Alison Cherry is a Young Adult author. Her debut novel, RED, is coming from Delacorte Press on October 8th, 2013! She is represented by Holly Root of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.
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What was your method for querying? Small batches? Query widely? Wait for feedback?
I queried in batches of four or five, then waited to hear from everyone before I sent out another round. If several agents had the same complaint about my manuscript, I took a closer look at that aspect before I sent it out again. This method slowed down an already painfully slow process, but it also meant that when an agent I queried in May finally got around to asking for a full in November, I had a vastly improved manuscript to send her!
How did you keep track of your queries?
I'm one of those people whose bedroom is total chaos but whose data is color-coded and organized within an inch of its life. So when I started researching agents, I compiled everything I learned into a spreadsheet. (I mean, come on, who doesn't love a good spreadsheet?) I listed each agent's name, agency, contact information, submission guidelines, notes about their taste (which I gleaned from their AgentQuery profiles, their agency websites, and any blogs and interviews I could find,) and any general impressions I had about them. Then I sorted them into color-coded tiers based on who I thought would be the best fit for me. When I sent a query or received a response, I made note of the date and the content of the emails. When I got a rejection, I highlighted that agent's entire row in red.
What advice would you give to querying writers?
1) DON'T GIVE UP. This process can take a really, really long time, but that doesn't mean you won't succeed. I know people who queried 50+ agents before they found the right ones.
2) It's not personal. No matter how much it may feel this way, you are not your book. If someone rejects your manuscript, they are not rejecting you as a human being—they just don't think they're the best person to sell your work.
3) If an agent says she isn't the right fit for this particular project but wants to see the next thing you write, she's serious—agents don't say stuff like that just to boost your confidence. My agent, Holly Root, thought the first project I sent her was unmarketable, but she saw something she liked in my writing and asked me to contact her again as soon as I had finished something else. Six months later, I did, and she signed me within the week.
4) Find some other writers to commiserate with you. Your friends who work in other industries will be supportive, but nobody GETS IT like other writers do. Joining SCBWI is a great start.
Once a writer has signed with an agent, what’s the next step?
The next step is for your agent to send the book out on submission! You might have to do some edits on your manuscript first, but not all agents are super editorial, so this may not be the case for you. My pre-submission edits were incredibly minimal.
Do you have input on the pitch to editors or does your agent take care of that?
I had no input at all. Holly wouldn't even let me see the pitch letter she sent—she said she didn't want to reveal all her tricks.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent? Do you send sample chapters or wait until the manuscript is finished?
Holly once told me I should run ideas by her if I can't decide whether it's the best idea in the world or the worst idea in the world, but if it's somewhere in the middle, it's fine to just start writing. I'll often send her a manuscript after I've written about fifty pages, just to make sure she doesn't hate the voice. Then she won't see it again until I've finished it and revised it with two different rounds of critique partners. She's an absurdly busy person, and it makes no sense for me to waste her time with things I can fix by myself.
How much contact do you have with your agent when you are out on submission? Can you check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
The first time I went on sub, I asked Holly to tell me everything that happened, as it happened. That was a TERRIBLE PLAN. Since I knew bad news could arrive at any moment, I was nervous ALL THE TIME. I developed a Pavlovian panic response to the email alert sound on my phone, and I'm pretty sure I didn't eat at all for the entire submissions process. I'm on sub again now with my third book, and this time, Holly and I are using a weekly check-in method, which is working much better for me. I still have to be nervous for a couple hours every Friday, but if I hear from her during the rest of the week, I can be assured the news is good. Yes, it's okay to check in if you haven't heard anything for a while, but rest assured that if there's good news, your agent will tell you immediately. If you haven't heard anything, there's likely nothing to tell.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
You can if you want to. I did the first time around, and I was amazed by how incredibly kind the feedback was, even in rejections. This time, I've asked Holly not to forward editors' emails to me. If someone says something important, I trust that she'll tell me.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Write something else! Do not spend your days staring at your inbox! Honestly, I think 97% of the reason I'm not freaking out over my current submission is that I'm in the middle of revisions on my second book, so my brain is occupied with other things. My other advice is to remain cautious with your optimism. Even if an editor loves your book, she'll probably need to get second reads on it, then present it at an acquisitions meeting. At a lot of imprints, everyone needs to be on board in order for her to acquire it, including sales and marketing. Manuscripts get turned down at the last minute for all kinds of reasons, and it hurts a lot more if you've already tattooed your dream editor's name over your heart. Wait to celebrate until you have a contract in your hand!
Thank you for joining us, Alison!