Protect Your Writing Time: How to Say No to Others

Saying No to OthersMaking time for writing can be a challenge in and of itself. It gets even more difficult when others ask for things during the time we set aside to write. It can be hard to say no to people when writing is something we want to do and someone needs us. Plus, it’s easy to think we can just write later. But if we keep saying yes and sacrificing our writing time for others, “later” never really happens.

Learning to say no is vital to a productive writing life, but it can be challenging. Here are some things that help me say no when people ask for my time:

I remember why I’m doing this

Before I was published, I kept in mind that I was prioritizing writing because my ultimate goal was to see my book on a shelf. I would tell myself that if I want to make my goals a reality, then it means saying no to people. It meant sometimes, they may have to wait until I’m truly available to help them.

And really, that hasn’t changed just because my first goal was met. I never just wanted to be published. I want a writing career. And I know that if I don’t prioritize my writing time, no one else is going to do it for me. I will not get to publish another book if I don’t make the time to write and protect that time.

I treated writing like my job years before it actually was my job

For me, this approach started in grad school. Getting an MFA helped me start to think of writing as my work. Granted, this was easy to do when the writing was for a class, but I found once I reframed my thoughts for school, it was really helpful to carry that mindset into non-school writing.

If someone asks me to do something at a time I had planned to write, 90% of the time I say no. Because I’m not really free–I’m working. Thinking of writing this way helped give me a different perspective of my time and has made me feel a lot less obligated to say yes to favors and other requests during my scheduled writing time. If I were to ask someone for a favor and they were scheduled to work, they would understandably tell me they aren’t available. So if I’m scheduled to write, I’m not available either. It doesn’t matter that I made the schedule–I am scheduled to work. This approach has served me incredibly well.

(Click here for more on how to treat writing like a job and the pros and cons of getting an MFA.)

I leave the house

One of the easiest ways to say no is to avoid being asked all together. I’ve found that physically not being around, makes it harder for people to ask things of me. So if you’re someone who lives with other people, or has friends and family members who are known to drop by without notice, you might want to try leaving your house so no one can ask you for anything. Places like coffee shops, Panara, or the library make it possible to work out of the house with little to no cost. If it’s a nice day, you can even take your writing to a park, or another outdoor environment. Don’t be afraid to get creative! You might even find that writing “out” is great for your process. For more on that, check out this post!

I put my phone on silent

Leaving the house may help with face to face requests, but phones and technology make it hard to avoid contact completely. One way to combat this is to put your phone on silent and turn off any email notifications on your computer while you work. And if you still want to be reached in an emergency, most phones have override settings. For example, you may be able to set your phone to ring if the same person calls twice in a ten or fifteen minute period. This way you avoid being asked non-essential favors, but you’re still reachable in an emergency. For more on eliminating digital distractions, check out this post.

I explain why I’m unavailable to friends and family

It’s typically your friends and family who are most likely to ask things of you. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends and family who were very supportive of my goals even before I was published. I’ve found that when I tell these supportive people why I can’t help them, they are very receptive. In fact, they appreciate why I’m saying no and see it as an opportunity to help me meet my goals. Of course, since these people are supportive of me, I do my best to help them out when I’m not writing.

If people don’t respect my reason for saying no, I stop giving them a reason

There are always going to be people who see your goals as frivolous. Even now that I’m published, some people don’t seem to understand that books don’t write themselves. They do, in fact, think I can just “write later” and help them out when they ask. Since I’m not answering to a boss on a day-to-day basis, my schedule seems flexible to them. While this is infuriating, it’s also rarely worth the time and energy of a fight. So instead, I don’t give these people a reason as to why I can’t help them. I simply say, “I’m not around then,” or “I can’t then, but how about [insert available time here].”

Because here’s the bottom line: You do not owe anyone an explanation of how you spend your time. It’s your time. And while it’s nice to share it, you are not obligated to. If someone cannot respect your priorities, they don’t deserve your time. And they definitely don’t deserve your writing time. Don’t explain yourself. Simply say that you’re unavailable.

As always, I hope this helps you say no to others and protecting your writing time!

For further thought: Ultimately, saying no and protecting your time, is creating a healthy boundary. So if you’re still feeling a little hesitant, here’s an article from the HuffPost on the ten benefits of setting healthy boundaries.

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled to say no to others in order to protect your writing time?  Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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Writing Tools: The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

I first found The Right to Write by Julia Cameron when I was in college. It was an assigned book for my writing class. We were only assigned sections of it, but I have since read the whole thing twice. I’m going to come right out and say that it’s one of my favorite books on writing I’ve come across.

Like before, this review will be broken into four sections: What this book is, what this book isn’t, how it can help you, and do I recommend it.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

The Right To Write CoverWhat This Book Is

The subtitle of this book is “An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life,” which is incredibly appropriate. I had always thought of this book as a type of writing life guide before I even realized it was right on the cover. This book does, in fact, invite you to write and give you the tools to get started. It’s broken into 43 short chapters that discuss common issues most writers face.

In each chapter, Cameron first discusses the issue, giving her thoughts and advice, while including some personal stories from either her friends, her students, or herself. Then she ends each chapter with an initiation tool, which is designed to get you writing while confronting the issues she discussed in the chapter. These tools can also help broaden your perspective and build good writing habits.

The bottom line: The Right to Write is a positive, supportive, and encouraging guide to living a happy writing life. I think it can be helpful to all writers, no matter where they are in their writing journey.

What This Book Isn’t

Like Bird by Bird, this book isn’t a guide to getting published. It doesn’t give career promises or guarantees. This book doesn’t have prompts or craft-based exercises but does include initiation tools as mentioned above. It also isn’t a super technical craft book. As in, it doesn’t spend chapters dedicated to breaking down character, plot, or point-of-view. Some of those topics are touched on in different capacities, but Cameron’s focus is more on getting you writing and helping to build a happy and productive writing life.

How It Can Help You

The biggest way this book can help you is by taking the pressure off of writing. Each chapter has a singular idea or focus. Cameron explores these ideas on the page and gives advice on how to apply her ideas to your work. She has this way of simplifying writing and making it feel incredibly accessible. What makes this book so helpful is that Cameron doesn’t just tell you that you should use some of her techniques and approaches, she actually tells you how. The initiation tools at the end of each chapter are specific tasks or mini assignments designed to help you implement the chapter’s focus into your own writing practice. These tools can help you think about your writing differently, and maybe even unlock an area of your writing life that you’ve been struggling with.

