AWP, Conventions & Conferences, Education, Novel Writing, Uncategorized, Writers on Writing, Writing Programs

AWP 2012 | Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs (Part 4)

Novel & Short Story Writer's Market
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Welcome to Part 4 of my blog series on the 2012 AWP Conference session titled, Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs. I’m assuming you’ve at least read my introductory post, so I’ll just jump right in today and talk about the panelists’ views on query letters and agent-hunting.

First of all, what is a query letter, and why do you need one? Well, these days most publishers do not want to see your entire novel manuscript if they don’t already have a working relationship with you. In most cases, they want nothing more than a query letter, and possibly a short synopsis. The publisher will then use that information to decide if they think it’s worth their time to request a copy of the full manuscript. So, it’s important to write a query letter that really sells your manuscript.

Our session panelists provided the following tips for writing an effective query letter:

  • Be able to answer the question, “What is this book about?”
  • Use story-based pitches in your query letters. Tell a short story about your novel. If you’re a good writer, you should be able to write a compelling story that will make the publisher want to read more.
  • Say what books influenced your work, if there were particular books that influenced your writing.

Like most presentations, this session ended with a short Q&A period. The panelists, and the rest of us, got a good laugh when one audience member asked if they had any advice on “agent-hunting.”

In response to this question, the panelists said that you should:

  • Talk to professionals who know your work, as they can direct you where to start.
  • Get a list of agents who might work for what you’re writing.
  • Remember that not every agent or publisher is right for every novel. Know your audience and submit where you actually have a chance of getting published.
  • Don’t waste your time, or the publishers’ time, on submitting where you obviously do not fit.
  • Remember, when looking for an agent, you should be interviewing them instead of the other way around. One of the panelists said, you “don’t marry the first person you kiss,” and you also shouldn’t marry your book to the first agent who wants it. Instead, you should shop around and meet with several agents before you choose the right one for your novel.
  • The best agent for your first novel may not be the best for your next. Don’t marry an agent for life, but stick with them for only as long as it works for you.

How do you feel about query letters? How did you find your agent (if you have one?) Or, if you are an agent or publisher, what advice would you give? Please comment below.

~Mandy Webster 

Note: This blog post is based on an AWP 2012 Conference and Book Fair session I attended, which is titled, “Now That’s a Novel Idea: Marketability (Gasp!) and Creative Writing Programs.” The session was held in the Continental A ballroom on the lobby level of the Hilton Chicago. Presenters included Jessica Pitchford, Brock Clarke, Leah Stewart, Mark Winegardner, and Susan Finch. If you were at the event or are one of these presenters and can help me attribute the quotes I mentioned here, please let me know so I can update the post. Check out my first post on this session for more details.

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