Writing Category Archive

Interview With #PitchWars 2018 Mentee, Lorelei Savaryn

The 2018 PitchWars season was an absolutely wild ride. My co-mentor, Lacee Little, and I were incredibly lucky to work with the author Lorelei Savaryn. We had 4 months to work, this year, and we used up every single minute allotted to us. We were able to multiple rounds of revision simply because Lorelei might be the hardest working writer I’ve ever met. She cheerily headed into incredibly difficult edits, where she re-structured, re-outlined, re-worked character arcs and world building and sentence structure. And the entire time, she soaked up every bit of knowledge and craft advice Lacee and I could offer. Lorelei wrote an in depth post detailing her PitchWars experience that I highly suggest checking out.

The most incredible part of all of this though is that just two months after agents made requests on PitchWars material this year, Lorelei was offered representation by the wonderful agent, Chloe Seager from Madeline Milburn Literary for her novel REVERIE. Lacee and I couldn’t possible be prouder or more happy for her. We can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.

Onto the interview!

There are a few parts to PitchWars, the first of which was deciding which mentors you wanted to submit. How did you decide who to send to?

This was my second year entering PitchWars, so I had some familiarity with how the process went, though this was my first time entering a MG novel. I looked really closely at mentor wishlists, followed potential mentors on Twitter, and I ended up asking Juliana and Lacee a clarifying question on the AMA forum. After that, I narrowed my choices down and ended up with the four mentor picks that I thought might be most interested in my story. When I got the partial and then the full request from Juliana and Lacee, I was over the moon, but still worked hard to manage my expectations. I knew they not only had to love my story, but also had to have ideas on how to make it better. The wait was still hard, even though those things were out of my control.

For the 2018 PitchWars hopefuls, what was it like to have me (and Lacee Little!!) as your mentor? (Feel free to be honest :P)

It was AMAZING. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better support team to help me bring the most out of REVERIE. I knew from the follow up email Juliana and Lacee sent during the consideration period, that they would be asking me to do a lot of work, but I also saw that they had ideas on how to help me. The kindness and care they put into their edit letters immediately made me feel like they believed I could accomplish all that needed to be done, and that I was going to have immense support through every step of the journey. That proved true time and time again when I messaged them with questions, or needed a brainstorm, or sent back ideas, all the way through to line edits. They believed in me and my story, and pushed me to become better in the best of ways. My writing will never be the same.

What was your overall experience with the editing/revising process? Was there a certain part that was particularly difficult or rewarding?

Now that we’re on the other side of the revisions, I’m almost surprised at everything we were able to do in the 4 month revision window! I’m always up for rolling up my sleeves and working hard, but I’ve become especially fond of revising after the Pitch Wars experience. There were definitely some times where my brain hurt from thinking through the best path forward, but whenever I got overwhelmed I had my mentors there to help walk me through until I had arrived at clarity. In the end, I went from having a story that had the potential to be something really cool, to having a manuscript that I’m proud of. I would have been proud of it either way, but my manuscript also ultimately landed me my agent.

One of the things I learned the most during revision was how to develop the theme of my story and tie it in to character arc, as well as how to make plot decisions that served both of those things on deeper levels.They also helped me become more intentional with the words I choose, and to remove things like filtering words that create distance for the reader. I came into Pitch Wars with a decent grasp on plot points, but my characters were rather flat and I didn’t have an overarching theme woven into the threads of the story. Bringing those things out and seeing it all come together was almost magical.

Were there any parts of PitchWars that you were surprised at? Submissions? Edits? The agent round? Post-agent round?

The most, most surprising part of PitchWars for me was finding out I got in! My only request was from Juliana and Lacee, and I knew they would have many amazing stories to pick from. I actually missed my name on the first time looking through the list of mentees and thought I hadn’t been chosen for a second year in a row. My shock at finally finding my name on that list is a moment I’ll remember for a long time to come.

