Today, literary agent Eddie Schneider tweeted a list of gun safety rules that had a strangely familiar ring. I’ve been informed that the discussion began with a blog post from military man and award-winning author Myke Cole, and I would like to list the rules here as excellent thoughts to keep in mind when submitting, as well.
1) It’s always loaded. Even if it isn’t.
You may think you’re just having a casual chat with an editor or literary agent at a conference, but please exercise due caution. Even when you think your motives are pure, someone says something encouraging or nerve-racking and then suddenly BAM! there your latest project goes, spilling out of your mouth. If you’re an aspiring writer, don’t kid yourself that you don’t have ulterior motives in every conversation with someone who could help you. Being aware of this is the first step to caution.
2. Your muzzle isn’t pointing at it unless you intend to kill it.
There’s no “casual” way to bring up your project around an agent or publisher. The minute you bring it up, you’ve pitched it. If you get a “no thanks” at that point, you’ve closed off any later opportunities. So don’t even bring it up unless you know your pitch is going to slay ’em.
3. Finger off the trigger until it’s time to pull it.
It’s tempting to start querying when you’re “virtually finished.” It’ll take a while for the agent to get back to you, right? Not necessarily. I once got a full manuscript request three hours after a query, which was awkward enough for me when I couldn’t get to the correct computer until late that night. Imagine how awkward it would have been if I still had to nail down the ending.
4. Know what you’re shooting at, what’s around it, and what’s behind it.
Do your research, folks. One of the reasons people typically have such an abysmal response ratio is that they fire wildly across a field and hope they hit something. It may seem like a waste of time to peruse agents’ web sites, see who they represent, check out the deals they’ve done recently and read their online interviews, but when you know what you’re aiming at, it can actually save you time (see above story about manuscript request). As I implied in a previous blog, there is nothing magical about spending weeks obsessing over the wording of a query. What makes a query effective is that the agent is looking for just the kind of thing you are offering. And the only way to know that is by knowing what you’re shooting at.
Hope this is helpful. (If it is, go visit the site of the agent who inspired it, and start your research there.) Happy querying!