Homme de plume.

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.

I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

Catherine Nichols on writing while female.

I won’t lie: I still think about how things would’ve gone if I’d sent the query for Liesmith out as “Al Franklin” rather than Alis. Although, to be fair, that would probably be too easily confused with Al Franken so… hm.

2017-11-16T11:27:27+11:0029th December, 2016|Tags: , , |


For [manuscript] submissions, I’m pretty certain that writers assume that if the writing is good, an agent is going to be interested in offering representation to the author.

No doubt–good writing is essential but as an agent, I’ve passed on any number of submissions that exhibited some stellar writing. Why? Doesn’t talent trump all? Nope.

The #1 reason I pass on manuscripts with good writing is because of a lack of pacing.

Kristin Nelson on speed.

Incidentally, “pacing” is almost always code for a story being too slow, not too fast.

2018-07-27T14:22:04+10:0025th May, 2016|Tags: , , |

Rethinking pitch sessions.

Pitch sessions, which are essentially in-person query letters, soundlike legitimately the most awful things ever. Also I have this weird thing where I don’t like talking about my novels in person–publishing business, fine, my own work, not so much–so… yeah. No thanks.

And honestly, I can’t imagine agents and editors love them, either. It’s like slush reading except with the added emotional labour of having to smile and nod the entire time, rather than just being able to hit delete when it’s obvious within the first sentence the person in front of you is someone with whom you’d never, ever want to work.1

Anywhere, the linked article is literary agent Jessica Faust talking about how to make pitch sessions slightly less horrible, which can basically be summed up as, “Use them as professional meet-and-greets, rather than an actual pitch pitch session (because you can do that later by email anyway).”

  1. Agents do meet/call their potential clients, FWIW, but this usually happens as the last stage of a successful query, not the first. []
2018-06-26T13:22:35+10:0016th September, 2015|Tags: , |

Anatomy of a query rejection.

Kristin Nelson breaks down query rejections.

For amusement, some of my own query rejections for Liesmith (agency names redacted):

Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to read your submission.  We appreciate you considering us for representation of your work.

Unfortunately, after careful review, we have decided that [Agency Name]  might not be the right agency for this project.  This industry is incredibly subjective, and there are many agencies out there with many different tastes.  It is for this reason that we strongly encourage you to keep submitting elsewhere, in the hopes of finding an agent who will be an enthusiastic champion for you and your work.

We wish you all the very best of luck and success with your writing.


[Agency Name]

Not even my own name injected into that one! But at least it was a reply, I guess…

Dear Alis:


Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time.  As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.


Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.



[Agent Name]

This one was more “personal”, in that it used both my name and the agent’s name, but still nothing about the work itself.

I swear I got more rejections than that–although not too many more, because a lot of agencies just sent nothing if they weren’t interested–but those are the ones I can actually find in my email. Actually, I know I got more rejections than that, because at least one of the rejections I got was from Sara Megibow. Hers was the most customized rejection of them all, in that it described specific things in the story. Mostly specific things she wanted to see changed, and an invitation to resubmit if I did. So I changed the things, she offered representation, and that’s why we are where we are today.

2018-07-27T14:20:35+10:007th September, 2015|Tags: , , , , , |

Fake it ’til you make it.

I get how stressful submitting is. I get that you worry that it’s not good enough and that the agent might be too big for you or have a client list that’s too big for you. But you also need to remind yourself that you are a contender too. If you want other people to treat your book like it has real potential and is worthy of publication than you need to treat it that way as well.

Stand by what you’ve written and if you can’t, maybe you need to rewrite it.

–Literary agent Jessica Faust on confidence.

This was one of the things I struggled most with when I was on submission. I’m still not great at it; it’s one of the reasons I’m really bad at self-promotion, for example. But it is something I need to learn to get over. Slowly. One day at a time.

2018-06-26T13:22:35+10:0022nd August, 2015|Tags: , , |

Twitter followers for aspiring authors.

So here’s a question: do you really need over 2,000 followers on social media before you bother submitting your manuscript to agents?

Tl;dr, no (I certainly didn’t), but.

The “but” there is that someone with a ready-made established fanbase is an easier sell to editors than a 100% unknown. This is, after all, why celebrities get book deals. So someone with a fat wallet of past success is very likely to get a better deal on the MS sale than someone coming completely out of left field… but that’s about it. Ultimately, agents and editors will pick up good, saleable manuscripts no matter who wrote them.

2018-04-27T13:50:20+10:009th July, 2015|Tags: , , |


FACT: If you are allowed to submit opening pages along with your email query pitch letter, including the prologue pages will kill your query 99.9% of the time and agents won’t ask for sample pages.

–Kristin Nelson’s #NLAquerytip #7.

Kristin goes on to explain why, but it’s basically because the tone tends to be so much different to the rest of the novel. If you’re querying an MS with a prologue, best to leave it off and start with your actual Chapter 1 for your sample pages.

That being said, I submitted Liesmith‘s prologue to Sara–who worked for Kristin at the time–and she forgave me for my sins. So… yeah. There are no rules, only guidelines, and all that.

2018-07-27T14:20:15+10:009th May, 2015|Tags: , , |
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