Tag Archives: advice

Query Advice & FREE Query Tracker Tool

So you’re preparing to query. Congratulations on finishing your novel and editing it until it polishes like a diamond. But if you haven’t done that yet, stop right now and get back to work, you’re not ready. If you have finished writing and editing, read on.

Free query tracker (1)

Querying can be an intense process for publishing hopefuls, because there is a lot to prepare, consider, and organize. First, you’ll obviously need to have your manuscript, and goodness knows how long writing, revising, and editing may take.

Next, you’ll need to write a query letter, which is a whole other beast in and of itself. I’ve noticed that many agents will now specify the outline they’d like to see your query letter use in their submission guidelines, and usually it follows something like this:

  • Dear _____,
  • Two-three paragraphs of a back-cover-like synopsis of your work, including genre, word count, and comparable titles
  • Brief author biography and any relevant publishing credits
  • Closing line and then your signature with contact information

That’s not all you’ll need to prepare, just in case, because many agents will also request a formal synopsis, which again, is a whole other thing. This is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of the entire book, including spoilers, in which you write any new character names in all caps the first time you mention them. This is the part I hate the most, because I’m boiling all of my work down to the bare essentials with a straightforward tone.

Some agents will ask that you include certain pages in your query submission as well. Some ask for the first five pages, some the first ten, some a certain number of chapters, and some–very few–the whole manuscript.

As you can probably tell from what I’ve written so far, especially if you haven’t started mulling around in the trenches of querying yet, every agent’s submission guidelines are different, and it can be trying to keep all of them straight, unless you’re focusing on one submission at a time.

If you’re not focusing on only one query and response at a time, which many authors don’t due to the long time frame some may take, it’s called simultaneous submissions; and it’s a good idea to disclose this to any agent who asks for additional work from you, which is called a “request”. Some ask for a partial manuscript, some ask for full, and this is sort of like a second round interview for your book.

Again… there’s a lot to keep track of, and I haven’t even begun to talk about researching which agents would be the best fits for your manuscript.

If you’d like the ease of having everything in one spot for this adventure–your research, your lists, your community input, etc–consider paying the $25 yearly subscription fee for Query Tracker. However, if you’d rather save the money and put in some leg work, then I have a spreadsheet for you, one that I use when I query.

I also have some advice on how to get started with all of your research, since you can’t just submit your manuscript to any agent. They’re all looking for different things.

My first piece of advice is to check out #mswl on Twitter. MSWL stands for “manuscript wish list” and it’s a hashtag meant for agents and editors to share what they are looking for in the submissions they receive. This should not be used prior to writing. Tastes and trends change so often, so I wouldn’t recommend looking at these threads to figure out what to write about in order to fit the mold. When you boil down all the specifics, agents and editors are looking for authentic voices (#ownvoices), especially in young adult fiction. They are looking for your story, not something generic you wrote because you thought it was publishable.

Checking out #mswl on Twitter can help you to find some agents who are looking for works like yours, but if you can’t find any, I would recommend checking out a more official source for agent and editor’s wish lists: The Official Manuscript Wish List site.

Once you search through the Official Manuscript Wish List and read agent profiles of what they are looking for, you can come up with a list of appropriate agents for you. The site will also tell you how to submit your work to them, so that you can set yourself up for the best outcome.

When I queried the first time, I had no way of organizing all of my submissions and keeping track of them, so I just looked back at the date I sent the emails and waited for responses.

The second time I wanted to be more organized, so I created a Google Sheet that I could update as I queried, submitted, and found agents that would possibly be a good fit for I am Deathless.

Querying Spreadsheet Example

With my six column spreadsheet, I was able to keep track of which agents I had already queried, so I wouldn’t pester them into never looking at my work again.

Most agencies don’t allow for simultaneous submissions to their agents, so keeping track of the agency is crucial. If you find two agents from the same agency who you think would be a good fit for your manuscript, it’s your job to figure out who would like your manuscript more.

The third column was probably the most helpful for me, because that allowed me to write the email address/website for submission as well as requirements. This is crucial, because agents ask for different things. Some only want your query letter, others want the query and first three chapters or a certain number of pages, while others want the query and a synopsis and a certain number of pages. You’re going to want to know exactly what each agent is asking for.

The fourth column is important for keeping track of the date when you sent your query, because some agents will say things like, “if you don’t hear anything in six weeks, consider it a pass.” You’ll need to know when your submission has gone cold.

In the fifth column, I’d write the date of when I heard back  from the agent or when I’d realized that the submission had gone cold. That date would be more important when I’d receive a manuscript request, because the clock would start again as they took a closer look at my work. I’d be able to keep track of when the agent received my manuscript so that I knew when to expect a response or to nudge them.

