You Too, Can Get the Attention of a Major Literary Agent with the Right Query

You Too, Can Get the Attention of a Major Literary Agent with the Right Query

You Too, Can Get the Attention of a Major Literary Agent with the Right Query

Hey there writers and muse daters. Today I want to talk about Aaron, who’s a fantastic writer and has done some amazing work in the Writing Gym. He’s put together a 90,000 word literary fiction novel, that tackles themes such as identity, achievement, attraction, and incest. 

Before joining me, Aaron had completed his novel, which he had dedicated six months to. After completing his novel, he went into the querying process thinking, “Oh, the hard part is over. I’m just going to send out my letter, who wouldn’t beg to read this?” 

He even had a personal connection to one agent, and sent this agent his first query. The agent responded asking for the manuscript. Aaron sent it and twenty minutes later, got rejected.

He was shocked.

In hindsight, he felt foolish but at that moment he felt that his understanding of the world had completely turned on its head. So he set out to research to try and understand what the issue was, whether it be the substance of his query, improving his network, getting in touch with agents, or figuring out how to access more resources. 

Then he found me. 

“I could tell that you care about the writers, it’s really immeasurable and hard to describe but I felt like that was completely there. You had devised a system where you spent time working with authors, but also spent time networking with agents, which is exactly what I needed”

Aaron and I began working together right away, and I read his manuscript. I invited him to join small group sessions to think about writing and craft, which he found helpful. 

Afterwards we started thinking about our marketing strategy—whom were the agents we were going after? What was it that we were going to use as the hook? How are we going to convey to them in a page that, essentially, this is a story that’s right for them? 

Aaron went into the querying process hesitantly, because of his initial experience with that one agent. He believed that agents don’t reply to blind submissions or cold query submissions, because they have enough of a pipeline from their clients or had other networks. 

He found that while that belief may be 80% accurate, there are definitely exceptions and he was one of them.

After working with me, he found that a number of letters he had sent out received same day responses asking for full manuscripts, and he got positive feedback on the content of the query itself. 

Aaron getting full manuscript requests is huge because the typical pattern is that you send the query, the agent’s interested and say “okay, send me ten or fifty pages.” Oftentimes, the manuscript gets better as the story progresses, so getting a full manuscript request is important.

This is especially great because the content of his work and query were both relatively polarizing, but he was met with success, having even gotten a response in under five minutes.

Eventually, Aaron got in contact with Jeff Kleinman over at Folio Lit, who then offered to share the manuscript with his colleagues if he wasn’t interested, which is huge. Aaron has been getting requests from high-quality agencies, the “Harvards” of the literary world. This is a big celebration!

I asked Aaron what he thought about his experiences in the Writing Gym

“Based on my personal experience, I can’t recommend the Writing Gym enough. It was the kind of catalyst that helped me actualize the potential of my writing.” 

Well there you have it folks. We’re so proud of Aaron here at the Writing Gym, and look forward to celebrating his future accomplishments.

Does this sound like you? Well, I help writers to transition from the art of writing into the business of publishing. This is what I do to help people publish and get the representation they need. If you are ready to accept what the guidelines are and are ready to sell your book, let’s chat.

Until next time. Happy writing.

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For? 

Welcome back writers and muse daters. Today’s Writing Gym Podcast guest is Jeff Kleinmann from Folio Literary Management. He shared with us what it’s like to really be an agent and some of the things that really happen behind those closed doors. But before that, we asked Jeff how and why he became a literary agent. 

“Oh, it’s a huge mistake,” Jeff joked. “My career is not normal. I’m actually practicing intellectual property law and I happened to share offices with a literary agency. I would read manuscripts for the agency and the first one I read ended up being sold for $100,000 and then I did a seven-figure deal with the author soon after. I worked with them back and forth but received no credit and I thought that maybe I should seriously consider pursuing this path. And that’s where I am today. ” 

Jeff doesn’t believe that there are any low moments in his work. Just recently, a book he worked on was on the best-seller list for a while, a memoir had received a deal to make a series with Netflix, and so on. Such great accomplishments and no wonder that literary agents are as respected as the author. 

However, there’s this myth out there that agents are these stuffy people who seem to enjoy rejecting authors and their manuscripts. I know that’s not true. So, what’s it really like to be an agent?

 “It’s totally true,” Jeff stated.