This book can help you grow and give you a healthy, positive outlook on what it means to be a writer.

Do I Recommend It?

Clearly, I recommend this book. The first time I read it, I was swept up. Cameron’s philosophy is one that has always resonated with me. If you like writing attitude and approach you find on this blog, then I’m sure you’ll appreciate this book just as much. Julia Cameron has something for everyone, no matter where you are in your writing journey. If you’re new to writing, Cameron is the perfect motivator. If you’ve been writing for years, she can remind you why you started in the first place. This book isn’t just about how to write; it’s about living your best writing life. Early in the first chapter, Cameron says, “Writing is like breathing. I believe that.” I believe that too. It’s the core of my philosophy, and I believe it’s the core of Cameron’s too. It’s a big reason why I can’t recommend this book enough.

I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect from The Right to Write!

You can check out previous book and product reviews here!

Now it’s your turn: Have you read this The Right to Write? If you have, did it help you? If you haven’t, do you want to? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Use This Killer 3-Act Plot Structure: Writing Tips

The Act Tension Novel Plot StructureToday I wanted to introduce you to my favorite plot structure–the 3-Act Character Arc and Story Structure. This is my favorite structure because it actually focuses on character as much (if not more than) it focuses on the plot. It also adds emphasis on raising the tension throughout your story, which is something I’ve found to be particularly helpful. This was passed on to me by one of my writing instructors, but it originally came from Peder Hill.

Here’s what the structure looks like:

Plot Structure 1Since Peder has already given a thorough breakdown of this plot structure on his site, I’m going to focus on how I use each aspect of this structure to give you some idea of how it can help you and your story.

Beginning/Act I

This act is fairly short, straightforward, and similar to what you’d see in any other plot structure. This is where you set up what is ‘normal’ for your character before ending the act with your inciting incident, which kicks your story into action. Since this plot focuses on tension, it also encourages you to get into your story pretty quickly. As you can see from the chart, Act I wraps up less than a quarter of the way into the story. Since you don’t have a lot of time to establish your world and characters, it may be tempting to tell your reader absolutely everything–at least, I know it is for me.

Instead, what I’ve found helpful is to figure out what your readers really need to know to understand what’s going on with your characters now, in these opening scenes, and get us right into the action. You can share more information down the line when it’s relevant. Using this structure has helped me focus on what my audience needs to know to enter my world and nothing more, which has made it a lot easier to avoid info dumping.

Middle/Act II

This is the meat of your story. The majority of the growth and development is going to happen here. Most plot structures would consider this the “rising action” of the novel, but this model calls those actions “points of crisis.” As you can see, once we get to the peak of a crisis point there’s a drop in tension after. This gives your audience a moment of relief. However, the tension level after that drop never goes below the previous crisis point. This ensures that your tension continues to rise as your story moves on. I’ve found that thinking about my story like this helps to keep the middle of the book from dragging. The end of this act should be when things are most fragile for your character–but also when their goal is within reach. It’s the “so close, but yet so far” moment that leads to your climax.

More on the Points of Crisis

These points are basically why I love this structure so much. This is also where the focus on tension seriously comes into play. As you can see in the chart, the middle act consists of four points of crisis. These are four major events that need to happen to your character to get you closer to the climax. These points are paced relatively evenly throughout the book, which I find helps me pace my story pretty evenly.

Having these crisis point spaced out has also been really helpful in my overall process. I’ve learned I work better when I’m writing towards a particular story moment. When I’m early in the book, the climax is just too far away for me to focus on. Having a point that’s much closer keeps me motivated and moving forward.

Also worth noting: I’ve found that four points of crisis work really well for me, but that isn’t a rule for this structure. You can have as many or as few crisis points as you/your story needs.

End/Act III

This act is made up of two core components: the climax and the denouement. Typically my climactic event takes anywhere from 3-5 chapters. And since I’ve had my points of crisis leading up to that moment the entire book, it often seems to come together very organically.

As for the denouement, I do my best to keep it as short as possible. I shoot for no more than two chapters, but if I can, I’ll do it in one. If you look at the chart, the denouement is a steep drop after the climax, which is what always encouraged me to keep it short. Two common thoughts I’ve heard from people after they’ve read my books are: 1) They found themselves running out of pages and couldn’t imagine how everything was going to wrap up so quickly–and then it did. And 2) “That’s it?” but in a good way–as in, they want more.

This is the quick denouement in action. You don’t want to end your story abruptly, but you do want to leave your reader wanting more. Tying up loose ends and getting out of your story as fast as you possibly can is how you make this happen.

Final Thoughts

Peder adds a lot of emphasis on a character’s emotional journey, which was part of what drew me to this structure in the first place. However, I also found it to be equally helpful when considering the plot. Peder argues that if you focus on character, the plot will emerge on its own. This has proven pretty true for me. But once the plot does emerge, this structure can also be help refine it.

Once I know my character’s journey, I make it a point to tie those events into the plot. Ideally, when I’m finished, each crisis point will raise the emotional stakes for the character, as well as advance the plot and get me closer to whatever I’m unraveling. If you want to learn more about how I do this, check out my post on How to Make Plot and Character Work Together.

That’s it for this one! I hope this plot structure helps you write a killer novel!

Now it’s your turn: Do you have a favorite plot structure? What do you think of this one? Do you think it will help to think about your stories like this? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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6 Awesome Tips to Declutter Your Writing Brain

Declutter your writing brainAs writers, we juggle A LOT in our heads when we’re writing a story: characters, plot, dialogue, and the writing itself. An entire world lives inside you! That can be a lot to carry around. Your brain is your biggest creative tool, so it’s important to take care of it! If you write too much for too long, you can risk burning yourself out. (Clearly, I’m speaking from experience.) Giving your brain a break and a chance to refresh itself is important at every stage of the writing process. Here are six tips to decompress and declutter your writing brain.

1) Take time off

This may seem counter-productive if the reason you’re writing so much is to meet a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise), but it also may be exactly what you need. When I work on a project for too long I get less productive as I go. It becomes harder to focus on my work and solve problems. It also takes me longer to accomplish tasks. While it may be hard to walk away, especially if I’m on a deadline that isn’t self-imposed, it’s always worth it. When I come back to my project after a break, my brain is sharper, I write quicker, and my overall production drastically increases.

