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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How To Get Published -or- In Response to 40% of the Emails I Receive

So you've made the decision to try your hand at getting published! Please, allow me to offer you simultaneous congratulations and sympathies. This is not an easy business to enter, but it is, at times, immeasurably fun. If you're reading this, odds are you've already cleared an enormous hurdle by making the decision to learn more about how publishing works. I'll see if I can answer some of the more common questions I'm asked here. I hope it helps!

How much does it cost to get my book published?

Whoa! Slow down there, chief. First off, it costs you nothing to be published by commercial publishers: the non-vanity, non-subsidy, non-self-publishing publishers (more on these here, thanks to SFWA). In fact, you should be getting at least a little money in your pocket from this experience. But you're getting way ahead of yourself here. First off, once your work is polished to the extreme, you need to find representation. You need a literary agent.

What's a literary agent?

A literary agent is someone who represents you and your work, who acts as a go-between and uses their business connections to get your manuscript in front of the right editors. Once an editor is interested in making an offer, your agent negotiates on your behalf. Your agent will also vet contracts, get your check to you, handle disputes, and give you insight to potential problems with your writing. They are your personal champion in the publishing world.

Okay, so how do I get one?

First off, you research. Find out who represents authors that you admire, who has made recent sales in your genre. Be sure to check out Agent Query, Writer's Market, Jeff Herman's Guide, and Publisher's Marketplace. You can also seek out advice on writers forums, but there is a lot of misinformation out there, so I recommend you check out Backspace.

Once you have a list of reputable agents (remember: reputable agents charge no fees. For more info on how to spot a scam agent, check out Writer Beware's list of abusive practices by these...for lack of a better word...people.), you'll need to write a query letter to send to the agents on your list.

What's a query letter?

A query letter is a letter of introduction that a writer sends to a literary agent in order to introduce themselves and the book that they're interested in garnering representation for. You should spend as much time on this as you do on your actual manuscript, because this letter is your foot in the door, and if you screw it up, you might not get an agent's attention (however, please note that pink paper or that swirly-girly font you've been eyeing will only get you the wrong kind of attention). You can always Google for examples of successful query letters, but I'll post mine here for inspiration. A query letter should be professional, intriguing, and descriptive without being over the top. Here's mine:

Dear Mr. Agentman,

If you thought eighth grade was tough, try it with fangs and a fear of garlic.

Junior high school really sucks for fourteen-year-old Vladimir Tod, and not in the good slurp-up-the-blood kind of way. A gang of bullies harasses him daily, the principal is dogging his every move, and the girl he really likes prefers his best friend. Oh, and Vlad has to hide the fact that he's a vampire.

When the one teacher he really connects with mysteriously vanishes, Vlad is determined to find him. But then Vlad finds an unsettling note scribbled across his essay: "I know your secret."

Vlad must locate his missing teacher, dodge the principal, resist the bullies' tempting invitations to Bite me!, and get a date for the dance--all before he is exposed for the teen vampire he is.

EIGHTH GRADE BITES is complete at around 39,000 words. It is the first book of a series, THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD. My short fiction appears in Darkmoon Rising, Descending Darkness and is scheduled to appear in two separate issues of Morbid Outlook. I'm also a contributing member of Backspace writers' organization.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Heather Brewer

Looking at it now, it most definitely has room for improvement, but of the eleven agents I queried with it, nine responded with requests to read (six fulls, three partials), and one wanted an exclusive, so it couldn't have been that bad (and yeah, the book is now much longer...and Vlad is now thirteen...but you get the point, right?).

Will you write my query letter for me?

Nice try. No.

Okay, so is there any more advice you can give me about query letters?

Absolutely! Use crisp white paper, a new printer cartridge, Times New Roman 12pt font, and always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for their reply (as well as your phone number and email address). And be PATIENT! Sometimes it takes three months or more to hear back. Agents are very busy people.

Also, develop a thick skin. You will get rejected--we all do. And whatever you do, don't fire of a "you'll be sorry" email. It'll only hurt you in the end. Remember, professionalism is the key to success.

What happens if an agent requests pages or offers me representation?

You send the pages UNSTAPLED (rubber band is okay) and you send them out right away (but don't bother to FedEx overnight unless asked, it makes you look like an amateur), along with a polite cover letter reminding them of who you are and what you're sending. If you get an offer, sit tight, ask questions about how the agent plans to grow your career, what their commission rate is, and take a few days to really think about it before signing on the dotted line. When you feel a hundred percent right in your choice, go for it! (and don't forget to contact the other agents you've queried to let them know you're already taken)

Is that all I need to know?