I think the next most surprising part of PitchWars for me was the transition from the agent round to querying. During revisions, you are in a bubble of support and encouragement, which helped me push through the tougher parts of the work that had to be done. The agent round was exciting, and it was fun to see the different agents interested in reading my story. But then, when your heart is out in the world in the form of a manuscript and you start hearing different versions of the word ‘no,’ that can be very discouraging. You want someone to fall in love with this thing you’ve poured yourself into, and the reality is that not every single person is going to do that. It’s a matter of finding the right match, and the time between sending out that first query and matching with an agent feels long and hard, no matter how long you are in the ‘querying trenches.’

And finally, I am a bit pleasantly surprised at how much support there still is after our round of PitchWars is officially over. I’ve gotten to know some of Juliana’s previous mentees, keep in touch with my mentors regularly, and have a Facebook support group with many of the writers from this PitchWars class. I didn’t know I’d be getting a whole team on my side, and that’s been a wonderful bonus.

If you could choose to do PitchWars all over again, would you? Why?

I would. Hands down. The reality of my situation was that I wasn’t quite ready for an agent before PitchWars as far as the quality of my writing and ability to execute a concept well enough to attract someone’s attention. Putting myself out there for rejection at any stage has been scary. But PitchWars accelerated my growth as a writer so much, and everything I write will be stronger now for it. Even though there were moments that were intense, and the transition to querying had me feeling extra vulnerable due to how public the process was, in my heart I knew I was now putting out a story that had the potential to find an agent match. And even if it hadn’t, I knew my next books had a better chance of success than if I had continued to go it alone.

Publishing News & My Writing Journey

On March 16th, nearly two weeks ago, I wrote a thread on twitter about my writing journey. Here’s the thread summed up in this tweet:

This past month, I drafted the outline for what will be my 15th book

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I have yet to be published. Truthfully, I don’t know if I ever will be.

Two days later. TWO DAYS LATER. My incredible, never-surrender agent called with the news that Annie Berger at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky was offering us a two-book deal for my Middle Grade fantasy THE WOLF OF CAPE FEN.

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For the past ten years, I’ve pushed myself to be the best writer I could be, always searching out ways to grow in my craft. But more importantly, when the health of my mental space has allowed it, I’ve searched for ways to help other writers grow in their craft and grow in their confidence. Part of this is because I genuinely enjoy teaching others. I center myself in kindness and in the importance of fully explaining skills to help writers, and it fills up my own creativity well. But, the other part of this is that helping others has always been a way to keep myself from feeling as if I’ve failed in my own personal writing.

Of course, this is one of the lies that the brain tells.

Publishing is a beast and publishing a novel is incredibly difficult. There’s no failure in any part of this if you’re not published quickly. I’ve always known this, but knowing and feeling are two very different things.

So, I’ve worked. I’ve written. I’ve learned and grown and taken risks in my own writing. And here we are, ten years later, with the most beautiful, incredible news I so often never let myself imagine.

Announcement

While writing can be lonely, it’s rarely done without the support of others. Family and friends and critique partners and the writing community online and Pitch Wars…Thank you to everyone who’s played a part in this moment.

 

 

Juliana & Lacee 2018 #PitchWars Wishlist

2018-MG-CoMentors-BANNER

Welcome dreamers and dream-thieves! It’s Juliana L. Brandt and Lacee Little here, and we can’t tell you how happy we are to have you stop by. We are very excited and hopeful for PitchWars 2018! As a small note, we are both die hard Diana Wynne Jones fans, so do please send us all the seven-league-boots you find along your journey.

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Before we get into the nitty-gritty, please know this above all else: we are here to invest in you and in your writing; we are so very proud for you that you’ve decided to take this leap this for yourself. We hope everyone submitting to us feels comfortable and safe in doing so. We will cherish your words and do our best to take care of your story.

