Pub Rants

Category: queries

Best Query EVER!

STATUS: An illusion of spring time here in Denver. It’s going to be in the 60s several days in a row. Oh, here comes spring fever.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? NOWHERE FAST by Smiths

As you folks know, recently we did a big computer conversion here at the office. As part of the conversion, we’ve been migrating to a new email/CRM program that we are quite excited about. As part of the process, we’ve been cleaning out old saved email folders from our query inbox.

Well, Anita had a folder where she saved some of the best email queries NLA has ever received. And I’m sure you guys realize that I’m using the word “best” euphemistically here.

We unearthed one that is just too good not to share.

This query was for a memoir about the author’s life long relationship with his um… his um… his Johnson, summer sausage, ding dong, one-eyed monster.

Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.

His had a separate personality and was the cause of his interesting career (and no, it wasn’t in THAT business).

Best yet? It was time to let him out of the closet and present him to the world in the first book of a trilogy. Yes, you read that right–a trilogy.

The only question that remained, according to the query letter, was whether the world was ready for it.

Only you, dear blog readers, can answer that question!

5000+ Queries In One Day

STATUS: Things are getting back to normal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO by Billie Holiday

A week and one day. Felt like an eternity! In this short span of time, we completely upgraded our entire office computer system with a brand spankin’ new server.

With any major overhaul, there are always a few kinks.

For example: with the migration, something went wonky with our query email. For some reason, the server wasn’t recognizing when emails had been downloaded into the program. One morning, Anita opened the query program to find 5000+ queries in the inbox. That was a shock. The server had downloaded each query 5 to 10 times and then kept repeating it.

I’m happy to report that the problem is finally solved. I don’t think we lost any queries in the process but if you don’t hear from us in the next 2 to 3 weeks, you might want to resend. But you only need to send it once… I don’t think Anita ever wants to open that program and find an eye-popping 5000 queries in the inbox again.

Every day we keep finding a few more things that need to be tweaked. Like this morning. I found one whole folder to be missing. Poof. Just gone. Have no idea where or how. Luckily, we back everything up to the cloud so it was a matter of 15 minutes for me to locate it and repopulate it on the server. But it makes me wonder what other little discoveries are going to occur.

Our tech person was even here this afternoon for a few hours. And I do think we’ll see him a few more times before the week is out.

And if this stress of a computer conversion wasn’t enough, our new employee started last week.

Call me a glutton for punishment.

Fun Facts On NLA Clients—Take 4

STATUS: I have an auction unfolding later this week so busy busy.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DOG DAYS ARE OVER by Florence and The Machine

Kristina Riggle—literally lives on the street one block over from where my husband grew up in Michigan. Talk about a small world…

Sherry Thomas—English is Sherry’s second language. She didn’t start learning English until she was thirteen years old. If you’ve read her, you’ll know she has a beautiful way with language that’s really stunning.

Linnea Sinclair—came to me via a referral from the amazing Deidre Knight. How cool is that for a fellow agent to recommend an author to then to have that author have such a great career? Deidre and I toast it every time we get together.

Helen Stringer—has a gorgeous British accent and a little known fact is that she has a background in film/tv. This doesn’t happen often but she auditioned for and landed the narrator job to read her own novel SPELLBINDER for the audio book version. She’ll be doing THE MIDNIGHT GATE as well. So if you’ve listened to the books, you are actually hearing her. If you haven’t picked up the audio version, I highly recommend it.

The Query Spammer

Status: A bit of a rough start to the year as I’m home with a sore throat. Too much relaxing over the holiday I guess!

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? BETTER MAN by Pearl Jam

Happy New Year! And welcome back, hopefully, to a nice year of generally uninterrupted blogging! It’s my New Year’s resolution.

If you sent us a query while we were closed, I apologize for having to send out the autorespond and making you resend. Really, it’s for our sanity. Can you imagine coming back to work and facing over 2500 queries?

Daunting to say the least. Much better for us to have a clean query inbox and start afresh on Jan. 3. We did get a little slammed today (no surprise). If I were a writer, I’d wait and send next Monday when we are back to normal levels. However, if you did send, we are reading them now.

That is, all except for one person’s query. Lately we have what we call a query spammer. For 2 months straight, this writer has sent the exact same query every single day. At first, we sent our general NO response. Now we just delete.

The person took a break at the end of November but now they are back. It certainly has our attention but not perhaps in the way the writer intends.

I admire persistence as much as the next person but here’s the difference. If this writer significantly rewrote the query or gave a fresh take on the story, then it’s worth our reviewing again. But the same query, day in and day out, for months on end is just spam and gets an auto-delete.

Happy Writing in 2011!

More Pearl Jam music on iLike

Query Trends

STATUS: It was a nice day here so I popped out to give Chutney a quick walk. Now back at the office and will probably be here until at least 7 p.m.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE STAR OF THE EAST by Judy Garland

I’m not sure why, but my most popular blog entries (in terms of comments) tend to be when I blog about sample page or query trends.

So back by popular demand, here’s what we’ve been seeing too much of lately in the query inbox (and thank you Anita for compiling this handy dandy list):

1) Retellings of fairy tales in unusual settings (Sleeping Beauty on Mars, Snow White in the future, etc.)

2) Sci Fi stories featuring travel between planets using a Space Elevator.

3) Not really a new trend, but we’ve been getting a lot of WWII stories (even more than usual)

4) Still way too many vampires and werewolves *grin*

5) Tons of New Age spiritual stuff (a protagonist and her Spirit Guide, various takes on reincarnation, etc)

Not sure how this will help you folks in the trenches but there you have it.

