In episode 2, Melissa and Jeni welcome Megan Manzano to the show to talk about query letters and first pages. Listen in...EPISODE 2 Query & First Pages.
Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! I’m Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing, and she’s Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.
Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.
On this episode:
We’re talking about query letters and first pages
End with an author tip of the week
This week we’re joined by Megan Manzano. Megan fell in love with reading and writing from a young age. She grew up to receive a BA in English with a minor in philosophy; eager to stay as close to books as possible. She considers herself to be a YA advocate, insisting these stories have a lot to offer and teen readers should be supported as much as possible.
She has and continues to wear many hats in the publishing world: freelance editor, writer, associate marketing manager, Pitchwars 2018 mentor, and now a Literary Agent Apprentice at Corvisiero Lit. Top that with blogging and reading, and it’s a miracle her brain hasn’t exploded yet.
In her spare time, she’s traveling, hiking, or binge watching television shows. If you can’t find her, offer to show her pictures of your pet, especially if it’s a dog. It works 100% of the time.
Here's the Q&A from the episode:
What’s it like being an agent apprentice? Anything unexpected?
It’s surreal to say the least. I’ve been learning about query boxes, what makes a strong manuscript, how an agent works with clients and more for quite a few months now that getting the apprentice title made me go “wait really?” Early on into my internship, I knew I wanted to be an agent, but to actually have the chance is incredible. I’d say what’s unexpected is having more weight in the stories you decide to request or pass on. As an intern, you’re learning from mentors and getting their feedback. Making your own decision for the first few times is a bit nerve wracking.
What are your tips for writing a query letter that sets it apart?
Definitely having all of the information that agents are looking for in a query. It’s easy to rush past the query and synopsis so you can submit, but a query is so important for an agent to learn key facts about your story. Have your MC, what they want, what happens if they don’t get that, and the stakes. Also have your story’s title, word count, genre, audience, and comp titles if you’ve settled on them! Wrap it up with some information about you and you’re set.
I’d also say strong stakes in a query makes it stand out from the rest. End on the absolute of what will happen if your character doesn’t achieve their goal and you can hook an agent/build excitement for your sample pages.
Helpful Do’s and Don’ts for writing a query letter?
Do write a small bio so an agent can learn more about you. Don’t make your entire query about your life.
Do use the agent’s name in a query - not dear agent, or dear person. If you’re querying an agent after a conference or pitching contest, please mention that.
Do give us your stakes in a query. Don’t tell us the ending of your story in a query. Save that for the synopsis!
Do keep your query as close as you can to 1 page, single-spaced. Don’t believe your query isn’t necessary. For me personally, it’s the first thing I look at so I can begin to frame your story in my mind.
Tips for first pages?
Start with your main character. There are obviously cases where this can be an exception - whether you have a prologue or your MC comes later, but it’s usually a good thing to start with who we’re going to follow throughout the story. I say this because for agents and readers, it can be hard to recalibrate after learning about a character/beginning to care for them only to find out they were temporary.
Don’t explain your entire world in the opening pages. Give us hints through your main character’s senses, thoughts, or conversations, but don’t tell us everything. One - it’ll take away from the mystery and two - it can lead to infodumping. Agents expect to not know everything off the bat and you have time to build as we dive in further.
An action driven opening scene doesn’t always equate to hooking an agent/reader. I’ve heard this a lot when I first started in the industry. It can work, but usually when I begin reading I want to get a sense of who your character is and what their life is like prior to the inciting incident. What about their normal life are they going to compromise? What are they going to lose when things begin to change? What do they fight for?
What really catches your interest right now? What are you falling hard for?
I’m always on the look-out for end of the world stories, space operas, survival driven narratives, and quiet stakes. I’m a hardcore sci-fi nerd. I grew up on that genre. A part of me is always searching for a good sci-fi story to sweep me off my feet and break my heart. I’m also falling for quiet stakes which refers to stories with more intimate stakes. So instead of saving the world, you’re trying to figure out who you are, or get the person you’ve had a crush on for ten years. I realize these two wants are kind of conflicting but that’s really what I’m craving right now.
Tip of the week: Go to a conference to pitch to/connect with literary agents and/or editors.
On our next podcast, indie author, Laura Mae will be joining us to talk about the importance of social media presence. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at indiechicks.net or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on iTunes. Please rate us! You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or Facebook.com/TheIndieChicks.
So, remember, we’re all part of a publishing community, be kind and review your fellow authors’ books! Thanks for listening!
Indie Chicks out.