PLEASE SEND

-Magic. Unexpected, wild, hungry magic. Magic that hasn’t been seen before, that dives into deep systems or skims the top. If you’ve ever thought, “Can this be magic? Does this work in MG?” send it to us.  We are passionate about magic systems in any and every form. Please. Send. (eh em, for those who may be interested, Lacee especially has an undying love for witches). Do note, this includes both huge, explosive magic systems, or the most quiet, subtle of systems. We have created and worked with both and are here for whatever you may bring to the table.

magic

-Mystery. We both adore stories with puzzles and twisty turns. Weird and unexpected hijinks. Mythic or ghostly-story elements mixed in. Stories with bad guys who don’t feel like bad guys, because hey–every antagonist is the hero of their own story. Make us guess what’s coming next and be surprised if we get it wrong. Give us all the shocking story parts that you can. We both have a soft spot for sneaky stories that twist clues together for a genius ending.

-Mythology, legends, folklore, and places steeped in tradition. Send us a people, a place, a world that feels real in all aspects of life. We are particularly interested in stories that are not Western oriented. We will have the utmost respect for what you send our way.

-Hope and whimsy–not to be confused with lightness and the trivial. To us, hope is one of the most compelling themes in Middle Grade, and whimsy makes our hearts pitter-patter. Both of these can be (and often should be) included in dark stories. If hope is a theme in your writing (no matter what kind of story it’s wrapped up in), we want to see it.

-Fantasy of all subgenres. Large scale world building. Political intrigue. Magical mayhem. Dynasties and matriarchal societies and utopias and post-apocalyptic battle grounds. Send us your worlds with intricate maps attached. Toss everything you’ve got at us! Do your worst. That being said, we both adore stories of our world but shifted in slight, purposeful, and creative ways. This also includes fantasy that does NOT include magic. When we say fantasy of all subgenres, we mean it.

-Relationship driven tales. Sibling relationships. Parental relationships. Best friends. Enemies. Kids who don’t know how to form friendships, and those who fall into friendships faster than a kid dives into Lucky Charms. We very much want to see stories with interesting, deep, and compelling relationships.

family

-Other things we adore and would be very *grabby hands* to see: good mental health and LGBTQ and multi-cultural representation, humor, clever and witty characters, lyrical prose, monsters and strange creatures, horror elements, thick atmosphere, quests and journeys, strange story-structure, fearsome grandmothers, environmental elements, retellings that don’t feel like retellings, multiple points-of-view, characters who must make difficult choices, magic that *already exists* at the start of the story, characters with soft hearts, writing with strong voice, a hopeful who’s highly motivated to learn their socks off and edit their work thoroughly and doesn’t shy away from mentors who will push them to write the best novel they possibly can (did you read this far??).

Genre summarized: mystery (contemporary or fantasy), fantasy (current day, aka: contemporary or historical, high and low, otherworld or here, dark or light), retellings, timeslip, historical fantasy, steampunk, horror, and sci fi. And please, mash-up these genres! We like a good twist on genre. As a note though, we read, write, and edit many sub-genres, and as long as something has interesting voice & concept, genre truly doesn’t matter.

DO NOT SEND
Please read this thread clarifying our “Do Not Send” list. Lacee explains what we think of with portal & chosen one stories, especially. She includes ways these two tropes might be more interesting to us.
-Contemporary–books set in our current world that live by our current worlds very unmagical rules (unless it’s mystery)
-Sports books (unless the sport is sword-fighting and we’re hunting for murderous unicorns)
-Animal POVs (unless the animals are dragons or griffins)
-Chosen one stories
-Portal stories

magic howl

COMPARISON NOVELS
High-Fantasy: Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi
Fantasy without magic: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Lyrical Writing: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
Light Fantasy: The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, and Savvy by Ingrid Law
Magical Creatures: The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Historical Fantasy: Cuckoo Calling by Francis Hardinge, and The Mesmerist by Ronald L. Smith
Post-Apocalyptic & Sci Fi: The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhart
Horror: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, and The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Ghosts: Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud and Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Mythology: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Witches: Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano, and The Thickety by JA White
Quests: Voyage to the Magical North by Claire Fayers
Mystery: The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang, and Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Timeslip: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Steampunk: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman
Retelling: The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, and The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

