I Did Everything Wrong…

…and Still Got a Contract
(Another Myth Busting Post)
Guest Blogger: Tim Sinclair

In January I read Rachelle’s 2010 Stats in amazement. According to the blog, WordServe Literary received about 10,000 unsolicited queries last year but Rachelle signed exactly zero authors from queries alone. Not one out of a hundred. Not one out of a million. Zero. (She clarified that she did sign authors for whom she’d received referrals or connected with in some other way besides just a query.)

I am an eternal optimist. I can see the bright side of a burnt marshmallow. But statistics like those are hard to spin. Zero is zero, whichever way you slice it.

If you feel somewhat defeated by that thought, consider me your voice of hope. Not because I’m so great or anything. Quite the opposite.

I single-handedly did everything wrong – and still managed to defy the odds.

I tend to be a “ready, fire, aim” kind of guy, and that tendency couldn’t have been more evident than during my own query process. After writing a few blog-length chapters of a book, I quickly emailed a handful of agents with my ideas…spending just enough time on each website to get their contact information, but not enough time to read their query guidelines.

For example, here were the rules on WordServe Literary’s page:

1. Send all queries to their dedicated query email address.
2. Do not include attachments.
3. They are closed to queries during the month of December.

Here is what I did instead:

1. Sent my query to Greg’s email address instead of the query address.
2. Included two attachments.
3. Send my query on December 22nd.

Fail.

Except for the life-changing phone call I got from Greg six days later. A first-time, unsolicited writer got a top-notch agent…with a dreadfully awful query.

I’m not suggesting that you ignore the rules. I’m not saying that you fly by the seat of your pants. I’m not implying that you annoy agents with a slew of unprofessional emails. But I am encouraging you to concentrate more on writing an amazing book than perfecting the literary gymnastics that sometimes feel required in order to get your foot in the door.

Becoming an agented or published author obviously takes work. But nearly all of that work should go into the craft – into the product itself – instead of the minutia involved in getting the craft recognized. Most agents are smart enough not to throw away a compelling manuscript solely due to a few technicalities.

And keep in mind it’s not just about the writing, but also about the market. Especially for non-fiction, which is what I write—study the market. Figure out what’s missing. Find where your expertise meets a need. Then write it, and write it great.

For whatever reason, my pathetic query started a discussion with WordServe in December of 2009, and I signed my contract with them in January of 2010. Which means that of those 10,000 queries, at least one author was eventually signed. Me.

Which means that there is hope for you. For your dreams to be realized. For your carefully crafted piece of writing to be finally be recognized – imperfect query and all.

The chances may be slim but, trust me, a one in 10,000 chance is all you need.

P.S. Rachelle tells me that in the first couple months of 2011, she signed a few more clients from those 10,000 queries. See – more hope!

Tim Sinclair has a passion to engage the culture in real and relevant discussions about faith, and he’s using his background as a radio personality, marketer, and pastor’s kid to do just that.

His first book, Branded: Sharing Jesus With a Consumer Culture, is now available for pre-order at Amazon.

Visit Tim at his website, Facebook page, or Twitter page.

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Krista Phillips

    >I love this!!! I'm a rule follower by nature, but work hard to understand that there is always a "spirit of the law" involved, which in this case, is that agents want good books. Bottom line.

    Personally, I don't like the "you won't sell your first book" rule (or myth, whatever you call it!.) Now, I've gone on and written another and have others in progress… so I'm not banking on it, and the whole "don't put all your eggs in one basket" cliche totally applies. But yeah… I plan on trying to sell that puppy someday too.

    "Never" is such a un-fun word!

  • Rahma Krambo

    >Good reminder about keeping the balance. Lately I've spent a lot of time reading about marketing and social media issues. It's fascinating but I need to finish editing my book, so I think I'll get back to work now.

  • Sarah

    >I'm with you, Krista. I love my first book and hate hearing people talk about it like a "practice novel". Yeah, it's practice, but it's also great! :)

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >A success story like yours gives hope to people like me who despair of ever getting everything right. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lacie Nezbeth

    >Congratulations Tim! What a fun peek into how thrilling it must have been to get that phone call, especially if you knew you did it all wrong. I myself am a "ready, fire, aim" type. But I’m trying desperately to harness every bit of patience I possess to get those three words in the correct order. After all, we are taught from a very early age not to cut in line. If we wait patiently for our turn, we’ll eventually get a shot…right? :)

    I love your story and wish we could hear more about other “lucky” writers. It’s always fun to daydream.