If you are on a deadline and find yourself in a situation where you really can’t afford to lose a whole day to give your writing brain a break, try to steal 24 consecutive hours. So on Day 1, decide that you’ll go hard until 3 PM. Then, give yourself off until 3 PM the following day, at which point you can pick your story back up again. This way, you still get a ‘day’ off without losing an entire workday.

2) Move more

Exercise is, of course, great for you physically, but it can also do wonders for your creative brain. Personally, I’ve found walking and/or running or other cardio is great because there’s very little you have to focus on. This gives your mind the freedom to wander and think about whatever it wants. When you write, you spend a lot of time forcing your brain in a direction, so unforced time can be a great way to refresh.

On the other hand, doing a very specific workout routine can be equally as helpful. By giving your brain a specific task to focus on, which practically guarantees time away from your story. Yoga is my personal favorite, but any video or guided routine can have this effect. (FYI, my favorite yoga resource is Bad Yogi, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

3) Veg out

Take an entire day and do nothing. Seriously. Don’t leave the house. Don’t talk to another person. The only reason to get off the couch for anything other than food (which should definitely be mac and cheese 😜). Watch your favorite movie/TV show, read a book, do whatever you have to do to fully recharge. I shoot for at least one of these days per month if I can. When I get back to work the following day, I’m sharp and refreshed.

4) Take in other creative content

Personally speaking, taking in other people’s creative work can go a long way in decluttering my brain. This can mean watching TV, reading a book, or falling down a YouTube hole. I think experience stories that are not mine and may not even be in my medium helps me to come out of my own head a little bit. And sometimes, once I can relax enough to get caught up in someone else’s story, I’ve found it can also inspire my own.

Another tip: Sometimes I find that since I work with words all day, reading a book for enjoyment is just asking too much of my brain. I can’t always focus on the story, the page, or the words. (Maybe this is you too?) Instead, I’ve started listening to audiobooks. It’s been a great way to get through my reading list when I’m too tired to read to myself. Unfortunately, audiobooks can be expensive. However, most libraries have them available either physically or for digital download.

5) Create relaxing spaces

This may be a little hippy, but creating a relaxing environment has really helped my entire process. When I’m fried from a day of writing, the last thing I want is to be in a room with harsh lights, loud sounds, or anywhere near a pile of ‘stuff’ I have to do. I’m easily overstimulated to begin with. After an intense writing day, it’s even worse.  What bothers you when you’re fried may be different. Whatever it is, take the time to figure out what you’re sensitive to and find a way to counteract it so your brain can recharge.  (If harsh lights are also an issue for you, my resources page as some of my favorite low-lighting alternatives).

6) Sleep

As far as I’m concerned, all-nighters are never worth it. Sure, sometimes you may need to work late to meet your goals, but I don’t believe it’s a good idea to push yourself so hard that you compromise your health on a regular basis. If you are consistently tired, then your brain isn’t as sharp as it could be. This is a massive disadvantage to you and your story.

That’s it for this one! I hope this helps you keep your writing brain in good condition!

Now it’s your turn: How do you declutter your writing brain? I’m always looking for new techniques so please let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Great Tips to Balance Writing and Social Media

How to Balance Writing and Social MediaA couple of weeks ago, I did a post on Why Writers Should Spend Time Offline. That post spoke more generally to the importance of unplugging, but this post focuses more on day-to-day writing/social media balance.  There’s also a little bit of a story behind my motivation for both of these posts.

Regardless of where you are in your writing journey, there’s a lot of emphasis on building an author platform these days. You may have even heard that it’s never too soon to start. That’s something I would agree with. Followers will absolutely help you out when it comes to selling or promoting a book, so the sooner you start building your account, the better off you are. But, if you’re not careful, it can be really easy to let that social media eat up a lot of your writing time and energy. This is something I know all too well.

A few months ago, I realized I was spending way too much time online. Checking my phone and social media accounts had become a compulsion. I also found it was getting in the way of my writing and my life. I knew I needed to do something to right the ship. It turned out that when I focused solely on managing my time on social media, my overall internet time cut down across the board. I didn’t want to ditch social media entirely–there’s a lot I like about it–but I did want it to take less time and be less of a distraction. If you find yourself spending more time on social media than you’d like, here are four tips that really helped me cut back without disappearing entirely.

1) Only check in at specific times each day

This was one of my first techniques. I had gotten into the habit of jumping on Twitter and scrolling anytime I had a free minute. Then I’d inevitably find myself following a thread of tweets, doing more research on something I’ve read, or contemplating a response to a mention. I also found myself mindlessly and taking “quick breaks” from writing or work just to see what was happening. So one of the first things I did was limit the time I went on social media. I picked three times a day–once in the morning, afternoon, and night to check-in online. Each check-in was no longer than fifteen minutes long.

2) Limit the devices you’re logged into

Of course, limiting your social media check-ins is a good plan, but it can take some serious self-control. After all, you’re breaking a habit here. I caught myself mindlessly opening Twitter on my browser on several occasions. What helped was to limit the places I was logged into. I work on my computer a lot, so being logged into the social media on there made it way too easy to get distracted and sucked back in. So for me, my phone made the most sense. Now when I use social media, it’s almost exclusively from my phone.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, Meghan, that sounds great, but what’s to keep me from constantly checking my phone?” Here’s tip 2a). Before I started cutting back, I checked social media on my phone so much that I often burned through my battery by the end of each day–sometimes sooner. Perhaps you’ve been there? To keep my phone time and social media time-limited, I found it really helpful to play a game with myself to see how long I could make my battery last. For whatever reason, that really helped me stay off my phone and cut down on social media time in the process. I went from charging my phone at least once a day to only every three days.

3) Only log on when you’re posting something

After a few weeks, I had gotten pretty good at my three times a day check-ins and I was ready to take it to the next level. I decided I would definitely check-in once a day to see what’s going on (like I said, I do like social media), but aside from that, I only log on when I have something to post. This was when the habit really broke for me. Now from time to time, I actually forget my once a day check-in.

4) Make your posts purposeful

When it came to posting, I found I spent way too much time thinking of and writing posts. I posted more frequently then than I do now, but I was also sporadic. Some weeks I’d post three times a day and then nothing for a stretch. Once I decided I wanted my accounts to have more of a theme (which is writing), it got a lot easier to post on a fairly regular schedule. That’s not to say that I don’t share other stuff. I do–but I try to focus my regular content on my theme. This has given me a focus and has made it easier to come up with posts.

