Author: Cina Pelayo

WiHM 12: My Fiction Hints to My Reality

My Fiction Hints to My Reality


For Women in Horror Month, I wanted to have the chance to discuss how my fiction hints to my reality. While not all writers, or horror writers, do this, I do. 


My fiction in recent years has become much more personal, writing about true crime – mainly because I have been impacted directly by crime. For example, in my poetry collection Into the Forest and All the Way Through, about missing and murdered women, I wrote about how easy it is to be killed. To disappear. I too was nearly kidnapped years ago, standing on the corner, waiting for a bus, and a man pulled up his car, threw open his car door and told me to get in. He eventually left, but drove back around, opened his door and approached me, directing me to get into the car. I ran into incoming traffic to avoid him. He left. I was fine. But during the daytime hours, in front of a busy street, horror happened to me. Yet, the bus came. I went to work, and it was just another day. 


How do I get an agent anyway? Final thoughts!

  1. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 1
  2. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 2
  3. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 3
  4. How do I get an agent anyway? Final thoughts!

You have followed along and here we are at the fourth and last blog post in this series. Thank you for following.


So, you finished your novel. You edited your novel. You revised your novel. You researched agents. You prepared your materials – query letter, and pages, and you sent off dozens and dozens of emails to agents who were open to queries in your genre – horror.


Now, what do you do?


The waiting game


You wait.


How long do you wait? Well, I’ll tell you, you will wait for a long time and then you will wait some more.


Most agents get dozens of emails a day. Some agents get hundreds of emails a week. What does that mean for you? You will be waiting a long, long time. Sometimes you will receive an auto response that will tell you that your materials have been received and that if you do not receive a response in X number of weeks then consider this a pass.


How long do I wait?


Here is my experience, and I stress – this is just my experience. The writing process, querying process, and publishing process really does vary from person to person.


Some agents will respond to you within minutes and tell you that they are not a good fit to represent your work. If this happens it’s probably just that – your work isn’t a good fit for them. And yes, maybe they do have horror listed on the genres that they represent, but maybe there’s just something not right about your project for them at that time. And that’s OK. You want someone to represent you and your work who is excited about you and your work.


Some agents will get back to you within a few days.


Some agents will get back to you within a few weeks.


Some agents will get back to you within a few months.


Some agents will just not get back to you, and no response is essentially a rejection.


When an agent responds


So what do agents tell you when they get back to you? Remember, agents are very, very very busy people managing established clients, growing clients, new clients, conferences, queries, and of course their lives. Therefore, their responses tend to be brief. If it’s a rejection sometimes the email will just be a line or two telling you the work is not for them. Sometimes, an agent will review your query and pages and will respond to you with exactly why the work is not for them. And look, not all rejections are terrible, horrible things. I have been rejected by agents who I just absolutely adore. I follow them on Twitter and I think they’re smart, and cool, and I want to stay in touch with them. I’ve had agents who were so kind in their rejection and told me thanks but the voice didn’t work for them, or the plot didn’t work for them, or they were looking for a specific genre within horror at that moment and my specific genre of horror was just not a match.


And this is all OK. I want you to know that it’s OK if these are the responses you are getting, because rejections happen.


If an agent is interested in more pages they will respond and tell you how many more pages they would like to see. I’ve had a request for either the first three chapters, first 50 pages or full manuscript. Once I receive a request for more pages, I make sure my pages are properly formatted and I send them off quickly. While I send my materials off quickly I do realize that just because the agent requested more pages, and I’ve sent those pages off quickly, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will read and respond to my new pages quickly. I have sent off requested materials and have not heard back for 3 months or more.


Also, while it’s very exciting that an agent has requested more materials you should still be fully aware that nothing is certain until an agent formally offers you representation. I have had agents request my full manuscript and return with a rejection. It’s typical that an agent will provide you with a reason why they have rejected your full manuscript, but know that technically they don’t have to provide you with a detailed response as to why your manuscript was rejected.


Final, final thoughts


So, here are just a few thoughts. You have submitted your queries and now I ask that you do the following:


