Agent Sara Crowe on finding the right agent

Revision update: Got three chapters done today. On chapter 26 of 30. My goal was to finish by tomorrow and I don’t think that will happen. Sigh. But I’ll finish it next week.

Harvey Klinger Agency agent Sara Crowe

Sara Crowe

This is my fifth and final post from the awesome Houston SCBWI conference. If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talks about making your query letter package stand out; Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talks about what makes a great book; and National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

Today I’m featuring lovely agent Sara Crowe, who’s with the Harvey Klinger Agency. Sara gave  a presentation called “Hitching Your Star to the Right Agent,” and said, “I do believe that there is a right agent for you, just like there is a right editor and a right house.”

She said that although rejections are difficult to take, writing is subjective, especially fiction. “Not everyone is going to love everything,” she said. (Good thing to keep in mind when you get a “this isn’t for us” letter.)

The matchmaking begins with the query letter, and Sara advised to be courteous, professional but persistant. (More good advice.) And she said to make sure the description of the book shows everything that is original and true about it. (Great advice!)

She also passed on some great advice she had picked up in her favorite writing book, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Before you write a query letter, focus on being a great writer. (I’ve read this book and can attest to how wonderful it is.)

On the subject of searching for the right agent, Sara said research them online and find out as much as you can about them. You should want to work with them before you query, she said. And when you’re researching, consider these things:

  • What books the agent has sold;
  • What kind of agency it is and whether you want to be with a big agency or small agency; and
  • The agent’s experience and reputation with other writers.

After you’ve been offered representation:

  • make sure the agent is passionate about your book; and
  • have an open conversation about expectations, communication style, etc.

“There are so few instant successes that you need someone who really loves your book so they stick with you,” Sara said.

As for whether agents should edit, Sara said she loves going back and forth with writers to make the book perfect before it’s sent out and said she won’t send out anything that isn’t polished. She said that especially today, editors can’t take on a book that’s not completely polished because of the amount of work they have to do. That said, she explained that she generally looks at big picture changes, like plot and character, and leaves smaller changes to the editor.

“Revision’s a constant in this business, so embrace it. It never goes away,” she said.

An agent will also be the author’s negotiator for the best deal and general advocate for the whole process. Because of that, you must make sure your agent is someone you can trust.

For her own list, Sara said she represents mainly young adult but she likes middle grade too. She does fewer picture books, but she likes high-concept picture books.

Great advice. And it mirrored what agents Nathan Bransford and Andrea Cascardi said at the Austin SCBWI conference.

What do you think of what Sara said? Got any other tips?

Write On!

Perserverance

Current word count: 31,883

New words written: 1,622

Words til goal: 8,117 / 270 words a day til the end of September

For today’s whopping words written count, I’d like to thank our local Ford dealer service department. Our car needed a check-up, so I had to get up early to get to the dealership early enough to be first in line — or close to that — and wasn’t able to write before I went. However, I planned ahead, took my laptop, and despite the NFL commentators talking like they were powered by the Energizer bunny, I managed to write nearly a whole chapter in the three hours I waited before my computer battery ran out. So, thank you, Ford dealership. I’ve got three and a bit chapters left, and I love that my words a day goal is now less than 300. I’m still hoping I can whip this out in two weeks.

Yesterday, I spent time researching agents I had already identified as possibilities for my writing style, as per my goals for this week, which I posted yesterday, and started preparing the query letters I’m going to be sending off.

I’ve read over and over that perserverance is key to publishing success. And I believe that perserverance is really key to any success. There’s always a journey, and for some it’s longer than others. But no matter how long it takes, if we don’t perservere, we won’t make it.

This weekend as I browsed some blogs, I found a great example of that in a How I Found My Agent post on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Billy Coffey, a non-fiction writer, relates how he submitted to his preferred agent, then after he got a rejection, he submitted to others. After he got more rejections and was advised that he needed a platform and following before he could be considered, he started writing a blog. Months later, a blog reader recommended he submit his book to her agent — his original preferred agent. Perserverance.

There are lots of stories like this one, and they have one single message: Don’t give up.

How’s your writing going?

Write On!

Why we read agent/editor blogs

Current word count: 30,261

New words written: 1,205

Words til goal: 9,739 / 314 words a day til the end of September

Wow! I’ve passed 30K Yay! I’m in the home stretch and wrote another chapter this weekend. I thought I had only four chapters left, but it has turned into five (for now) because I found a better place than I had planned for a nice cliff-hanger chapter change and a great place to switch POV in my two-POV novel. I’m on track to finish by the end of September, but secretly — well, I’m sharing this secret with you — I’m hoping to be typing THE END in about two weeks. We’ll see.