Nope, but it's a good start. In a few weeks, I'll write a What Happens After I Get an Agent? blog entry. I hope this helped!


Anonymous Angel said...

Your advice is helping me sooooo much, Heather! I can't wait for the next advice blog. :D

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Evelyn said...

Thanks kindly. Still confused about all this, but it's good to at least get a heads-up. :)

Hopefully I'll be able to do something with your advice once I get started into my writing.

You're grand. Hope to see more.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Rev. CMOT TMPV said...

Rather useful posting, Ms. Brewer. Thanks for sharing. (And again thanks for writing your book!)

3:33 PM  
Anonymous pjlyon said...

Excellent advice, and I loved the snipped posted from your novel. Will be keeping you bookmarked to hear more :)

8:30 AM  
Blogger Pashon said...

Love the advice, and the letter. I think I'll have to read Eight Grade Bites -- catchy title as well. Can't wait for that next blog. Oh yeah, and great list of authors you have as well. I love sites that are not only great to read, but resourceful -- because that's what we all need right...resources that work..Thanks Heather.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Mia said...

I have a question:
I am writing a novel that is about 85% non fiction and the rest is fiction. I have changed the names & embelleshed some scenarios in order to avoid the whole legalities of fact checking & so forth for shopping it as non-fiction. Although it is based on my own personal journey, I am marketing the book as "fiction".

I have been advised to mention somewhere in the query or in "about the author" that this book is insired by personal events; I have also been advised to put this in a cover letter.
I feel if the agents knew this was based on my personal events they would be more intrigued in my novel.

My question is this: How can I include this information in my query without coming off as unprofessional or inexperienced.
Any suggestions?

Much Appreciated,

2:46 PM  
Blogger Eiko said...

Thank you so much for putting this information up - how kind of you. Much appreciated!

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Jamie said...

Wow, thank you so much this has actually helped me alot more than the countless hours I have spent on Yahoo!Answers trying to find out the first steps on trying to get a book published. And the great thing is about this blog is that you don't make it sound too complicated. On other things I looked up I had no idea what people were saying. Thank Auntie Heather!

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder what would happen if one crossed a vampire with a dragon.

Your page has helped me considerably.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Kara said...

I had seen the parts of a letter, but you don't actually get it until you SEE one. THANK YOU for this information and example!

3:36 PM  
Blogger Tony P said...

This is a tremendous help. Many thanks!

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering what your ideas for young writers, around the 14-17 age group, was. I am in the area myself and I am very interested in attempting to get a literary agent; I have been told of the 'parent okay!' before doing anything and what not.-But...I am not sure if my age will come as a negative against me, what do you think?

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

first of all, this information was very helpful and i would like to say thanks for taking the time to post it up and all. i have a question though, and I'm just looking for any kind of advice .. I am considerably young to be researching query letters and inquiring agents. I was just hoping that, besides the professional appearance of the query letter and "serious" or businesslike tone I will try my best to set, do you happen to have any other advice that will have anyone taking me seriously or actually considering to take a chance with my novel?

a reply would be very much appreciated, thanks so much.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Heather, your advice is amazing. I know your blog is helping me tons on getting the courage to start my first query, but I'm scared I might be too young and my age may effect my publishing possiblities. I'm a few years under eighteen. Any advice on what to do when it comes to publishing a book with an agent and young age?
It would help greatly if you reply back.
Again, thanks for the amazing advice you give:)

8:15 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

Minions, please don't worry about your age. In publishing, age is irrelevant. Just write the best book you can!

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather, I came across this blog on query letters as I was writing one for an agent I met. Then, coincidentally, after I sent the query, I saw you on this agent's list of forthcoming titles. Thanks for offering these tips to us newbies. I hope to get this agent!

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jamey said...

This ROCKED! I will wright a book if I can, and put you in the acknowledgements.

Do I need to use a fake name if I am under 18?

2:38 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

You can use any name you want, Jamey. Age is not an issue. Good luck!

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Vladslays13 said...

Thank you heather this has really inspired me to keep pushing towards my goal. Also do you think you will also right a different series about perhaps, a teenage alien or something, not saying a vampire is not cool cause i honestly love these series and look forward to the next book.

Thanks again,
Your minion

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Jasmine said...

Thanks! That's very helpful information!