I also try to plan and write a lot of these theme posts ahead of time, which means I don’t have to constantly remember to write and post. Later app has made doing this on Instagram really easy. Once you have a (free) account you can log in on your computer, type your Instagram posts out, save them, and schedule notifications to be sent to your phone so you don’t forget to post. I used to tap out my really long #WritingWednesday posts in the app, one letter at a time. I love writing those posts, but it took forever! And sometimes my post would be too long and Instagram wouldn’t post it the caption which would make me very sad!

Finding this app has made me so much more efficient and saved me a lot of time. I don’t post nearly as much as I did in the past, but I’m much more consistent, which has helped be maintain a good balance.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how you can balance writing and social media!

Now it’s your turn: Have you had trouble balancing social media and writing? What’s something that’s helped you? What’s something you’ve struggled with? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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Scrivener Review: 6 Reasons Why I Love This Software

Six Reasons I love ScrivenerAbout six years ago, I first learned about a writing software called Scrivener. I was on the fence about purchasing it, but after some research, I decided to take the plunge. It’s a decision I have yet to regret. In fact, this software quickly became one of my most essential writing tools.

I’ll probably do a full review of Scrivener down the line, but since it’s pretty clear that this is a product I recommend, I thought it might be more helpful to give you a product overview that highlights my favorite features. If you’re on the fence like I was, or just curious about the program, this is a post for you! I included some screenshots–click on the images to enlarge.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

The Binder

Binder

Before I found Scrivener I’d written books in both Word and Final Draft. Two of the biggest inconveniences of both of those products was: 1) the need to scroll in order to get from one section of the book to another and 2) the need to copy and paste every time I wanted to restructure my book. Scrivener’s binder feature fixes both of those problems.

The binder is located on the left side of the screen. For each chapter of your book, you create a folder in the binder. Then within each chapter folder, you add your scenes. If you want to jump from the beginning of the book to the end, all you have to do is click on the scene. And if you want to move a scene or chapter from one part of the book to another, you simply drag and drop. (I can’t tell you how much time this saved me when I had to restructure and reorder my last book.)

Additionally, you can store all of your drafts in their own separate file folder right inside the binder. This means you don’t have to juggle multiple versions and files on your computer. Everything is in one place!

The Word Counter

You may have seen this word counter floating around social media. This was a selling point for me. It makes it so easy to track your writing and monitor your progress. It manages both your daily session and your overall progress simultaneously, so you always know if you’re on target to meet your goals. You can keep it docked on your screen or check in from time to time.

Auto-Save

This was another massive selling point. I’ve been burned by a crashing Word document too many times for this not to be an essential feature. One of the biggest reasons I used the scriptwriting software Final Draft was because it could be set to auto-save every five minutes. Scrivener takes this to the next level. I currently have the software to auto-save when it detects two seconds of inactivity. Even if the program crashes on me, (which it never has) the most I’m likely to lose is a paragraph. If you’ve ever lost hours of work because you got too wrapped up in your story to hit save, I think you’ll agree that this feature alone makes the product worth it.

File Converter

Scrivener makes it easy to convert your Scrivener document to almost any file format. This includes word processors like Microsoft Word and Open Office and e-reader files like Kindle and iBooks. This means you can easily share your documents with people who don’t use Scrivener. And while I’ve never tried to self-publish, this feature seems like it would be ridiculously helpful with that if it’s something you’re interested in.

File Converter

Screen Space

One thing I underestimated when I first started using this program is how it uses screen space. The set up is designed to help you be the most effective writer you can be. The binder is always docked on the left-hand side, the editor (typing area) takes up the center, and the right has a couple different notes sections that you can use as needed. This set up makes it easy to double check a fact that you dropped in three chapters ago or jot down a quick note about your scene/chapter without losing your momentum. You can also completely customize what goes in your sidebars and how much or how little of the sidebar/binder you see.

Project Versatility

This software is designed for writers and novelists specifically, but it’s also prepared to handle project by screenwriters, poets, lyricists, and students who just want a quality word processor. Basically, it’s the only writing software you’ll ever need.

Also Worth Noting

There are a host of pre-writing features that I don’t use (I’m more of a pen and paper brainstormer). But if you’re a digital brainstormer, Scrivener has you covered there too! The program has a digital corkboard you can use to brainstorm and arrange your scenes, then easily access that info while you write. There are also areas to keep information on your characters, locations, and research.

If you want to give Scrivener a try, it’s available for Mac and Windows. (There are also discounted education editions for both Mac and Windows open to students, teachers, and scholars.)

If you want to learn more about any of these features, I would suggest hopping over to YouTube and searching for Scrivener demos to see the program in action.

I hope this gives you a good idea why I love Scrivener!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve used Scrivener before, what’s your favorite thing about it? If there’s anything you didn’t like, tell me that too. If you’ve never tried it, what questions do you have? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How I Got My Agent: My Successful Querying Story

Querying: How I got my agentWelcome to Part Three of my three-part querying series! ICYMI: Here’s Part One: How to Write a Successful Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query a Literary Agent. This time, I’m going to tell you all about how I got my agent.

These stories meant a lot to me when I was querying, so it only seems right that I share my own. A shorter version of this story can be found on the Writer’s Digest blog. There was a lot I couldn’t fit into that post, so this is an expanded and more query-centric version.

Post-High School Querying

If you’ve read my story, you know I wrote my first book in high school. It was a YA fantasy. I spent the end of my senior year editing, determined to have a “polished” book by graduation, so I could spend the summer querying. I used AgentQuery.com to research agents I thought would be a good fit for me, built a list of between fifteen to thirty agents (I don’t remember exactly), and sent my letters out in two or three rounds. At this point, agents were just starting to accept email queries so most fo my letters went out via USPS with a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response. It took all summer just to send those first letters and hear back.

Since almost everything went out snail mail, it also got expensive pretty quickly–especially when sample pages were involved. Which is why I didn’t query too much beyond the summer. In addition to the expense, but I also started to realize that the book could be a lot better. I didn’t get any requests, so after the summer, I pulled it back. Even though I didn’t get anywhere close to getting an agent, I learned a lot about the querying process, which was really helpful down the line.

