Tag Archives: The Writing Cafe

The Writing Cafe: Literary Agent Checklist

( via thewritingcafe🙂

Do you want to publish through the traditional route? Well getting a literary agent can definitely help you there!

A literary agent is someone who represents authors and their books. They work on commission, so they only get paid when you get paid, and they’re always looking for a manuscript to fall in love with. Here are just a few things a literary agent can do:

  • Some agents will help you polish up your manuscript before submitting it to editors at publishing houses (this may include light editing or suggestions for changes)
  • Agents can negotiate contracts for you since they know the publishing industry a lot better than most authors
  • Agents submit your work to editors for you
  • Some agents will work with sub-rights (audio books, translations, movie rights, etc.) and some will have other agents at their agency to do that for you
  • Agents can match you with the right publisher (assuming the publisher takes you on too)

Not all authors need a literary agent, but they can be quite helpful. However, some publishing houses (mostly the larger ones) will not work with authors who do not have a literary agent for a number of reasons.

Once you’ve found the agents you want to contact (you can find them through sites such as querytracker), it’s a good idea to make sure you have everything right. Here is a checklist to go through before you send out your query letters.

1) Is your manuscript the best it can be?

Above I mentioned some agents may be editorial, but this does not mean they want your first draft. They want to see the best you’ve got. If they fall in love with your story but see that it needs some changes or editing, two things might happen:

  1. They may ask you to revise and then resubmit. If this happens, when you resubmit your query mention that they asked for revisions.
  2. They may offer representation and, if you accept, work with you to polish up your manuscript. Some agents are more editorial than others.

2) Is your query letter the best it can be?

Your query letter and your sample pages work together as the ticket to representation. Some agents do not get past the query letter, so it has to be superb.

Follow all of the submission guidelines when it comes to the query letter. Some agents have vague guidelines and some have more detailed guidelines. Read them carefully.

3) Is this agent open to submissions?

Check! Sometimes agents will close their submissions, just like I close my ask box. They often list on their website if they are open or closed to submissions. If you really want that agent, wait until they’re open to submissions before you start querying at all.

4) Does this agent take your genre?

Of all the complaints I’ve read written by literary agents, getting queries for a genre they don’t represent seems to be one of the most common ones. Most agents will list what genres they want/don’t want on their website, but it’s always a good idea to look at books they represent (also listed on websites) to learn more about what they look for in certain genres.

5) Is your synopsis the best is can be? (uncommon)

It’s not common for agents to ask for a synopsis at the query stage, but it does happen. Even if the agents you’re querying do not request a synopsis, have one ready. They may respond to your query with a request for sample pages, a full manuscript, and/or a synopsis with either of those.

6) Is your manuscript complete?

DO NOT start querying agents when you’ve only finished half your manuscript. If they want to see your full manuscript, they want it right away, not six months later.

7) Is the agent’s name spelled right?

Double check. Triple check. Spell their names right when you’re writing your query letter. Don’t ever write “to whom it may concern”. And yes, starting a query letter with a specific salutation means that each agent gets an individual letter. Don’t send mass emails.

8) Does this agent take authors in your area?

Most agents will take international authors, but some will only represent authors from certain countries.

9) Sample pages?

Most agents ask for sample pages of your manuscript. These can vary from the first five pages to the first fifty pages. Sometimes they ask you to send your full manuscript with the query.

Make sure that you’ve included the right amount of sample pages. Agents often let you go over the page limit if you need to finish a sentence or a paragraph, but that’s it.

Check the submission guidelines for information on how to attach the sample pages. Some agents want them pasted in the actual email. Some prefer an attached file.

If you paste in your sample pages, look them over for formatting issues. Do the same to your query letter.

10) Is your manuscript formatted properly?

You need to have your manuscript ready if an agent asks for it. Some will have specific instructions and others will not. Some will want you to send it as a .doc, some will want a .pdf, and some will not care what file it is as long as they can read it on their phone.

Be ready to format your manuscript in a different way or to make it a different type of file.

Here is a guide to a generic format that is pretty much acceptable anywhere. However, if you are sending your manuscript digitally, you can leave out your mailing address.