  • Christine Tyler

    >LOL. Okay, this story made me laugh. Love it, and I get the point here. It's not that these things aren't important, they're just not the *most* important. I feel like you can see this in example queries that made it–on Kristin Nelson's blog for example. They're not perfect. There are some spelling mistakes, and a few things that many agents have said, "no no!" to, but they all have one thing in common: a great story and a strong voice.

    Very cool.

  • Rosemary Gemmell

    >Love it, Tim. Congratulations and thanks for keeping my optimism alive!

  • li

    >I'd like to send this to all of the agent/editor/publisher bashers who insist that their fabulous work was rejected because of a miniscule error or sheer perversity.

  • Wendy Paine Miller

    >I like hope.

    ~ Wendy

  • Sarah Thomas

    >I'm glad to hear getting signed is about the quality of the work. Of course, thinking that your otherwise fabulous, amazing, wonderful book lost out on a technicality can be comforting . . .

  • Jean Ann Williams

    >Thanks for sharing, Tim. Can't wait until your book is out. I foresee Branded as a best seller, and I'm sure Rachelle feels the same.

  • Mike Duran

    >Love your book cover, Tim!

  • Erin MacPherson

    >When I saw Rachelle's blog post about her client stats, I thought the same thing you did: GULP! I am like you… I didn't know anything when I queried and I did it all wrong. In fact, I'm pretty sure when Rachelle asked me to send her a proposal, I asked her "What's a proposal?!". HA! Anyway, while I highly recommend that new authors do their research, I agree that there is always, always hope.

  • David A. Todd

    >Congratulations on your book, Tim. It's nice to know that good writing and (apparently) timeliness trumps an error or two.

  • Julie Nilson

    >I'm seeing so many stories where representation/publication happened in an unconventional way. It gives me hope, because it tells me that ultimately, what matters most is having a great manuscript that will sell. That's all.

    Thanks for sharing your story and congrats on publication!

  • Maren

    >Yes! I knew it! I keep hearing that I'll have to be rejected a million times before I'm accepted. Who decides? Who keeps track? Thank you so much for the bright side of the publishing "burnt marshamellow"!:)

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Tim, your book looks fascinating. I look forward to reading it!

  • Terri Tiffany

    >What an ecouraging post!! Thanks Tim!

  • Andrew

    >Something that Winston Churchill said comes to mind…

    Never give up.
    Never, never give up.
    Never, never, never give up.

  • Christine

    >I love to hear of the success of first-time authors. Yes, writers need to follow guidelines, but Tim is correct in saying the story is the most important aspect.

    I think it's also connecting with the right agent, not just any agent. If an agent likes the work but isn't enthusiastic about it, that may cause them to pass on it.

    Congratulations on being published!

  • Kelly Combs

    >I loved this post! My first query for a magazine article was acepted, even tho I didn't know anything about the writing world. My email was an "attached please find" with no hook or anything.

    Great story and best wishes to Tim.

  • Andrew

    >Something about statistics just hit me…

    It's discouraging to think of those 10,000 queries to Wordserve alone as your competition, but consider this – Wordserve is a very well-respected agency, and Rachelle has a popular blog. Many writers will think of Wordserve first, when they enter the World of Queries. Hence, a bigger pool.

    There are a lot of agents out there, and the life of a novel is akin to that of a mayfly. New books are always being written, and new authors emerge – and agents do need them. (Personally, I'd dearly love to have the opportunity to sign with Rachelle or Greg, but the Lord disposes, and I'll go where I'm led.)

    Hang on to that.

  • Loree Huebner

    >Congratulations! Thanks for sharing. I've always believed that if the writing, story, or idea is good, then you will get the call.

  • tamara

    >Love this encouraging post! I have not queried yet as I am finishing up my first manuscript, but I already find myself in angst about the process and so afraid I will do something wrong. If it's meant to be, it will be… nothing more, nothing less. I like the thought that my work can simply speak for itself even if I make a few mistakes! Thanks so much for this one!

