Friday, September 30, 2011

Learn from MY mistakes

A week ago Monday, I posted an announcement on my blog that was four years in the making.

I'm still pinching myself! I'm gonna be published!


Sorry, just had to get that out of my system.

I began my true journey to becoming a published author in the Summer of 2007. Four years later, give or take a month, I signed a publishing contract with Abingdon Press.

It's funny. I remember that first year, my naive imaginations of some brilliant publisher finding out that I write, reading a few pages, and weeping with excitement at the thought of publishing my novel.

Uh, yeah, not so much. There was probably some weeping, but more crying tears of laughter at my fumbling awful attempt at a query.

Confession time:

You know when you read on an agents blog some of the query bloopers from crazy people who totally shouldn't be allowed NEAR a computer to write a query, much less a book?

Yeah, I was one of those. Once I learned certain, uh, rules of decorum, I lived in utter fear of being mentioned on one of those. Well, not quite, because the poor agent/editor I sent an awful e-mail/fax to doesn't blog. (Note: Even if  I was featured, while I would have felt oh-so-stupid, I am thankful that these are sometimes posted, as it is a good forewarning of what NOT to do. I learned a lot from those blogs! I would have understood if my stupidity was used to teach others the error of their potential ways.)

What faux pas did I commit, you ask?

Well, I have decided to bare all. (Query speaking... no worries!)

When I was first thinking about publishing... I did the most logical thing I could think of. I went to publishing houses websites and looked at their submission guidelines.

Pretty much all of them vetoed unsolicited submissions.

Except one. At the time, they accepted faxed one-page queries.

Giddy with excitement, I typed mine up.

The beginning of my query fax?

"When I was a little girl, I dreamed of...."

Yes. The WHOLE first paragraph was about ME. Actually, now that I think about it, it was more like the first THREE paragraphs.

Query Tip #1: 
INTRODUCE YOUR BOOK first... your bio later! 

And never write the words, "When I was..." or "I dreamed..." Tacky. It really really is!

No surprise here. I never got a call.

Next, I went to my favorite author's websites. Many of them had a section for their tips for writers. One of them mentioned querying agents. A FAB idea, I thought. She also mentioned her agent's name and gave a link to the agency.

I clicked over. The website had a WEALTH of information. Even a sample proposal! I put mine together as directed. 
The website also noted that they only accepted submissions from writers who were already published or were referred to them by existing clients.

I thought. Hard. Obviously I didn't know any existing clients. Had no clue how to get referred. But... I KINDA was referred... right? (You can start groaning now... it's okay.) I mean, the author had linked to the agency and mentioned them and everything. See? Referral!
I sat down and drafted my e-mail.

Instead of starting with my own version of "I had a dream..." I started with mentioning my referral. I give myself props for ONLY ONE THING. I was honest. 
It went something like, "Hi, my name is Krista Phillips, and I was referred to you by <> It was actually their website that referred me to you, but I'm very excited to present to you my novel about <<>>>"

Query Tip #2: 
NEVER say someone referred you unless they, personally, referred you... AND gave you permission to use their name.

Yeah, never heard from her either. GO figure.

After that, I realized I was probably just humiliating myself, and I should probably learn what I was REALLY supposed to do. So I joined ACFW. I joined a critique group. And I joined my local writer's group.
So.... these three things in the works, and one more edit on my novel, I decided to stick my toe in the querying water again.

This time, the poor bloke was agent Steve Laube. (I'm using his name because this one isn't QUITE so embarrassing.) I studied his submission criteria. I followed it verbatum. I was more professional than in previous attempts (although still far from perfect.)

This time, I at least heard back a "no thanks" rejection letter. I have kept and framed said rejection letter. It was my first one, and oddly enough, I was proud of it. I figured every writer has to be rejected at some point. I'd gotten my first one out of the way!

My mistake, however, came just a few months later when I went to my first ACFW conference. I knew a little more about writing then. Emphasis on little. I'd revised my one novel once again. Mostly for grammatical errors and little tweaks that I felt SURE made my novel SO SO SO much better.
How much better?

Yep, better enough to pitch to that same agent who only months ago had rejected my baby-novel.
I went into that meeting, my first in-person pitch EVER, wanting to vomit. It was as I approached his table that I realized that pitching this to him again was probably not a stellar idea.

