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Anne R. Allen's Blog


My Photo

Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I’ve had a number of people ask me that question in the last few months. There’s tons of info out here in Cyberia, but not everybody knows how to access it. And along with the good info, there’s plenty of bad—especially from predatory vanity publishers and bogus agents. So here are some basics for the newbies around here.

Your book has been critiqued, edited, and polished to a glittering sheen. What do you do next?

1)     Celebrate! Break out the champagne, chocolate, fireworks, old Prince CDs, or whatever puts you in a festive mood. Contact a few people who remember who you are after your time in your writing cave, and toast your accomplishment. 80% of people in the US say they want to write a book. A fraction of a percent actually do. You’re one of them. Woo-hoo!!

2)     Make sure you know your genre. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but pick one to three genres as a tool to help agents and publishers know what kind of book they’re dealing with. Make sure you use established categories like “paranormal romantic suspense” not “vampire bunny western.”  Creativity doesn’t work in your favor here. But you are allowed change genres according to who you query. Genre boundaries are oddly flexible these days. Both Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” vampire books and Lisa Lutz’s dysfunctional-family comedies are categorized as mysteries. Women’s fiction is an umbrella that covers everything from Danielle Steel to Anne Tyler. And anything with a protagonist under 19 can be YA (the most sought-after genre these days.)

Two caveats here: 1. don’t call it “literary” unless the writing is to-die-for gorgeous (& an MFA helps.) 2. Never use the term “chick lit.” You’ll still find it listed on most query websites, but it’s the kiss of death.

More on all this in my post “Let’s Play What’s my Genre?”

3)     Research and read the latest books in your genre(s) if you haven’t already. It’s important to have an idea of the market. A query letter is more effective if you can offer “comps”—similar titles that are selling (but not blockbusters—that looks like bragging.) Also, the authors of these books may blog or Tweet and you can follow them and get advice. Network. Find out who represents them. Eventually you might even get a recommendation, which is a golden ticket out of the slushpile.     

4)     Write your synopsis, hook, author bio and a basic query letter template. You can find helpful guides in any number of places. Agent Query provides solid basics. Most agents have similar information on their websites. Nathan Bransford’s “ESSENTIALS” list on his blog provides the info in a fun and friendly way, and Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog is a boot camp for query writers. Public Query Slushpile is a great place to get your query critiqued by other writers. There’s not so much on author bios, but I give the basics here

5)     Start a blog or build a website. An inexpensive Web host and a template design is fine. You want a nice, professional picture and a simple bio, with your contact information and something about your book and other publications. Nothing fancy. No bragging. Nothing is sadder than a pretentious website for an unpublished writer. And please! NO MUSIC!! People visit websites in libraries. And at work. Nothing is more annoying than unexpected music blasting from a website. (And it's not expected unless you're a professional musician selling your wares.)

A professional blog will do as well, but Facebook or other social networking sites that require membership won’t. Be Googlable, reachable and professional.

6)     Start researching agents. You can subscribe to WritersMarket.com but up-to-date information is available free at AgentQuery.com  where they provide a searchable database. You can put in your genre and immediately find what agents represent your work. Then check QueryTracker for further information on the agents you’ve chosen and get valuable comments from other queriers. (I also recommend subscribing to QueryTracker’s great newsletter for up-to-the-minute agent updates.) Then start Googling: look for interviews and profiles of agents to fine tune your queries. The wonderful Casey McCormick’s blog is a treasure trove of agent profiles and interviews.

7)     Send out five queries.

8)     Start your next book.

9)     Get rejections. Mourn.

10) Send out five more queries.

11) Get more rejections. Mourn. Fine tune your query.

12) Sent out five more queries.

13) Maybe get a request for a partial! (the first few chapters of your book.) But before you send it, go to the agent’s website and double check guidelines for formatting and sending documents. Most formatting is pretty standard, and they will probably ask you to send it as a Word (.doc or .rtf) attachment. But some agents are quirky and will request something like “no italics” or “number your pages on the bottom of the page.” Do whatever they say, no matter how silly.

14) Get the partial rejected. Maybe with a note. This will say something like “I couldn’t connect with these characters,” or “the protagonist wasn’t strong/sympathetic enough,” or “the plot is too complex/simplistic” or even “this is perfect, but I have no idea where to sell it.” DO NOT take these too seriously or start rewriting your book. They’re mostly just polite words to say, “It didn’t give me screaming orgasms.” Mourn.