Post-College Querying

I wrote a new book in college that was set in the same world as my previous book. This one felt so much better from the start. I used the beginning of the book to get into my MFA program, where I workshopped it until I had a draft I was really happy with. There were still a few sections that I thought could be stronger (especially toward the beginning) but it was the absolute best I could do at the time. I pulled on everything I’d learned from my first querying experience and combined it with what I was learning in my MFA program and got querying. (This was when I found QueryTracker.com.)

In the end, I queried this book twice. First in the fall of 2011. I had a working list of agents when I started, but I was always looking to add more. I found a query tip somewhere (I can’t remember exactly where) that suggested looking in a book’s acknowledgment section for names since most authors thank their agents there. So I flipped through a bunch of books I had read recently and found two of the authors were represented by Michelle Wolfson. I added her to my list.

Michelle has a “no response means no” policy, so she only responds if she likes your query. When she responded to mine I was thrilled. Ultimately, she wasn’t making a request, but she was very encouraging while pointing at a few issues in the book that resonated with me. She also asked me to keep her in mind for the future if this book didn’t get me an agent. She may have been passing on my book, but I felt like she saw what I was trying to do even though I wasn’t actually pulling it off yet. Because of that, she became my first choice for my future agent. I also pulled the book back to revise based on her feedback.

I spent the next nine months revising it on and off while I worked on my thesis project for school. I started querying again in the summer of 2012 while I wrote Crossing the Line. Michelle was closed to queries at this point, so I never got to go back to her with the revision. I got a couple requests for the updated version, but no offers. I queried this book until Crossing the Line was polished and ready to submit, which was mid-September of 2013.

The Numbers: 126 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 promising rejection, 0 offers

Querying Crossing the Line

When I started querying Crossing the Line, Michelle was my first choice thanks to her previous rejection. But she was also still closed to queries. I didn’t follow agents on social media when I was querying–I didn’t want to be that attached–but I followed Michelle. I had a good feeling about her and I didn’t want to miss when she opened back up again. In the meantime, I went back through the list of agents I’d cultivated and started at the top again while I wrote a new book. Six weeks into querying, Michelle opened and I sent my letter off right away. She got back to me within a couple hours asking for more pages.

One of the reasons I liked Michelle from the start is that she’s very upfront with what you can expect from her. She tells you right in her submissions guidelines that she typically responds to queries very quickly and partials very slowly. This turned out to be accurate. Michelle also mentioned how long I should wait before following up. I followed up with her every few months until the last Thursday in June when her response said my partial was her subway reading for that afternoon. Later that night, I got another email from her asking to read the whole book.

I sent it off, excited, but also expecting it to be a little while until I heard from her. (By now, I had gotten good at waiting.) The following Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize, and I had my hands full straining chickpeas, so I didn’t pick up. A beat after the phone stopped ringing I realized who it might be. Sure enough, Michelle had left a voicemail saying she loved my book and asking me to call her back. I called back before I could think too much about it. (I was ready to do some research on what it might mean and what questions I should ask, but I refrained.) We had a great call and I was officially a represented author.

The Numbers: 111 agents queried, 2 requests, 1 offer and acceptance.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ on the Spot

As you can see, I queried a lot of agents and didn’t get many requests. Even with that, I didn’t say yes to Michelle because she was the only one who offered. I said yes because I believed she was the best agent for me. She saw something in the first book I queried her with when very few did. Additionally, the things she felt weren’t quite right with that book were also things that had bothered me–I just wasn’t able to put my finger on them. This made me feel like we’d be in sync and make a good team. I also really liked that she responded to two very different books. I’ve always known that I’d want to write in a few different genres, so it was encouraging to know going in that she’d had some interest in two different stories.

At the time, all I had out with other agents were query letters. Between our exchanges and my gut instinct, I was sure Michelle was the agent for me. So much so that I felt giving the agents who had my letters a chance to read my book and make an offer would have been wasting their time. Ultimately, this just felt right to me–even in my overexcited state. I have no regrets.

So, that’s how I got my agent!

This concludes our querying series! In case you missed the others, here’s Part One: How to Write a Query Letter and Part Two: How to Query A Literary Agent.

If there’s anything about my personal querying journey you want to know more about, feel free to drop it the comments or send me a message.

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve queried in the past, what did you learn that’s helped you going forward? If you haven’t queried before, what are you anxious or excited about? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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6 Awesome Writing Tips for Finishing Your First Draft

Six Tips for Finishing Your First DraftEvery part of the writing process has its own challenges, but when it comes to a first draft, finishing is often the biggest challenge. First drafts are the worst your book will ever be and sometimes it can be difficult to push through terrible writing and plot problems to make it to the end. However, I’ve found that with the right approach, you can push through and maybe even have some fun. Or at the very least, you may not completely hate the experience.

Here are six tips to help you push on and finish your first draft as painlessly as possible.

(Side note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!)

1) Take time to figure out how you draft best

I strongly believe that one of the keys to a happy writing life is figuring out your writing process. One step to cracking that code is uncovering out how you draft.

There tends to be two main approaches to drafting: planning and pantsing (as in, you fly by the seat of your pants). If you’ve only ever done one of these before, I encourage you to try the other. I think sometimes it can be really easy to get stuck in the approach you first learned or first tried. And while yes, that may very well be the approach that works best for you, I think it’s important to try both so you know for sure.

The first time I drafted a book I planned. I did this in part because I’d heard that’s what my favorite author did it and in part because it just seemed like a good idea. It worked for me and finished the draft like that. I also wrote my second book the same way. When I got to grad school, one of my first classes involved drafting a book in a semester. We used NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! as our guide. Baty challenges writers not to plan their books before coming in. I had never written that way, but I gave it a try. Halfway through the semester I broke down and started planning because not planning was painful for me. But I’m glad I tried it. I learned I am most definitely a planner and knowing that shaped not only my drafting but also my revision and editing process.

So, give both approaches a shot. If you hate it and it’s painful, then, by all means, switch back. But it’s worth at least trying the opposite approach so you can know for sure what’s best for you.

2) Turn off your inner editor

This is another concept preached by No Plot? Not Problem. It can be the hardest to get past, but I found it to be crucial. For me, part of this was also accepting that there would be problems I could not fix and questions I didn’t know the answers to. Once I did, it completely opened up my drafting. If I couldn’t fix these problems or answer these questions, it meant I didn’t have to try. That freed up brainpower to focus on what I did know and gave me a roadmap for what I’d have to fix in revision. I found I was able to draft much more quickly and I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process.