  1. Breathe. Be good to yourself. Your manuscript is out there. There’s nothing you can do about it other than to give it time. It may take days, weeks or months for you to get your responses back.
  2. Create a spreadsheet. Keep track of who you queried, when, and with what materials. Did you send them just a query, query and first five pages, query and first 10 pages, query and first 50 pages and synopsis?
  3. Start working on your next project. Yes, really. Publishing takes a long time. It will take some time for you to hear back so you might as well start on your next project. Write some short stories. Outline and draft your next novel. Just start on your next writing project. Stay busy.
  4. Be professional. I can’t stress this enough. I personally don’t respond back to an agent who has rejected me and my materials because I know they are busy. I know their inboxes are flooded and I want to be considerate of that. When I initially sent in my materials I already said “Thank you for your time and consideration” so I don’t feel like there’s any need for me to say thank you again. I want to be thoughtful and considerate of their time.
  5. Again, BE PROFESSIONAL. Why am I stressing this? Because publishing is an industry and guess what? These industry professionals know each other. Be kind. Be respectful and be professional because you never know when you will run into these people again in your writing career. An agent who rejected you today may become your agent a few years down the line. An agent who rejected you today may one day become an editor at a publishing company and may come across your manuscript submitted to them by another agent for consideration. So be kind. Be professional, because you never know who you will run into in the future.

How many rejections will I get?


I feel like I can go on and on and I feel like I’ve only glossed over so many of these topics, but there’s one topic that I will leave you with and that many writers talk about – number of rejections. There really is no telling how many rejections you will get before you’re offered representation. You may get two rejections or you may get 700 rejections (yes, I’ve seen someone get 700 rejections before finally landing an agent).


My first novel, SANTA MUERTE received 98 rejections before a publisher picked it up. I then wrote the sequel, THE MISSING, for the same publisher. Then, my poetry collection, POEMS OF MY NIGHT, was picked up quickly by another publisher.


While I had relatively quick successes with these works, I have written several other books that have never gotten off the ground in terms of publishing or representation. My first novel sits in a virtual drawer (on the cloud). It’s a mess of a novel, but I love the story and I would like to return to it one day. Another novel I wrote, NOVEL 4, I pitched at a conference and queried about 90 agents who all rejected it. That novel sits in a drawer as well. I then wrote another novel, NOVEL 5 that just became a mess and I hide it from the world voluntarily. Then, I finished NOVEL 6, and I queried about 90 agents with NOVEL 6 and that novel is the novel where I found an agent who offered me representation. NOVEL 6 still needs work – lots of work, but I’m thankful that I have found a great team that believes in me and my work, and that’s what this is – work. The hard work doesn’t end when you get an agent. The hard work just begins.


So, it took me nearly 300 queries over the course of a few years and a few works to find literary representation. This is not the case for everyone. Some people find literary representation after just a single novel, or after just querying a few people, but yes, for some of us it will take multiple books and hundreds of queries.


So what does this all mean and what am I trying to tell you?


I want to tell you to keep writing.


Keep working on your story and the stories that you want to tell.


I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing and the business of writing. I’ve had a lot of stressed out nights, but I kept pushing forward and that’s what I’m here to tell you. It’s OK if you write something and you think that it can be better. Make it better. If you queried your dream agent and they come back to you with a rejection look over your query letter, look over your manuscript, is there something that is not working? Is there something that you can make better? If so, make it better. Revise your manuscript and wait a few months and query them again.


Rejection is a part of this business and rejection is OK. You will learn from your rejections and you will get better. Hell, I want to get better. I want to learn more and be a better writer.


Ultimately, I want you to breathe, write, revise, be professional, be respectful and ultimately, don’t give up.


I send you all so much luck! I believe in you.

How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 3

  1. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 1
  2. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 2
  3. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 3
  4. How do I get an agent anyway? Final thoughts!

How do I get an agent anyway?

Query Letters


If you have submitted a short story for publication, then you will be familiar with submissions policies. You will also likely know that submissions policies vary from publication to publication. I’m telling you this because this is very much the case with submitting your materials to agents and agencies.


There is no single standardized way of submitting materials to an agent or agency.


Some agents require just a query letter. Some agents ask for a query letter and first five pages. Other agents ask for a query letter and first 10 pages. There are some agents who ask for a query letter, first 50 pages and a synopsis. Other agencies will ask you to submit materials via their submission management system.


Overall, what I have never, ever seen is an agent ask you to send them your entire manuscript unsolicited.


So, pro-tip – never send anyone your full manuscript unless they specifically request it.


Another thing to note, is that writing contests are very different, and by writing contests I mean DVPit, PitMad, PitchWars, and PitDark. If an agent requests your materials via one of these contents, then follow the guidelines that agent outlined on Twitter. If you’re not sure what a writing contest is, or a Twitter pitch event see my previous post.


During your research of literary agents, be sure to note how the agent would like you to query them, what you should include, and what they want you to note as the subject line. Some agents just want to see the word “Query” in the subject line and others request more detail. Again, check their submissions guidelines because nothing will get you rejected quicker than ignoring the submissions guidelines.


What is a query letter?

Literary agent Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary said at The Loft Pitch Conference that a query letter should contain 3 essential items: The hook, the book, and the cook.


