Posts Tagged ‘#MSWL’

I’ve been here before.

My last novel, an Upper Middle Grade Fantasy, was the first book I ever seriously tried to get published traditionally. I queried well over 100 agents to that end, without much success. I’m now about a dozen queries into the process with my latest novel, ACTUALLY EVER AFTER, another Upper Middle Grade book. However this time, I have some experience under my belt.

What does it mean to “be prepared” to query? You might be surprised.

First, your manuscript

  • Finished! If you’re querying a novel, you can not query a WIP. Agents only consider completed manuscripts.
  • Polished! Do not send off a first draft. Do not send off a draft just read by your mother. Use alpha readers to review each chapter. Use beta readers to review your whole manuscript. Do a pass for consistency. Do a pass for grammar and punctuation. If you’re novel contains sensitive topics or you are writing about a culture other than your own, find or hire a sensitivity reader. Consult experts on your research.
  • Properly formatted. There are plenty of resources to define this, but basically, 1 inch margins, double-spaced, indent each paragraph, no spaces between paragraphs, start each new chapter halfway down the page, 12-point Times New Roman. Each page should have your last name and the page number in the upper right corner. There should also be a title page containing your contact information, your genre, and your word-count.

As hard as this is to accept, the manuscript is only the beginning. Querying means approaching individual literary agents with a pitch for your novel. But there are multiple ways to get agents’ attention. You may go to writer’s conferences and have an opportunity to talk to agents face-to-face. You make want to take advantage of the numerous Twitter pitch events throughout the year. In either of these events, you will want an “elevator pitch” to promote your novel. The standard for this is to describe the key theme, conflict, and plot of your novel in 35 words. For Twitter, you have total 280 characters (including spaces) to do this (however you need to leave around 12-18 characters for the required hashtags). And even if you don’t attend a single conference or intend to participate in Twitter pitches, you still want to develop your elevator pitch. Firstly, many agents specifically request one, but secondly (and more importantly) you want one. In order to talk about your book in a way that will entice agents, you need to be able identify the theme and conflict and express them in a couple of sentences.

This turned out to be a revelation for me when I began to query my last novel. Because I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t identify the key conflict — that one thing my hero needed to accomplish, and what would happen if she failed. It’s not that I was blind, it’s that it wasn’t clear in my story to begin with. It turns out this is a major problem and common stumbling block for new writers. It turns out (I learned way too late) you want to have this clearly in mind before you start writing your novel. You can decide this in the middle of writing your novel, too, or even after you have finished if you don’t mind going back and doing a major rewrite. It’s a lot like changing your major after three years in college, or right before graduation. You can do it, but it will take a lot of extra work and you’ll wish you had done it sooner. That’s what I did with my first novel, and I ended up doing several major rewrites in an effort to nail down a clear theme and compelling conflict The fact that no agent wanted to represent that book may be the results of my poor planning.

Here is the elevator pitch for my current novel:

One accidental wish and Clio and Mary are in 1507 Ireland, caught between Cinderella and her wicked faerie godmother. Strength and friendships are tested as the girls must choose between going home or saving Ireland.

And here is one of several Twitter pitches (I settled on 5, because most contests let you pitch multiple times over the course of several hours):

Yesterday Clio & Mary were ordinary 13yo girls. 1 wish later: Clio the faerie princess & Marigold the pixie are caught between Cinderella & her wicked faerie godmother, who’s bent on conquering Ireland. Strength & friendships are tested as they go to war. #PitMad #MG #HF #FTA

Once you have your pitch nailed down, you’re in a good place to begin writing your query letter. Because you want to express that same theme and conflict in a couple of paragraphs, but in such a way as to entice your agent-of-choice to want to read your book. There are many resources on the web for how to write a good query letter, and I could write several long blogs on various approaches, so I’ll leave that up to you. Generally, you want to keep it to 1 page, keep the actual pitch for your novel to 2 paragraphs (don’t give away the ending!), then a paragraph describing your audience and providing comps (books comparable to yours), and a brief biography of your writing experience and why you’re the best person to write the book you wrote.

Here’s where it get’s personal. A query letter shouldn’t be just a boilerplate you send out to every agent on your list, just substituting their name at the top. The best way to get an agent’s attention is to personalize your letter to that particular agent. Show you have done some research and chosen this agent for specific reasons, rather than just pulled their name from Writer’s Market. That means search the web for interviews they have given recently, check the Manuscript Wish List website. Manuscript Wish List a true godsend, and it comes in three flavors. Originally, it was a Twitter event where agents were invited to tweet what they were looking for under the hashtag #MSWL. Now, that hashtag is perpetually being used by agents to share what currently tickles their fancy or what they are on the lookout for. You can go to Twitter and filter by that hashtag, as well as by other hashtags such as #MG for middle grade, or keywords like horror or LGBT or pretty much anything else. Or, you can go straight to and do the same thing. This site makes it easier, though. Things are organized there by keyword and by agent’s names, etc. This eventually evolved into the website I mentioned above, which is where many agents have a profile that details everything they want authors to know — their bio, who they represent, their wish list, their favorite books, and how to submit.

