Query Tips

by sarahenni on April 8, 2013

photo (6)Querying is the pits. It’s also the best! The peaks and valleys, that emotional yo-yo, can make the weeks or months of frantic e-mail checking really tough to take. I was so excited to announce that I snagged a great agent this go-round, but it wasn’t my first time on the query train. And having gone through the experience twice, there are some tips I have to make the experience ever so slightly less maddening.

  • Create a new e-mail address. I sit at my day job with my every-day email open constantly. I used that e-mail when I queried the first time, and it led to a lot of unnecessary stress. Each new *ping!* of my inbox stopped my heart, and when it turned out to be yet another Madewell discount e-mail I was upset every time1. So this time, I not only created a new e-mail address, I also gave it a distinctive notification (different buzz and ringtone) on my phone. When I got an e-mail in that inbox, I knew it. And the rest of the time I found it easier to relax.
  • Query by committee. There’s just no way my query would have gotten to where it was without the help of literally a dozen friends. If you ask around to some writing friends (both those who’ve read your book, and those who haven’t) my guess is you’ll find those few crazies who actually enjoy query writing! It took me weeks, and several completely different versions of my query, to find one that reflected my story in content, tone, and voice. Wouldn’t have been possible without the shrewd analysis of my friends.
  • Find agents through multiple channels. There’s actually been a lot of attention paid to this trend recently, especially in Jennifer Laughran’s post about ‘rock star’ agents. I queried a lot of agents who I’ve been following on Twitter for years. Obviously I already knew we’d get along great, and all my friends knew who they were, too. But as I got farther in the process, I started thinking about all the other agents, who I was less familiar with but who represented some of my favorite writers. Some of them had almost no online presence, but if they could help my favorite authors get books into the world, they could certainly help me. That’s how I ended up querying my agent, Sarah2, and I couldn’t be happier!
  • Have questions at the ready! This isn’t unique advice by any means, but WOW was it necessary! I cobbled together a list from Kate Hart and Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles—you can download the list I made here. I printed out my list, put it on a clipboard, and hammered through the questions. That made for long conversations, but at the end I felt like I knew exactly who I was talking to and what someone could offer me. (And whenever I mentioned I had a list, the party on the other line was excited. “Ooh, a list!” Oh, book publishing! You are my people!)
  • Celebrate! I’m always preaching about this, but I really, really mean it. It’s distressingly easy to have a milestone on the path to publishing get overwhelmed by nerves, frustration, or anti-climactic feelings. Celebrating your success is a choice you make to acknowledge how far you’ve come, and prepare for the battles left to fight. I love this advice so much I did it twice–when I got an initial offer, and when I finally signed. Carve out the time and pop some bubbly!

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  1. 25 percent off AFTER I’ve already spent $120 isn’t a deal, Madewell! Insult to injury!
  2. Though she does have a Twitter!


How NOT to Use Beta Readers

by sarahenni on December 12, 2011

Betas are as cuddly and awesome as this.

I love beta readers. I love the idea of beta reading generally, and I love mine personally. It’s one of the most important parts of being an active member of a writing community, and in my opinion no book should be sent to an agent or editor or even to your mom without some form of beta.

But I had an experience that highlighted, for me, the one way NOT to use a beta reader.

I had two rounds of beta readers for the project I was working on last year. After the first round, I had three sets of feedback and made changes that were transformative for the book. My betas kicked my butt, which is exactly what I love. Then I revised and sent the book to two other readers. Then I waited.

While I was waiting I started to kind of freak out. It dawned on me that the book needed major changes. Changes that would alter the entire structure of the book, and force me to write scenes I was scared of writing. PANIC.

But when I got the notes back from my beta readers, they didn’t suggest those (huge, sweeping) things.

So, instead of sticking to what I knew was the right—but really, really difficult—thing to do, I let the kind words of my beta readers carry the day. “Well, they didn’t say I should get rid of that point of view, so maybe I don’t have to!” I told myself. “Maybe I’m just overreacting!”

I did the revisions they suggested, which made the book much better but were smaller and easier than the revisions I knew I should do. I wrote up my query. I sent my book out into the world, to lots of agents who seemed really excited about it.

