Keli Gwyn
Seeking Representation through Roundabout Routes

Photobucket image from pbear_spirit

Sending out queries works for some. If you’re one of the select few who was pulled from the query sea and received an offer of representation, I applaud you. That’s a commendable feat.

Like many newbie writers, I sent out some query letters early in my journey. After a handful of rejections I called a halt. I explained why I quit querying in my previous post.

I took a year off to concentrate on improving my craft. At the end of that year I scrutinized the five stories I’d completed before curtailing my querying, determined which of them showed the most promise, and embarked on a self-directed revision.

I’d just begun a major rewrite of the story I chose when I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in spring 2009. During the conference, I received a reality check about agents from a well-respected one whose name appears on a photocopied rejection letter in my files.

A Surprising Lesson from an Agent

In an uncharacteristically brave moment, I chose to sit at this agent’s lunch table one day. She arrived and sat beside me, so I couldn’t hide. We spent most of the meal talking. I wasn’t pitching at the conference since I didn’t have anything ready, so I asked what she reads for pleasure, about the part of the country she’s from, and other non-business topics.

Near the end of the meal, the agent asked what I write. I gave her a short statement, saying I write inspirational historical romance, had  double finaled in the Golden Heart® the year before, and was revising one of my stories. She asked about my GH entries, and I gave her the one sentence pitches.

The agents’ eyes grew as round as our salad plates. She leaned close to read my name tag and lifted her gaze to meet mine, her face a study in disbelief. “I rejected you, didn’t I?”

I don’t know which of us was more surprised.

I recovered quickly, managed a lighthearted laugh, and said, “Yes, you did, but I deserved it. My work wasn’t ready, and I shouldn’t have sent it to you.” I located her name on my mental submission list and put “Remembers rejecting you. Do not resubmit.” after it.

What came next was even more surprising than the agent’s remarkable memory. She whipped out one of her business cards, handed it to me, and invited me to send her my story when I finished my revisions. I hope I didn’t have any food stuck in my teeth, because my mouth fell open before I caught myself and snapped it shut.

I left the conference encouraged and with renewed enthusiasm. I’d learned a valuable lesson. Even though I’d submitted too soon, I hadn’t destroyed my chances of being offered representation. Agents don’t write us off when we, in our naiveté, send newbie dreck. They realize we grow and will give us a second chance.

My Decision to Pursue Agent Representation through Roundabout Routes

While query letters hadn’t worked well for me, personal contact had yielded unexpected rewards in the form of a request. I decided to explore alternate avenues to reach agents.

My plan involved several steps. First, I would complete the revision, input my talented critique partner’s input, and polish the opening until it shone so brightly agents would be forced to don sunglasses. In order to obtain additional feedback to determine if the story was ready for submission, I choose ten contests to enter, basing my decision on the final round judges who would see my entry in the event I were to final.

My next step was to consider all the comments and suggestions offered by my generous preliminary round judges, see where they concurred, and revise the story once more in preparation for attending RWA® Nationals and the ACFW conference in 2010, where I would pitch the story to publishing professionals face-to-face and would hopefully receive some requests.

I made it to those conferences, but I was no longer in search of an agent. My decision to seek representation though roundabout routes had worked far better—and far more quickly—than I expected. I ended up with several wins and requests from the contests I’d entered, which led to an offer of representation from my Dream Agent in December 2009.

Alternate Ways to Catch an Agent’s Attention

• Enter contests in which the final round judges are agents on your wish list.

• Attend conferences and get face time through a formal pitch session, over a meal, etc.

• Cultivate a relationship with agents through Facebook, Twitter, and/or their blogs.

* * *

If you have an agent, did you receive your offer through a query or some other way?

If you’re seeking an agent, how are you conducting your search?

What other alternate routes can you add to the list?

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Keli Gwyn
Why I Quit Querying

No. I don’t think the query system is broken, dead, or any such thing. It just wasn’t the route for me.

I quit querying for four reasons.

Rejection stinks. I sent out a handful of queries after I’d been writing for a year, receiving rejections—and one invitation to revise and resubmit. I did, only to have the new version of my story rejected, too. I learned that I didn’t like the resultant gnawing in my gut, which devoured what little confidence I’d scraped together.

My story wasn’t ready. I went to RWA® Nationals in 2008, where I sported two shiny Golden Heart® pins on my name badge for a double final. People congratulated me repeatedly, and yet I felt like a fake. I knew my stories weren’t marketable, a fact confirmed by the response of the agent and editor to whom I pitched one of my finalist entries. In less than a minute, I knew neither was interested.

My writing craft needed work. I attended the Literacy Autographing at Nationals that year and made my way to Deeanne Gist’s table. To my surprise, she was alone, giving me no good reason to slink away unnoticed. My newbie knees were knocking, but I forced myself to talk with her.

