Notes from the Slushpile: Intern Edition

CaitlinRoundedCorners2As a writer myself, I know that querying brings on a particular kind of panic unlike just about anything else in the world. We’re filled with terror that the tiniest mistake is going to bring our careers crashing down around our ears FOREVER. That our hard work is going off to be laughed at or ripped to shreds, or worse – ignored until the end of time.

But I also have the somewhat unique perspective of having interned for several literary agencies. I’ve been in the slushpile trenches, and chances are, you’re already miles above your competition. No, really. But just in case you don’t believe me, here are five super basic things you can do to be a querying rockstar.

  1. Do your research

So, so many rejections happen because the querier didn’t check that the agent represents their genre, or failed to follow submission guidelines. Keep it short and sweet, with just the information they’ve asked to see included. Also, one typo isn’t going to doom you forever (although ten might). Make sure you’ve got all your boxes checked, and it will help you out a lot in the long run.

  1. Be professional

Shirtless pictures? Um, no. Comments upon agents’ appearances? Definitely no. Calling us or coming to the office to pitch in person? DEAR GOD NO JUST STOP RIGHT NOW.

  1. Send limited check-ins

Some agents post their guidelines for when they like to be nudged about projects they’re considering, some don’t. Either way, wait a long time to send check ins. I have seen the inbox numbers, guys. They are high. They are very high. I promise, agents aren’t ignoring you, and when there are that many manuscripts to read, it really does take months to get through all of them.

  1. Add some personality

Tell the agent why you’re querying them! Did you see their MSWL page and think you’d be a good fit? Do you follow them on Twitter and notice that you both are fueled entirely by coffee? Did you meet at a conference or book signing? Of course, always remember to keep it professional, but agents are human and like to know that you are too.

  1. It’s not you, it’s us

You’re going to rack up some rejections in the querying process, and more once you land an agent and move on to editor submissions. When we say the business is subjective, it really, really is. I’ve seen plenty of great projects that just weren’t my cup of tea, and fallen in love with some that weren’t the agents’. When we say it just isn’t for us, it’s not a secret code telling you that your book is the worst book ever written. It just means that another agent would make a better champion for it, and for you! And that’s best for everyone involved.

I hope this list helps alleviate some of the stress brought on by the querying process, and I wish you all the best of luck! Now I’m going to… go edit my first five pages again because of course I am.

– Caitlin, MSWL Board Member and Slushpile Wizard

You can find her on Twitter, and ask about her editing services, @Caitlin_Renata.

3 comments to Notes from the Slushpile: Intern Edition

  • Thanks for the tips. I can only imagine how agents feel when they open their inboxes and find hundreds of new queries every day. The truth is, mine might be one of them. I’m working hard (really hard!) to find a way to claw my way to the top of the slush pile and climb up that mountain in search of my agent soulmate. Good luck fellow writers!

  • Kiersten Kanaster

    Reassuring Caitlin! Thank you for this 🙂 It makes me breathe a little sigh of relief to know if my work isn’t right for a given agent, doesn’t mean it’s the worst piece of writing they’ve seen! *phew* feeling motivated 🙂

  • Caitlin, you put me at ease with this post and advice. I like the challenge of queries and the research involved in creating them. The part I am nervous about is clicking the send button or putting the query in the mailbox.

    Thank you for your encouragement☺. You rock!

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