“So, we own the Herald Ober Associates, which is one of the longest and oldest agencies in the country. It was established in 1929 and they represented William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, Langston Hughes and so on. Back then, anytime the phone rang, agents would say the standard: Thank you for calling. We are not accepting any new submissions. There is some sort of feeling that all this agency wants to do it to stay away from writers–which was kind of cool. But I think most agents aren’t at all in that world,” Jeff explained.  

One of the problems that Jeff finds in many writers is that they submit their manuscript that just aren’t ready. “We see a lot of unsolicited stuff that isn’t ready to go. And because of that, we get to be protective of our time. To prevent us from slogging through 20 manuscripts that aren’t ready yet, a lot of us would put up barriers. We want to make sure that the writer is ready to go–and the only way to make sure of that is if they have gone through the right channels to get their manuscript ready.” 

I asked Jeff what he is seeing in the publishing industry and he shared an important distinction between traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

“The split between those two really is the voice,” Jeff stated. “It’s the ability of the writer to be distinctive in the way they write. If you have distinctiveness, then it seems like you’re going down the trade route–the traditional publishing route. If you are maybe less distinctive, your book might be more commercial. It’s going to be more focused on plot rather than the writing itself. These books tend to be self-published, or non-traditionally published.” 

Indeed, not everyone has to go through the traditional route. Some people may realize that self-publishing makes more sense to them than going to a big traditional publishing house. 

As a literary agent, Jeff certainly receives a lot of manuscripts and other submission materials. What kind of elements in a submission makes him feel excited?

“There are three elements that I look for. The first, and most important, is the writing. Every word in the query should sound mastered, should feel smooth and distinctive. Authentic. The second is premise. What is it about the book that would make me want to pick it up and read it? The third is credentials. Is the author speaking regularly? Are they a part of a literary community? Do they have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from a prestigious program? These are things that make me think they are serious writers.” 

What about things that don’t impress agents like him? 

“I used to read query letters with my daughter,” Jeff started. “When she was just four years old, I would read these letters to her like a bedtime story. When the letter is boring, she’d ask me to go to the next one. And, you know, having a four-year old judge a query letter is really useful. If I’m not interested or enthusiastic about it, then I just go to the next one.”

It’s definitely important for a writer to catch the attention of an agent with their query letter. If they don’t feel interested, they will go through them quickly and find other things to do. I always tell my writers that they have 30 seconds maximum to impress an agent. 

“Things like misplaced apostrophes,” Jeff continued, “passive voice, try-hard language, clumsiness of language–all these sorts of things end it for me. Before submitting query materials, authors proofread their submissions.” 

It may seem unfair–a misused comma having the final say in the agent’s interest on your manuscript–but it “says to me that the author didn’t proofread their submission well enough,” Jeff finished. 

It’s one of these things that make agents seem very unapproachable, but I asked Jeff what it was he wished that writers knew about agents. 

“We almost see ourselves as the front-liners. Before your book gets to the publishing house, we really try to get the book in its strongest shape. But sometimes we deal with authors who want to do their own thing. In reality, we want an author who would listen to us. And so, the question is: do you actually really want to hear somebody else’s opinion and are you actually really going to make the changes?” 

Jeff was working with a writer whose book he loved so much he read it twice. But he noticed that the writer seemed to be writing two completely different books. 

“I told him that he has to change the last part to fit the first part, or the other way around. The first part was just wonderful, but it didn’t fit the second part. He didn’t want to change anything. Maybe the second half of the book is the book he really wanted to write. But in order for the whole book to make sense, both parts have to make sense first.” 

What about for unpublished writers–what kind of thing should they know before sending anything to an agent? In my line of work I see many aspiring writers send in materials that are half-cooked, not yet ready. And thank goodness, they come to me for help because I help them cook it. Jeff agreed. 

“I would encourage aspiring writers to have other people read their book. I would really make sure, from page one, that everything is clear–that there is something at stake and that the action is absolutely driving the story on the character’s desires.” 

Finally, I asked Jeff one tip he would give to aspiring authors.

“Ask somebody you trust, someone who reads a lot, to read your book. If your mom is a very gifted reader, ask her. Have them cut any words from the page they feel is unnecessary and pay them money. Real money. It is scary, but if you don’t want to pay up you have to make sure that your book is really tight, that it has narrative movement, before you have a different pair of eyes look at it.”

Thank you for your time Jeff. 

