Celebrate every success - and send that query already! 🎉
Today's guest is assistant literary agent Ashley Reisinger.
When your end goal is to get your book traditionally published, so much of the process is out of your control.
This is a tough industry that can be so subjective — and even random at times. It can be easy to get wrapped up in trying to perfect your work, and then get bogged down in disappointment when you’re still faced with the inevitable rejections and frustrations. Remember, rejection is a part of the process, and it’s not necessarily a reflection on you or your writing. Perseverance and persistence are the name of the game.
Don’t forget to celebrate the little wins along the way.
When you start to feel down about your publishing journey, try to remember that what you’re doing is truly amazing. It’s something that few other people will ever do, and each step you take is getting you that much closer to your goal. Let go of perfection, and keep taking brave steps forward. Each one is worth celebrating!
In today’s interview, assistant literary agent Ashley Reisinger goes over the importance of focusing on what you can control, celebrating small successes along your publishing journey, and knowing when to let go of perfection and send that query letter already.
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Assistant Literary Agent at Triada US
Her current #MSWL includes adult romance; YA rom-coms, contemporary, and the odd spec fic; and MG contemporary and fantasy.
What is one thing you wish emerging authors knew about the publishing industry or the traditional publishing process?
This is probably going to be the last thing most emerging authors want to hear, but I think it’s important to know that it’s not unusual for your first book not to sell on submission. It’s really not unlike querying in a lot of ways, and while you do have an advocate on your side now, you and your agent are still trying to hit a subjective (and often crowded) market, at the right time. That doesn’t always translate into a first-time success.
Is that disappointing to hear? Totally. Does that mean your first book out on sub definitely won’t sell? Of course not. But it also doesn’t mean you’re some outlier who has done something wrong if you don’t land a book deal right away. It doesn’t mean your agent doesn’t believe in you or didn’t try to position your book for success (though, of course, do your research, as there are definitely shmagents out there). And it really doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or it’s never going to happen, or you missed your chance, or you should give up. It just means it’s a tough industry, and sometimes it’s a little like throwing darts at the wall. Focus on what you can control, writing the best stories you can, and keep at it. It’ll happen!
How can querying authors ensure their sample pages are engaging and intriguing?
The unhelpful answer is voice. There’s a sort of ineffable quality to the character and/or writer’s voice that has the potential to draw me into the sample pages immediately, and a strong, engaging voice tends to lend a propulsive quality to the writing that’s hard to replicate.
That being said, voice is so incredibly subjective, and I feel one of the biggest things you can do to hook agents otherwise is to make sure you’re starting your pages where the story is. I think agents see a lot of similar, often genre-specific openings rehashed over and over, and it’s hard to get a sense of what’s different and unique about your manuscript if we’re reading our fifth “character is on the train/car/plane to new destination” opening of the day. That’s not to say you can’t put a fresh twist on these well-worn openers, but I think you’re often doing a disservice to your story by starting in a place where any other narrative could start. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily open your manuscript in the middle of some splashy action scene, but I’d like to get some of the flavor of your unique story in the sample pages as this is what I feel is the most engaging to read.
What traits or qualities do you look for in a potential client?
If we can have a mutual trust and respect for each other, then the rest pretty much comes out in the wash, though I do really value open communication and would hope that most of my clients feel the same way. It’s a lot easier to work as a collaborative partnership if we’re both willing to talk about where we’re at, when we’re having issues, if we have questions, where we might require different accommodations from each other, etc., and I can’t implement those things or be the best advocate for you if I don’t know what you need.
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What is one piece of advice you would give to a writer who aspires to be published?
Celebrate every success. This is a remarkably challenging industry, and there’s so much that’s outside of your control, dependent on timing, and luck, and—here comes our favorite word again—subjectivity. There’s a lot of rejection and disappointment, all throughout the process. That’s a difficult place to be, especially for the often years-long process that is traditional publishing. But what you are doing is actually incredible. Most people will never write a book in their entire lives, and you’re here doing it! Most people will never receive beta feedback, write a query, get a full request, land an agent, put a book on submission, etc., etc., etc. Especially when you’re plugged into the writing community, it can feel like these things are so commonplace, and often, like you’re lagging behind, but that’s simply not true.
It’s important to remind yourself that every step you take deserves celebration; the final goal of “being published” is not the only part worth being proud of. Even the rejections are proof that you’ve put yourself out there. It sucks, for sure, closing another door, telling yourself it’s not personal, all the while, still feeling like it’s very personal. But finding ways to celebrate this amazing thing you’re doing I think is the best way to avoid getting trapped beneath the disappointment and the imposter syndrome. Buy yourself something fun, have a nice dinner, tell your friends, throw a party, pop the champagne—whatever you do, just remember to mark each accomplishment, no matter how small it might feel in the moment.
What tips would you give authors who are trying to determine if their manuscript is agent-ready?
Outside of some of the more obvious things (i.e.: make sure your manuscript is actually finished; put it through some level of revisions; if you can, get beta readers and critique partners to review your work), I don’t know that you’ll ever really be 100% sure your manuscript is ready. You can reread it a hundred times, check for every typo, have the group chat screaming at you that “it’s time!!!” But I think there’s always a bit of a leap-of-faith element to sending your work to agents. It’s vulnerable, it’s nerve wracking, it’s a huge step in the journey, and mentally getting yourself to the place where you’re ready can sometimes be harder than getting your story to the place where it’s ready. I think my biggest tip is that, at some point, you’re just going to have to send the query. If you’re at the stage in your edits where you’ve dealt with all the big-picture issues, and now you’re just fussing with wording, looking for typos, moving sentences around—it’s probably time.
My encouragement here is that most agents aren’t looking for perfection. You’re likely going to receive editorial notes on your manuscript anyway, even after an offer of representation, so it’s not as though your work has to be absolutely flawless before you can query it. While you want to make sure it’s the best story you can tell so you’re positioning yourself for success as you submit your work to agents, you’re not going to get auto-rejected for a typo, or awkward wording in places, or a missing punctuation mark somewhere. Take a bit of the pressure off, and take a chance. You’ve got this!
Good to remember that the path to publication is not linear, landing an agent does not lead inevitably to selling your manuscript. Appreciate your work, Alyssa, thanks!
This article is so refreshing to read. I especially like the last section about getting the query out. I am currently editing my first book, and to know that it doesn't have to be perfect to get it out to agents is wonderful. It's not an excuse to be sloppy, but it makes the goal seem closer to me. My wife keeps saying I should get it out there. Nice to hear that from an outside source!