Thanks again.
you're books we're vamptastic!

your minion.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous vampman said...

Hey Heather! I totally loved the first book. I've been trying to become a writer and have had only a few ideas. But i think I can only go the way of the vampire with this, and thanks for the advice on getting a book published, it really helped me out alot.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Heather! Thank you so so much for the advice on the query letter. I'm trying to publish a book and was going crazy because I had absolutely no idea what a query was. Again, thank you and I loved the first book.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Keli said...

Hey heather. I'm writing a story/novel and it has been going great. My only problem is, if it's a novel, how short can it be? Average on pages, words? Sure, it will probably be fairly long but just in case, could you tell me...Please???

10:04 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

That depends on what you're writing, Keli. Technically, my Vlad Tod series falls under both Middle Grade and Young Adult. I sold the first book at 40,000 words. So between 40,000 and 60,000 is a good range there.

7:25 AM  
Anonymous Alta S said...

Great advice Heather! I have a question, however, how do I let the publishers know if I want to use a Psyseunodem?
Thanks again!

~Alta S.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Keli said...

hey heather thanks for the info on how many words...my book might meet or exceed what you said so that really helps. Thanks again.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

Thx for the advice! I'm so gonna try and get my book published now!!!

3:18 AM  
Anonymous Mehvish Rehman said...

Hi, I was just wondering whether there's a specific age you need a writer to be in order for you to be their agent. Doesn't getting a story published depend entirely on the story, the written words plot etc. Or will I be turned down, depending if the agent thinks I am too young? Please reply...

1:34 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

Mehvish - age doesn't matter. Only the quality of your work matters. :)

1:37 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

When you send a query letter do you want to send it out to multiple agents at once or wait to get a reply before moving on to the next? A little confused here! Please respond if you can! Thanks!

2:14 PM  
Blogger Ryukinn said...

uhm hi, if the books became like a best seller,

what do you get back ?

10:16 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

Hi Caroline - It's probably wise to send them out in groups of ten, giving 8 weeks or so between groups.

Hi Ryukinn - Hitting a bestseller list means more exposure and more slaes, which is always good.

10:35 AM  
Blogger CAroline said...

Ok, thanks Heather!

4:13 AM  
Anonymous Keli said...

hey heather, keli again. i was just wondering if you ever got any help from someone else than your editor? A teacher or a friend? and what happens if that person editd your story to their (and your) liking, but the actual readers didn't like it. would you edit it more so they might like it or give up and right a new book?

10:27 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

Hi Keli -

Jackie Kessler is my fabulous critique partner - we exchange manuscripts and critique one another's work. That being said, neither of us listens to 100% of the advice the other offers, as you need to stay true to your vision.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Keli said...

thanks heather! is jackie kessler a writer too? does she have any good books

1:04 PM  
Blogger Heather Brewer said...

Oh yes, Jackie is an amazing writer. She has several fabulous books out now for adults, but is currently working on one of the best YA books I have ever seen. You can visit Jackie at www.jackiekessler.com :)=

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Tessa said...

Thank you so much for your advice. Can you post the link for the, "What Happens after I get an Agent" blog please. Thanks!

7:10 PM  
Anonymous fullmoon163 said...

PLEASE, post the link for the "What Happens After I get An Agent" Blog. I want to be a writer, and this will really help me.

REALLY help me.

3:09 PM  
Blogger njue said...

great advice, but tell me; very large novels, above 400pgs A4 size, what are the chances there?

3:04 AM  
Blogger Gmenezes said...

I have been reading up on how to write a query letter, and I am finding that the 3rd paragraph should consist of the writers bio. What if you are brand new to writing?

I have never had anything published, and I don't have any formal training or schooling to speak of...

Any suggestions?

1:06 PM  
Blogger njue said...


the best place for you would be absolutewrite.com there's everything you need to know there. see you there.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, gee. I have a 200,000 word story that I have already written. This will help me so much... I can just feel it. Thanks so much, Heather! I was almost discouraged to write this story because of my age - 13. But your encouragement has kept me going!

P.S. If you hear of a book called Lapis, it's me! Go Todd!

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Heather. I am writting a query letter and I was wondering if I should tell the Agents that I have no exprience or not. With SASE do you put it inside the other envelope with their adress on or what. Will they not except me because I am only 11? Could you please answer these questions.

Thank You!

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice! Hopefully one day I will get the book I am writting published.

When you were first starting out were you nervouse about what people might think about your books?