Query Tip #3: Once rejected, don't re-query unless it is...

a.) a different, improved project
b.) agent/editor gave you permission once edited or 
c.) you've revised your novel so much that it is 1000% better and almost unrecognizable.

Mine fit none of these three categories. However, the wonderful person Steve is, he read the first few pages, LAUGHED (which made my day!) and gave me a few great pointers on my writing. So it was not for naught.

However, if you find yourself in this boat, my agent Rachelle Gardner has MUCH fabulous advice on her blog, and specifically this post on re-querying

*Note* While I think it was bad form for me to repitch this project, I think it is just FINE form to use an agent/editor appointment to garner feedback on your writing/novel, especially if you don't feel quite ready to pitch yet.


Anyone gutsy enough to share your newbie mistakes so we can all learn from them? If not (bawk-bawk chicken,) feel free to point and giggle at mine. I don't mind!


Lisa Jordan said...

Loved your post, Krista. I'm sure you're not the only one with submission faux pas. I queried only 2 agents in my career--Steve Laube and Rachelle. Steve rejected me, but gave decent feedback. Rachelle offered representation. I do, however, have a contest faux pas. When I entered my very first writing contest, I submitted a 12-page (yes, 12) synopsis to go along with my entry. How else were they supposed to read the brilliance they were missing???? Sigh. I had a very kind judge who showed lots of grace and gave me words I'll always remember--"Dear, in the future, limit your contest synopsis to 500 words or less." 500 words??? But I learned.

Anonymous said...

Oh Krista! always make me laugh. I love, love, love to hear about your life, girl.

So...this is totally embarrassing, but I have never queried. Sigh...I know. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it is I am not ready. I don't know. But I figure next year I will start gathering up those rejection letters and having some great faux pas. :)

Krista Phillips said...

Lisa... LOVE the 12 page synopsis story!

Sherrinda... It isn't bad to wait until you are ready... although sometimes it is like having a baby. If you wait until you have enough money, have traveled as much as you want, and are really 100% ready to have a baby... you might be post-menopausal and not able to have one. :-) Sometimes you just have to jump! (As your friend, I'll be happy to push you too! HA!)

Sarah Forgrave said...

LOL, Krista! I was way too scared to query for the longest time. But my first rejection came from the same agent as you. Must be a rite of passage. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Like Sherrinda, I was scared to query. I knew how tough it can be to catch a publishing pro's eye and how lame my query was, so I didn't send out but a handful.

Did the agents and editors I sent to snap up my newbie work? Nope. But I learned a few things.

1) We have to start somewhere.
2) Don't submit until a story is marketable,
3) Even if you submitted too soon, all is not lost.

I received well-deserved passes back in my florescent green newbie days, but I did receive a request for a full from one agent, and, boy, did that feel good. Two years later I met an agent at a conference who had rejected my story, and guess what? She invited me to resubmit when I finished editing my project.

What I learned from my experience is that although many writers blow it at one time or another, good things can still happen.

Anonymous said...

Arh thanks for this! Great links to look at anad gives me hope in my second round of querying. I sent out too earlier last time too.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I love learning from my mistakes & I make a lot of them, so I'm constantly learning. :D
~ Wendy

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Krista, you make me laugh in the very best of ways. I admire how you got yourself out there and just did it, querying that is. :) What a great trait to not let fear of rejection stop you.

I have only queried one magazine article which wasn't a good fit for the mag, so I guess I've received my first rejection--nothing humorous about it though. :) I'm not far enough along in my wip to even consider querying yet, but I'll remember you (the lessons you learned!) when I do. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

At the second writer's conference I attended I brought my 50 page (!) proposal, every duck was in a row according to the publisher's site. I met with the editor at the conference and showed him my proposal. He raved, he complimented, he LOVED it, and asked if he could keep it---to show his class a good example how to write a proposal. ummmmm nothing said about my book. (rats)

Casey said...

Day late, but hopefully not a dollar short...

I get GIDDY just thinking about your pub news!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let me add a few more !! to prove my point !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, got that out of my system.

Great tips, I'm scared to death to query, but still good tips! :)

Joy Tamsin David said...

Newbie mistake:

Never pitch an agent with blue chewing gum in your mouth. She will most certainly stop you in the middle of your pitch to mention it.

(you'll have to take my word on this one. LOL)