cleaning

WHAT TO EXPECT IF YOU WORK WITH US
(Be forewarned, we’re weird and involved and probably care about PW–and about YOU–too much.) Expect encouragements for self-care. Expect clear communication. Expect us to push you hard in your writing. Expect to work, and expect that we’ll work hard as well. Expect two rounds of revisions with us (not including any new critique partners you might find and match up with over the next months). Expect one round of larger edits (story structure, character arc, world building–whatever your manuscript may need), and one round of smaller edits (close, line-by-line scene & sentence/continuity issues). Expect help you with your query, synopsis, and pitch to prepare for the agent round, as well.

But most of all, more than anything else, expect to learn.

Because communication is important, we’ll most be readily available through email and on gchat; all communication will go through both of us–you won’t ever receive differing notes or responses to questions.

ABOUT US
You can find any of our info in our bios, but here’s the short version: combined, we have six years of Pitch Wars experience. Juliana has worked four mentees in past years (if you head over here, you can read all about her past mentees–their manuscripts, their experiences, how they did in the agent round, and who their agents are now); this year, she’s also serving on the PitchWars committee as one of their mentor liaisons. Lacee has been a mentee twice. You can read about her experience with PitchWars here. We know and deeply understand how this process works. We have pushed ourselves as authors and writers to understand craft, how to analyze manuscripts, and help others learn. This is a passion of ours, and we take the job quite seriously.

We pride ourselves on having particular expertise in regards to overall story structure, as this is where we’ve spent the last years in focused study. If you want to learn how to plot, and plot well, we’re your team. We will help you make sure theme, character arc, and plot all twine together to create a cohesive work. We can promise that if you join us, the following months won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. We are also quite meticulous in consistency in line-edits. And…shameless plug in that we are very good at pitch & query writing.

As a last little note, we made a Pinterest Board for PW ’18, if anyone is inclined to check it out. It’s filled with inspiration pictures, quotes, and comp novels. If you have any follow up questions regarding our wishlist, please contact us on twitter at @julianalbrandt and @laceelh. Thank you so much for stopping by. May the writing muses send you inspiration in the smallest details, ferocity in the face of doubt, and courage (and good friends!) to drag you along when you have neither.

kiss

 teamfiercelyhopeful

 

To go to the main Pitch Wars page with the linky there, go here!

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Interview With #PitchWars 2017 Mentee, Bronwyn Clark