Like I said, I know getting to this place can be hard. If it helps, try thinking of your first draft as an extended brainstorm instead of a “draft”. The point isn’t to write well. It’s to discover the story. You don’t need to answer questions or fix problems. You need to learn what the questions and problems are. The flaws need to exist in their entirety so you can fully understand them. In fact, your story needs you to write a bad first draft so you can learn what your story needs to be a killer polished draft down the line. So if you think about it, trying to write a “good” first draft is actually a disservice to your story. Why would you want to hurt your story like that? 😉

3) Set manageable goals

I think one reason writers end up getting discouraged is that they set their writing goals too high. This usually comes in the form of a high page count, high word count, or planning an unrealistic amount of writing time. If you continually fail to meet your goals, it can be easy to feel like you’re “bad” at this and give up. In actuality, you may have just set bad goals. Instead, take a look at the amount of time you can feasibly dedicate to writing, and consider how much writing you can reasonably accomplish in that time. It’s okay if that number is small and it takes you a long time to finish a draft. The key is to set daily goals you can actually meet and keep show up until you reach “The End”.

If you’d like to know more about this, I did a whole post on How to Set Manageable Writing Goals.

4) Show up on a regular basis and protect your writing time

Consistency is key. Maybe you can’t write every day. Or maybe you can. It’s up to you to decide how much time you can realistically dedicate to writing, but make sure you can put that time inconsistently. The person who writes 500 words on a regular basis will finish their draft–regardless of how long it takes. The person who writes 5,000 words from time-to-time/whenever they can fit it in, most likely will not. Set time aside for your story. Even if it’s only 15 minutes every other day.

Now, once you set that time aside, protect it. People will ask to do things or go places with them. They will ask you for favors. Learning to say “no” is important (Find some tips here.). It might be easy to think of your writing time as “free time,” but it’s not. It’s time for your story, which is something you care about. Don’t undervalue yourself or your story by saying yes to others just because their needs seem more legitimate. If you don’t consider your story legitimate enough to prioritize, who else will? You can’t finish your draft if you don’t give yourself the time to get it done.

5) Only share with understanding and supportive people

I know there are a lot of writer’s out there who don’t share their work with anyone until it is absolutely polished and perfect. Personally, I find sharing as I move through the entire process to be invaluable. But I don’t think that means you should share with just anyone. The quickest way to kill your aspirations is to talk about your project with people who either don’t get it or don’t believe in you. Any idea in the drafting stage is still new and undeveloped. If you share it with the wrong person and they poke holes and point out problems, it can be hard to push on. When an idea is this new, you don’t need to hear what’s wrong with it. You need to hear about its potential. Only discuss your story with those who can see what your story could be.

6) Don’t use being “too busy” as an excuse not to write

If you’re constantly looking for a large stretch of time to sit down and really dig into your draft, you may never make it to the end. Even if you come up with that time, you might also find that it’s easy to either procrastinate or overthink under those circumstances. Instead, write when you’re busy and try to use it to your advantage.

This is another point Baty argues. He says that you will write faster and have an easier time turning off your inner editor if you write when you’re short on time. I have found this to be absolutely true. When I have a busier day, it means my writing time is limited. That also means that I have a very small window to be productive. I don’t have a minute of that window to waste if I have any hope of reaching my goals. Because of that, I don’t have time to overthink or second guess. I just have to GO. Typically, I plan two to three hours a day to write. But when I have to, I can do the same work in an hour and ten minutes. Sometimes even faster.

When it comes to drafting, productivity and output are more important than quality. Working when you’re limited on time forces you to focus on that.

Recommended Reading:

I’ve mentioned No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty a few times in this post. If you’re struggling with drafting, I highly recommend giving this book a read. Thanks to this book, I totally changed how I approached my drafts and it made the process so much more fun.

I hope you’ve found something in here that helps you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: What tricks have helped you draft? What’s been a drafting struggle? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Great Reasons Writers Should Spend Time Offline

Why Writers should spend time offlineThe internet has seriously changed the writing game and most of it is for the better. I can’t even imagine trying to write a book without Google (actually, I can and researching is painful). It’s also been an awesome way connect with other writers (like all of you!). But I think we all know it has it’s downsides too. Unplugging and making a point to spend time offline and away from your phone isn’t a new idea. In fact, this article from Good Housekeeping talks about the positive effects time offline can have on your health, relationships, and creativity!

Let’s take a look at four reasons time offline it’s particularly important for writers.

1) Too much input interferes with output

A friend said this to me once and she’s right. All that input from social media/news/everything else makes it harder to figure out what YOU think about an experience, situation, or the world in general, which means it’s hard to generate creative output that’s uniquely your own. Two massive elements to writing are your voice and your perspective. That’s the basis of every art form. The world keeps changing and you keep growing. Which means how you think about the world is going to consistently evolve. It’s hard to constantly develop and write your own thoughts if you spend most of your time taking in other people’s ideas. When you spend time offline, you’re giving yourself the time and space to develop your own thinking.

2) Get away from distraction/time suck

Let’s face it. The internet can be a wealth of information. It can also be a massive distraction. You jump online to look up that ONE thing and four hours later you’ve watched more pointless YouTube videos than you care to admit and spent too long scrolling Twitter. Obviously, I speak from experience. Sometimes mindless internet browsing can lead you to some cool places, but if you’re losing writing time, it’s a problem. Maybe you can’t log off for too long (for one reason or another) but if you find that you’re losing a ridiculous amount of production time to the internet, a weekend offline can really help. Focus solely on your project, read a book, or do any other offline activity. It feels like checking our phones and the internet has become a default setting for a lot of us. When you spend time offline and away from technology, it can go a long way in breaking that habit, which can make it easier to keep from getting distracted.

3) Refuel your creativity

If you’re not online, there are so many other things you could be doing to refuel your creativity. Read, catch a movie or TV show (without checking your phone or paying attention to two screens at once), spend time outside, visit with family/friends, or do whatever offline activity that helps stimulate your creativity. Really take in those experiences. These are the things we write about. And if you find yourself early to an event, don’t pull out your phone to kill time. Look around and make it a point to notice something. Think about what makes the fighting siblings in the corner so relatable or why the “lonely” person at the table by herself looks anything but lonely. When you unplug like this, you start to pay more attention to the world and to your own thoughts. All of that can be a serious boost to your creativity.