15) Get a request for the full manuscript!! Remember to check those guidelines. Some agents still want to see a ms. on paper. If so, put a big rubber band around it—do not bind—and mail it in a flat-rate box from the P.O. with a #10 stamped, self-addressed envelope inside for their reply. NEVER send it in an annoying way that requires a receipt. 

16) Get another partial rejected. And another. Start building calluses on your soul. But—if the rejections start to sound the same—like everybody says the same thing about your unsympathetic, wimpipotamus hero, this is when you might give your ms. another once-over to see if you can figure out how to tweak things without doing serious damage to the book.

17) Get the full rejected. Mourn. You may get some more detailed feedback on this one. Pay attention, but don’t despair. It may not be your book that needs a rewrite. Maybe you’re targeting the wrong agents or pitching your book wrong. Maybe it turns out you’ve written a domestic drama (women’s fiction) not a romance. Try changing your query and hook before you change your book.

18) Finish book #2.

19) Start all over again with #2, but keep sending out #1 until it collects 100-150 rejections.

If you’re luckier than me, you may…

20) Land an agent somewhere along the way here.

21) If you don’t, you may want to consider a small press, regional press or self-publishing. Self-publishing for Kindle has proved  very lucrative, even for new writers, so if you’re good at marketing, this may very well be the way to go. It certainly is the wave of the future. But I’d try the agent route first. They are awfully handy to have on your side.

Just don’t let that book languish in a drawer!

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Blogger Emily Cross said...

As always excellent post. Thanks Anne!

Its great to see that there options out there for people who get book rejected 100plus times

September 5, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

Great advice. I'm a big fan of writers doing their homework and this posts helps them out and gives them some good solid links for advice. I agree, that if the comments you get with the rejections start to say the same thing then it's time to do another rewrite. As I say on my blog - stalking, persistence and rewriting are key!

September 5, 2010 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

Great advice. It's true, that's the process.

September 5, 2010 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Tamika: said...

I wondered what the magic number was for query rejections:) Wow, 100-150 seems like torture!

September 5, 2010 at 1:58 PM  
Blogger Yvonne Osborne said...

I'm between #17 and #18, callouses and all. Thanks for the reminder of what I need to do next.

September 5, 2010 at 6:12 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

So no Bunnicula set in Texas? Dang. And I thought that would kickstart the entire vampire bunny western genre! Heh.

Fantastic post, and great advice, especially that last bit--letting things languish in drawers is...well, for me, it's painful. Better to have it out there than to have it sitting and gathering dust, no?

September 5, 2010 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger Piedmont Writer said...

Thanks Anne, another great post to add to my file.

September 6, 2010 at 6:45 AM  
Blogger demery bader-saye said...

Thank you. Good reality check - but encouraging and hopeful too! There are options :)

September 6, 2010 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

This is a great, comprehensive post Anne. But one question remains-- what to do after you get those 100-150 rejections? Is it time for a long, hard look at that book you queried, and maybe decide it's a book that just isn't good enough/right for publication/whatever? It's a hard decision to come to when you really love a book.

One rule of thumb I go by is: how much do I love this book? If I love it a little, then maybe it's not right for publication. But if I love it a LOT and really truly believe in it, then I should keep pushing. Ask yourself what the final goal is -- do you want people to read that book, or just be published with all its accompanying glory?

September 6, 2010 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for all the comments. I did hope to inspire as well as give a reality check.

Sierra--thanks for bringing up that first much-rejected novel. Sometimes you realize you can do better and toss it. Or maybe a few rewrites can get it launched again. Or sometimes there's nothing wrong with it--it's just not the blockbuster that can launch a career--Like Grisham's "A Time To Kill" which couldn't sell until his more high-concept "Presumed Innocent" hit the big time.

Or, as I said in step #21, it might be better served by a small or regional press, or you can Kindlize it and make big bucks and then Amazon will print it and you'll have a career without going the agent route at all.

September 6, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Kristine said...

This is an excellent blog! I love this post, as I loved the slow blogging post!! Perfect for this time in my life. Also, I've written a MS that I refer to as "chick lit"---thank you for telling me not to refer to it that way to agents/publishers. One question: why? Is it out of date? What about the genre?

September 6, 2010 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...

Sage and wonderful advice, thanks. I've currently made it to Step 17. You encourage me greatly that I am not alone in my experiences!

September 6, 2010 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Simon, congrats on making it to #17!

Kristine, I've written a bit about the chick lit thing in the past and I should probably do so again, since the term isn't going away from places like AgentQuery, so writers are being misled.