2017 Pitch Wars was, without a doubt, a beautiful experience. I was able to work with Bronwyn Clark on the most lovely of manuscripts. I have to say, I’ve never met someone so happy to do extraordinarily difficult work on their writing. What’s extraordinary to me though isn’t necessarily the difficult work Bronwyn did during Pitch Wars (though she did–she dove in and re-structured her whole novel and re-worked world building without a single complaint), but rather how much she learned. While she received 26 requests during the agent round, she didn’t receive any offers of representation for that manuscript. Instead of taking that as defeat, she buried herself in another manuscript, using each of the tools she’d learned during PW. I was lucky enough to read a first draft of that new book, and let me tell you, it didn’t read like a first draft. She had nailed her plotting. It was such a gift to see how she’d grown as an author. 
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I am unbelievably proud and delighted to say that Bronwyn is now represented by agent Lydia Silver of Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency for that shiny, new manuscript. She’s written about her writing journey over here; I highly suggest checking out that post, as it’s an incredible tale.Now, onto the PW interview! If you’d like to backtrack and read the interview with my 2014 mentee and alternate go here, or the interview with my 2015 mentee go here, or my 2016 mentee, head on over here!
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Me: There are a few parts to PitchWars, the first of which was deciding which mentors you wanted to submit. How did you decide who to send to?
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Bronwyn: Pitch Wars 2017 was my third time entering. The first time I entered in 2015 was with a YA Contemporary (not Juliana’s category). In 2016, I submitted to Juliana because she was so positive on Twitter, and I had a MG Fantasy that I believed would interest her. She asked for pages and even though she didn’t end up picking me that year, she gave me some really great advice. So, when I was choosing who to submit my MG Contemporary with magical elements to in 2017, she was at the top of my list. Juliana is one of the most positive, kind people I’ve ever interacted with. She is wicked smart, and I was over the moon happy when she and her co-mentor picked my manuscript. 
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Me: For the 2018 PitchWars hopefuls, what was it like to have me as your mentor? (Feel free to be honest :P)
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Bronwyn: It was all rainbows, and sunshine, and cupcakes! Seriously, I really did feel like the luckiest mentee on the planet! Juliana goes above and beyond the expected minimum for a Pitch Wars mentor. She doesn’t do this gig for name recognition or for the awesome Pitch Wars Mentor t-shirts. She’s believes in writers. There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t feel supported. She even had two of her former mentees read my manuscript for input. One of those amazing ladies was none other that Lacee Little, who also gave me awesome feedback. They will be an amazing team. Submit to them! You will not regret it if they pick your manuscript!
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Me: What was your overall experience with the editing/revising process? Was there a certain part that was particularly difficult or rewarding?
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Bronwyn: Revisions for my Pitch Wars manuscript were big. I needed to change my world building and make my magic system more unique. I needed to really figure out what my main character’s goal was and what she was up against to get there. Juliana and my other mentor walked me through what ended up being a rewrite cover to cover. There isn’t a whole lot of time during Pitch Wars for that kind of revision, but I knew they had my back and thought I was up to the task. 
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Juliana sprinkled in heavy doses of encouragement and pointed out things she loved about my writing. She was always ready to answer questions and so easy to talk to. I learned SO much from her, which is why I entered into Pitch Wars to begin with. If you choose to submit to Juliana and she suggests big changes, go for it! She knows what she’s doing. I trusted her 100%, and my manuscript came out stronger for it in the end. Even more importantly, I’m a better writer because of her. That is the biggest reward a writer can get! 
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Me: Were there any parts of PitchWars that you were surprised at? Submissions? Edits? The agent round? Post-agent round?
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Bronwyn: I think I’m most surprised by the additional bonuses of Pitch Wars. The real reason for this contest is to make new writing friends, learn as much as you can, and become a better writer. I’ve met amazing critique partners who I absolutely adore. I made writing friends for life in Juliana and Lacee. I know they will cheer me on for the rest of my writing career (and they will cheer you on as well!). There is such an amazing Pitch Wars community for those who choose to be positive and are willing to support other writers. 
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Me: If you could choose to do PitchWars all over again, would you? Why?
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Bronwyn: Definitely. Pitch Wars may not be how I get an agent, but it has made me a better writer and critique partner. Everyone gets an agent and a book deal at different speeds. Some after their first manuscript. Some after there twenty-third. What matters in the meantime is that we better our craft, and Pitch Wars is a guarantee for that. If you aren’t just looking for an agent and want to learn, then enter. You have so much to gain by doing so. 

Tips on Query Writing

I critique a lot of queries. Query writing is relatively easy to learn and hone, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed working on over the years. Though I have an agent, I still write a query-pitch for all of my manuscripts. It helps focus me while drafting and revising, and what’s especially cool, is if you write a particularly good query…your agent might use part (or all!) of it in submissions to editors.

While critiquing queries, I’ve noticed there are similar mistakes people seem to make. This post is designed to address some of them.

