WFC – What I Learned from Lisa Mangum

Lisa Mangum held a forum called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Slush Pile.”  In addition to being an author Mrs. Mangum also selects from the slush pile which books Deseret Book will consider publishing.

I was pleased to learn something very encouraging.  Although they can receive thousands of submissions daily, you’re not actually competing with all the thousands.  A lot of them are far less ready to be published than yours is.  You are only competing with a fraction of them.  Her ratio was 300 of 2,500 submissions.)  That is why making yourself noticeable via format, query letter, and polished work is so important.

Mrs. Mangum explained there are five things you can control when submitting your work for publication:

  1. Do your homework! What did she mean by that?  There are six questions you can ask yourself to prove you’ve done your homework.
    • Is this the right slush pile? If it’s a publishing house that doesn’t ever publish fantasy and you’ve written a fantasy, you probably don’t want to submit it there.
    • Who is going to buy this?  Find out who your audience is and appeal to them.
    • How is your book different than everything out there? Be clear about what is special about your book.
    • What are people buying? Be aware of which topics are overdone (aka another book about vampires amidst Twilight popularity).
    • What is your marketing plan? Are you able to write a press release?  Do you have other ideas of what you can do to promote your book?  Bring some of your own ideas to the table.  Have a few in mind when you begin submitting query letters.
    • Have you let five honest people give you feedback?  I recently wrote a post about feedback.  Your mom probably doesn’t count, especially if she’s the type that thinks everything you do is the best thing anyone’s done ever.  “Honest” people means they will tell you if something doesn’t work, is boring, confusing, etc.
  2. Follow the submission guidelines. If it says only a query letter, DO NOT send them your entire manuscript–that is unless an instant rejection is what you’re hoping for.
  3. Write a killer query letter.  This is the hardest part of all for many writers.  Read all the guidelines and tips you can, get feedback, then revise, revise, revise!
  4. Showcase your talent.  You can do this with your query letter.  You may not think you’re showing them much, but Mrs. Mangum says we’d all be surprised how much info an agent can glean from our one-page query letters.
  5. Deal with a rejection letter.  You’ll probably have to do this several times… Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

She finished off the forum with some good advice on writing query letters.  Firstly, remember a query letter is a business letter.  It should always include your complete contact info.  You also need to tell them what you are “selling.”  She recommends studying the back of book covers in your genre to get an idea of how to pitch your story.  Except unlike a book back, you do tell the agent how it ends.

She heavily emphasized each query letter should have a good hook.  The hook should always include:

  • The Hero (protagonist)
  • The Goal (this can vary from getting the ring to Mordor to winning a quidditch game)
  • Obstacles (what stops the hero from achieving his/her goal)
  • Consequences of Failure (the stakes)

You don’t have to tell the agent how the story ends in the hook, but do tell them somewhere afterward.  Include why they should buy publish this book you’ve written.  Example: It’s about a surgeon and you were a surgeon for 30+ years.  Maybe it’s that you’re an avid reader of sci-fi, or there’s this new twist you’ve put on it that’s fresh and original.  This will set you apart from any other books with a similar idea or genre.

If you have awards, flaunt them.  If not, focus on other things in your life you believe strengthens your writing.  (I studied journalism, so I mention that, but I keep the bio pretty short and use most of the query to sell the book).

You spent a lot of time writing your book.  Make sure you spend similar efforts on making sure your book gets into the right hands.  And if you have any further advice to add, please post it in the comments below.