The hook = A sentence or two to hook your reader.

The book = What is the book about.

The cook = who you are, your bio. Your bio just needs to be a brief few lines.


A query letter provides the agent with information about you and your book. Things that you will include in your query letter include the book’s title, the genre, the word length, your bio, and of course the hook!


If you’re stressing about the hook and the book details think of this simply as the description of your book. If you’re thinking of the description on the back of a book or the quick overview on Amazon or Goodreads, then you’re exactly right. Here is the overview of IT by Stephen King on Amazon.


Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.


They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.




Here is a great formula for crafting your query letter from Pitch Wars


Dear [AGENT]










Your Name


Examples of good query letters

Writers Digest publishes a series of successful query letters that you can find here. These are queries that landed the author an agent.


Where to find query help

If you are brave, and are up to having your query dissected (and I suggest you do), submit your query to the Query Shark. The Query Shark is Janet Reid, a professional and successful literary agent with New Leaf Literary Agency.


If you are not brave enough to submit your query then read through her suggestions, tips, and critiques of other queries. Her website is a great resource.


What not to do

If you want to know what NOT to do when writing a query letter go here.


What is a synopsis

Not all agents and agencies request a synopsis, but some do. A synopsis is essentially a brief outline of your novel. Some agencies request a one-page synopsis and others request a detailed synopsis. For a brief overview on what a synopsis is go here.


How to format your manuscript (if your manuscript or pages were requested)


  1. Double space
  2. Use a plain font like Times New Roman, 12pt font.
  3. Use the standard margins. If you started typing in Word and tabbing naturally then you don’t have anything to worry about.
  4. Name your document the title of your manuscript and perhaps your last time or full name. I typically name my manuscripts as follows NAME OF STORY by Cynthia Pelayo.
  5. Include page numbers please.


Some words on email etiquette


I started off a lot of queries with “Hi [INSERT AGENT NAME]” and I personally regret that I did that. I feel like it was just too informal. I wish I would have started with something more formal such as Dear [INSERT AGENT NAME].


Don’t copy every single agent that you’re querying on 1 single email. It’s rude, and inconsiderate and shows you did not do your research. You would not do this when seeking employment so don’t do this for seeking an agent. Each email should be customized to that agent.


Also, querying an agent is a lot like sending out resumes for a job. They are going to be interviewing you, and you will be interviewing them if they offer you representation.


Be respectful in follow up communications with the literary agent. This is a professional interaction, and until you are formally offered representation you are being interviewed in a sense.


I hope some of this information helps! So, get to writing your query letters! Like with your manuscript, I recommend you write and revise these query letters a few times. Share them with your beta readers and make sure they showcase you and your novel effectively.

How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 2

  1. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 1
  2. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 2
  3. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 3
  4. How do I get an agent anyway? Final thoughts!

You want a literary agent, right? If you answer yes to all of these questions below then continue to the rest of this blog. If you have answered no to any of these questions go back to your manuscript because you’re not ready yet. That’s not to say you will never be ready, but you just need more time to work on your novel.


  1. Do you have a fully completed manuscript that meets the word count of your genre (What’s the standard word count of my genre? Glad you asked. Check here for a general guide).
  2. Have you had a critique partner (CP) read your manuscript and provide feedback?
  3. Have you made any suggested edits provided by your CP?
  4. Have you reread and edited your novel at least 5 times? (I say at least 5 times, but I really hope you have read and edited your novel at least 10 times. Yes, I said that – 10. I’m serious).
  5. Have you thought about the audience for your book, i.e., who will your book appeal to, and are there any comparative book or movie titles to your book?


So, you have a fully polished manuscript. You have edited and edited your manuscript over and over and you are fully confident that plot is tight, the pacing is on point, your main character’s purposes are clear, and that the writing is good. Now, what do you do? Where do you send this thing? WHO do you send this thing to?


Since I’m assuming you’re a horror writer you’re going to want to research which literary agents are specifically looking for horror manuscripts. If you don’t know this already – not all agents represent horror.


Also, if I have not mentioned it, this series is devoted exclusively to novel-length works – not short stories, not novellas – novels.


How do you find which literary agents are looking for horror? I’m glad you asked because there are a few avenues for you to start your research.

A few very important notes before you begin your search: You never have to pay an agent for a fee. If someone said that they will represent you but you have to pay a fee – run away, very far away. If someone tells you that they will represent you but you have to pay for their editing service run away, very, very far away.


If after querying, a literary agent reads your full manuscript and offers you representation, and you agree, you will sign a formal contract, but there is no money exchanged anywhere until your book is sold to a publisher, and that’s a whole other blog series that maybe one day I’ll do if I ever get to that point in my writing career.