My other goal for this coming week is three-part:

  • Send out my entry to agent Colleen Lindsay‘s scholarship contest for the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar (deadline Sept. 4; have you entered?);
  • Send the picture book I worked on a couple weeks ago two an editor I met at the SCBWI Houston conference this year and another editor I met at a SCBWI writer’s retreat a couple years ago who read an early draft and said she’d be interested in seeing it again (conferences are invaluable — I highly recommend going, and expecially going to SCBWI conferences and joing the organization if you’re writing for children);
  • And send out query packages for my newly revised first novel.

For the first novel, I’m also going to try a new story description in my query letter. This is my send go around with this book, but this new version is a lot better than the first, so I’m hoping it will get more notice. My original query letter, which was sent to seven agents, got only one response for more, so I also hope for a better response rate with this new query letter. The story description is much better, I think. I’ll let you know how I do.

It annoys me that I didn’t see the problems with the novel earlier. I fell into the same trap I’ve warned against on this blog many times: sending out a book before it’s ready. But the problem is, I had done a LOT of work on the novel, lots of revisions, and I did believe it was ready. It was only until I was researching agents and read some of their comments that I saw the problems in my novel. I was reading things they said not to do and realizing I had done some of those things, hence, another revision.

This is a great reason why it’s good to read agent and editor blogs. You can get invaluable information WHILE you’re writing instead of when you’re researching to submit. Check out my blogs list to see the ones I read, and let me know if there are others you want to recommend and I’ll add them to the list. Keeping up with other writers’ blogs is great too, but to help your book’s chances during the submission process, read up what works and what doesn’t in agents’ eyes.

Write On!

More on putting rejections in perspective

Current word count: 14,322

Words written today: 1,183

Words to goal: 25,678 / 347 words a day til end of September

After two days off, I got in a good couple hours on my new book this morning, and it feels so good. The story is there, but the writing’s not great. But that’s what revisions are for.

On Monday, I wrote about things to consider when we get rejections from agents. Rejections can sting, and can make us feel insecure about our writing. Of course, we would love it if every person in the world thought every sentence we write is the best thing since slice bread, but we have to be realistic. Art — and writing is art — is subjective, after all.

So it’s really important to keep rejections in perspective. Mystery and thriller writers’ blog The Kill Zone has a great post from agent Anne Hawkins, of John Hawkins & Associates, in which she talks about why good agents turn down good books. Anne reinforces what I said on Monday about personal taste and an agent’s need to really love a book to take it on. She also adds a few more: saleability of a book, because, of course, publishing is a business; length; author; timing; and conflicts of interest with current clients’ work. It’s a great look into the considerations an agent must give every project they’re offered.

For the writer getting the rejection, we often won’t know what the reason is. Most of the time we’ll get the standard “it’s not for me” form letter. Sure this can be frustrating, but as agent Janet Reid pointed out this week in a post called A Reminder That No Means No, it’s not an agent’s job to tell writers why their work isn’t right for them. And when they’re reading hundreds of query letters a week, plus requested manuscripts, clients’ manuscripts and contracts as well as selling and negotiating for their current clients, it’s understandable that they don’t have the time to give personal feedback to every query they receive. Think of how you would feel if your agent delayed getting your book out because she was writing personalized emails to every query she received.

So what’s a writer to do when we get rejections: First, don’t let it get us down. Keep things in perspective.

Have you sent out 10 queries and gotten no requests for the material? If so, rework your query letter. Are agents asking for fulls or partials but not offering representation? If so, consider your work. Is your opening the best it can be? Is your book the best it can be? Does it need another revision? If you can look at your work and say you’re truly happy with it, then you’ve just not yet found the right agent. Continue to research agents and send out your work. If you persevere, you’ll find the right match eventually.

But most important of all, don’t let a rejection stop you from writing. The best thing you can do to combat a rejection is to write something else. Agent Rachelle Gardner suggests this in her recent post entitled Write Another Book!

If you don’t attract an agent with your first project, you will with your second, or third. Nowadays, agents don’t have the time they once did to take on books that need a lot of work. So your manuscript has to be at a higher standard. The more you write, the better your work will get. And once your writing has secured that agent, there’s nothing to say those earlier works might look better now.

