Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding an Agent

Years ago I thought the process went like this; you wrote a book, you mailed the whole manuscript to the most well known publisher you knew, and you waited by the mailbox for that big advance check.

It had to be that simple, how else could there be so many books in the libraries, the bookstores, the magazine stands? Hmmmm?

Turns out the process is slightly more detailed, like a Boeing 747 is "slightly more detailed" than a paper airplane Uncle Gallant folded for you. In fact, I've been told that an author should spend decent time searching for the right agent, comparable to the amount of time spent writing your novel. After all this book is your baby are you really going to leave it with your great aunt Bertha's mailman's daughter?

This is what I've been doing so far to wade through the sea of folks who might represent me.

I piled up all the books I've read in the last two years that are in the same genre as my novel. Then reading the credits I searched for names of agents the authors wished to thank. I cross referenced those names with agent listings in The Writer magazine, in 2104 Writers Market, 2014 Guide to Literary Agents as well as the websites for each agent.

What I discovered is this; agents move around.

So before you send them a query letter, be sure they still exist in the same city on the same street , in the same building as they did when they represented Harper Lee  in 1960, who by the way never published another novel after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Other hints include:

     After identifying 5-10 agents you feel might be a good match for you, start flowing their blogs. (Not all agents have these but many do) Then make sincere comments on these blogs. Was their advice helpful? Did you learn something new? If so tell them. But don't just spill out fluff covered compliments in order to get your name in front of their eyes. Agents are smart I've heard. Do the same thing on their Facebook page.

     Attend writers conferences, meet and greet events, book fairs etc... Last year I attended the Printers Row Literary Fest in Chicago and met writers, agents, publishers and bookmark makers. One cool event. I shook hands, handed out my business card, bought bags of books and asked lots of questions.

     After you've attended a workshop, lecture or other event; drop a personal Thank You note in the mail. Do not go on about your upcoming book, instead just mention that you enjoyed meeting them and/or appreciated the advice they may have given you. Emails are effective but cold, whereas a handwritten Thank You says that you care about detail and relationships.

This is what I've done so far. To date I have not secured an agent but I'll let you know when I do. In the meantime, please leave your own comments about this process. I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Write a Query Letter...A Workshop with Literary Agent Joanna Mackenzie

My life is getting very exciting. Take tonight for example. Leaving the pigs, cows and peacocks and husband behind I trekked up to my old neighborhood in Chicago, Ravenswood, to learn something new.

This old dog needs stimulation if she is to continue remembering the names of her children.

The workshop, sponsored by the Chicago Writers Conference was so worth the moola. For just $50 I was able to meet Joanna Mackenzie, Literary agent with the only literary agency in Chicago, Browne and Miller Literary Associates. Not only did we meet...

Ms. Mackenzie: "Hi"
Me: "Hi"

Yes, I understand the whole idea of networking is to actually work that net so to speak, draw people in, make an impression and all that, but she was just sitting down and the session was starting so I was being respectful of her time.

Who's defensive?

Am not.

Am not.

Do you mind? I have a post to complete. So the session was very good.

They gave us free wine.

Turns out that agents are not as mean as so many of the articles written about them, would have you to believe. In fact, Ms. Mackenzie covered all the basics in a warm and helpful manner. She explained the reasons WHY an author needs an agent, HOW to find and agent and WHEN a query letter should be written. She went into detail about the contents of a query letter and she shared some of the best BAD query letters I have ever seen. 

And they gave us free wine.

She also gave us a serious reality check. Immediately after I asked the question, "Could you please give us a reality check in regards to the number of query letters you receive as compared to books that make it to publication?"

And they gave us free wine.

The breakdown went like this. In a weeks time her agency receives approximately 200 query letters. Seems everyone has the next best seller. Of those 200 her staff will pick out 30 they think are worthy of her time. Of those 30 she might ask 5 authors to send a few chapters. And of those 5...only 1-2 will be selected for possible sale to a publishing company.

Seems a bit daunting does it not? Oh well, at least,

They gave us free wine.

So for those of who are ready to send those first query letters to an agent Ms. Mackenzie advises:

     Do your research. Do not contact an agency that publishes only YA fiction about your fabulous
     new roadkill cookbook.

     Be professional. Instead of "Hiya" Consider, Dear Ms. Mackenzie.

     Tell about your book in a synopsis of one paragraph. Do not send drawings, CDs DVDs or live
     models ready to do a puppet show.

     Do compare your book to other similar types but DO NOT mention that yours is so much

     Do follow the agent specific submission guidelines. Don't send by registered mail if they only
     take email submissions.

     Do wait an appropriate amount of time, such as a couple weeks, before you call to politely
     ask if they received your letter. DO NOT park yourself outside the agents home. This would be
     stalking. Agents don't like stalking

Again, for more information about how to query an agent, go directly to their website.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

From Ignorance to Competence

Four years ago I finally got off my mental arse and started my novel, you know the one I always meant to write.

I had a computer, I had an idea, I had the time.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the skills.

Turns out, writing a book, is hard. At least it was for me. Probably because I did it all wrong.
But I blundered though. It took forever, there was so much to learn about voice and pacing and grammar and character development and scene setting.

Now, finally, my story is complete. Except for a few teeny tiny fixes: like voice, and pacing and grammar and character development and scene setting.

I've learned massive amounts while I've struggled with this huge mess on my desk and in my head and on my pc. I thought maybe I could help some of you newbies out there by sharing my mistakes as well as gifting you with some of my great finds.

Follow along with me as I move towards publication of my first creation. Maybe you'll learn something. I'm sure I will.