Allen J Johnston

Author of The Divine Series

The official website of Allen J Johnston, the author of The Divine Series.

Do I need a book agent?

Well, this is the real question that will decide how you spend the next year of your life.  "A year of my life?  Why on earth would it take that long???" you ask.  Because that is the way it is.  Now, you just might be one of the lucky ones that snags an agent in the first submission.  It could be as soon as two months or even sooner.  It is possible.  It's also possible to win the lottery.  However, if you are good at even simple math, you will see that those odds are extremely low.  Most agents get over 500 submissions a week.  Yes!  500 A WEEK!  When they take only one or two new titles a month, where does that leave you?  Many agents are months behind as they work their way through submissions.  Oh, let me mention the two forms of submission before I go much further.  Most agents will allow you to submit either electronically or by sending in your manuscript.  Some accept just written manuscripts while others are only electronic.  I believe everything is moving toward electronic.  It definitely has its pluses.

For this blog, I am going to assume you are being calculating and doing everything possible to increase your chances of success by using this site.  There are others out there but I really liked this one.  This is an incredibly useful tool.  It will help you stay organized and help increase your chances of becoming published.  After all, that is the goal.  I became a member and I believe it cost me $25.  It is free but to get the full use of all it has to offer, there is that small cost.  Not so bad if you end up with an agent.  Take some time and become very familiar with the tools.  You can narrow down the agents to those specific to your genre.  You can also submit to those that you feel give you the best chance based on their acceptance percentages.  I don't believe they are as accurate as they could be, but its something to work with.  Query tracker will list the websites of the agents.  Go to those websites and read all about them.   It takes time, but in the end, if you get an agent, it will be worth it.

Okay, I am going to assume that you have followed my advice and have had the manuscript read by at least a thousand people.  Okay just a few hundred will do.  Alright, alright, so you don't even know that many people.  I would hope at least 5-10.  I am also going to assume that you took their input to heart and fixed any flaws.  So, now you have a manuscript that practically glows.  It's perfect, right?  Now, put it away for two weeks and leave it alone.  NO, don't even look at it.  Trust me.  It will make sense when you do this.  Start writing something else or just go enjoy life but don't touch the manuscript.  You will be tempted but don't do it.  You need your mind to be away from it.  If you are following my blog, you must have at least some faith in me so continue to trust me.

Two weeks have passed and you are eager to get your manuscript back in your hands, or in front of your eyes if its on your computer.  Read it as a reader.  You may be shocked to realize that you did not quite convey what you where trying to convey.  You may find that your sentence just flat out does not make sense.  Trust me, all of us go through this.  Take notes or do what you must to ensure that every sentence, every word, every scene is as you meant it to be.  If you really want to check for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, spelling...etc, then read your manuscript backward line by line.  You will not get caught up in your story.  But, first read it the right way to ensure your story is saying what you want it to say.

"Now can I send it out to agents?" you ask.  Maybe.  OK LISTEN UP!!!  You would not believe how many people decide to send out ten letters and they use a copy and past approach.  I assure you, sending out ten letters all addressed to Pam will get them filed in the permanent file.  Out of those ten, Pam will be the only one to read.  Also, spell the name right.  DO NOT guess on an agents spelling of their name.  I would suggest sending out ten queries.  Stay organized and always know who you are going to send a query.  Query Tracker does an amazing job of keeping track of this.  You might not think you could become unorganized, but trust me, you can.  As I said before, I have no affiliation to this website beyond the fact that I used them and that they are truly a good source of information.

I have actually had a response within a week before.  It was a rejection, but it was fast.  It allowed me to send out the next query.  Now, if you are like over 99% of authors, even published authors, you can expect a slew of rejections.  It's part of the process while looking for an agent.  Just stay with it and keep sending out a query every time you receive a reply.  If you don't receive a reply in about two months, I would suggest querying again or send an email asking if they got you query.  Some agents are now posting that if they did not respond, it's a no.  I will not comment on my opinion of those agents.  Okay, enough of that for now.  You have plenty to think about and plan.

Now for more of my personal story:

Forgive me if a jump around a bit.  Things do come to mind as I write this week after week.  Let's see.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  I had the most perfect copy of my manuscript I could ever hope for.  I had been meeting with my editors for six months, going over every detail, making sure everything was perfect.  If you want your book out there, want it to be well received and get great reviews, you will be meticulous every step of the way.  So I had my final copy in my hands and then put it away for two weeks.  Boy was that tough.  I was certain it was ready to land on an agents desk for them to run to their boss saying they had the next best thing.  But I know by now that I do need to put it away.  It was tough.  It really was, but after all my research, I knew this was best.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Once you start getting reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, you cannot take them back.  I am a little off track so let me refocus.