An agent nudge is a friendly email reminder that they have your material, which is in NO WAY your opportunity to be snarky with them about how long it’s taking. It takes long. When an agent says they will respond in 2-4 weeks, I’m astounded, because they receive so many manuscripts every day. You have to be patient and gracious. They have a lot of work to do, and until you’re their client, your work is not their priority.

The sixth column is where I wrote notes about when to consider a submission a pass or if they had any comments on my work. This, again, is not an agent’s priority or job to do, so if they pass but give you feedback, that’s amazing. Write it down. It means they liked your work enough to have some sort of investment in its eventual success with another agent.

Since my first draft of this chart, I spruced it up a bit for round 3 of querying I am Deathless and round 1 of querying Misfit Theater Company, and I’ve included it here for you in case you’d like to track your queries in the same way I do.

FREE Query Tracking Spreadsheet

If this organizer speaks to you, download my free Querying Spreadsheet and get to work!

If not, how do you organize your queries? Share in the comments!

Either way, best of luck to you and your project! Happy querying!

Lessons Learned from My 27 Years on Earth

Lessons Learned from my 27 Years on Earth // www.sarahperlmutter.com

-Original post published on September 20, 2015-

Today is my birthday.

Back in high school, I decided on scary ages, a.k.a. ages at which I would objectively be old, and my life would officially begin ending. 27 was the first of those ages, and today I have met it head on.

But I was an idiot in high school. I don’t feel any older, and I’m in no way scared.

26 was a year full of successes and excitement, and as you age, those exciting things don’t end, they multiply. I still have lots of excitement ahead of me. In fact, I would argue, most of the more exciting things I will experience as a human being on this earth are still ahead of me. 27 is going to be an even better year than the last.

I know this will be true, because each year I learn something new, something that will make me happier, healthier, better, and every year after, I live that lesson.

For some people, it takes living through mistakes to learn, but in case you are one of those people, like me, who enjoys listening and learning from advice others give you, listen up. As Mary Schmich wrote and Baz Luhrman made famous, “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Indulge me as I do just that.