*It should be noted that the best query advice (IMO) is Lauren Spiellers’s Query Checklist. I use a verysimilar format below for my query suggestions. Please go check her post out! (She knows more than I do, because she’s…you know, a really good agent.)*

A few notes:
-I typically work with fiction queries for MG, YA, and A categories. This post doesn’t address queries that are specific to PBs, memoirs, or nonfiction books.
-I suggest below a pitch that’s broken into two parts, though I’ve often seen (and have used!) a three-part pitch.
-Place all titles (yours & comparison novels) in capital letters.
-Be wary of introducing too many characters.
-Be wary of listing things that happen (ie: Red Riding Hood must trick the wolf, save her granny, and not stray from the path…). This is telling and would be much more interesting if “shown” in longer form in the query itself.
-Be wary of getting “fancy”. Plain writing and sticking to the regular query format often works best.
-Keep the entirety of the query to around 250-400 words total (350 is a better max, truthfully).

1. Intro

Include: one agent with correctly spelled name & why you’re querying them. This paragraph is not always necessary. Jumping straight into the pitch is a good choice too. I believe Query Shark suggests this.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:
“I understand from your website/Manuscript Wish List/Twitter that are interested in XXX, so I am excited to share my manuscript, TITLE, with you.”

2. 1st Half of Pitch

Include: main character’s name, normal life, deepest hopes, and inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that kicks off your story and main conflict, ex: “Craving freedom (deepest hopes/needs) from her tedious chore-driven life (normal life), Red Riding Hood balks when her mother sends her to Granny’s house” and “testing the limits of her mother’s reach, Red Riding Hood strays from the path.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the inciting incident sentence (“But…when…” sentences work well): “But when [exciting/terrible thing] happens, MC must [do something exciting/terrible that launches them into the story].” Ex: “But when Red Riding Hood strays from the path, she comes face-to-face with the legendary, terrifying Wolf.”

3. 2nd Half of Pitch

Include: “meat” conflict, aka: the main conflict your MC deals with; any other major characters; and stakes, aka: what horrible thing will happen if the MC doesn’t achieve their goal.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the stakes sentence (“If…then…” sentences work well): “If [MC cannot defeat/win goal], then [awful thing that will happen].” Ex: “If Red Riding Hood cannot defeat the Wolf, Granny won’t be the only one to perish.”

Also in terms of stakes, do keep them relevant to character arc to ensure that they are impactful—that it impacts more than just plot. One way to do this is to look back at your “inciting incident” sentence and the “deepest hopes/needs” sentence (Red craves freedom & strays from the path because of it, wherein she meets the Wolf) and make sure that your stakes is tied back to that (“Red must stop the Wolf or risk the destruction of everything she holds dear–her granny and any chance at freedom.”)

4. Book Details

Include: category, genre, word count, comparison novels, and other book details

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help including book details succinctly: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a CATEGORY & GENRE novel that will appeal to readers of COMPARISON NOVEL and SECOND COMPARISON NOVEL.” [Note: Comparison novels are important; they show you’ve done your research and know the category and genre you’re writing in.]

If your book has series potential: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a standalone novel with series potential.”

If you write from multiple points-of-view: “Told from multiple points-of-view, TITLE is complete at xx,000 words.” OR “Told from xx and xx’s points-of-view, TITLE is…”

5. Bio

Include: publishing details and what you do besides writing (job, hobbies, etc). If you don’t have any publishing details, that’s okay! Don’t get too bogged down here. The most important part of your query is the pitch for your book. Feel free to add something short and fun. Ie: “When not writing, I can be found crocheting bookmarks and concocting magical stews.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you are seeing new agent-representation: “After an amicable split with my previous agent, I am currently seeking new representation.”

6. Sign off

Be kind. Be courteous. Remember the agent you’re querying is flooded with work. They’re incredible human beings who deserve our respect. Include in the sign off what you’ve attached in the query showing that you’ve done your research. Agents can request a few pages attached IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL to specific page amounts as an attachment, to the entire manuscript. They could also request synopsis. Be prepared for a variety and please follow their guidelines!

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

“Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included XXX of my manuscript below, as well as XXX. Thank you for your time and consideration.”