Query Tips Gleaned from Pitch Wars 2014: A Query Fail

If you’re an unpublished writer, you’re probably participating in Pitch Wars 2014–or you know somebody who’s stalking the feed. If you’re not familiar with Pitch Wars, check out Brenda Drake’s blog for more information. And if you have a Twitter account, check out #PitchWars.

The 2014 Pitch Wars submission window is closed, but the fun has just begun. Using the PitchWars hashtag, mentors and potential mentees have been tweeting nuggets of wisdom, do’s and don’ts, and other valuable information. I’ve learned a lot, and I can’t thank Brenda Drake and the mentors enough for helping aspiring authors improve their chances of getting published.

The #PitchWars feed is slow; I can’t bear to watch the news tonight; and my novel writing mojo is gone. Because I’m in full procrastination mode, I drafted a mock query to highlight the mistakes that are sure to drive an agent to delete your email. I’ve never made any of these mistakes. Ahem. If you can’t spot the mistakes, here’s a hint: “Via email” and “Sincerely” are fine. This one is for my #PitchWars tweeps. Relax and enjoy. You’re all awesome.

Via Email
Random Agent
Random Agency
1212 Northern St.
Chicago, IL 60601

Dear Sir or Madam:

What would you do if the next best thing found its way to your inbox? You’d represent the author of that masterpiece.

I understand from your agency bio that you are closed to queries in my genre, but I’m convinced my manuscript will make you reconsider that decision.

My novel, which I wrote over the course of thirteen years, begins with a prologue and tons of backstory and is tentatively titled [insert title before I send to agent]. It is complete at 445,000 words.

I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the novel, so I’m not going to describe my main characters, their motivations, or the stakes. Nor will I state the reasons my novel differs from the other novels in my genre. You’re a smart [man/woman], and I have complete confidence in your ability to figure out these issues on your own. I will, however, whet your appetite by revealing here that my novel has a cliffhanger ending. Parts Two through Eight are in the works.

I can’t fathom that my novel is like anything you’ve ever read, so my providing insight into comparable works is fruitless—and beneath me, frankly.

As for the novel itself, it’s spectacular. This novel will knock your socks off. I mean, really. It’s all that and a bag of chips. The ladies in my mother’s book club told me so, and they’re not even in my target market.

On a personal note, I won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. Please don’t search Google to verify this fact. I won the prize under my legal name, and the name below is my pen name. I will inform you of my legal name when you offer me representation.

It bears noting that if you pass on this novel, you will regret it. I know this because my great-grandmother had a vision in which this novel became a bestseller. Please don’t take offense. I’m doing you a favor by giving you the opportunity to ride this gravy train.

You might be surprised to learn that [insert title before I send to agent] is my first novel. I’m excited about it. You’ll understand why when you read it.

Your submission guidelines state that the first five pages of the manuscript should be pasted into the body of an email. I have decided to save you a step, so I’m sending you the full manuscript as an attachment. It is password protected. Please do the following to retrieve the password:

1. Follow me on Twitter.
2. Wait for me to follow you back.
3. DM me to request my phone number.
4. Wait for me to return your call and provide the password.

I can’t wait to get this process started. I’m sure you’ll contact me soon, but unless you contact me by 5:00 p.m. CST tomorrow, I will move on to another agent.

Author of The Next Big Thing

P.S. I understand from your tweets that you have a dog. I have one, too. This is fate, don’t you think?



CTRWA Write Stuff Contest – Final Results

Yesterday I learned my first manuscript, Inevitable, took first place in the Short Contemporary category of the 2014 CTRWA Write Stuff Contest. I’m delighted that an editor enjoyed my manuscript, and I’m looking forward to revising the manuscript to make it shine. Congrats to my fellow finalists!

That’s enough of a celebration. It’s time to work on more edits.

See full contest results here: http://www.ctrwa.org/the-write-stuff.html.

RWA 2014: I Survived

Yes, that’s right. I survived the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual Conference in San Antonio. In fact, I could not have asked for a better conference experience.

Fellow writers saw my first-timer ribbon and engaged me in conversations—at workshops, in the elevator, and, um, in the bathroom. I met several of my fellow RWA University classmates; drank a delicious Mango Mojito at a restaurant on the Riverwalk; and presented my first pitch ever (and received a full request). Woot!

