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“Good writers are those who keep the language efficient.
That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.”
– Ezra Pound

Today’s post is a distillation of news I’ve seen around the blogosphere.

First of all, I’m about 60% done editing the WIP. Maybe not a great bit of news for the writing world at large, but something worth noting anyway. As I’m editing by paper and pencil, I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve cut, but this is one substantial tummy-tuck of which everyone will approve.

J.A.Konrath collected over 300 of his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing essays into a free E-book this week. It’s 750 pages bookmarked by topics such as writing, breaking into the publishing world, promotion, reviews, motivation, and more. The no-nonsense style of writing is appealing, and Konrath’s got a pretty good sense of humor, so at least give it a try. It’s not every day a published writer hands out a free book about how they got published in the first place.

Bernita at An Innocent A-Blog reminded us to check out Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks forum for those of us looking for an agent, small press publisher, print-on-demand company, or traditional publisher. The forum is beyond huge, so I wouldn’t try browsing. But if you have a specific company in mind, this is the place to look them up and see the experiences other writers went through. (For some reason the search is at the bottom of the page… annoying.)

Sidenote: Notice how there’s an entire conversation put aside for PublishAmerica? Summary for that conversation: Don’t publish with PublishAmerica. I looked up Aventine Press, the company that manufactured my first book, Catching the Rose, and found the comments there to be accurate. (As for my own opinion, I’m thinking of working with them again because yes, I liked them that much.)

And in that vein, I hope all of you are keeping up with the Writer Beware! blog. In this technology-driven age, there is no excuse if you sign up with a bad editor/agent/publisher. Do your research before you commit to anything. The professionals will understand if you take a couple of days to decide. The scam artists will tell you, just like those infomercials, that you better decide in the next ten minutes or you’ve lost the deal.

Rather than going to the annual Romance Writer’s of America convention, Lynn Viehl is hosting a substitution Left Behind & Loving It week of online workshops (July 28 – August 3). This is where Viehl organizes fellow authors to host workshops on their own blogs, much like Eliza’s Villain Month. Published and aspiring authors alike can host the workshops as we all can stand to learn something new.

I updated my Affiliates and Links page to include the new websites. Leave a comment here or on the affiliates page if I’ve left out a resource you consider valuable. Also, tell me how your work-in-progress is coming along!

31 Questions when Choosing an Agent

Agents, it seems, are the way to break into the traditional publishing field for authors. But how do you find an agent? More importantly, once you find an agent, how do you know they are a good one? This is not a decision for the faint of heart, as Susan Kearney points out at Plot Monkeys.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when looking for an agent, and once you get that agent, is that your agent is NOT your friend. You have a business relationship and it is their duty to do their best to sell your book.

Also remember that the agent is your voice to big name publishers. If you have a bad agent, this might damage your ability to break into the market. So don’t be afraid to terminate the contract if you and your agent can’t conduct business in a professional manner.

For more information on disreputable agents, add Writer Beware! to your RSS feeds, as well as look up your potential agents in their archives.

If you want an inside look to the life of an agent, agent blogs are the way to go. See BookEnds, Nathan Bransford, Jennifer Jackson from the Donald Maass Agency, Rachel Vater from Folio Literary Management, Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency, and the snarkives of Miss Snark. At least…these are the ones I read.

Here are Susan Kearney’s list of questions that should be answered to help determine whether your potential agent will make a good business partner for your writing goals.

Continue reading

Agents, Agents, and more Agents

Last updated November 2020… The Association of Author Representatives changed their website link

Now that you have that first half of the novel under your belt, maybe from NaNoWriMo, maybe from working on your own, it’s time to start looking for that agent if you aren’t going the self-publishing route. Here’s a pretty extensive article that I found:

How to Play the Agent Game
by Chris Gaveler

Picture an actual playing board with plastic pieces and a spinner in the middle. The spinner is important because it will remind you how much is left to chance. The best writer with the best novel still has to submit to the luck of random numbers.