Use these resources! You don’t have to write a thesis on every agent you pitch to, but it helps if you include in your query a sentence pinpointing those specific things they said they were looking for which they will find in your book. For example:

I see from your wish list that you’re looking for fairytale-esque fantasy in a historical setting, and I hope ACTUALLY EVER AFTER fulfills your wish.

This shows the agent you went to some effort to seek him/her out and that your book should be a good fit for them. Both of these will be checkmarks in your favor.

But you’re still not done!

The Synopsis. Yes, the dreaded synopsis. This where you describe the entire plot of your book from start to finish, including the ending. The synopsis is not so much a pitch to sell the idea of your book, but to show that you know how to plot a story and that it hits all of the key elements of a story, as well as the tropes of your particular genre and age group. Some agents want it to be under 1,000 words (about 2 pages), and some require that it be under 500 words. Again, resources abound on the Web for how to so this.

NOW YOU’RE READY. I mean, there is always more you can do to prepare. Going back to polishing your draft, you want to give special attention to the first three pages, and especially the first paragraph. These are your first real impression, query letter aside. These can make or break a prospective agent’s interest, no matter how good your query. Also bear in mind that different agents or agencies have different submission requirements. Some request the first 3 chapters, others only the first chapter. Some ask for the first 50 pages, some want 25, while some ask for just the first 5. So, with that in mind, you maybe want to consider when you write not to leave the really good part for page 45. I knew this when I started my current novel, and made sure there was a really good gut-punch on page 3, and the inciting incident before page 20. Every little bit helps.

If you have queried before and have advice of your own, please share it. And good luck out there. KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON!



Look at my lovely chains; I have two of them:



I know – one’s longer than the other.  I can explain that.

Over on my bestest critique website (Critique Circle), one of the writers proposed a writing chain for our WIPs.  The game works like this: starting on a given day (in this case, April 1), anyone who wants to participate must write at least one new sentence on their work-in-progress every day.  For every consecutive day you do this, you get to add one link to your chain.  If you skip a day you have broken your chain, and you must start a new chain the next time you write at least one new sentence.

I haven’t broken my chain, yet.  Thank you very much.

The other chain is something different.  I’m doing this one on my own, but I got the idea for it from the first chain.  Starting on April 5, I have been sending out one new query every day.  In the past I always found the idea of composing a good query a bit daunting.  To do it right, you really want to research the agent, check out their tweets, see if they have a blog and read it, look for any interviews they have been the subject of, and for sure review their page on their agency’s website to see what they are looking for and what they are definitely not looking for.  Plus, you know, what to include in your query letter and how to format it.  Most people send them out in batches of 5 or 10 at a time. I’d only done a couple of dozen total in a year of querying.

But there is this brilliant concept invented by Jessica Sinsheimer (@jsinsheim): Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL).  It started on Twitter as a yearly party where agents would tweet what kinds of books, specifically, they wanted to represent.  But it quickly became very popular began to be updated all day every day.  Fast-forward to the present, and the official Manuscript Wish List website ( is completely overhauled.  It is a place where agents can now post their entire profile – including their wish list – and it is completely searchable.  It also includes links to each agents official agency website and Twitter profile.

So, given this, I just pop over to the MSWL site on my lunch hour, filter for agents who represent middle grade, and run down the list until I find one looking for what I’ve got to offer.  Then I scroll through their Twitter feed, peruse their submission guidelines, and do a quick search for their blog.  Armed with this quickly-gotten information I can customize my standard query to punch up those aspects of mine and my daughter’s manuscript that match what this particular agent is seeking, then include our bios, a synopsis and/or chapters according to their guidelines. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang, Betty Boop!  One new query sent.

Done this way, a single query is no big deal, and I can produce a new one every day.  See, I’ve done this many:


I’ve already started getting feedback on these queries, mostly rejections.  So to help keep track of them I created these notations:

Q = Query sent.  P = Agent passed.  R = Agent requested a partial.  F = Agent requested a full.

With this shorthand in place, my query chain actually looks like this:


I don’t know how long I can actually keep this up.  There are only so many agents on the MSWL site that I like or who are looking for a book like my daughter’s and mine, so eventually I will come to the end.  At that point I will have to start looking elsewhere to find them.

Unless, of course, the inevitable happens and one of these agents offers to sign us.  Hint, hint?


I can’t say that the querying stage of being an author is any easier than the actual writing part.  In fact, I can’t even say it will take less time (I would certainly like to say this).  But I can definitely say it is more exciting!