How to Land your Ideal Literary Agent with Jeanne Covert

How to Land your Ideal Literary Agent with Jeanne Covert

How to Land your Ideal Literary Agent with Jeanne Covert

Today’s podcast episode features Jeanne Covert, a screenwriter and a member of the Writing Gym. Jeanne came to us with a finished novel–a script that she novelized–after hearing conflicting information from different editors. 

Jeanne Covert

“A lot of the information that they were giving me kind of conflicted with a lot of things that we do in film. And especially when it came to the suspense and the pace. I was used to a very, very fast pace.”     

I took a brief look at her manuscript and, in her words, I told her what exactly she was doing wrong and how to correct the situation. 

“And [coming to Annalisa] was the very best decision I’ve ever made. After working with [her], I saw what the editors were trying to tell me, but they didn’t know how to tell me because they didn’t understand screenwriting. But [Annalisa] did. It was eye opening the way she explained how elements in screenwriting translates over to the manuscript.” 

And [coming to Annalisa] was the very best decision I’ve ever made. 

Before the Writing Gym, Jeanne experienced a lot of frustration from the conflicting messages she’s received from different editors. But with the Writing Gym, she experiences a change. 

“Now I feel like I know what I’m doing. I feel like I understand the craft.” 

As a screenwriter, Jeanne worked more with the visuals. She enjoyed the pace, the action, and the internal development of her characters involved in films and writing for film. But at the Writing Gym, she also developed a love for writing novels. “Now, I’m beginning to grow in love with the words, not just the visuals.” 

She’s also noticed an improvement in her screenwriting and writing and marketing materials for a film. “No matter what kind of writing I’m doing, I can tell there’s been a huge increase in my skill.” 

As far as I can tell, this is a pretty good bang-for-your-back. She fell in love with writing and experienced a huge increase in skill and confidence. Besides these other accomplishments, we are celebrating two very exciting things for Jeanne. 

First, I just got off a meeting with her top-pick agent–who requested a script from her. 

“There was a manuscript request involved, which was extremely exciting to me because he is closed to queries at this point in time. So, even though he would be my top-pick agent, he’s not accepting unsolicited queries. It was off-limits until [Annalisa] was able to talk to him.”

Second, Jeanne received another manuscript request from a different agent–from a top agency, William Morris

“Because William Morris represents more media than just a novel writing,” Jeanne started, “I wanted them to represent me. I thought they would be a good fit for me. And it’s very exciting for me because you usually have to be recommended to that agency in order to get an agent to read your manuscript.” 

Well, then. How does it feel to get two manuscript requests from two top agencies? 

“It is absolutely very, very exciting because as a scriptwriter and as a reader for a producer, I read a lot of scripts. I know what it’s like to be inundated with submissions. It’s exciting for me to have the scripts requested because that means it’s not just in that pile that piles up on their digital desk. I’m very excited that at the same time it’s like, is this really happening?”

It is exciting, indeed, and such a huge accomplishment. We asked Jeanne if she had any word of advice for the people at our Facebook group, Write to Publish

“There’s so much I’ve learned. But one of the things that I really value that we do in the Writing Gym is how we work on our mindset. What many people may not know is that I have a dissociative identity disorder. And so one of the things that I have been working on for years is rewiring my brain. The way that the Writing Gym is conducted and the way that Annalisa works with us helps with that. We are constantly doing things to rewire our brains so that we’re more creative.” 

“I’ve been doing all of these things for years, so it’s not like they were new to me, but all of a sudden I’m doing this with a group of people and we’re kind of all in the same place and we’re all supporting each other and we’re all doing these things. I was shooting light years ahead on my mind work. And I just, I can’t express how wonderful that is. ”

It is so great to hear that Jeanne has found this kind of value in the work that we do at the Writing Gym. We asked her, then, what she would say to anyone thinking of joining our Writing Gym.

“I would say join,” she stated. “A lot of people don’t realize it takes a lot of work and effort to be at the professional level.” And she’s right. Even people who have master’s degrees are not at the level where they can be professionally published. “You don’t necessarily have to have a degree, but you have to have the knowledge. And this is one of the things I really discovered with the Writing Gym.” 

“If I was going to spend the money getting my MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) or spend the money on the Writing Gym, there is no question that I’d put that MFA money into the Writing Gym. The MFA may or may not get you where you want to be. But the Writing Gym, the work we do in the Writing Gym, gets us to where we want to be.” 

“I’ve had other writing coaches in screenwriting and whatever, but [Annalisa] bats for us harder, stronger, more than any other writing coach I have ever worked with.”

