Ammi-Joan Paquette is also the author of Nowhere Girl (Walker, 2011), The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Mermaids (Tanglewood, 2012), and The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies (Tanglewood, 2009). Her next YA novel, Paradox, will be released in June next year.
Thirteen-year-old Luchi is anything but an ordinary American teenager. Born in a remote country prison in Northern Thailand, her mother's death pushes Luchi into the outside world--and into the web of secrets that was her mother's past. A coming-of-age story that follows a compelling character on her journey across continents, and oceans, and into a future she cannot begin to imagine.
“Nowhere Girl is a modern fairy tale full of adventure and mystery. … This delightful tale gracefully interweaves Thai culture and is full of moral lessons and insights into life. It is beautifully written with a heroine who will stick with the reader long after the last page is turned. Recommended.” – Library Media Connection
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What Every Author Should Know About Literary Agents
Literary agents have been around since the late 1800s, but for many writers, agents remain a mystery. They are the gatekeepers of literature these days, the make-or-break folks who will decide if your book is worthy of submission to a publishing house. Most houses (indie, small, or giant) do not accept unagented manuscripts, so it is imperative that authors find representation. But how do you do that?
Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency told me what she looks for in a submission. “I love voice-driven manuscripts with unexpected plot turns and cleverly crafted plots,” she said. “I like to be taken by surprise. I like books that have a solidly classic feel, stories that stay with you, that feel like they will stand the test of time.”
Easier said than done, right? But Paquette makes a good point: in order to get an agent’s attention, your book needs to be worth publishing. I hear a lot of stories about authors who send off anything and everything they write, and are then surprised when they get rejection letters. Keep in mind that Jane Austen was writing for more than 20 years before her first novel was published, and Stephen King threw out his first draft of Carrie, thinking it wasn’t good enough to finish. Both authors persevered through trials and tribulations, and worked on their craft until it was perfect.
Paquette notes that jumping the gun is one of the biggest mistakes an author can make. “[Sometimes] authors send their work off too quickly, before the pages are fully ready to see the world. Avoid making small errors, whether in content or in spelling or grammar. The work you send out for review is your face to the world, the only part of you reviewing agents and editors will see, so don’t cut corners or move too quickly. Wait until everything is ready and just right,” she advised.
All right, so let’s say you’ve worked your tail of on the manuscript, and maybe even sent it to a freelance editor ahead of time (if you want to learn more about editing, check out this article). The next, and very important step is to find the agent that is right for you. Paquette knows this can be a challenge.
“Do your research,” she said. “Know who you’re submitting to, and make sure that agent is the right one for you, both in style and taste and contacts. There’s a lot of information out there, so the more informed you can be going in to the process, the better. Also, talk to friends and compare their experiences; what works for one person might not be ideal for another, so again, the more you know the stronger your decision (and the easier your journey) will be.”
When you’re choosing a potential agent, ask yourself a few questions. What kind of agent do you want—someone very hands on, someone aggressive, someone who gives a lot of direction, etc.? Do you want to be able to meet your agent in person, and frequently? (Then maybe look for agents in your immediate area.) What type of publisher do you see publishing your book? (Try to find an agent who has a track record with your favorite publishers.) And finally, what are your chances of success? (Don’t set your heart on a high-profile agent if you’re a debut author.)
Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a lucky few, it is time to write your query letter. First and foremost, be sure to follow the submission guidelines of the literary agency (these are usually present on their website). Then, put a lot of thought and effort into your letter. Like a cover letter for a job, this query must present you and your book in the best possible light. Here are some elements that you must include:
1. A great opener. Get the agent interested. Think back to the English papers you had to write in high school and college, and use all of those techniques you learned to write a strong introduction. What is special about you and your book that will make the agent want to learn more? Agents get hundreds of thousands of submissions each year—make yours stand out from the crowd.
2. The SparkNotes of your book. Keep it short and sweet, but also tell the agent why your book will be better than others in its genre. Make the synopsis interesting and intriguing. Try testing it on a couple of your friends and see if they want to read more.
3. A bit about you. What makes you an expert in your field, or a particularly marketable author? What experience do you have with writing? Show the agent that you have talent and dedication and, even if you are a first-time author, that you will go above and beyond.
Supposing that you’ve followed our advice and chosen your agent wisely, let’s imagine that the agent takes you and your book on! What should you expect to happen next?
“It depends on the manuscript, but I do almost always do editorial work with an author before sending the work out to publishers,” Paquette explained.
“Sometimes this takes place before signing—even several rounds, at times—and other times it might take place, or continue, after signing. With the tightening of the publishing market, editors are increasingly seeking work that has been brought along to a very polished stage, so the more we can do in advance to get it to that point, the better.”
Finally, we arrive at the point when the agent starts sending the manuscript to publishers. Sometimes a book will be gobbled up immediately, or enter a bidding war, or it might sit on the back burner for a couple of months. A publisher’s decision to acquire a book can depend on so many factors: their own resources, the market saturation of your genre, the topicality of your subject, and more. Paquette said that the best thing and agent/author team can do is keep faith.
“I don’t know that there’s any typical process at all,” she said of submitting to publishers. “It can happen very quickly, or it can take a long time. And neither has any bearing on the book’s eventual scope of success. In addition to hard work and talent, there is that element of luck in this business, and sometimes it just takes a little longer for the magic to happen. That’s why persistence is such an important part of the process too!”
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Jillian Bergsma is a writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.