Then the responses started trickling in.

Agent after agent wrote wonderful, extraordinarily thoughtful rejection, and the majority of them said, “Why don’t you try [difficult revision that I avoided]?”

That is not the fault of my beta readers. Far from it! The book was so, so much better for their insight and suggestions. But I let external opinions override what I knew was right. I heard what I wanted to hear, because it meant a lot less work. I was lazy, and I was scared. I did my beta readers a disservice because I used them in the only way you really can’t use a beta—as a crutch.

Beta readers are essential to making your book the best it can be. But beta readers can’t read your mind. And it isn’t their job to figure your story out for you. I realized that the name on the manuscript is mine, and I have to take responsibility for making it the best I can be.

What about you? Have you experienced something similar? Have you got betas as amazing and cuddly as mine?


Conference Survival Tips

by sarahenni on October 24, 2011


I’ve traveled to countless conferences for my job, and a couple of writing-related ones, over the last couple of years. They can be fun and useful events, but preparing for them is vastly different than preparing for, say, a vacation. The following are general survival tips and tricks I’ve developed to make the most out of almost any conference.


Pack like the conference is being held in Antarctica. I don’t care if it’s in Hawaii, the actual conference where you will sit all day will be freezing cold. In fact, I think the hotels in warm areas are so concerned about it being hot that they over-correct and you get frostbite if you wear open-toed shoes. Seriously. Bring a jacket.

Bring comfortable lounge pants. You will want to be out of conference-wear for the evening, but you might order room service. (Of course, you could always wear the hotel robe, but I’ve told you all about my affinity for yoga pants. Necessary.)


Wear fun socks. You will need the socks, since it’s generally freezing at 30,000 feet. But when you have on a pair of bright, fun socks (my favorite pair for travel is yellow argyle) you get a happy little kick out of going through security. I’ve even had security give me compliments on the socks. The result? No full body scan. Win!

Bring a book… or seven. When I travel, I read like it’s a race to the finish. In fact, most of the reason I got a Kindle was because on travel trips like this I can burn through two or more books, and packing all of those is a literal pain in my back.

If you’re changing time zones, catch the sunrise or the sunset. A woman who often travels internationally told me this trick a few years ago, and it really does help kind of reset your inner clock. Seeing the sun come up or down sends a clear message about what time it is! (Other things that help: go to sleep when it would be normal for people in that time zone to sleep—and don’t nap, even if it means being up for nearly 24 hours; eat when it would be normal for people in that time zone to eat, and; exercise! That always helps me get into the groove no matter how far I’ve traveled.)


Even if you’re staying in a room by yourself, get two beds. Then when you get to your room, just throw your suitcase and everything else on the second bed. Way, way easier then bending down to the floor to get dressed in the morning.

Exercise. The combination of eating out for every meal and having the occasional drink at conference-sponsored happy hours will leave you feeling like a disgusting, bloated mess. Count on it. So I don’t care what you need to leave behind, make sure you have everything you need to exercise. That could mean using the hotel’s workout facility (almost all have them), doing yoga in your room, or better yet, using exercise as an opportunity to get out of the hotel and actually see the city you’re visiting!


Get to the swag early. The good stuff (really nice pens, computer mice, bobbleheads, ARCs!!!) goes quick, so get to the booths on the morning of the first day. Otherwise you’ll be the person that went to the conference and only has a hotel pen and chapstick to show for it.

Get up from your seat every once in a while. Otherwise your butt will fall asleep and you won’t be able to tell if your dress is sticking to your underwear. Please, please learn from my mistakes.

Bring a pen and paper. You will want to take notes… and doodle.

Don’t assume you will get to see the sights–-but try. I haven’t always been able to leave the hotel and see fun things in the cities I have visited. But if you can, try to go out to a local restaurant, catch a baseball game, or even just walk a few blocks closer to the ocean. It will make you feel like a human again, instead of a corporate robot.

Those are my secrets to conference survival, but what about you? What other things make traveling for work a more enjoyable experience?