I digested a massive amount of information, of course, but I did leave the conference with more questions than answers. Here, in no particular order, are my most pressing post-conference questions (don’t judge):

1. Do the non-conference hotel guests receive a heads up that more than 2,000 romance writers are slated to be at the hotel during their family vacations? I’ve seen my fair share of racy romance novel covers over the years. Even my eyes popped when I stepped in an elevator and a life-sized version of one of those covers greeted me. I imagine some parents weren’t planning to visit San Antonio and have “the talk” with their children—in an elevator.

2. Was I the only one who nixed a workshop because the walk to the adjacent hotel seemed as daunting as a 10k run? It’s one thing to don athletic gear and go out for a run. It’s quite another to wear business casual and shuttle between two hotels for eight hours. If you suffered through it, more power to you. I adjusted my schedule to cater to my achy feet.

3. Is it possible for Susan Elizabeth Phillips to have a more engaging personality? Actually, I know the answer to this question already. The answer is no. Ms. Phillips provided clear, concise tips on how to develop great characters. And she made the attendees laugh—a lot. I was smitten. I’m talking total fan girl action here, and I’m not embarassed to admit it.

4. Will my manuscript ever be ready for prime time? Numerous beta readers and critique partners have reviewed all or parts of my manuscript. I’ve massaged it to the point that it’s begging me to stop the harassment. Given all this, I went to the conference with my “completed” manuscript on my thumb drive. I felt confident I was in the home stretch. I was so wrong. I have so much more work to do. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to let my manuscript go.

5. Was anyone else inspired by the diversity workshop presented by Farrah Rochon and moderated by Piper Huguley? As planned, the focus of the workshop was the craft of developing diverse characters. Suzanne Brockmann, one of the workshop’s presenters, was unable to attend, however. On the fly, Ms. Rochon and Ms. Huguley changed the format of the workshop to a roundtable discussion on diversity in romance. The discussion was lively. Many writers expressed their desire to feature diverse characters or to write diverse secondary characters. There’s still a long way to go on this front, but I was pleased that so many writers are considering the issue.

6. When and where do I get to do this again? Actually, I know the answer to this question, too. July 22-25, 2015 at the Marriott Marquis in New York. I can’t wait. I hope to see you there.

A Newbie’s Guide to Surviving RWA 2014

I’m headed to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Annual conference in San Antonio next week—as a first-time attendee. If conferences for romance writers were personified, the RWA annual conference would be the Alpha Male among them.

I’ve taken a pitch class to prepare me for the business of selling my novel; I’ve considered and reconsidered the outfits I’m going to stuff in my suitcase; I’ve worked out my schedule, using the handy RWA conference app; and I’ve compiled a set of notes on the people I’d like to meet in person.

But there’s a problem. I’m terrified. Of what? I’m not sure. But this queasy feeling in my belly refuses to go away, so I’m going to arm myself with a few tricks to get me through it. These tricks aren’t tested, so if you choose to adopt them, be warned: they might not work. I’m going to give them a shot, though. After the conference, I’ll let you know how I fared.

Step 1: Imagine everyone in front of a computer.

We’ve all been told to picture a person in his or her underwear when we’re nervous. Yeah. No. I’m not doing that. Instead, when I meet a writer I’m going to picture her in front of her computer as she pulls at her hair and screams at the screen, because I’m sure we’ve all done that. Whether published or unpublished, every writer has experienced that moment. I think this mental exercise will help me relax and will reinforce the reality that no matter where we are in our writing journeys, we’re human—and most of us know how to cuss in at least two languages. I haven’t figured out what to do about agents and publishers, however. Any ideas?

Step 2: Imagine your favorite author is painfully shy.

Big names in the publishing industry attend the annual conference. As an attendee, I might see an author at the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, or an author whose novel resides on my Kindle. As I watch these titans of the industry chat with their friends and other conference attendees, I’m going to imagine that, for them, the exercise of speaking with other people is mentally and physically painful. Yes, I realize this probably isn’t the case, but this is my coping mechanism, so it doesn’t have to be true. Get it?

Step 3: Bear in mind everyone there was a first time attendee once.

Apparently, I get a ribbon of some sort, which announces to all that I’m a first-timer. In my view, this is a good thing. I figure if I pass out just before a pitch session, passersby will give me a hand, or maybe they’ll look at the ribbon and say, “Yet another one bites the dust. Ah, well. Those shoes are nice, though. Think we can pry them off her?” Seriously, I realize more experienced writers aren’t ogres, and most of them likely will take pity on me and help me through the maze that awaits me. They’ve been there. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about romance writers in the past year, it’s this: they’re good people. I can’t wait to join them.