You obviously begin at Square One. For a realistic effect, place you playing piece (your manuscript) with several hundred thousand others. That’s a rough estimate of how many aspiring authors are playing the game alongside of you.

The game board, which is circular and therefore never ending, has three kinds of squares for you to land on. The majority are blank. That means you sit and continue to wait like you were before. Most of the game involves this activity. That’s why it’s a good idea also to have a life while playing.

Another kind of square has a question mark on it. That stands for Dumb Luck, those things that you have no control over but influence your fate. Pick a card from the Dumb Luck stack. Looking back at some of my previous draws (agent rejection letters), you might read something like: “This is very much the sort of novel that I enjoy and ordinarily I’d have been eager to read the rest but the end of summer turned out to be particularly busy and with a new child on the way in early November now is not the best time for me to be taking on new commitments, as promising as they seem.”

Return the card to the bottom of the stack and continue playing.

The third kind of square has an exclamation mark. That stands for Preparation, the things you can do to increase your odds of landing an agent. The stack of cards is as thick as the Dumb Luck pile. That’s a good thing. I suggest cheating and reading them all before the game begins:

  1. Buy an agent book list. Read it carefully noting which agents represent books in your category, share interests related to your book, charge no reading fees, and are open to unpublished authors.
  2. Noticing that your 2001-2002 agent book list was published in 2000, you go online to tap more up-to-date resources. Begin at the Association of Authors’ Representatives. Fewer of your queries return with expired forwarding addresses and incorrect contact information.
  3. When an “agent” you have queried invites you to mail him your complete manuscript, you first check his name at Agent Research to make sure he’s legitimate (a free service), thus saving yourself time, money and emotional energy.
  4. Noticing that anyone who fills out a questionnaire can have himself listed in an agent book, you purchase a “crook list” from Agent Research and cross out those entries.
  5. You know better than to ever accept a contract from an “agent” who charges any fees up front (phone calls, photocopying, etc. are billed to you later).
  6. You look at the acknowledgment pages of books like yours (usually first novels) and find the names of the authors’ agents. When you query these agents, you mention these authors and books by name.
  7. When you find titles of books that agents have placed with publishers, you go to and find out which ones are like yours and then mention them in your query.
  8. Your query letter has a succinct, exciting pitch.
  9. Your query is individually tailored to each agent you send it to.
  10. Your query’s one-paragraph description of your novel highlights its most compelling elements in language that demonstrates your writing skill.
  11. You sell yourself in your query by emphasizing your expertise in your subject matter.
  12. You buy or borrow from libraries books and magazines that instruct you about writing and getting published. You find more articles online.
  13. You go to writing conferences and learn from panelists. Afterwards, you query the agents whom you met or saw and mention the conference in your first paragraph.
  14. You go to writing conferences and pay to have samples of your writing professionally critiqued.
  15. You receive a rejection from an agent with specific criticisms about your manuscript. You listen to every single one and then fix them.
  16. You are fearless about revising.
  17. You read more chapters and articles about crafting excellent query letters, then you rewrite yours again getting feedback from multiple readers.
  18. You read extensively in your genre. You read extensively outside of your genre.
  19. You expand your “credentials” in your query and make contacts by selling your stories, articles and/or other short pieces to magazines, newspapers and/or websites.
  20. You are a member of a writing group, and you know the paradoxical fact that critiquing others’ writing actually hones your skills more than theirs.
  21. You write to published authors whom you admire. The majority send a form letter back. Some, probably those not on the best-seller list, offer you help or advice.
  22. You enroll in a writing program or take individual writing classes which improve your skills and expand your contacts.
  23. Your manuscript has been meticulously proofread more than once by someone other than yourself.
    • Make a list of writers you like and of published books that are similar to yours. Then, find out who represented these works. Check each book’s acknowledgments or do some sleuthing on-line. (I never had to resort to this — it seems too sneaky — but I’ve heard that you could call a publisher’s publicity department, claim to be interested in the rights to the book, and ask for the writer’s agent’s name. Phew.)
    • “Google” every agent. It may be necessary to search multiple sites to ensure that you have correct data. A number of agents will be listed on literary agency websites, but updates to those sites are sometimes delayed. Agents — especially ones who haven’t been in the business long — move around a lot. Basically, do your homework. (In many cases, once an agent’s listing hits a market guide you can buy at a bookstore, the information is obsolete. The internet is going to be a far better resource.)
    • Find out exactly how to approach each agent. These days, more agents accept email submissions, but many still want snail mail.
    • Send an agent only what he asks to see and in the format he wants. If he wants a query and the first 30 pages, send that. Some agents have guidelines about margins and font styles. If you can’t find information on someone’s requirements, it’s typically safe to mail your query letter, the first 20 pages of your book (one and a quarter inch margins on all sides, 12 point Times New Roman font), and a self-addressed stamped envelope for a reply.
    • Personalize every query, and make a connection to the agent. State what you like about a client’s work or how you think your book fits into her interests. Please, address each person professionally, spell correctly, and double check addresses. (Note: Mass mailings — snail or otherwise — are obvious and off-putting.)
    • Never email or snail mail your entire manuscript unless it’s requested.
    • Always, always, be gracious and courteous, even when you’re rejected. This industry is a small world of its own, and you want all bridges to remain open.

