the "also bought" section for several other popular books. Recently, my Kindle tried to sell it to me.

Readers are pushed in the direction of books that Amazon thinks they are most likely to enjoy and buy. Trust me, it isn't out of a desire to help me to sell more books. They have absolutely no idea who I am. Amazon just knows that if they continuously send book recommendations to readers who then buy those books and do actually enjoy them, those same readers will be more likely to buy other books Amazon recommends.

But none of that happens until you hit enough reviews.

How many is enough? Again, your guess is as good as mine. But I will say that right after those first 30 days when I hit 50 reviews, my book sales increased dramatically. Maybe that was a result of a successful blog tour, or it could have been from all my early readers recommending the book to their friends and family. And I'm sure those aspects helped. But I'm guessing the biggest factor was Amazon flipping the switch on their book buying machine.

When that happens, Amazon tells other people about your book, which in turn increases your sales, which then improves your bestseller ranking, which makes them recommend the book even more and the cycle continues. And the best part of all of this is that there aren't any hoops to jump through. All of this happened without me even being aware of it.

So before all of this, I would have said getting 50 reviews was a nice to have goal for your book launch. I'm ready to revise that opinion. Getting 50 reviews is a crucial part of a book launch. Not only is is just plain impressive for readers browsing your book, it churns your book into the Amazon machine, which means you'll have less marketing work to do later and more time after your launch for writing that next book.

Speaking of the next book, today is the last day to sign up to be part of the Rite of Revelation street team. The fun will be starting soon.

Marketing from square one

So yesterday, I announced that plans are in motions for the release of book two in the Acceptance series, Rite of Revelation. Street Team applications are open and I'm firing up the marketing machine to make this a reality. I also mentioned that my marketing strategy for this book is going to be a bit different.

And that may have some of you asking why. After all, I've talked a lot about my marketing efforts for Rite of Rejection and those efforts certainly helped the book exceed all of my expectation and then some. That right there would be enough for most to pull a rinse and repeat on my marketing plan. If it worked once, shouldn't it work again.

Well, probably not.

Here's the deal. Every book is different, so every marketing plan should be different, too. Even though this is a sequel, it's not the same book.

There are two huge reasons why I'm planning to market from square one with this book.

Even though it's only been a year, the market is different today that it was last year. Readers are different. New books released to the wild that weren't available last year. And each of those releases has had an impact on reader perceptions and expectations.

So if my readers are different people, doesn't it make sense that marketing to them can't be the same old.

For example, a year ago book trailers were still this untapped idea that a few people did really well, most did horribly and no one really paid attention to either of them. But people are really starting to figure these things out now, and readers are sitting up and taking notice. Where investing time and money into a book trailer last year would have been a complete waste, this year, it's something at least worth looking into.

Just like how the world of publishing can change on a dime, marketing strategies need to be adapted over time in order to meet and exceed reader expectations.

This is the second book in a series where the first book really does need to be read first. So my marketing efforts need to be two-pronged. I want to bring back readers of book one and bring in new readers that will need to go back and read the first book.

Ideally, I want to re-engage existing readers by tempting them with content that makes them want to jump back into this story. I don't live in a fantasy world where all my readers have been sitting in a corner clutching their empty Kindles, just waiting on book two to release. Heck no, my readers have been off devouring a million other amazing stories. And that's great. Part of my marketing actions will be targeted at reminding them why they enjoyed book one so they will come back for more.

But as I go about reeling existing readers back in, I want to find new readers who haven't taken a chance on Rite of Rejection yet. I want to give them a reason to go back to the beginning and join the rest of us on this reader journey. My marketing efforts will need to be book two focused while also giving a nod to book one so new readers are intrigued by the whole series.

The only part of my original marketing plan that will stay the same is the amount of dedication I'll need to invest to make both books successful. There will be no phoning it in or resting on laurels. I'll probably end up working even harder this time around, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Just like last time, I plan to keep the blog updated with my marketing efforts and outcomes. I hope to be as transparent about the whole process as I can be, because when we share what we know with each other, the entire community benefits. So please feel free to ask me any questions, then buckle up and let's go.

Want to be part of the Revelation?

If you subscribe to my email list then you know already. Rite of Revelation has a real release date. November 5th! Woot woot! This is not a test, I repeat, not a test. This is happening people!
And if you can't tell by my ridiculous use of the exclamation point, I'm super excited!!!!
I'm planning to go about marketing a little differently this time and part of that new strategy is forming a street team.

Dancing is optional
A street team is the ultimate set of super readers. These are people who love Rite of Rejection just as much as I do and think my over-use of the exclamation point above is perfectly acceptable for such amazing news. A street team helps spread the word about an author’s books– online, in person, and everywhere in-between.
So here's the deal. I'm planning to keep the team small, because I want to make it all cozy. Think pajama party, where we read books instead of pillow fight. And that means asking potential members to apply instead of just signing up. Don't stress here. This is way easier than a college application and there's no minimum requirements so don't worry if you aren't the biggest name on the internet. Street team members can help in a lot of different ways and we want to make sure to get a diverse group of folks that can each bring something to the table while having a ton of fun. 

Tell me more. Tell me more.

And that's the whole point of all of this. Why I write books, why readers read them, why we spend hours online talking to other people who write/read books. Because it's fun. 

If that's not enough, here are a few other reasons you'll want to be a part of my street team:

  • Team only giveaways. This can include swag, signed copies, handmade goodies, gift cards and who knows what else. 
  • Exclusive sneak peeks. I've already got a ton of content lined up and ready to share. As a street team member, you'll get to see these before anyone else. 
  • Swag. Expect me to mail you more swag than you know what to do with. Don't worry, I'll tell you what to do with it. :)
  • Exclusive Facebook group. You'll be able to chat with team members, brainstorm ideas and be all kinds of bookish. I'll be there for team only chats and video calls where we can talk about my books, other people's books, books someone should write already, and anything else that floats your boat. 
  • My undying love and devotion. This will most likely involve me gushing all over the internet about how wonderful you are and randomly sending you cat gifs.  
Whoops! Wrong Cats.

If you're not sure what a street team member does, here are a few things that can seriously help an author:

  • Talk about my book with your friends, family, people standing next to you at the grocery story, the waitress who has to stand there while you fish your debit card out of your wallet. You get the idea. 
  • Ask your library and/or book store to order the book.
  • Talk to your local high schools about adding the book to their library or even inviting yours truly to do an author chat.
  • Post an honest review of the book on Amazon, Goodreads and other other retailers.
  • Share interviews, guest posts, and other book related content on your social media platform.
  •  Recommend my books to people you talk to online.
  • Participate in the marketing efforts I organize or even organize your own.
  • Keep being an awesome reader!
Replace newsies with street teams and papes with books. Same thing.

So if this sounds like something you want to be a part of, go to the link below and get your application in. This will stay open until September 18th, and then we'll be choosing members so we can get started. If you've got questions, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email.