4) Get away from demands

It’s hard to focus on your work when people keep asking you for things–even if those ‘things’ are just a response. In the real world, we can close a door to keep these requests out. But the internet and technology have made us all more accessible. In most cases, this is good. It’s nice that we don’t have to wait a week for a letter to reach its destination, be read, and receive a response. But the downside is, there is always a door open for people to reach us. If you keep checking your phone or the internet and seeing texts/emails/social media post that requires an answer or attention, it makes it really difficult to get some work done. In the past, I would constantly find myself putting my work aside to tend to these messages. Unplugging, silencing my phone, and walking away from online messages for a period of time (sometimes just a few hours, sometimes for an entire week) has been really great for my productivity and general sanity. I completely recommend it.

Final thoughts

I’ve found it really helpful to take regular breaks from social media–even if I don’t break from the world entirely I like to shoot for at least one day a week, and a few times a year I’ll take an entire week away. When I come back from my breaks I notice I’m more balanced and more focused on my work. If you give it a try, let me know if you notice any difference!

I hope this inspires you to try to spend time offline!

Now it’s your turn: Do you unplug? If you do, what’s your strategy? If you don’t, what’s makes it hard for you to do? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Query a Literary Agent: 11 Steps

How to Query a Literary AgentHere’s Part Two of my Querying series! (Find Part One: How to Write a Query Letter here and Part Three: How I Got My Agent here) This post is focused on the querying process and how to query a literary agent. I’m going to share my personal querying/how I got my agent story in the next post.

For this process, I’m going to focus on how to query a literary agent because that’s what I have experience with. But if you’re approaching a small publisher, the process is going to be similar when querying an editor.

First, you should not be considering querying until your book is as finished and as polished as you can get it. (If you’ve got a series or trilogy and aren’t sure when to submit, check out this post!) Assuming you’ve reached that point, let’s take a look at how to query a literary agent.

1) Write a query letter that captures what your book is about

Before you query a literary agent, you have to write a query letter. I talked all about this in my How to Write a Query Letter post. That’s is where this process starts!

2) Do your research and build a list of possible agents

When you go to query a literary agent, you need to make sure you’re submitting to someone who is right for your book. The publishing market is broken down by age group (children’s, middle grade, young adult, adult) and genre (fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, thriller, historical fiction, etc). Agents typically specialize in a few of these categories, but not all. So if you’ve written a middle grade fantasy, you need to make sure you’re submitting to agents that represent both middle grade and fantasy.

Here are to resources to help you build a list of potential agents:

QueryTracker.com: Once you make a (free) account on this site, you can search agents and filter them by age group and genre. They also include an agent’s website, email, social media handles, and an overview of how each agent prefers to be contacted. It’s also kept pretty up to date. This was my number one resource for keeping track of agents.

AgentQuery.com: This site has even more information that Query Tracker, but isn’t kept as up to date (which is why I didn’t use it as much). But you might want to cross-reference them–if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂

There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents on these sites. Take some time to read through and visit websites, then make a list of your top ten, then twenty others you really like. You may need more but thirty should be good to get you started.

You can also try reading the acknowledgments of books you like/think your book is similar to. Most authors thank their agents, so you can find some names and look them up. (This is how I found my agent!)

3) Take note of submission guidelines and follow them!

When it comes time to query a literary agent, following the directions is critical. As much as the databases are good for finding agents, they may not always be current. You should always go to their actual websites to check submissions guidelines. Some agents will just want a query, some will want the query and sample pages pasted into the body of the email, some will want the partial attached. Whatever they ask, DO EXACTLY AS THEY SAY!!

Agents get a lot of queries, and they don’t have an excess of time. If you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you become someone they definitely don’t want to work with. It also may take them longer to sort through your submission, which again, isn’t something they really have time for. If you want to make a good first impression, follow the submission guidelines as closely as possible. The only place you have a little wiggle room is with the sample pages. If they ask for 10 pages, but your chapter (or a good stopping point) ends on page 11 or 12, then it’s usually okay to add the extra pages. But don’t abuse this. The agent you’re querying won’t appreciate it.

4) Get a dedicated query email address

Before you query a literary agent, I suggest setting up an email address just for querying. It should be professional, ideally with some variation of your name. This will become your future author email.

I also made sure it was a separate email client than my personal email, that way if I had the app on my phone, I would know that if I got that notification it was a query response. This meant I wasn’t constantly refreshing my email. If an email came through, it would find me. (Though I did check in online roughly every other week if I hadn’t heard from anyone in a while, in case of technology/notification fail.)

5) Start sending out letters

It’s time!!

Start with your top ten agents. Address your query. Follow the submission guidelines. Take a breath. And hit send.

I would suggest sticking with ten open queries at a time. You might get feedback from an agent at some point and want to make changes to your manuscript. If you sent the original out to everyone at once, then you have no one left to send your new and improved manuscript to. You also have to keep track of all the queries you send in case you get an offer and want to get in touch with an agent who has an open query (more on that later). This will be a lot harder and a lot more work if you have a ton of queries open. So I say start with ten. Then every time you close out a query, send a new one out.

6) Know what outcomes to expect

Before you query a literary agent, it’s a good idea to be prepared fo the most likely outcomes.

The good:

An agent likes your letter/sample pages and asks for more! (Yay!!) Some agents will go right ahead and ask you to send the entire manuscript. Others may ask for a partial, which is usually between 50-100 pages–the agent will tell you how much to send. DO WHAT THEY ASK!! Like submission guidelines, it’s usually okay to send a few more pages if it’s a better stopping point, but don’t go crazy. If they ask for 50 and you send 100, it’s starting things off on the wrong foot. Traditionally, if an agent asks for a full/partial, they’re expecting them within 24 hours. Which is why it’s really important to have your book finished before you start querying.

The in-between:

If an agent likes what they see, but think you/the project are not quite ready yet, they may tell you to keep them in mind for the future. File this agent away! It may not be the ‘yes’ you were looking for, but it’s still a good thing! It means they see something in you! (Also, this was what led me to my agent.)