11) Did you include your contact information?

Sign your query with your name, email, and phone. Even though most queries are done through email now, you should include your email. If you are using a pen name, you can do this:


[legal name]



Writing as [pen name]

12) Did you follow submission guidelines?

Do it. Follow the guidelines. There are a select few authors who have written unconventional queries, but those are rare cases.

  • Make sure the subject line is right. Some agents may ask for specific subject lines. For example, if an entire agency shares on email, you may be asked to put an agent’s name in the subject line. Others might ask you to write “query” and others might ask you to put the genre.
  • Make sure you included everything. The query, the sample pages, the synopsis, etc., make sure you have it all.
  • Make sure you used the right email. Some agents have emails listed on their website for non-query contacts and emails listed specifically for queries. Check to make sure you’re sending your query to the right email.
  • Don’t include extras. Many agents ask that you not send attachments for virus reasons or just because they have no need for them. Don’t include your personal drawings or maps or extra writings or anything else that wasn’t asked for.

13) Is this agent right for you?

You’re starting a business relationship when you accept representation. Some authors stay with their agents for decades. Make sure that the agents you’re querying are agents that you can see yourself working with. Look at their other books.

If an agent calls you to offer representation, don’t be afraid to ask questions about them and how they work with authors. And remember, you do not have to accept right away, especially if you have other agents looking at your manuscript. You can ask for a week or two to think about it.

You should also make sure you’re not querying a scam agency. This websitelists several agents, both good and bad. If they have a “not recommended” next to them, don’t query them.

14) Are you keeping track of your queries?

Above I linked you to a website called querytracker. This website has features that help you track your queries. However, you can also create your own way to track your queries.

Here are some things to put on your query tracking chart:

  • Who you sent your queries to
  • When you sent your queries
  • When the agent responded (if they responded at all)
  • Whether the response was a pass or a request for more
  • Who you sent your manuscript to
  • When you sent your manuscripts
  • When the agents responded
  • Whether the response was a pass or an offer of representation

15) Who are you sending queries to?

Lastly, you should pace your querying. Pick just a few agents at a time to send queries to. Some agents always respond and others do not. Those who do not respond to rejected queries sometimes list how long writers should wait before calling it a rejection. This can be anywhere from two weeks to a few months.

If you get rejections from all the agents you sent queries to in the first round, try revising your query or even your manuscript. Then send out the next round. If you get rejections from all of them too, do some heavier revisions on both your query and your manuscript.

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Plagiarism And Publishing Online

Plagiarism And Publishing Online

~ The Writing Cafe answers the following question: 

Anonymous asked: Do you have any advice on how to start a writing blog? As in, sharing it with people and showing how you write, just getting your writing out there without people claiming ownership of it? Because I am really interested in doing so, but I am worried about the repercussions of it! Any help is extremely appreciated – thanks so much. 🙂


* Link to response:


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What words really mean: David Foster Wallace’s dictionary

What words really mean: David Foster Wallace’s dictionary

~ The Writing Cafe giving us access to some of David Foster Wallace’s dictionary. Yes, before his death Wallace was writing his very own dictionary. Fascinating, isn’t it? For a closer look, you should follow the link above. 

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Oh Snap! Writing Advice

Oh Snap! Writing Advice

(via the Writing Cafe:)

This post covers birthing ceremonies, naming ceremonies, burial ceremonies, rites of passage, and sacrificial ceremonies.

Click me:


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Anonymous asked: Any tips on how to write slam poetry?


Slam poetry is all about emotion and presentation. It usually has a fast pace, or at least has parts with fast and intense paces which is where you should focus your most intense emotions when talking about whatever experience your poem is about.

The Ultimate Poetry Slam Tutor

Slam Poetry 101

Examples of Slam Poetry

Tips for Slam Poetry

Art of the Spoken Word


* In which the Writing Cafe gives all you slam poets some useful links.