After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques…

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.


Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the quest
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

Webinar Debrief

STATUS: Even though it’s Friday, I’ll be working late. I’m headed to New York on Sunday. Heads up that blogging might be spotty.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? STUTTER by Maroon 5

As you blog readers know, I did my very first webinar on Wednesday for Writers Digest. I thought it might be interesting to debrief it. If you participated in the seminar, I would love feedback so feel free to leave some in the comments section (and also feel free to leave the comments anonymously).

So here’s my debrief of it:

Thumbs up:
1. It’s a great way to reach a variety of writers without having to travel (and vice versa for them).

2. It was fun. I thought the webinar format was professional. There was a tech person to help me for the entire 90 minutes and even before the session began. We even did a trial run on the Tuesday before to make sure I understood how the control panel worked and how to do the Powerpoint presentation so attendees could see it.

3. From having given this seminar live, I had a good idea of what questions get asked and when so I tried to interject them during the presentation so Qs were answered as I went.

4. The question chat box was very cool. I left about 20 minutes at the end of the session to start going through them and answering them. Any I didn’t get to were given to me after the fact. I’ll answer, shoot back to the webinar tech person and she’ll distribute them out to the asking party. Very professionally done.

Thumbs neutral:
1. Nothing compares to audience interaction and there wasn’t really a good way to allow that. Usually I can gauge if the audience is “with me” for what I’m trying to explain but there is no clear way to do that in the webinar.

2. Since we were working on the pitch paragraphs for SF&F novels, it would have been fun to get one or two volunteers to submit their revised pitch so I could talk about them right then and there. If I do something like this again, I think I’ll ask how we might be able to do that.

3. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but 90 minutes felt too short. I wish I had given myself more time to answer questions. But there was a lot of info to cram into 1 hour.

Thumbs down:
I’m not sure I have any but maybe some of the attendees do. If so, feel free to share.

For my part, I do want to ask this question. This is the first time I’ve given a workshop where participants paid to attend. Now of course I’ve given workshops at conferences where attendees paid to attend the conference but they didn’t pay a separate amount to attend my particular workshop.

What do you folks think about that? Should agents give workshops like that?


More Maroon 5 music on iLike

Kristin Goes Webinar

STATUS: It’s really time to go home now…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? IS SHE REALLY GOING OUT WITH HIM? by Joe Jackson

Should be interesting.

Sometimes I wonder how I get roped into these things! Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest has been bugging me for a while to come and teach a webinar for them.

I haven’t really been tempted until now. What changes is that I feel an overwhelming need to help out writers in the SF&F field. I know I’ve mentioned this before on my blog but the SF&F community has wonderful Cons that cater to fans more than to the business side of publishing. In consequence, often the writers in the SF&F realm are a little at loose ends on how to do things like write good query letter pitch blurbs for their SF&F novels. Seriously, the queries we get for this genre tend to be the weakest we see.

This is a problem we NEVER have in the romance field as RWA probably goes the other extreme in terms of educating writers!

Next month is MileCon here in Denver and sure enough, we proposed some business-y stuff and not much came of it.

So then Chuck touched base and I thought, here’s an opportunity…. Taught by yours truly.

And folks, unlike my blog, this webinar is not free—as it’s through Writers Digest but if you are interested, here are the deets. Click here for more info and to sign up.

How to Write and Sell Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

This is an intensive workshop on the “how-to” business side of getting your science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) writing published, whether for teens or adults.

We here at Nelson Literary Agency are actively looking to expand our roster of science fiction & fantasy (young adult and adult fiction) authors but frankly, the queries we receive in this genre could use some help. Our agency sees a ton of SF&F queries, for both YA and adult novels, and 90% of them sound completely generic. We can teach you how to make your novel stand out.

Each registration comes with access to the archived version of the program and the materials for 1 year.

About the Critique & How it works
After the session, all registrants can submit their revised pitch paragraph (no more than 12 sentences) for a quick critique by Kristin Nelson. Who knows, you might even get a request for sample pages out of it.

What you’ll learn:

• How to compose your query: The top 10 reasons why most SF&F query letters fail
• How NOT to start your story: The top 10 things that shouldn’t open an SF&F novel
• What agents and editors want: What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
• How to pitch: How to nail the story’s hook, and nail the elements of your world-building in the short pitch paragraph

Who should attend?

• SF&F fans who are interested in writing a novel.
• SF&F Writers who want to improve their pitches and hooks
• SF&F Writers who are actively querying agents and publishers with their science fiction or fantasy novel.

Guaranteed To Give You A No

STATUS: It’s Thursday already?

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ARTHUR’S THEME by Christopher Cross

About three weeks ago, the agency started receiving a series of calls from a local gentleman writer. Anita, being the lovely and generous person that she is, answered, gave information and lots of resources to help out the caller.

Evidently that wasn’t enough because this person proceeded to call us several times a week insisting that he had to talk to me. The first couple of calls Anita answered and calmly explained why she doesn’t forward inquiry calls to me and offered help in general terms. When he became belligerent with her, she stopped answering the phone when caller ID clearly showed who it was.

Then we received lots of voicemail messages. It definitely got my attention but not in any way that’s going to help this person’s writing career.

Then he decided to visit the agency in person.

Folks, let me just say that if you come to the office and try and browbeat my assistant, you will be dealing directly with me and you won’t like it. Even though I posit myself as a nice Midwesterner, you will see the Big B—up close and personal. No one treats my assistant that way.

And I’m sure this goes without saying but at that moment, there was no way this person could have pitched his book that would have induced me to look at it.