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you said that your book was 39,000 I was like "what? . . ." bcuz that is a novella, not even a novel! haha.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. This is going to help a lot when I try to get a book published. Love the series, btw. ^-^

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much!
This advice really helps :)
I know you said age doesn't matter but..I'm only 12 years old, so will is STILL not matter?

3:19 PM  
Blogger CptTyrene said...

Your blog has been very helpful. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations on finding an agent for a screenplay? Thanks for the information. I will take it to heart.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think your awsome! my friend elizabeth does too!
from: sanite

4:38 AM  
Blogger CAroline said...

Hey Heather, I've been working on writing a book for a while now and I was wondering what a good size and font is for a novel like yours. Please tell!

P.S. I love you books, go Vlad!

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Ilyssa N. B. said...

Hey Heather i wanted to tell u how much i love ur books! they rock i just finished 9th grade slays and i have to tell u how freakin good that book was! I fell in love with Vlad haha u made an even more awesome version of Edward!!!! XD my kinda edward! Oh um i have a question i'm 14 and i have been writing sice i was like 8 yrs old well people tell me i could become the nxt stephaie myer lol ya rite but the thing is i can't stick to one story i have just started one of my best works so far called alternate worlds bout a goth girl named Levana and the popular jock Trevor...well there both the like leaders of thier kind and they fall in love even though they've been enimies since forever and i was wondering if maybe i could email u the like intro to my story it wuld be sooo amazing if u could just read it and get back to me on it plz i would totally apreciate it!!!! but i know ur busy so i would understand if u said ur to busy so i'm just askin plz reply!

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Myranda said...

So this was very helpful. All i've got written is 3 spiral notebooks full...not a lick on the computer but i've posted some on your forum, I'm pumped, but I've got alot of editing i gotta do, I LOVE YOU AUNTIE!! thanks!!

12:43 PM  

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What People Are Saying About 'Eighth Grade Bites'

"A spooky mystery that's funny, gruesome, heartwarming, spellbinding, sad, joyous, surprising and topped off with a tasty blend of blood and chocolate. Yum. What more could you ask for?" ~D.J. MacHale, New York Times-bestselling author of PENDRAGON: JOURNAL OF AN ADVENTURE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE

"'Eighth grade Bites' had me on the edge of my seat. It's a great piece of fiction. It drops you right into the action, grabs you by the throat (pun intended), and won't let go. Vladimir Tod is a truly sympathetic character cursed with an existence not of his own doing, but doing his best to do the right thing. It's part 'Goosebumps' mixed with 'Harry Potter' and a dash – no, a heaping tablespoon – of Stephen King. If you're in eighth grade, or a vampire, or an eighth grade vampire, 'Eighth Grade Bites' is a definite must read!"~Butch Hartman, creator of Nickelodeon's THE FAIRLY ODD PARENTS and DANNY PHANTOM

"Eighth Grade Bites is a terrific vampire tale told with a sharp, middle-school grin. It definitely does not bite!" ~Christopher Moore, author of BLOODSUCKING FIENDS and A DIRTY JOB

"Eighth Grade Bites is a delightful novel filled with dark, biting humor that will appeal to everyone who ever felt they were different. A deft hand at depicting the angst of teen years, Heather Brewer does a wonderful job blending vampire legend with the modern day horror that strikes fear in the heart of so many: the eighth grade."~Katie MacAlister, New York Times-bestselling author of EVEN VAMPIRES GET THE BLUES

"Heather Brewer has invented the most endearing of vampires in Vlad, an eighth grader juggling the woes of adolescence with the decidedly unique difficulties of being a vampire. She perfectly captures the humor and angst of eighth grade, mixed with a nail-biting adventure. Utterly charming and irresistible!" ~Liza Conrad, author of HIGH SCHOOL BITES: THE LUCY CHRONICLES

"This book will fool you. Just when you think you've identified it as a story lit by the cheery glow of a slightly scary jack-o-lantern, it becomes something else -- a tale told by the flickering light of a dying campfire late at night. And the shadows are very dark indeed. A surprising mix of humor and horror." ~Douglas Rees, author of VAMPIRE HIGH

"Fresh and fast-paced, with just the right brew of chills and laughs. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens when Vlad hits Grade Nine." ~Nancy Baker, author of KISS OF THE VAMPIRE

"A fabulous book from a gifted storyteller! I never wanted it to end." ~Gena Showalter, author of OH MY GOTH