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Chip MacGregor

March 24, 2014

NOTES FROM UNDER A DESK

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By guest writer HOLLY LORINCZ

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Holly Lorincz is the newest agent at MacGregor Literary; she was mentored by president Chip MacGregor for a year before her promotion, while also maintaining an editing and publishing consultation business, Lorincz Literary Services (http://literaryconsulting.com).

NOTES FROM UNDER A DESK

I admit it. I’m under my desk. Hiding.

No, there is not a knife-heavy serial killer lurking behind my door.
No, my boss is not on the rampage (today).
No, my mom is not at the door with a list of potential husbands.

 

I’m hiding because Chuck at Writer’s Digest did me a solid and featured my New Literary Agent Bio on his blog — a blog that has been reposted by seemingly hundreds of other bloggers. Of course, as a new agent, I need the exposure, and I’m relieved people in the industry know I’m alive. I’m not being flippant when I say I’m hugely grateful for the support and excited to continue building my client list.

 

So why hide? Because. I. Have. 497. Queries. In. My. Inbox.

I’ve created a response system . . . but it’s become more like bloody triage at the scene of a train wreck. I know, I shouldn’t complain. And I am happy to wade my way through the proposals, as long as I’m given the time to do it. Unfortunately, now I’m starting to get the second wave of letters from the first responders. Statements ranging from “I wrote to you five weeks ago and have yet to hear back” to “If you’re not interested, it’s still polite to write back” to “I sent you my query because Writer’s Digest said you were accepting queries; do you ignore everyone?” to “Hey, maybe you should give a crap about someone else other than yourself.”

I have to be careful because my first reaction to the squirrely ones is to immediately hit send on a one-sentence rejection letter. But that’s not right, and it’s not how I want to deal with queries. I’ve gone through the same gauntlet as these authors when I was looking for an agent for my first book — I understand the anxiety and vulnerability involved, and that many of these authors are trying to make a living with their writing. This is not a joke to them or something to be taken lightly. I get that, and I empathize.

So, in that vein, I’m going to offer advice — advice I wish I’d had when I was querying. And, not to say I’m the end-all-be-all of agenting advice, but I have gone on the agent-seeking journey, and I have spent quality time being the minion for the best agent in the US, and, finally, I have had to screen through (again) 497 queries in the past fourteen days. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the very, very, oh my god horrifiyingly ugly.

The following querying tips are not the same tips another agent would give you. Ha ha. Good luck with that. Read through the lens of your own common sense.

HOW HOLLY LORINCZ THINKS YOU SHOULD QUERY:

1. BE NICE
Or at least professional.
2. DON’T BE CRAZY
Just give it to me – BAM – but keep it tidy and circumspect.
Don’t bother with word play or tricks in your query letter (i.e. “please be careful with what I’m about to tell you —my family is in danger“). I don’t have the time for anything but the facts. If even your subject line is wordy (or especially if your subject line is wordy), I’m not taking the time to read further. Did I mention the other 496 queries I need to read? Think: hook, comparables, word count, and previous publications.
3. ACTUALLY READ THE MLA STYLEGUIDE
Indenting and extra lines between paragraphs? Why?!
4. DON’T READ MY FACEBOOK PAGE
If I find out from you I forgot to change the privacy setting on my son’s birthday party pictures from two years ago, well, that just makes me want to invest in a Panic Room— but not read your manuscript, you stalker.
5. READ MY AGENCY BIO, ESPECIALLY WHAT GENRES I WILL ACCEPT
A little stalking is okay. Reading my public blog posts and interviews is also acceptable , unless you’ve gone creepy and start referencing something I published in my high school literary magazine 20 – I mean, 10 – years ago.
6. BECOME CLOSE FRIENDS WITH SPELLCHECK
Submision. You’v. Defiantly versus definitely. It hurts.
7. DON’T GIVE IN TO HOMOPHONERY
Horse whisper? Of coarse? Their walking down the street?
I know perfection is impossible in a manuscript (believe me, I know) but give it your best shot in the one page query letter, the synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript.
8. A SYNOPSIS IS A SYNOPSIS
Tell me, in 1- 2 pages, that first this happens, and then this, and then this, and this is how it ends. I don’t need philosophical or sociological or theological arguments expounded on for paragraphs at a time. And I definitely don’t need ten pages of it. I need the gist, not the bible.
9. I DON’T CARE WHAT YEAR YOU WERE BORN
Your writing background is very important to editors, and to me, but leave your life story for when we become friends.
10. EMAIL YOUR QUERY WITH YOUR MANUSCRIPT ATTACHED
Notice I said EMAIL. Not mail. I lose paper. Have you seen my desk?! (A handful of you super stalkers have probably already Google-Earthed it.) I know some agents still want a simple query with nothing attached but I don’t have time for that. I’d prefer not to go back and ask for 50 pages, and then the full manuscript. If the query letter in the body of the email piques my interest, I want to go directly to the manuscript to assess the writing style, storyline and craft. This is how I decide if I want to help a writer to publish — why prolong the process when it’s so easy to include and read/ignore an attachment?

I’m not being snarky. Well, okay, maybe a little snarky. But my goal, by telling you how I narrow the playing field, is to help you get your query on the radar. I love words, I love books, and I find it infinitely fulfilling to work with an author to get his or her words on a bookstore shelf. Unfortunately, I can only take on a finite amount of clients, thanks to that whole sleep thing, so I have to be tightly selective when I scan manuscripts. If I take on a new client, then I’m taking less time with my other clients. It has to be worth it.

In all seriousness, I wish you the very best of luck. You’re in the midst of a difficult, time consuming, soul killing process but you can make it a skosh easier on yourself if you pay attention to the little details.

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