Thank you Jeanne for your kind words and for celebrating with us. 

Until next time, happy writing. 

Celebrating the Power of Revision

Celebrating the Power of Revision

 Celebrating the Power of Revision

I’m super excited to be celebrating Emily and her writing journey today. She is one of our writers from the Writing Gym program. She’s currently writing a novel that is set in ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom period. 

“I’m an elementary school teacher and I had this vision two years ago to write a novel set in ancient Egypt because I studied and taught the theme,” Emily states, “and I have a real story to tell about the artist’s life in Egypt. What it’s like working on the temples, working on tombs and more. It was a very respected lifestyle and quite high up on the caste system in the dictatorship in Egypt.” 

Tackling middle-grade historical fiction is no small undertaking. So, kudos to Emily. 

I met Emily at a local bookstore where I was running a class with some local writers. “I was pretty much surprised, myself, that I went to your class,” Emily says in hindsight, “I really enjoyed it. It was at that point where I was trying to work up the courage to take writing more seriously. I immediately thought: ‘That’s someone who I could actually work with.’”

Emily, before we met, had already written and finished her longer story. She revised it a couple times but “it was in this sort of a standstill.” She wasn’t ready to submit and knew that she needed professional help with the submission process. 

“That’s what I thought it was kind of going for but then when I talked with Annalisa, being able to revise it and learn about writing has been the gift. She made that really clear when she described what the Publishing Mastermind was. That maybe the end result is getting published. But throughout it all you’re going to learn a lot. That’s what I’m celebrating.”

Once Emily and I started really digging into her manuscript, her energy was so high with so much to celebrate. I asked her what that moment was like. 

“During that writing period I used it to really understand techniques and learn other techniques and experiment with other techniques and know what’s out there and get to know others who I might not have otherwise looked into and read some different different styles of writing within my genre.

“It made me rethink my story and how my characters needed to be doing more and speaking more and interacting more. Sometimes it’s those character moments where one character is thinking one thing and the other character is also thinking something but they’re both saying something out loud. That has like a whole other form of communication that you can do in writing, but you can’t really do it in other forms of storytelling.” 

Emily also thinks that the inspiration that our Writing Gym community brings makes the experience so much more powerful.

“It’s really confidence-building. It makes me like writing more” 

One takeaway that stands out to her as a bigger celebration than others is that confidence-building: “Now I have the confidence to know that I can write a longer piece and have other projects as well.”

“Be alert to take risks. Know that there is potential out there.”

So, what is the Writing Gym? Why should you care about this? 

“Annalisa Parent is an incredibly professional who leads this inquiry-based study that is the Writing Gym. You, as the guide, ask the right questions to make you grow on your own.” 

Thank you so much, Emily. We appreciate you at the Writing Gym. 

Top Author Tips to Get that Novel You Wrote in a Month to PUBLISHABLE

Top Author Tips to Get that Novel You Wrote in a Month to PUBLISHABLE

Top Author Tips to Get that Novel You Wrote in a Month to PUBLISHABLE

While we are all at home, doing our part to flatten the curve, our Writing Gym members are taking advantage of this quarantine time to work on their writings. One of our amazing Writing Gym members, O’Dell Isaac, is at the Revision phase of our program. 

Currently, he is working on a detective story, in which the main character is helping the Health Department find a person who is HIV positive. During his search, he finds himself in the middle of craziness as he works to solve his case. 

I had actually reached out to O’Dell when I saw his post on our Writing Gym page on Facebook celebrating his completion of a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo. I congratulated him on his achievement and then asked him: “What’s your next step?” 

“I actually didn’t know what to say,” O’Dell states, “I was too busy doing my victory dance to actually think about what I can do next. I realized that what I was celebrating was not something I was comfortable giving to an agent.” 

“It’s one thing to want something, but it’s another to have a concrete plan with steps to take and here, we’re talking about my publishing career,” O’Dell insightfully states. We talked in hindsight of our first telephone call. From there, I asked him to send me the first 20 pages of his manuscript. I called him back, had a longer conversation with him, and he finally joined the Writing Gym. 

“I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into. I was nervous but excited too,” O’Dell continues, “because I was taking a step that I had never taken before. I didn’t know what was out there, but I figured it was going to represent forward motion. It was going to take me further than I had been in this process.” 

