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The Curious Cat Blog is all about writing, for writers, by a writer.


How to Query an Agent and Other Resources from my Nonfiction Conference

Carina Sitkus

This was my second year attending Hippcamp in Lancaster, PA, and I was just as impressed as the first time. If you get the chance to go, do, especially if you are local--but there were attendees there as far away as Singapore! 

Last year, I shared a resource for submitting to literary magazines. This time, I thought I'd share little snippets from my notebook-- the best resources and tips and tricks learned from the conference. This isn't, of course, everything, but it's the stuff I decided to write down. 

Without further ado:

Tips on query letters/pitching (from a panel of agents):

  • Your query letter is a like a cover letter for a job, nothing more and nothing less. 
  • You want to include the hook, the book, and the cook: something to capture the agent's attention, brief info about your book, and info about you (social links, previous pubs) and how you are planning to market the book. 
  • The agent shouldn't need to scroll to read your query email. Keep it short. 
  • A "no" from an agent could mean a "no" from the agency, so you don't want to risk rejection just because you sent your query to the wrong agent. Wrote a memoir? Make sure it gets to the agent who represents memoir. Do your research. 
  • For fiction, no unfinished manuscripts! 
  • You can submit to some small presses without having an agent.
  • Good hashtags to follow are #claqueries (every Weds.) and #mswl (manuscript wish list) where agents post what they are looking for. 
  • Ways to fail: 
    • Ignorance- You don't know your comp titles, you don't know your audience, and you don't read other writers in your genre.
    • Ambition>Effort- By the time you pitch an agent, everything should already be in place, and you're simply giving the agent the opportunity to hop aboard a train that's already traveling full-speed ahead. 
    • Idea>Execution- Your execution should be simple and direct. Think of your pitch like a tweet, and give only the important stuff the agent needs to know. 

If you're struggling with writing good dialogue, read these books:

To learn from the magic of poets to make your own narrative better, read these:

Mary Karr on what you need/ need to do to be a memoirist:

  • Stories.

  • Carnal memories, memories that are physical and that come back to you via your senses. Sometimes this takes work.

  • Information and data about your topic. 

  • Self discipline and faith.

  • Judge yourself more harshly.

  • The ability to move back and forth through time.

  • The ability to think and figure and guess and scheme.

  • Let the reader know what your standards of truth are.

  • Set emotional stakes.

  • Don't share how you suffer, share how you survive.

This list really doesn't do her keynote justice, but of course it doesn't. Another glimmer that I loved: She talked about the truth being like the hand on the banister in the middle of the night, a solid surface for the sleepwalker to grasp. 

There was also a keynote session from David Cameron on productivity and also several takeaways for science writers--let me know if either of these topics interests you and I'd be happy to share my notes. 

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