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The Writing Café: Writing Tips #162:Writing Horror Stories

The Writing Café: Writing Tips #162:Writing Horror Stories

~ Useful tips for the aspiring horror novelist. Visit the Writing Café to better your devilish writing skills. 😉 

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The Writing Café: Originality: When Writing, Don’t Overthink

 – malibubarbiepunkprincess asks, ” I have a problem with my writing. Whenever I get a new idea, I always feel like it’s been done or it’s too cliché or soppy or cheesy. I try to tell myself just to write and not worry about it, but the feeling is always there and it makes it very hard to write. Any tips?” 


* Follow the link to see their response. 


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For Authors:

For Authors:


dreadfulpenny asked you:

This may be something you’ve already answered before, but are there good resources to be found for people interested in being published? What about self-publishing as an option for beginning writers?

I have my publishing and self-publishing tags as a start, but I’ll go over the basics here.


Stage One: Writing

The obvious first stage to getting published is writing the novel. If you’ve never done this before, here is a guide to writing your first novel. If you’re writing a series, here is a guide to writing a series.

Stage Two: Editing

Once you’ve written your story, you’ll need to edit. This isn’t just light editing where you go through and make a few changes, this is heavy revision to the point where you may even rewrite the entire novel. You have to edit it until you get it as best as you can. Do major revisions first, then smaller revisions, then go through the small details such as spelling and grammar.

But you’re not done yet. If you can afford it, hire an editor. You can find freelance editors all over, but be careful that you don’t get cheated or ripped off. Here is a list of editors, copywriters, ghostwriters, and more. And here is a list of typical fees for freelance editors.

If you can’t afford an editor, try a beta reader. Try more than one. Pick people who have writing experience or join a critique group. They can give feedback ranging from grammar and spelling to plot help and character development.

Don’t worry about editors or beta readers stealing your work. Serious freelance editors are not going to steal your work. They’re editors and they have a reputation to keep if they want to bring business.

Stage Three: The Search

Once your manuscript is as perfect as you can get it, you need to start searching for either a literary agent or a publishing house. I highly recommend going for a literary agent, as very few publishing houses are taking unsolicited queries.

A literary agent is a person who helps you prepare your manuscript, negotiate contracts with publishing houses, find the right publishing house for your manuscript, and more. They can open up a lot of opportunities for you and they’ll help guide you through the publishing world.

Do you have to pay a literary agent? No. Not right away, at least. They take a percentage of what you make from your novel.

To find a literary agent or a publisher, check query tracker. With a free account, you can search for agents by name, genre, and location. You can also keep track of which agents you’ve queried and what your query letter was.

When you pick which literary agents to query, do some research to make sure they are open to submissions and to make sure they take your genre. Literary Rambles has several in depth reviews of agents. When submitting to an agent, follow the submission guidelines. Some agents will skip your query letter without even reading it because they can see you didn’t follow the directions.

You also need to format your manuscript correctly. Some agents may have specific instructions and some may not. If they don’t, follow the standard guidelines. Don’t use any weird fonts or formats.

Stage Four: The Query Letter

So how do you approach a literary agent? Sometimes you can pitch your novel to them in person at a conference or sometimes they hold contests. The standard way is to send a query letter. More and more agents are taking email submissions, so this makes the process a lot cheaper and a lot easier.

The typical query letter is like this:

Dear [insert agent’s name]

Paragraph One: short introduction, often personalized to the agent and to explain why you’re querying that agent.

Paragraph Two: this is the paragraph that matters most. It’s a short summary of your story, but it doesn’t give away the ending. It’s written in third person and focuses on the main character. This paragraph must hook the agent. It’s what makes them request more. It introduces the main character, the main conflict, the motivation, and the risk your character faces.

Paragraph Three: the last paragraph states the title of the novel, the word count, the genre, and possibly a comparison to other novels that are similar. Don’t get cocky here and say you’ve written the next Harry Potter. If you have any credentials, put them here. This can include a large following online, previous publications, and why you’re the right person to write the book (ex: if you have experience in the field of CSI or detective work and you’ve written a crime or detective novel).


[insert your name here]

Writing as [insert your pen name here, if applicable]


phone number

The format may change based on what the agent is asking for. Some prefer the summary paragraph to be at the top while others prefer it at the bottom.