Dee complimented me on my GH finals, and I shrugged them off, telling her I didn’t feel I deserved them since my stories were far from ready, a fact confirmed during those painful pitch sessions. She told me that she, like me, learned quickly that she didn’t like the sting of rejections and determined not to receive any more, which she didn’t. And then she gave me some great advice, which I’m eager to pass on.

Advice from a Best-selling Author

The secret to Dee’s success is that she quit querying and took time to study craft, read in her sub-genre, and revised her story until she had one the publishing pros couldn’t pass up. As I listened to her, I knew she’d just given me the key to success, one that could unlock doors that had been closed.

I heeded Dee’s advice. I quit querying, embarked on an intense study of the writing craft, and devoured inspirational historical romances from a wide variety of authors.

Eighteen months later, I ended up with an offer of representation from a highly respected agent who sold my debut novel a year after that. How did this happen? Come back Friday when I’ll share the rest of the story, along with an another encouraging encounter.

And what’s the fourth reason I quit querying?

I write lousy query letters. No kidding. I look at the one I sent my agent and cringe. I’m proof a promising story can compensate for weaknesses in other areas. 🙂

* * *

Have you made the decision to quit querying at some point? If so, why?

Has rejection made you hesitant to submit your work?

How do you go about studying craft?

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Keli Gwyn
How to Keep from Submitting Too Soon

Harry, the Hasty Hare

Hurry up!

How many of us heard our moms say those words throughout our childhoods as they waited for us?

I certainly did.

Being the oldest child who was eager to please, I complied, rushing when called so I didn’t keep Mom waiting.

Her lessons were reinforced by teachers waiting for assignments, employers waiting for projects to be completed, and merchants with time-limited offers waiting for my business.

Haste is one of Twelve Troublemakers that plague me as a writer. I’m exploring one a week. This is the eleventh in the series.

Speed has become one of the operating principles of our society. We want everything in a hurry. Food. Internet Service. Answers. We have drive-through windows for almost everything, including church and weddings.

Is it any wonder we writers take our expectations of fast solutions with us as we enter the publishing world?

While self-publishing enables a writer to get a book to readers rapidly, traditional publishing takes time. Many embarking on their journeys don’t understand this and tend to rush things.

I was hasty.

I sent out some queries when my writing was sophomorish and received well-deserved rejections. This led me to ask:

How will I know when my work is ready for submission?

My answer came as a result of answering another question.

Have I received feedback from trusted sources?

Like many, I asked friends to read my first story. Although I look at it now and cringe, those brave souls gushed about it—and still do, bless them. However, friends and family members aren’t the best sources of feedback, unless they’re writers themselves, have degrees in English, or have worked as fiction editors. They lack the knowledge of craft and the objectivity needed. In their defense, they can be great beta readers, giving us their impressions of the story as a whole.

For more in-depth feedback, though, we need to go to those who understand the structure of a story. Early in our journeys, the best place to begin is with critique partners. I’ve written a series of helpful posts about critique partnerships on my other blog, Romance Writers on the Journey.

Contests can be a good next step. When we’ve pushed ourselves to produce the best work we can and have incorporated the suggestions of our CPs, we can enter our stories in contests with a goal of receiving feedback from preliminary round contest judges.

My counsel, based on personal experience, is to start with smaller chapter-run contests. While a final in the Golden Heart® is prestigious, an entrant receives no feedback. The American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis does offer feedback, but due to the large number of entries, it can be hard to make it to the semi-finals, which can discourage new writers. Earning a final in a smaller contest can boost our confidence. This is the course I’m encouraging my real-life, romance-writing sister to take.

Those with the financial means can hire professional freelance editors. Unfettered by emotional ties, they will give unbiased feedback. I wouldn’t recommend this step until a story has begun to final in contests, indicating the work is approaching junior or senior level. However, if you’ve chosen not to enter the Contest Circuit, a professional editor could give you the same type of feedback as contest judges—and even more of it.

I work with two talented CPs who give me great feedback. I was a contest junkie and received a plethora of helpful suggestions from my judges. Since I’ve worked as an assistant editor for a small publishing company, I didn’t need to hire a freelance editor, but had I not possessed the skills, I would have eagerly sought the expertise of a trained editor. In fact, I think I could have benefitted in spite of my experience because of the blindness we writers have when reading our work.

Your Thoughts . . . and a Drawing

Do you think there’s a tendency for us to send out our work too soon?

Where have you turned for objective feedback on your stories?

Have you submitted work that wasn’t ready?

One person who leaves a comment by Sunday, April 24th will win the hare Folkmanis finger puppet pictured above, along with a small surprise. I’ll include the winner’s name in my April 25th post, when I introduce the last of the Twelve Troublemakers.

Wally, the Woeful Walrus from last Monday’s post goes to Marsha Young.

Odds of winning vary based on number of entrants.
I’ll ship to U.S. and Canadian addresses only.
Offer void where prohibited.
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Keli Gwyn
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