The problem is this: the "shoe fiction"/Sex and the City type of women's fiction became such a fad in the early part of the last decade that editors overbought a whole lot of half-edited, clunky books and unleashed them on the literary world. Bookstores couldn't sell them, so there were huge returns. "Chick lit" became a term that meant "loser books" to the publishing companies.

Last year Barbara Poelle listed the 10 reasons your book would never sell. One of them was "if anybody in a meeting might even think of calling it chick lit."

Ouch. My first two books were marketed as chick lit, so when my publisher went under, suddenly nobody would touch my stuff, although it never really was shoe fiction at all--it's much more "Elmore Leonard for women."

I'm now calling it "comic romantic suspense" but still nobody wants it. If you write funny and you've got a single female protagonist between age 20 and 80, you've got a problem. But I keep writing--toning down the humor with each book and hoping wit will come back to women's fiction someday. By then I will have some serious inventory!

So keep writing what you write and find another name for it. These days Dorothy Parker probably couldn't sell a story, but things have to turn around sometime. They're finally tired of vampires. Something new will happen.

September 6, 2010 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great post; welcome information! Time to start marketing my latest and, if I do say so myself (and I do) my best novel! I love researching for the writing; hate researching for the marketing. But, who else is going to do it? This gives me a much needed game plan!

September 6, 2010 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Bekah said...

Great and very true post. Mourn : ( I lived in Los Osos when I was younger LOL

September 6, 2010 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Hole said...

Thanks for the links and suggestions. I'm always looking for new resources.


September 6, 2010 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Florence said...

Anne, this is an excellent post. I will read, and then read again. Finished two, sending out to agents, writing the third ... new genre ...

No time for details. Thanks for doing this post and the others you reference. It pays to read and learn.

September 6, 2010 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger LR said...

Another great post, Anne. I've always wondered about the calling it literary fiction thing. Never have received a clear answer on this. I suppose you'd have to just call it "mainstream"?

September 8, 2010 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Lane said...

Wonderful advice! Hee hee about wimpipotamus hero. I wish I'd seen this before I started sending query letters. Thankfully I found a small publisher that was a good fit for my novel.

September 8, 2010 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--congrats on finishing the latest novel. Maybe this will be the one that breaks through. And now you've got all that inventory sitting in your files!

Bekah--sorry you had to leave our foggy little Paradise!

Donna--we have to keep trying everything, don't we?

Florence--good luck with #3. The great thing about not being majorly published is we are free to hop genres.

LR--Look at George Clooney's last two films--one called a rom-com (Up in the Air) and one called a thriller (The American) but they're both really dark, literary meditations on our current cultural malaise. Write literary, call it something else and... well, getting George Clooney would help, but maybe his pioneering will help us all?

Jennifer--Congrats on finding a small press that works for your book. Sometimes small presses are the way to go. Lots of pluses there, as long as they stay in business. :-)

September 8, 2010 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger LR said...

Yes I think you're right: write literary and call it something else.

Why shoot yourself in the foot (as Janet would say) by calling it literary in your query?

September 8, 2010 at 10:09 AM  
Anonymous bookfraud said...

excellent information, and if i could go back in time immediately after finishing my novel, it might have actually been published by now.

one interesting thing -- you suggest putting up an internet presence before researching agents. i don't know if that was intentional or not, but it does speak about the power of social media et. al.; if i'd had a web site i could point publishers to, perhaps my semi-competent agent could have done his job better, or done his job at all.

September 8, 2010 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

bookfraud--yes. You DO need an internet presence before you send out that first query. It looks as if your experience proves that (among other things.)

September 8, 2010 at 7:04 PM  
OpenID lindacassidylewis.com said...

So glad I found you on Twitter. This is one of the best writing advice posts I've read.I'm at #15, still hoping.

September 9, 2010 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger SAMUEL PARK said...

Fantastic post, as usual. I agree with pretty much everything you said, especially the mourn part! :) Interesting how much grieving goes into writing, isn't it? Jennifer Wiener lists "grief" as essential to the writer's education, I suppose for a variety of reasons.

September 9, 2010 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger Smita Tewari said...

Congrats! on being able to write 2 books! did you get them published, finally?
Visit my blog: www.smitaspoetry.blogspot.com
and leave a comment. thanks!

September 10, 2010 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Diana Paz said...

Hi Anne, long time since I've been to your blog. It looks great! I like your post, it made me giggle-- so much truth! Your comment on my blog gave me a huge smile... I used to live in Escondido too! I graduated from Cal State San Marcos just down the 78 :)


September 10, 2010 at 4:32 PM  

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