So, keep rejections in perspective, and remember author J.A. Konrath’s quote: There’s a word for a writer who never gives up — published.

Dealing with rejections

Current word count: 12,201

Words written today: 568

Words to goal:  27,799/ 352 words a day til end of September

Nothing written yesterday, but I got back on track this morning and hope to not miss a day this week. The good news is, when I do write, I’m usually way over the number of words I need a day to have 40K by the end of the September. The bad news is, what I am writing is not making up for my missed days, and I’d secretly love to be finished earlier than the end of September. We’ll see.

Friends and I both have query letters out with agents right now, and we were chatting the other day about gleaning information from rejections. It’s frustrating to receive a form letter that says the manuscript just isn’t right for them. It would be wonderful to get a letter that gives some specific details about what exactly they don’t like about the manuscript, but that doesn’t happen often mainly because agents don’t have time, and I FULLY understand that.

But there’s another reason I think rejections letters are vague, even when they’re not form letters. I received a lovely and very encouraging personalized rejection letter from one agent who had requested the full manuscript. In it, she said there was “much she enjoyed and admired,” but ultimately, she said she didn’t feel she was the right agent for the book and knew “another agent will feel differently.”

There’s still nothing specific in this letter that could guide me on improving my manuscript, but that’s the point. Sometimes a rejection doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with a book. I’ve read agent Kristin Nelson write on her blog about books that she turned down that went on to do well once they’re published. But Kristin pointed out that the book did well thanks to the work of another agent, and if she had picked it up, the book might not have done as well because she didn’t have the passion for it.

Let’s face it, writing is an art and art is subjective. Some people love the Harry Potter books passionately, others enjoy them but didn’t rush to buy the last book when it was released, others might read them in a pinch at the doctor’s office. But for an agent, who’s going to go out and sell a book, there has to be real passion for the writing and subject matter and story and characters. If not, that agent might not be able to sell the book as well as another agent who has that kind of passion for it.

Of course, there are some reasons why queries and/or manuscripts are rejected. The Adventurous Writer blog lists 17 reasons given by agent Janet Reid, editor Julie Scheina and reviewer Haile Ephron. Some are misuse of the English language, boring writing, too complex a plot, too many stock characters…

These are all good things to think about when we’re considering sending out our work. As writers, we should look at our work with an honest eye — a really honest eye, after we haven’t looked at it for a few weeks to a month and the excitement of finishing and revising and revising has worn off — and see whether we can truly say that our manuscript and query letter suffers from NONE of these. If that’s the case, then we could send it out. If not, then we should keep revising.

But if we can say that we truly believe our manuscript or query letter has none of these problems, then we should look at rejections with less frustration. Because, like Kristin Nelson points out, agents do think differently, and it’s out job to keep persevering until we find the RIGHT agent for our work.

How’s your writing coming?

Write On!

Querying, re-querying and finding the right agent

In my blog reading the last few days I’ve noticed a number of agents talking about people sending them query letters that are in their “do not represent” genre list, or writers sending multiple query letters after they’ve received a rejection. A few days ago, Jessica Faust at BookEnds agency posted a message entitled Please Stop, and it was about a writer who had sent her the same query letter “at least 20 times” from different email addresses and sometimes daily. Jessica says she has already rejected the query and has asked the writer to stop sending them. And if you read through the comments, Jessica isn’t the only agent who has been getting these emails. One agent apparently emailed the writer asking him or her to stop and the agent got a reply that said, “The queries will continue until ELIZABETH [the name of the book] is published.”

As a writer trying to get my own work published, it boggles my mind why a fellow writer would think this approach would work AND why someone would want an agent who is only representing them to stop harrassment. (Of course, perhaps it’s not a writer at all and just someone with waaaaayyy to much time on their hands.)

Anyway, today, agent Jennifer Jackson started a discussion on re-queries, whether it’s ok for a writer to re-query an agent if they have already been rejected. There were lots of thoughts in the comments from writers saying no they wouldn’t send a query again after a rejection, or maybe they would if they had made extensive changes to the manuscript.

Personally, I think the polite and professional thing to do is to re-query only if the agent said he or she would like to see it again if changes were made. Other than that, I wouldn’t query again for that project. If the project got rejected completely by all of my top-tier agents, then it probably wasn’t ready to submit and I’d try again with the next project and I think it’s fair to re-query an agent with a totally new manuscript.