  • Casey

    >What a great post, thanks for sharing your story!! :)

  • Nancy Thompson

    >What an encouraging story! I don't think I will ever have such luck but one can dream. My last blog post was all about what I've learned since I started querying a few months ago & I can tell you , that is a lot & most of it is because I made so many mistakes. But I am learning & getting better though I find it quite depressing that I've already burned so many bridges to excellent agents in the process. I think I will follow Churchill's advice to never, never give up. At least until that pool goes dry.

  • Jill

    >I love success stories! Congrats on your book.

  • Julie Musil

    >This was a fun read, thanks. A writer can get bogged down in all the rules! Good luck with your book.

  • Pat W. Kirk

    >I like that "ready, fire, aim" description. Sounds like someone I know (me).

  • Colleen

    >Hello everyone! Rachel, thanks for this blog – your sound advice, sense of humor and hopeful attitude go a long way. In fact, with the help of this blog and a couple of others, along with a "The Guide to Getting Published for Idiots", I snagged an agent! I wrote about the whole experience here if you would like to check it out. To everyone else, keep your hopes up – it will happen!

    http://ranunculusadventure.blogspot.com/2011/01/you-in.html

  • Julie Gillies

    >What an encouraging post, Tim. Clearly God had plans for your book, even though you unintentionally waltzed past the rule book during the query process.

    You've inspired a collective sigh of relief. Now we can all relax and focus on the real task…writing well.

    (Oh, and congrats!)

  • Jackie

    >Thanks for this, Tim and congrats. It's so easy to be paralysed by fear instead of trusting God and acting with confidence.

  • Jill Kemerer

    >Tim, thanks for sharing your encouraging story. I love the cover and message of your book. Can't wait to read it!

  • Beth

    >It puts the excuses to rest. It's about your content in the end (although the query or contact is the door through which you often enter).

    Thanks for the post!

  • Tana Adams

    >I love the spirit of this post. Thank you for reminding us there is always hope. Can't wait to read your book!

  • Tim Sinclair

    >I'm so glad everyone has found this post to be encouraging! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    I fully believe that the more joy we find in doing our work, the more recognition will naturally follow. When we spend all our time and energy pursuing representation, we take valuable time away from creating work worth representing.

  • arbraun

    >When I was a newbie and didn't follow the guidelines–by mistake, of course–I never got rewarded for it. I'm really surprised this worked. I think I'll follow the guidelines, anyway, like he said.

  • Chris Shaughness

    >What a great story! I know that my time gets so wrapped up in each individual agent's requirements that I forget about spending time on what's really important – my writing. Bravo!!!

  • Lenore Buth at www.awomansview.typepad.com

    >Thanks, Tim, and congratulations. Your post encourages because it points out that good writing counts more than anything. Nice to be reminded.

  • ginny martyn

    >LIKE.

  • Neil Larkins

    >Interesting how many Michael Masterson readers there are here besides me, but that should be expected.
    Man, I don't know what to make of this. It's like I've been wasting a lot of time reading and studying and wasting even more effort when it's been a crapshoot all along. Or is it? Sheesh. Thanks at least for being open and honest about it.

  • Rachelle

    >Neil, I don't think it's a crapshoot. Tim had a good idea that fit the market really well; it was unique and didn't have that feel of having been done a hundred times before; and he worked really hard to be a good writer. He did a lot of things RIGHT. That's what made the difference.

  • Nikole Hahn

    >I'm reading Donald Maas' The Fire in Fiction. He says there are two kinds of writers–the status seeker and the story teller. I want to be a story teller and so work every day to improve my writing and finish my novel. Thanks for the shot in the arm of hope!

  • J.M.Cornwell

    >A woman who hired me to edit her book did everything wrong. She didn't know what a query was, sent out manuscripts that weren't properly formatted and broke all the rest of the rules. She apologetically told me that she made $25,000 her first year as a full time writer and asked if that was good. She did much better than I did the first five years as a writer.

    There are times to break the rules and times that the writing shines despite the broken rules. It's nice to see that happen for any writer.

    J M Cornwell
    Among Women
    http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/46125

  • Kristin

    >I was catching up on my blog reading and just read this! Awesome story! Coincidentally I started to blog about my journey to getting an agent the day before this was posted (I promise I didn't copy!) ;)

    My story is unconventional, though very different from yours, but I ended up going w/ Greg as my agent, too.

    My journey to getting published is far from over, but I am encouraged by your post! Thanks for sharing!

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