Most of the other Preparation cards are blank. In time, you will be able to fill them in yourself and draw them at will. If you keep playing, through a combination of Dumb Luck and Preparation, you will advance to the middle of the board when an agent responds positively to one of your queries. The middle of the board consists of multiple tiers, many of which can be skipped. You have already done all that you can do to improve your chances during this level of play. Now just follow instructions.

The agency may request to see the first 50 or 100 pages of your manuscript.

If you pass that round, you get to mail the remaining pages. If not, return your playing piece to Square One.

Depending on the size of the agency you’re dealing with, there may be one or two readers to go through before reaching the head agent. If reader number one doesn’t pass your manuscript up to the next tier, return to Square One. You may advance another level this way before the head agent reviews your work and makes a final yes or no decision. Or he or she may suggest revisions. This does not constitute a yes or a no. No promises are made.

Rewrite and resubmit skipping the previous tiers. If the agent says no to the revision, return to Square One. If the agent says yes, expect to work on at least one more revision, but this time with an agent-author contract in hand.

I reached this point in the game twice, once with each of two manuscripts. While playing the game, this looks like the ultimate end point, the fruition of all your dreams. It’s not. Now you play The Editor Game, which is usually shorter (one way or another) and for the most part played for you by your agent while you wait, another skill you’ve mastered.

After my first time through, I returned to Square One. After my second round, I had a book contract. My novel, a romantic suspense titled Pretend I’m Not Here is being published in July 2002 by HarperCollins.

This isn’t the end point either. Now I’m playing The Promotion Game and The Option Book Game, hopefully to be followed by many more similar games, all equally frustrating and potentially rewarding. The only prerequisite skill needed for any of them is perseverance. You must keep playing to win. Thinking of it as a game will help keep the process in perspective. It can be hard, especially the near misses. There’s only one thing more depressing than getting an agent’s initial attention, teetering on the edge of a contract offer, and then getting turned down: that’s getting no attention at all.

Enjoy the ups and downs, and know that every time you return to Square One, you’re smarter and more experienced. You get an unlimited number of spins. Use them.

Copyright © 2002 Chris Gavaler

    And another…

Tips from a Slush Pile Find: How One Writer Got an Agent
By Ronlyn Domingue

When people ask how I got my agent, I often respond, “Divine intervention.”

In May 2003, I finished my first novel, or thought I had. Within a few days, I mailed query letters and excerpts to five agents, one of whom I’d met at a conference. Three sent polite rejections, one read the manuscript then declined, and the last (the one I’d met) said he liked what he saw but didn’t think it was finished yet.