I posted a comment saying roughly this and more on Jennifer’s blog post and I wanted to re-post it here, because I think it’s important for writers to really think about what they’re doing when they query. You want a career-long relationship with this person, and you want someone who believes in your book as much as you believe in it. If they don’t, they won’t be able to sell it properly. So, don’t just blanket-query to everyone under the sun. Not only does it waste the time of the agents — not to mention clog up the system for other writers — it also wastes YOUR time, and, in my opinion, undervalues your work. If you’ve worked so hard to make your book the best that it can be, editing and revising, making every word the best word, the characters and story strong, then given your query and synopsis the same attention to detail, don’t stop now. Research agents, and if one rejects you, don’t take it as a personal slight. Writing is subjective. Move on to the next agent in your well-researched list.

That’s pretty much what I said in the comment on Jessica’s blog post, but I’m including it here too in case you want more details. Bottom line: Don’t short change yourself. Find the best agent for you, not any agent.

I’m not an agent, and I really think it’s up to each agent to make his or her own guidelines for submissions.

But as a writer, given what I know about the industry and what I want out of an agent-writer relationship, I wouldn’t re-query an agent unless that agent had said, if you make changes, please send it to me again. That’s the only time I would re-query an agent on the same project. If I didn’t find an agent on my first project and was now going through the process with a completely different book, I think it’s fair to re-query with the new project.

As a writer, here’s my thoughts on why I would never re-query an agent on the same project unless it was invited. I want an agent who really loves my work, and no matter how much re-writing is done, the basic story or idea of a project isn’t going to change. If it does, that’s a new project. So, if an agent reads my query for Project A and doesn’t think the story has merit enough to ask for a second look after some re-writing, then in my mind, that agent isn’t that in love with the story. If the agent can see promise in the story, he or she would have asked for a second look. And, if they’re not that in love with Project A, that’s ok. Someone else might be, but either way, perhaps won’t be a good fit.

So often, I think writers feel desperate to get an agent, any agent. But they should be trying to get the right agent. There are lots and lots of wonderful agents in this business. The agent that’s right for Christopher Paolini might not be right for Ellen Booream, or whoever. Both of those writers’ agents, I’m sure, are equally wonderful, but they’re equally wonderful for those particular clients that they find a connection to through their writing. That’s what you want in an agent.

The thing is, and I’m addressing this to any writers who don’t research the agents you submit to and just send out query after query even after you’ve gotten a rejection, there are lots of agents in the business and lots of them who specialize in your particular genre. You want to find an agent with whom you can have a career-long relationship. You want someone who’s going to be your advocate, your salesmen. And for them to really want to sell your book and get you the best deal you can for your career, you want them to love your work. They should love your work. If an agent you query doesn’t LOVE your work, that’s ok. There are other agents who might love your work.

If you’ve spent all this time writing your book, revising it, editing it, having it looked over by critique groups and editing it some more, don’t stop working on it now that you think it’s ready to be published. Don’t short change it by sending it to every agent on AgentQuery.com. Do the work, do the research. Find the right agent for you. If one doesn’t get your work, that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that. Writing is subjective. There are lots of people who don’t like Harry Potter. Move on to the next agent on your well-researched list and query to them, and then the next until you find the agent who does LOVE your work.

Now, there’s also the fact that many writers submit their work before it’s really ready. I’ve been guilty of that. And if you get rejections from every agent on your well-researched list, that’s ok too. It just means you need a little more work. Perhaps this project isn’t the one that will get you started as a published writer. Perhaps this project is the one that gave you the experience to write the book that WILL make you a published writer. Perhaps, as is often the case with writers, this project will be published after your second book is already a success.

The point is, sending out query letters to agents who don’t specialize in your genre or who have already rejected you is a waste of your time as well as theirs.

So, do the work, be patient and be smart. Be smart for yourself. Aim for a career, and a life-long partnership with an agent.

Write On!

Finding an agent – step 1

I’ve spent the entire weekend — on and off in between a few social engagements — investigating literary agents. And I feel as though my head is spinning.

First off, I do have an agent who I’ve been following for a while and plan to submit to. I saw her talk in two seminars a couple years ago and liked her energy, enthusiasm, knowledge and laid-back manor. She seems like someone I could work well with, and I hope she feels the same way once she has read my query.

However, after reading Jackie Kessler’s blog post about her query letter success, and how she sent her query to 30 agents she considered top tier for her work, I realized I shouldn’t limit myself either. That was confirmed with Nathan Bransford’s blog post today about the results of his Agent For a Day contest, which showed that these things are subjective, and what one person thinks is brilliant might make another roll their eyes.

