The first time I participated in a Backspace Agent Author Seminar, I had no clue what would happen. Part of me hoped that the agent would love my query and ask to see more. Part of me dreaded hearing how bad it was.
Mind you this was the best query I could write at the time, so if it was bad, what did that say about me?
That I had more to learn on my querying quest.
The worst part? Not knowing what could happen.
So if anyone out there is feeling this way, maybe this might help.
When you break into roundtable groups of 12-15 people, two agents will join you at the table.
The agents will either have each participant read their own query or have you swap with other participants at the table. If you get to read your own, it goes smoother because you are familiar with your own words.
If you have to read someone else’s and stumble…well that’s embarrassing. But it points to two potential issues: the query’s readability and/or your ability to read aloud to an audience.
Generally, the agents will stop you where the query loses their attention and explain why. Sometimes they allow the entire query to be read and critique the rest. Othertimes, they don’t.
It helped me to take notes on everyone’s feedback to gain a bit of distance from the critique. At the time, it was impossible to digest everything the agents were saying about my work. Note taking gave me the perspective of time which is super helpful in processing critiques.
Don’t be belligerent and argue with the agents. You’re wasting everyone’s time and it makes you look like a jerk. They are sharing their thoughts and giving you feedback. Feedback is not pleasant most of the time. So nod, take notes, and do not get defensive.
Do ask a follow up question if you don’t understand what the agent means. For example, if they say there is too much backstory and you have no idea what that means. It’s acceptable to ask, can you give me an example of what to cut?
Everyone at the table is nervous. No one enjoys this process. Try to focus on the end goal of writing a better query.
It’s okay to get upset with what you hear. To feel hurt and frustrated. That’s normal. How you react to it is completely in your control.
I’ve seen people smile and accept the critique with graciousness. I’ve seen a woman argue with the agent and storm off in the middle of the roundtable discussion. I’ve seen people say nothing and then not show up for the next round of critiquing. And I’ve watched people rally and come back with a killer query that incorporated the agent’s points.
So what can you expect from the query critique?
- A bonding experience unlike any other (you’re in the trenches with fellow writers)
- The opportunity to show your work to stellar agents who know the industry
- In-person agent feedback
- Painful realizations
- Improvement in your query
- A better understanding of the query process