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I revised The Mercy of Thin Air one last time, my confidence solid. The manuscript went back to the interested agent — then he passed on it. Frankly, we were both disappointed things hadn’t worked out. And I don’t recall breathing for about a month.

Once I emerged from the anaerobic stupor, I approached my agent search like a job.

First, I set my criteria. I only considered agents who were members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. I wanted someone with a track record of sales to major publishing houses. And finally, which was out of my control, I wanted an agent whose faith in this novel was as intense as my own.

Second, I created a database that held the names, addresses, and pertinent information on dozens of agents. They represented writers I liked or novels similar to mine in subject matter or theme. Each was ranked based on how interested I thought they’d be in my work and on how much information I could find. Some were held pending more research; others marked “do not send” because they were allegedly disreputable.

Third, I sent out individually tailored queries and accompanying excerpts to those ranked highest in my database. In total, I submitted to 60 agents. From 50, I received outright rejections. The other 10 read the manuscript. I was surprised to get sincere compliments from several who declined and equally bewildered by those whose soul-testing, awful comments made me question my very existence.

Yet, there was Agent #10. Call it a miracle, indeed, because the first 30 pages of my novel arose from a slush pile into the hands of an intern who gave it to the agent who was, in turn, intrigued enough to see the whole manuscript. In late August 2004, the phone rang (good news doesn’t come in an SASE) and on the other end was Jandy Nelson — an AAR member who routinely sold her authors’ work to major houses and who loved The Mercy of Thin Air as much as I did.

Occasionally when I tell this story, an acquaintance will stare in horror and gasp, “You sent to how many? It took how long?” My response is always the same: “It’s all about persistence.” This is a competitive business we’ve chosen — or been dealt — and only the persistent survive to get published.

Spotting Disreputable Agents <– read, learn, explore.

Tips for Spotting Questionable Agents listed the following and more:

  1. Requiring a reading fee with a submission. In the past, some reputable agents did charge reading fees–but this practice has been so extensively abused that the Association of Authors’ Representatives now prohibits it for members.
  2. Requiring an evaluation fee with submission, with the promise of a detailed critique. Also easy to abuse, and also prohibited by the AAR. Often the critiques are little more than form letters full of generic how-to advice.
  3. Requiring an upfront “submission” or “handling” fee. Such upfront charges aren’t standard practice among reputable agents, who let submission expenses accrue and deduct them from the client’s advance. Fees of this kind range from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands; the highest I’ve run across is $5,000 for just one year of representation.
  4. Offering writers a choice of providing a large number of manuscript copies at their own expense, or paying an upfront “marketing” fee. The idea here is that copying is so expensive that the fee looks like a bargain. Agents don’t usually need large numbers of ms. copies anyway–most agents ask for just one or two.
  5. Presenting a sliding scale of fees–the more the writer pays, the more service the agent claims to provide. Good agents do as much work as is needed to sell a book, all for the same 15% commission.
  6. Running a writing contest that’s a scheme for referring writers to a fee-charging agency.
  7. Selling “adjunct” services–website design, slots in a catalog supposedly brought to major book fairs, pre-publication publicity (you don’t need publicity till you have a published book to publicize), book cover mockups (publishers create their own book covers), illustrations for children’s books (publishers prefer to match writers and illustrators themselves). It’s a conflict of interest for an agent to offer paid services–the more money she can make this way, the less motivated she will be to sell your book.
  8. Frequent referrals to a freelance editor or editorial service. A kickback scheme may be involved, in which the agent receives a percentage of what you pay the editor.
  9. Offering or requiring the agent’s own paid editing services. This is a conflict of interest: if the agent can profit from the recommendation to edit, how can you trust that the recommendation is in your best interest?
  10. Offering pay-to-publish contracts. Good agents only deal with publishers that pay you. Again, kickbacks may be involved–or the agent himself may own the publisher (sometimes under another name, to disguise the connection).