In the last two weeks we have thrown our hat into a number of query/pitch contests/parties, with mixed success.  I’ve written at length about WriterPitch, and I call that a success.  We collected a great number of promising wishes during MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) day, and now we have a lot of agents that appear to be looking for what my daughter and I are pushing.  That’s a success.

I blogged about #PitchMadness, here. We entered it and spent the next several days haunting Twitter, hoping to see any hint that someone liked our manuscript.  Several of the tweets by the judges teasing their picks seemed to be talking about our manuscript, and our hopes rose.  But in the end our pitch was not chosen.  But the following day I did receive this personal tweet:

LB Tweet

So … that happened.

I also decided to try out the Twitter pitches I had crafted for #PitMad on a smaller Twitter pitch contest for a small book publisher.  They are not as well know, so I’m sure there were far fewer competitors.  I really would prefer an agent to a small publisher, but my goal was to see if I got any response.  In fact I received favorites from three different editors there.  I sent our query, synopsis and first three chapters, per their guidelines, and three days ago we received a request for the full manuscript. So this tells me that based on our first three chapters somebody wanted to read the rest of our book.  Most definitely a success.

But I guess the most important part of this experience has been the many, many individuals and teams who have offered to read our query letters and pitches and first 250 words, etc., and given us free, very helpful feedback.  So the experience has taught us a great deal, and if we win no other contests or get any nibbles on our tweets, we at least improved our chances as we continue to query the old-fashioned way.

So … huge success.

WriterPitch screen

Okay, everyone.  You can relax now.  Help has arrived in the form of  Samantha Fountain’s vision of a platform for authors to promote their unpublished books to agents in the market has been realized.  It’s like a directory of pitches, organized and searchable by fiction/non-fiction, category (Adult, YA, MG, etc.), genre and keyword.  It has been up for about two days and already several authors have received requests from agents.

The obvious benefit to this set-up is that registered agents can window-shop the pitches, learn about the authors, sample a few of their blog posts, and if a pitch peeks their interest, they can read the first 250 words of the manuscript.  Only registered and vetted agents can see this.  So it’s secure.  And agents can tag pitches they’ve read so they don’t waste their valuable time reading them again later.

But there are a number of added benefits not immediately obvious to the casual observer.  And here is where Samantha’s genius shines. The site encourages you to tweet and post links to any author, pitch or blog post you like, so you can promote the books you’d like to see on the shelf some day.  And those pitches that get the most social media love get featured in the day’s Top Ten, along with the top writers.  Most popular agents get their own boost from sharing, too.

Don’t order yet; there’s more!  As a new author pitching his first book, I am somewhat overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done AFTER you’ve finished your book.  You have to craft a Twitter pitch and a logline and a query and a synopsis and the first 250 words and….  What WriterPitch provides is a community.  A place where writers both seasoned and raw can mingle and read one anothers’ pitches and queries.  A place where you can comment and promote those that inspire you, and receive comments from others whom you’ve inspired.  And you can see what’s out there, and what’s working, and who’s in the same place you are.

Samantha didn’t just create a space.  She created a universe.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to create your free profile and get your pitch out there.  If you’re an agent, I invite you to go window-shopping, and bring your wish list. And if you’re anybody at all, I hope you will take a peak at my pitch and tell me what you think.

Better yet, tell the world what you think. This is going to change everything.


I haven’t really posted much about actual writing lately because I have spent the last month or so in query hell, and the last two weeks in the twitterverse. And I THINK it is going to have been uber-productive for me. I wrote a couple of blog posts* about it, but there’s a new thing I wanted to share with my brother and sister writers. This is HUGE.

Fellow writer Samantha Fountain started #AgentMatch, which is a twitter contest (like many others) where writers with complete manuscripts can submit a pitch and the top 50 orso are selected by a team of editors and writers and posted online by genre or category, and agents can then look at these vetted pitches and request partials or full manuscripts from the authors. Many writers have gotten representation this way.

When I started looking into the writer/query community on Twitter, I had missed this by like two days.

But Samantha was just getting started. Her latest project (which officially launches on March 2) is called, and it is essentially a website directory of writers and their pitches (for completed manuscripts), where agents can shop for manuscripts that match their needs/likes/wants/wishes. You’ve seen Writer’s Market and the Guide to Literary Agents; imagine a directory of writers with manuscripts seeking representation – a directory for agents to find writers. The last two weeks has been a series of daily contests on Twitter to get into the launch of this site on March 2. After the launch authors can join at any time, but I got caught up in the excitement and managed, against long odds, to get into the select group of authors to be included in the launch. I’m very excited about this.