Write your query letter and keep it under 250 words. Shorter is better. Edit and revise as much as you can. Have beta readers (who haven’t read your story) read it and ask if it makes them want to read more. Once you’ve done the best you can do, send it off to a few agents. And wait.

If you’re writing under a pen name, use your legal name within the query letter. You can mention your pen name within the letter or you can bring it up when you sign with an agent.

Stage Five: The Synopsis

Some agents require a synopsis with your query letter. When agents ask for a synopsis, they most likely want a short one (1-2 pages) unless otherwise specified.

Stage Six: The Literary Agent

If you hear back from a literary agent and they want to read more of your manuscript, one of three things might happen. The first is a semi-rejection in which they ask for you to make revisions and then send again. The second is a partial request. They may ask anywhere from a few chapters to many. If they ask for a full request, send the whole thing. Agents who request this material will give you instructions for how to submit the requested material.

Then you have to wait again.

If you get lucky and an agent wants to take you on as a client, don’t accept right away, especially if you have other agents looking at your work. You should wait a week or two (it would be a good idea not to go over 2 weeks) before accepting the offer. During that time, think of any questions you may have for your agent. You’ll be entering a professional relationship with them, so it’s important that both of you are on the same page.

If other agents are looking at your manuscript, update them that you’ve received an offer. Those agents will know they’ll need to give you a quick answer. If you get more than one offer for representation, weigh your options carefully before picking an agent. If you take an offer and you still have some queries out, but haven’t heard back yet, you can update those agents by saying you’re retracting your query. It would be a good idea to paste the original query in the email for reference. This would mostly be for agents who state they reply to every query.

Your job isn’t done there though. Your agent may want to do some more revisions before they get it ready and send it off to publishers and editors. Now that you’re working with someone else, you have to be professional and you have to meet deadlines. Be kind, even when you don’t agree with certain suggestions or requests for revisions. Try to work out a solution in a civilized manner.

Your agent will probably draw up a contract. Most will follow the AAR guidelines. Some agents who are not members of AAR still follow those guidelines, so don’t feel like you shouldn’t approach those agents. If an agency has some agents that are members and some that are not, it’s probably safe to approach those agents as well.

Stage Seven: The Wait

Once your agent has pieced together your manuscript and sent it off, you have to wait. Again. Your agent should update you with everything they’re doing with your manuscript and you should be able to ask questions when you have them.

If you get an offer, you’ll have to go through editing again.


The steps to self-publishing are the same for traditional publishing, up until Stage Three. Self-publishers often make ebooks, since it’s a lot cheaper. Here is a guide on how to do that. However, that doesn’t mean it’s free. Here is the cost of self-publishing.

If your ebook does really well, you can try querying an agent who could help take your work to the next level and help you publish traditionally, if you want.


A great way to build your publishing credits is to get published in a literary magazine. You can find many that are open for submission at this website, which also has contests. If you win a contest (national and international are preferred), you could use that as a credit as well.


No matter which way you go, you have to market yourself and your book. Start marketing your writing before you published. Build an audience. Get in touch with people. Publishing houses will only do so much to market your book, unless you’re already an established author. Look for book review blogs that would seem to like your work and ask if they can review your work. Find blogs that take guest posts or give interviews for authors and try to get in on that.


Choosing a Publishing Path
How to Publish a Short Story
Top 10 Literary Magazines to Send Your Best Flash
(via booksandhotchocolate)

Visit the website here:


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The Writing Café: The ‘How Do I Describe…?’ Series: #01 Buildings

The Writing Café: The ‘How Do I Describe…?’ Series: #01 Buildings

 ~ The Writing Cafe explaining how to describe buildings in your stories.


  • Character

Buildings with character are generally defined by the era in which they were built (and how intact the features are). They’re usually early-late 17th century and either exist alongside more modern architectural creations or dominate whole streets.

When was your building constructed? Do any of your buildings have character? What features on the building defines this? Has the building stood well against the test of time?

Architectural style can also be influenced by the country the buildings stand in. If you’re world building, what is one typical building type? For example, what do most houses look like? What do most official buildings look like, and why? Depending on the world you’re writing, they may need specific features or designs.

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