The not-so-good:

An agent doesn’t want to read more of your book. (Sad face!) You’ll find this out in one of two ways. Some agents have a “no response means no” policy, which means if they don’t respond to your query, you can assume it’s a no. These agents will usually tell you right in their submission guidelines if this is the case. They’ll also let you know that after X weeks, you should consider them a pass (six weeks seems to be the average in my experience). The second way you’ll find out is with a rejection letter. These are usually form letters that say some variation of “Thanks so much for considering me, but I’m going to have to pass on this project. I wish you the best of luck.” Which leads me to number 7…

7) Reframe your thoughts on rejection

Rejection can be pretty disappointing–especially if you query a literary agent you really like and they end up passing on your book. But when you query a literary agent, rejection is a very likely outcome, and it’s important to be prepared for it. I had queried three books before I got my agent. You would think that at some point this would have started to get discouraging, but I found that the more I queried, the less rejection bothered me. I eventually realized that by the third time through, I had started to think about rejection differently.

First:

I realized that I didn’t want to get an agent (or to be published) because I wanted to be validated as a writer. I write because it makes me happy. No one has to validate that for me. I wanted an agent because I loved to write so much that I wanted writing to be my job. As much as it may have sucked to hear that my book wasn’t wanted, I had to believe that in the long run, it was for the best. If an agent didn’t LOVE what I’d written, I couldn’t imagine they’d be able to put me in the best position to succeed.

It may be hard to see past getting an agent when you’re querying, but the fact that you’re looking for agent tells me that you’re probably not just looking to publish a single book. You’re most likely looking to build a life and career. If that’s the case, you deserve someone who loves your work and who will do everything they can to put you in the best possible situation, book after book.

Second:

When you only have ten letters out at a time, that means that there are a whole bunch of agents who haven’t had the chance to read your book yet. The agent who is the right fit for you could be out there and you just haven’t sent the email! Once I knew I wanted an agent who loved my writing (and got used to the idea that rejections came from agents I didn’t want), I started seeing every rejection as an opportunity. Each rejection gave me a chance to contact a new agent who might be The One. And if that one turned me down, it would still give me another opportunity to send another letter.

Clearly, I’m really good at manipulating myself into seeing the glass half full, but thinking about things this way really helped me! It also really helped to understand why I wanted to be published. Only you can decide why you want to be published, but I would encourage you to find a reason other than validation. I truly believe you will be happier if you do. If you want to see more thoughts on rejection, I talk a little about it in my Redefining Failure post.

8) Keep good records

As you’re building your list and going through this process, you’re going to find that every agent/agency has a slightly different procedure. Some will say if you don’t get a response it’s a no. Others will say if you don’t get a response after six weeks, flow up or resend your letter. Some will ask for a partial and say if you don’t hear anything in two months follow-up. Some will ask for a full. You need to keep track of who you queried, when you queried them, if they responded, and if they asked for more. You need to know who has your work.

I suggest a spreadsheet! Here’s a screenshot of mine.

Query Speadsheet

My columns are: agent, their agency, date I sent the query, if they responded (an X for I got a “no” response, and O for closed/no response), when six weeks would be up (or when I should consider the query closed–six weeks is average but some are shorter or longer), and if I needed to follow up if I hadn’t heard from them. Then when I sent a query out, I’d highlight the row in green so I knew it was active. I took the highlight away when I closed it. If an agent asked for a partial, I highlighted it in blue and made a note of when I sent it and when I should follow up.

9) Follow up if/when it’s appropriate

Some agents will say it’s okay to follow up on a query if you haven’t heard from them after X weeks. You should absolutely do this–just make sure you wait until after the time frame they’ve given you. Also, nearly every agent I encountered encouraged a following up if they haven’t gotten to your partial within 2-3 months. (This is also something that helped me get my agent). In both instances, be brief and polite. Here’s an example: “Hello, I wanted to follow up on a partial I sent you on X/X/XX. Let me know if you’d like me to resend.” I also suggest replying to the original email and keeping everything in one thread. Agents handle a lot of submissions. Even if they liked yours, they may not remember it after a few months. Make it as easy as possible for them to see your prior exchange.

10) While you wait, work on something new and don’t give up

One of the hardest parts when you query a literary agent is how long it takes to hear back. Like I said in part one of this query series, an agent’s priority is the clients they have already signed. And that’s good! In the future, when you are one of those clients, you will want your agent to prioritize you. But that means as querying writer, you wait. And while you wait, you might as well work on something new. If you do get an offer, your agent will like to know that you have more in the works. And if the book you’re querying doesn’t get you an agent, you’ll have another book to send out.

I queried a book until I had a new one to submit (which took about a year), then I pulled the first book back and focused on querying the new one. But the nice thing was once it came time to do the next book, I already had a big long list of agents I thought would be a good fit for me, so I just had to double check that everything still lined up and they were still open to queries before sending a new query off.

11) When an agent makes an offer

YAY!!!!!! THIS IS SO EXCITING!!!!

How you get the news can vary from agent to agent. Some will email to set up a call. Others will just call–like mine did. (I didn’t pick up–I was straining chickpeas at the time. I called back REAL fast.) It’s okay to ask questions if you have them. If you have other partials/fulls out, it’s considered professional courtesy to let those agents know that you’ve had an offer and give them time (about a week) to read what you’ve sent them before you accept anything.

I’ve heard conflicting things about open queries. Some agents want to know if you have an offer even if they only have a query, others aren’t that worried about this. I guess it comes down to how much you want to work with the agent making the offer. If the agent was high on your list, you like what they’re offering and you feel like someone else would have to really blow you away, I think it’s okay to say yes on the spot–if you want to. (I did!)

On the other hand, if you don’t like what you’re hearing or there are things you’re on the fence about, take some time to think about it and check in with your open queries while you do. Though I should note, this only applies to open queries. If you have open partials/fulls, you really need to get in touch with those agents before accepting an offer.

It’s also okay to turn down an offer if it doesn’t feel right to you. Remember, once you accept that offer, your agent becomes your teammate. They are helping you build a life and career. You need someone who is going to put you in the best possible position. If you don’t think the agent making the offer is that person, say no. Trust me when I say, no agent is better than a bad or incompatible one. (I don’t have experience with this, but I’ve heard stories.) If you get an offer from the wrong person, you will get another offer from the right person–just keep going!

I hope this gives you a good idea of how to query a literary agent!

You can find Part Three: How I Got My Agent or revisit Part One: How to Write a Query Letter.

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried to query a literary agent before? If you have, do you have a tip to help others query a literary agent? If you haven’t yet, what’s your biggest concern as you get ready to query a literary agent? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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