27 Pieces of Advice from my 27th Year

  1. Wake up early enough to see the sunrise. It’s a sight most people don’t get to see, and among the most beautiful sights available to us. From there, the day is yours.
  2. Learn to ask for help without shame. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength.
  3. Be confident in yourself. In your life, you will have many cheerleaders on your side; however, you are the only cheerleader who will never quit your team. Treat yourself well, so you can keep your strength. Never stop cheering yourself on.
  4. Find something you’re passionate about and do it. Whether it is writing, singing, dancing, painting, playing an instrument, or reading… find something. Otherwise, you’ll waste half of your life bored, watching the same shows over and over again, and admiring “interesting people,” who are really just “passionate people.”
  5. Understand that learning never stops. If I had known this in high school, I would have tried a lot harder. Learning is not about getting a grade and moving on. It’s about questioning and applying, it’s about living. Learning never ever stops, embrace it.
  6. Let people know you appreciate them. You never know when someone will need to hear that, or even a simple “thank you,” and it takes little to no effort for you to do. You have no idea how many notes of appreciation I still have from people over the years, and I read them when I’ve had a bad day. If you can give someone that, why wouldn’t you?
  7. It’s okay to make mistakes. You learn faster when you make a mistake, because you create a memory with that information. Feel free to try and be wrong. Again, it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
  8. Just as you should be passionate about something, try to be a huge, unapologetic nerd about something too. Do you think I ever feel bad about loving The Hunger Games or YA lit? Nope. I take pride in it. It’s a badge I wear every time I put on my mockingjay pin, and I love it. Think I’m weird for it? Oh well, it makes me happy, and that’s more important than what you think. That should be your thought process every time you second guess your nerdiness. Who cares what anyone else thinks if it makes you happy.
  9. Admit to your parents that they were right all those years. Growing up, you’re learning everything as you go. Your parents have already lived it and learned from it. When they tell you you can’t do something, listen. Chances are there is a story behind those words, and if there isn’t, I guarantee they are said out of love, not anger (even if the tone suggests otherwise).
  10. Study abroad. It is likely going to be the last chance you will have to live outside of the U.S., unless you’re very lucky. The U.S. is great, but leaving your comfort zone and entering into unknown territory awakens aspects of your personality you would have never dreamed existed before. It may even awaken a passion, as it did for me.
  11. Try to understand people before you judge them. I didn’t give a lot of really amazing, interesting, brilliant people a chance when I was in middle or high school, because they weren’t in the same cliques as me. Ignore those social boundaries and get to know as many people as you can. You will learn something new from each of them.
  12. Put your phone down. Or better yet, leave your phone at home. Sometimes you need to disconnect (says the girl posting on her blog). When I was studying abroad, I didn’t have an international cellphone. I use home phones and Skype to contact my friends, I made plans in advance, I took the time to talk to people and look at everything around me. Some days I wish I could go back to that, like how it was when I was growing up. Some days I miss having only a home phone, books, and dial up.
  13. Tell people what you want. Being an advocate for yourself and your dreams is crucial. A lot of people don’t do it, because they see it as a sign of entitlement or selfishness or greed. It’s not. Just as you are your own cheerleader, you must also be your own spokesperson. Besides, it’s more than likely that people will want to help you achieve your goals, but they can’t if you never express them.
  14. Treat your body well. I’m still learning to do this in many ways. It’s one of the things I hope to work toward doing better in the future if I want my bones and joints to all work still in 50 years.
  15. Become part of a community. Whether it is with a religious organization, a sports team, a club, or even a writing group, it’s important to have a support system around you. The older you get, the more you’re going to want this in your life, trust me. Start building it now.
  16. Save your money. You will be thankful you did. It may not seem appealing now, but trust me, it will when you’re older.
  17. Keep a notebook. Jot down anything in its pages, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer. It’s important to document your thoughts and your life. How else will you remember how awesome you were when you’re memory starts to fade?
  18. Speak up for yourself when you’ve been given the raw end of a deal. I never used to speak up for myself, because I didn’t want people to think I was a “bitch” or needy or high maintenance. I feel like women especially are so easily branded with one of those adjectives, but you can’t let those labels stop you from being treated fairly. Let the waiter know politely that they got your order wrong. Tell someone when you have been overcharged for something. Chances are they made a mistake and they will want to fix it for you. Don’t let fear stop you from letting them.
  19. Learn how to do nothing. Sometimes you need time by yourself to meditate or just relax. We are so quick to grab our phones or turn on the TV… stop. Just don’t do anything. Just sit and be. Not all the time, but every once and a while, be still.
  20. Be patient. They say good things come to those who wait, and they are right. Not everything is going to happen overnight. Work for goals, work for people, work for yourself, and soon, you’ll be glad you did.
  21. Never give up on something you truly want. I gave up on wanting to be an actress, but I don’t regret it. In fact, I’m thankful I did, because what I truly wanted for my life was to one day have a cute little home, a small family, and a group of close friends. With acting, I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of that sort of stability, because I would have to travel and I would have to work constantly to maintain my income and any benefits. I didn’t want that. I do want to be a great teacher and a published writer, and the more I work toward those dreams, the closer I get to reaching them.
  22. Learn self-discipline. You will accomplish more than you ever imagined was possible if you can only discipline yourself enough to stick to a plan or a schedule or a regimen. You may even find it energizes you, as it does for me.
  23. Help others. This can look different for everyone, but as long as you are spreading kindness, you’re repairing this earth and making it a better place to live. That’s what matters.
  24. Keep a clean house. It will reduce stress and allow you to do what you want in life, instead of furiously cleaning every time guests come over.
  25. Learn to work through anger by understanding its source. All anger comes from something else, something that you want from your life but aren’t getting, which makes you angry. You’re not really upset with your roommate about using your shampoo again without asking. You’re upset, because that action shows a lack of respect, and you want to be respected. Once you figure out that source, you can calm down, and have a real, productive conversation about it instead of an argument. It helps you realize what is most important in your life, so you can work toward it, and it helps strength your relationships with others. One of my friends taught me this one.
  26. Find a way to stay in touch with people, even if they are far away. I have loved many people in my life, and I have only been able to stay in contact with some of them. That is a huge regret of mine. We are able to remain so connected to each other nowadays, so find a way to use technology to your advantage. And don’t feel weird to be the one who reaches out after years… chances are if you’re reaching out, that people has missed you too.
  27. And finally, understand that you are on a journey that will last your whole life.Don’t feel upset if you’re not at the place you hoped you would be at your age, or if your journey took you on a detour. Everyone’s journey through life is different. Love yours. Be happy with the path you’ve chosen. There’s no turning back, so if you find yourself on a path you don’t like, cut through the forest to a different one, plant some flowers, find companions to join you on your journey. It is never too late to get to a station along your path, and it’s never too late to find a new path along the way. Just don’t stand there, looking back the way you came, and wishing you could start again. It won’t help. Move forward, make new goals, and find new adventures, appreciating everything around you on the way. Your journey is what you make it.

So there they are: my 27 pieces of advice, my 27 lessons learned.

Thank you for indulging me and for reading. You are among the many good things I have been blessed with in my 27 years. Your support has given me more strength than you can imagine.

Thank you.