Two weeks go by and I sit at my computer.  I am nervous.  I know I am closing in on that moment when I either hit send or drop that heavy box into the post office with a heavy thud.  So, I calm myself and start reading.  Wow.  An error on the first page?  After all the work I have done and all the work my editors have done?  Okay, it's a fluke.  I read on.  I don't think I am able to get more than four pages without finding something that did not make sense or finding that I had used "site" instead of "sight."  Oh, I clearly know the difference but obviously my fingers don't.  I come to the ugly realization that my manuscript is not done.  I am a little down but that two week break did what it was supposed to do. It helped me look at my manuscript critically and see if it was ready.  It was not.

Now, don't blame my editors.  It's not their fault they did not catch everything.  Rarely is there a book out there with no mistakes.  I don't think I have ever read a book without mistakes.  My first book has 118,000 words.  That is a daunting task to find everything.  We authors just have to strive for perfection even if we don't achieve it.  It's part of it.  I went through my manuscript until I could find no errors, no misspellings, no misused words.  Then I took it to my editors and they proceeded to really dissect it.  Yes, if you want to be respected as an author and you really want people to send you emails telling you how amazing your book(s) is/are, then this is part of the process.  I recently had someone who read my series send me an email telling me I was now one of their favorite authors right along with Raymon Feist, Michael Sullivan and David Dalglish.  That made my week.  That made it all worth it.  Again, I am off track.  I shall have to watch that.  Anyway, you will really, REALLY be happy you took the time to be thorough.

Alright, my editors go through the book very closely.  They find an additional fifty errors.  In 118,000 words, that's not too bad, but because I am a perfectionist, that was too many.  I am happy to say, after fixing those errors, I could find no more.  It was ready.  "For heavens sake, are you now ready to submit???" you ask.  YES!  I really am.  I get my list out and I get my top ten agents I am sure will love my work.  I research their submission criteria again and then I realize I don't have a query or synopsis.  I don't know if that bald spot was there before, but I am definitely a few hairs less after pulling them out.  The manuscript is ready but I need a convincing query and a synopsis.  Your query letting is a very quick intro that should entice the agent to want to read more.  I am going to post the first paragraph of my query.  This got me good attention.

Kade looks up at his executioner with no fear or hate, watching . . .waiting. At six months old, he could hardly do much more as his grandfather agonizes over the task of taking the life of his only grandson.

Does this elicit something in you that makes you want to know more? It did for many of the agents that I sent it to. They wanted to know why a man would want or need to take the life of someone he loves. Clearly he would not be agonizing if he did not care about the child. And what would drive him to the point where he is in this position? Right?

The first paragraph of your query is where you either hook them or they stop reading. Trust me, when I say most agents stop reading over 90% of the queries they get based on this one paragraph, I mean it. The next two paragraphs should really entice them into wanting to know more. It should raise more questions than answers. I would say to go to your local book store and read the back of books. See what makes you want to read more. I spent over a week perfecting my query. I ran it by my editors. When I thought I had a winner, they shrugged. If you want to be be a success, you must get input from others. Have I said that before? Hmmm. Are you seeing a pattern?

I continued to tweak it over and over. I think I had over twenty queries before all those that read my query said, "Wow. This makes me want to know more." I even ran it by complete strangers. Almost all said they wanted to know more about my story. What a big relief. So now I knew I had a good query. I save it and I save it. I had the query and my manuscript on four flash drives. Please follow these guidelines so you can give your manuscript the best chance for survival. You can have a New York Times best seller but it will not see the light of day if your query letter fails. Give it as much importance as you do your manuscript. Now, your book may have an error here or there, but your query must not! No exceptions! A missing comma won't tank you but misspelled words are the kiss of death. Misspelled words in your query translates into hundreds if not thousands of mistakes in your book. They will run from your manuscript faster than a gazelle being chased by lions. Put the time into this and you will be rewarded beyond what you could ever have hoped.

Okay, tune in next week when I continue my saga. Yes, to me, it definitely feels like a saga. It consumed years of my life where I did nothing but work on my writing. I have much more to tell to help you become a success. Stay tuned.

Allen J Johnston

The Divine Apprentice

The Divine Path

The Divine Unleashed