New agent alert

Ok, don’t got too excited about that title. New agents are typically a great opportunity for unpublished writers, but this one might not be the agent you’re looking for.

Introducing the Hannah Rogers Literary Agency, the “desperate writer’s last resort.” 🙂

This joke comes to us by Evil Editor. Browse around the site for a few laughs.

Hope there aren’t any real agents out there called Hannah Rogers.

Write On!

Agent news and contests

Manuscript update: Still nothing new as I’ve been too busy with http://www.discdish.com. But I’ve got lots of ideas for I get back to the book.

Some quick agent news:

Bree Ogden has been made an associate agent at Martin Literary Management. She will represent children’s, young adult and graphic novels. Here’s some info on Bree, and she’s agreed to answer a few questions for DayByDayWriter, so stay tuned for that.

And Devin McIntyre has opened his own shingle: The McIntyre Agency. He has been an agent with Mary Evans Inc. since 2002 and reps childrens books, graphic novels and adult genres. Here’s his AuthorAdvance page and his Publishers Marketplace page.

And some quick contest news:

The Next Big Writer (sounds like a reality show, doesn’t it?) is running a Strongest Start Novel Competition for the best first three chapters of a novel. You can enter if whether you’ve completed the novel or not, as long as you’ve got the first three chapters and they’re polished. Oh, and you have to be a member of critique network The Next Big Writer. Here’s the rundown from the contest:

If you’ve been working on a novel, or have one written already, polish your first three chapters and consider entering this competition. TheNextBigWriter is an online workshop. By entering, you receive feedback on every chapter you submit. This is a great opportunity to have your work-in-progress reviewed, and you may even win! You do NOT need to have completed your entire novel, so this competition is open to those who have started or are working on their novels.

The grand prize is $500 and a $2,500 self-publishing deal from CreatSpace and feedback on every chapter.

$100 cash prizes will be given for sci-fi/fantasy/horror, romance and memoir/non-fiction. And the deadline is June 8.

And Writer’s Digest is holding its 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, with a grand prize of $3,000 and a trip to New York to meet with editors and agents.

Now, this contest has entry fees, and they increase by $5 if you submit after May 14 and by $10 if you submit after June 1. You can enter in the following categories:

  • Inspirational writing (spiritual/religion)
  • Memoirs/personal essay
  • Magazine feature article
  • Genre short story
  • Mainstream/Literary short story
  • Rhyming poetry
  • Non-rhyming poetry
  • Stage play
  • TV/Movie script
  • Children’s/young adult

I don’t endorse either of these, as I don’t have any experience with either.

Slush Pile: Then and now

Revision update: Another two chapters revised in the last two days, but I’m starting to doubt that I’ll finish by the end of the week. Maybe end of next week?

For unpublished writers, facing the slush pile can seem daunting. We hear all these horror stories about manuscripts getting buried in six-foot piles of paper, never to be heard from again. We send off query letters filled with hopes and dreams and fear they’ll get lost in a sea of other queries.

The slush pile has changed a lot in the last few years. It used to be stacks and stacks of manuscripts in an editor’s office, but that has — mostly — gone now. In its article Death of the Slush Pile, the Wall Street Journal offers up some of the well-known authors who were discovered through the slush pile when it was in its heyday, such as Anne Frank. If it wasn’t for the slush pile, we wouldn’t have her classic literary work, which is a staple of English class curriculums.

But what WSJ’s Katherine Rosman doesn’t point out is that it’s not so much that the slush pile has died, it has just changed. Today, most publishing houses won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts except from agents. So the slush pile has moved from the editor’s desk to the agent’s desk, and for most agents, it has moved from paper to electronic. This newest technological change benefits both agents and writers. When I sent out my first query letter for my first novel, within minutes I had a request for the full manuscript. Not every agent was so quick, but on average, I’d say the turnaround time was around a week between query and response. (It was longer after a full was requested, but that’s a lot more reading on the part of the agent.) A week is a lot different from the three-to-six-month turnaround time — at least — when writers and agents/editors were dealing with paper copies.

Rosman does point out one agent slush pile success: Stephenie Meyer. But agents will tell you there are many others.

Here’s the latest example: Earlier this month, agent Janet Reid wrote about the launch of her client Patrick Lee‘s book and how that book came to her as a query in her slush pile back in August 2007.

And on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, agent Ted Malawer told how he found his client Sydney Salter through her stellar query letter in his agency’s slush pile.

These are just two examples, but it shows that, with a brilliant query letter and an equally brilliant manuscript, slush can in fact work.

Hang in there.

Write On!

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!