To research literary agents who are looking for horror novels take a look through the following:

Why I like this website: is completely free. I personally pay a few extra dollars for the premium membership ($25/year), but honestly, you don’t have to. All the premium fee does is provide you with some interesting rankings of agents, queries sent, etc., and the only reason I like this is because I’m a researcher by day and obsessed with numbers. is very easy to use. You can create a username and once you have logged on, you can click on “Search for Agents.” You can filter the search down to the type of genre (Horror, Mystery, Romance, etc) that the agent accepts.


For example, today when I did a simple search on of agents who are currently open to horror queries I pulled up a list of 67 agents.

Why I like this website:

The Association of Author’s Representative’s is a nonprofit organization. To be a member of AAR, an agent has to meet AAR’s minimum experience requirement and agree to adhere to a code of ethics. So, ideally if you are searching this site the agents listed here are again, ideally vetted.


Using this site is free. You can start a simple search by going to “Find an Agent.” Click on “Member Database” and from there you can search by genre.


Today, when I searched literary agents open to horror novels I came up with a list of 127 agents.


Manuscript Wish List



Both of the websites above are similar in that they list what agents call their “Manuscript Wish List.” These are essentially topics, genres, themes, etc., that they would like to see in a novel.

I don’t like – I LOVE In addition to searching for markets open to short stories, poems, novellas, and novels, now has an agent database of agents open to queries, and yes, you can search by horror. There is a $5 monthly subscription fee. Or, you can save some money and pay an upfront $50 subscription fee for the year.

PitDark is run by Jason Huebinger. There are a lot of Twitter pitch parties. A twitter pitch party is an online event where you tweet your pitch along with a hashtag of your genre. On the designated days of those events agents will be scanning Twitter and if they like (heart) your tweet you are formally invited to query them. Now, there are a lot of twitter pitch parties, ones for young adult work, diversity work, and so on, but PitDark is just for horror writers and that’s why you should care. Agents scanning twitter pitches on this day will specifically be looking for horror manuscripts.


Hopefully, you now have a few places to start your research, but hold on actually querying any agent until you get your query letter polished. We’ll talk about that next time.



How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 1

  1. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 1
  2. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 2
  3. How Do I Get An Agent Anyway? Part 3
  4. How do I get an agent anyway? Final thoughts!

I’ve been writing for about 20 years now. I started off first as a community journalist and then after an incident where I was on the scene reporting the shooting death of a young man I promised myself I wouldn’t write community journalism again. It was too hard. I had gotten too wrapped up emotionally into the heartbeat of my city (Chicago) that when I saw it’s children suffer I suffered too. Maybe it was post-traumatic stress, but I quit writing journalism and I turned to…writing fiction, in fact, writing horror.


It started off gradually. I didn’t know I was a horror writer until my non-fiction writing while I was working on my Master of Fine Arts in Writing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago turned dark, really dark. My writing told me I was a horror writer, not the other way around.


I graduated, self-published my thesis – a collection of short stories titled LOTERIA. Then, I wrote a novel, SANTA MUERTE that I pitched to 98 agents and small presses. Guess what? It was that 98th email that finally got back to me with an acceptance. Post Mortem Press published my novel in 2012. I was lucky enough that they published the sequel, THE MISSING. Then in 2016 I was again lucky that Raw Dog Screaming Press published my poetry collection, POEMS OF MY NIGHT.


I guess you can call me an “indie” author, “indie” meaning independent press, in that it’s been small, independent presses that have published me. First off, independent presses, especially those publishing science fiction and horror are publishing extraordinary works, by talented authors. It’s with indie presses that you’re really seeing fiction taking risks and pushing boundaries.


So, after completing another novel, tentatively titled CHILDREN OF CHICAGO, I decided to try this querying business again in order to see if a literary agent would be interested in representing me and my novel. I’ve gone to writer’s conferences, paid for subscriptions to Publisher’s Marketplace and premium fees to Query Tracker. I’ve followed agent’s postings on Twitter and have participated in multiple “Twitter Pitch” parties. I’ve networked. I’ve established a relationship with a CP (Critique Partner), and basically, I’ve done and learned so much that I did not learn and was not taught in my fancy Master of Fine Arts in Writing program.


Do I have an agent? Not yet, but if you like, you can follow along with this series as I take you through what I’ve done, what I’ve learned and hopefully you, or I, can gain some literary success and perhaps find literary representation in hopes of getting published with one of the Big 5 publishing firms. Because, we all want to be rich and famous horror writers, right? Stephen King should be kind enough to share his kingdom with some of us.