O’Dell greatly credits the Writing Gym for its accountability aspect: “Someone is getting you to work out the tools that you have and develop new ones that you may not have had before. Someone comments on your results and looks at your writing and sees the maturation, the progress.” 

O’Dell states that he has come a long way in his writing that when he opened his manuscript again it seemed to him like someone else had written it. “I’ve come so much further that it almost looked like it had been written by someone else, but the encouraging part of that is that I’ve become a much stronger writer.” 

We love analogies here at the Writing Gym and I especially love what O’Dell states about the toolbox. There are a lot of programs out there that, in the context of the toolbox analogy, would come up to a broken door that you’re trying to fix and replace your hammer with a screwdriver or a wrench or something else. Then, you’d have to figure out how to use that tool instead of the one that you are familiar with. 

Now, you’re stuck with a tool you have no experience with. At the Writing Gym, we open your kit and we take note of what works and what doesn’t work for you personally and move forward with that knowledge. 

The most important and beneficial thing that O’Dell has learned with us is to believe in himself. “Self-belief is something I never really had before. But now, I know that I have the tools that work best for me and my genre. It’s just a matter of knowing how to apply those tools.” 

Indeed, the Writing Gym wants our writers to improve and to succeed. We want to point writers at the right direction and help them achieve their writing and publishing dreams. 

We are so happy that we have O’Dell in our Writing Gym membership. We are proud of all his achievements and we hope that you, too, can take advantage of your time inside your home to write and write and write. 

Stay safe and happy writing.

How Feedback Can Sink Your Publishing Dreams

How Feedback Can Sink Your Publishing Dreams

How Feedback Can Sink Your Publishing Dreams

Many writers spend a lot of time talking about feedback. When I get on the phone with writers every single week, they mention that they get feedback from their family–their mom, their partner, their kids. It makes me cringe the most when I hear writers get feedback from their writing groups. 

Feedback is something that should be done right. You need to take in feedback that could move your writing forward instead of get in your way. 

The first problem: writers think that they’re helping themselves by getting feedback when, in fact, it does the opposite. These are the same writers from other writing groups who say “Why is it so hard to get published?” “Why is it so hard to write a book?” “Why do I always get writer’s block?”

Many people don’t realize that they are taking in too much of the wrong kinds of feedbacks. This is the real source of the problem that’s getting in the way of their progress. Yes, writing can be hard. There is absolutely no shortcut to finishing and publishing a book. But there can be an easier, simpler way. 

The second problem: feedback always comes from someone else’s perspective. I do believe in altruism but I also believe that there are some people who don’t come genuinely from a place of wanting to help people. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I really enjoyed gym class. I used to crack a lot of jokes and have a good time. The person whom I used to call my best friend at that time later told me: “You know, nobody in that class thinks you’re funny.” After that, I stopped joking around in gym class. Even when I was writing my book Storytelling for Pantsers I heard her voice in the back of my head. In the end, I did finish writing my book and it won a Humor Award. I also wrote for three seasons of comedy TV.

So, clearly, someone out there thinks that I am funny. 

The main point: not everyone is coming from a place of genuine kindness when they give you feedback. My best friend in high school told me something that wasn’t true because she might have been jealous that I was getting more attention from the other kids.

It wasn’t even feedback yet I still believed her. 

I see this type of jealous behavior in a lot of writing groups. This ties back to the first problem. Jealous comments get taken as feedback earnestly and become part of the reason why writers get stuck in this wrong feedback loop. 

The third problem: some people may not be qualified to give feedback. Many writers make this mistake of trusting other writers in their same position to give them feedback. That is not true. If I was first learning how to ski, I would trust the instructor’s advice more than my peers’. My peers can definitely give me some tips and tricks but, ultimately, it is the instructor who will give me more valuable and credible feedback. 

Just because someone knows how to read or write or have been published does not make them the right source for feedback. Why? Because there is so much more going on than just being an expert. Published authors in our field are way up in their expertise already to actually know how to properly instruct more inexperienced writers. They’re not able to make that connection to beginner writers to say the things that could move their writing forward. 

Do you want to risk your writing career because of one wrong comment? I’m sure the answer is no. Be cautious with the kind of feedback you get and from who. 

If you’d like to talk with me about the kind of feedback you’ve gotten that hasn’t worked for you and if you’d like to get some quality feedback from a writing professional let’s talk. You can put yourself right on my calendar

This call is free and is just a good way for us to get to know each other and for you to find out where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there.

Pin It on Pinterest