While I’m hoping the agent I’ve been following doesn’t roll her eyes when she reads my query, I recognize that it is a possibility. So, I’ve been scouting.

Now, I’ve said before that going to conferences is a great way to research agents. Of course, you have to start doing that pretty early on in your writing to meet enough agents that you’ve got a good list to send to when you’re ready to send. And what if you haven’t managed to get to conferences? There are other ways to see if an agent will match you and your writing.

The first place to go for any writer looking for an agent is www.agentquery.com. Do a search under your book type, and you’ll get a list of agents who represent that type of book. For “middle grade,” I got a list of 124 agents. Phew! Now you know why I’ve been doing it all weekend. I’m not even finished going through them all.

The initial list will include info on whether the agent accepts unsolicited queries. If they don’t, move on, but I’ve found that most in my list do.

Next, look at the full profile page for the agent. Read about the types of books they like and want and the descriptions of the books they represent. There are lots of different types of middle grade books, and not every agent is going to be interested in reading the type I have written. If they’re not interested, I don’t want them to represent it (and they wouldn’t want to either) so why both query them? If you can find similar types of books either in tone or subject matter in their list, you’ve got a possible winner (I say possible, but we’ll get into that later). If you can’t find a similar type of book, don’t dismiss them. Check out their web site, if they have one, and see what books and clients they have listed there.

Once, you’ve identified the agent as liking your book’s style, next you want to research them as an agent and a person. A writer/agent partnership is a life-long one, and you want it to be good. You want to have an agent you respect, you trust and you can get along with. People are people, and, let’s be honest, we get along with some better than others.

The AgentQuery agent profile page might include links to the agent’s blog and/or website, interviews, etc. Click on those links and spend some time reading that person’s blog, reading their interviews. You’ll get a good idea of who the person is by what they write. If AgentQuery doesn’t have any links, Google the agent and see what you can find. Most agents have either a blog or done at least one interview at some time in their career.

If you can’t find any links about this person, use your gut based on the books they rep.

Now, what if you can’t find any info on the agent? Well, that’s up to you. For me, I wouldn’t put that agent in my top tier list, simply because I don’t want to waste their time or mine sending them something they might not like. If I couldn’t find any other agents that matched, maybe, but out of 124, I think I’ve found 20 good possibilies so far.

All this takes time, of course. But, although I’m anxious to send off my manuscript, I want it done right. Why put in all that work just to rush it now?

Hopefully, I’ll be finished my AgentQuery list in a few days (with my day-job, my available time has shortened), and I’ll let you know how I get along. This is just step 1.

Write On!

Find a good agent

I’m going to be submitting to agents and editors in the next few weeks, after I’ve done a few more tweaks to my manuscript and managed to write a good query letter (which will probably take just as long as it took to write the novel), so it’s a good reminder from literary agent Kristin Nelson to beware when finding a good agent.

Kristin wrote a blog post this week reminding us about the great work of the Writer Beware and Predators & Editors sites. These sites are must-visits when we’re compiling lists of agents we want to send to.

When we’re looking for an agent to represent our work, we should not be looking for someone to sell this one project; we should be looking for someone who can be our partner, our advocate for the rest of our career — a long career. We should be as picky about who our agent should be as agents are about their clients. We should research lists of agents (start with the various books and web sites); research their latest sales on their websites (if they have one) and through Publishers Marketplace (you have to subscribe, but the small fee is worth it). Research the types of books they have sold already, who their clients are and what they’re looking for. Read as many interviews with them as you can find. Go to conferences and watch them speak. All this will help you figure out a good list of agents that you think you can work with. Also, don’t submit unless your type of manuscript is on their list of wants.

Now, figuring that out doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll automatically be a good match. The agents might not get into your work as well as you’d hope. But that’s ok, because someone else will. You just keep sending to others on the list. (This is, of course, after you’ve made sure your manuscript is in publishable state, after being read at critique groups, etc.)

Once you’ve done all this research, don’t burn your bridges if the agent you think you’d love to work with rejects your manuscript. Don’t do what some people have done to agent Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. Don’t email the agent back cursing at the agent. For one thing, it’s rude and unprofessional. For another, you’ve lost your chance with that agent and potentially with others. They know each other.

Remember, this is your career, your book. And you want to give that book the best opportunity it can. Do your research, then be polite and professional. You’ll attract much more with honey than vinegar. It’s cliche but true.

Write On!