Now, you should have no illusions — these various agent/writer “dating services” don’t make it more likely for a book that’s not ready or a bad pitch to be accepted by an agent. What it does do it speed up the process and get your book in front of more eager agents sooner. The normal process is to send out your query to an agent unsolicited, hopefully including some tidbit from your research that suggests your book is what they have been looking for, and then you wait until your submissions crawls its way to the top of the slush pile and hope this happens on a good day. And you do this over and over again. Potentially lots of hit-or-miss. But with these contests, the agents are actively seeking the books. And when you get a nibble, you can then send your full query to these agents AS A RESPONSE TO A DIRECT INVITATION. This puts you on the top of the pile on day one.

So I’m stoked.


The website will work like this: For writers, you will have your own author page which you can customize with contact/social info, a blog, your bio, and as many pitches as you have manuscripts. The sit will periodically provide questions you can answer (or not) to help fill out your profile. Agents will be able to locate you (your manuscripts) by category and genre, and with a single click can read the first 250 words of your book (only registered agents can do this). With another click they can request a partial or full of your manuscript with a personalized e-mail. You can likewise search through the registered agents, get their contact/social info, and see their wish list (called Agent Cravings). Agent pages will be similar to writer pages in that they are customizable and offer useful information to querying writers.

The site’s homepage will feature the authors/pitches that have been shared the most by agents via social media, as well as the agents who’s profiles have been shared by writers the most via social media, both updated daily.

If you are ready and interested, here are the details from Samantha Fountain’s blog. Also, here are the Twitter and Facebook pages for WriterPitch.

I hope to see lots of writers on there! And I hope this inspires even more of you to finish and polish your book.


*Successful Writers Have a Special Kind of Madness — It’s Called Pitch Madness, and It’s a Thing
The Madness Continues — More Writerly Twitter Things


Last week I talked about Pitch Madness, and the Twitter version, #PitMad – two “contests” where writers can submit pitches of their finished manuscripts to groups of agents on the lookout. Turns out Twitter is a lot like an iceberg; once you start digging you find out there’s quite a lot gong on. It’s those hashtags again.

The genius of Twitter is that entire universes exist inside the cloud of tweets flitting through the ether. You just need to know the secret password to enter each of them. Last week I mentioned a few of those passwords: #QueryTips and #MSWL. If you spend any time in either of those universes, you can pick up the passwords to other related universes. There are a ton of writer-specific hashtags.


Plus you can find conversations about just your genre:


And because these opportunities are going on all the time, you can find plenty of people who offer advice and actual critiques on your pitches. I responded to two different offers and got prompt and helpful advice in both cases, and neither one cost me anything other than to agree to follow them on Twitter. Oh, yeah, besides these hashtag universes, you can also follow individuals on Twitter. For example, you could follow me at @John_Berkowitz.

The universe I have been spending the most time in lately is a very special place called #AgentMatch. Like Pitch Madness, Agent Match is a specific “contest” or opportunity for writers with ready-to-go manuscripts to hook up with agents looking for new clients. I just missed Agent Match by a few days when I discovered this hashtag. People who had submitted and had been vetted by the team had their pitches posted by category (picture books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult and memoirs). There the huge stable of participating agents could see them and request partials or full manuscripts from those they liked. But even though that event is over, the #AgentMatch universe is still very lively, because the creator and organizer of this even has something big up her sleeve, which will be revealed in the coming weeks. In her own words:

The overwhelmingly positive responses from Agent Match spawned a love child 🙂

As I developed Agent Match I started to realize how equally important it is to agents and writers alike to find their right match.

I’m beyond excited to announce AWESOMENESS in the making that will connect agents and writers in a fashion like never before. The big launch is roughly 2-4 weeks out. Right now under the hashtag #AgentMatch I’m running contests for writers to get their manuscript pitches into the launch. I’m taking six profile and pitch entries a day and they will be plugged into the LAUNCH for the day we go live. After that writers are free to sign up and create their own profiles for agents to search and be able to search for agents.

This is going on NOW. Get details here and watch #AgentMatch on Twitter for your chance to get in on the ground floor. And even if your don’t get in now you can get in later, and the experience of being tuned in to the #AgentMatch universe will likely unlock new passwords to other universes that will interest you in your quest for publication.

For example, I learned there is another Twitter context very much like #PitMad going on this Friday, hosted by Jolly Fish Press, called #JFPitch. Same idea as #PitMad – 140 character pitch (including #JFPitch and your genre), up to twice per hour between 9am and 6pm Mountain Standard Time on February 20th. Get the details here.

There is another one, #PitchSlam, coming in April. Details here.

Monitoring and managing all of these opportunities takes a lot of time and dedication, and you still have to have your pitch and query and synopsis (not to mention manuscript) polished and ready-to-go. But it seems to me these are a much better way to get your work in front of an eager agent (or publisher) than leaping onto the slush pile.

I guess I’ll find out.