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5 Reasons I Love Working with Agents

The word on the street about editor-agent relationships is muddled at best and negative at worst. But I don’t give that much thought when I am in the trenches with an agent reviewing a proposal and negotiating an author’s contract. I decide how my relationships with agents are going to be—and I like working with agents. 



6 Things Writers Should Not Say to Editors or Agents at Writers Conferences

In light of my going to a couple conferences this month, I figured I would put into writing a few things I hope writers will not say to the editors and agents (or maybe just to me) they schedule one-on-ones with. This may be selfish. It may not be. It may actually help someone more than it saves me from having to smile and say my favorite noncommittal word, "Interesting!" Yes, I am being way more tongue-and-cheek here than I would ever be in person, so don't be scared to come talk to me. :) But this space, this blogspot, is kind of like my home, where you have entered in on me being myself and where you get to be... well, whoever you want to be, I guess.

But here are some things I've heard from writers in the past that I hope to not hear at this year's round of conferences. Although, some of them make for great stories.

1. "This is my first draft, but I just wanted to see what you thought."

Huh? No. Do not bring your first draft to a conference. This could be your one shot. Have you seen the movie 8 Mile, or maybe you've just heard the song by Eminem. If not, go listen to it now and then think again about bringing your rough draft to a conference. Now, if your main reason is to attend a conference for a learning experience, that's a whole other story. But still do not show your first draft to an editor. You can consider counseling with an editor, asking questions about the industry, maybe share your idea, but please do not ask us to read your first draft. We are not attending the conference to review manuscripts or to do any conceptualization or development. We are looking for ideas to publish. Well, at least that's why I want to do one-on-ones.

2. "Before I tell you about my manuscript, I just want you to read the first few pages. No, no, just read..."

Umm... Excuse me? Yes, this has happened to me. The writer practically put their one index finger to my lips as I began to talk and said, "Shhh... Just read this. I know it's going to blow you away." Do I really need to say what's wrong with this? Let's just say this writer is not publishing with me.

3. "I know this isn't the kind of book you are looking for, but I just wanted to talk to you anyway."

Yeah, about that. No. I really need to use the little bit of time I have away from the office (on office time by the way) maximizing on meetings that may have some kind of ROI for me and the company. What happens in these meetings is that, fifteen minutes after the author's spiel, I still end up telling them that this is not the kind of project I am looking for, but perhaps XYZ publisher or agent will be better suited for you.

4. "I have never heard or known of a book like mine. It is so unique."

Really. This seems like a good thing, but it's not. If there are no other books in the market like yours, there may be a reason for that--the market (i.e., readers) does not want a book like yours. So saying this is not a selling point. Perhaps you could show how your book is similar to other books along the same lines (same genre or category) and then you could show how your book is different. Saying that you know of no other book like yours in the market says several things: 1) you don't read much, 2) you don't understand the book market, 3) you don't know the job editors have to do to sell book ideas to their sales and marketing team who sell books to distributors based on comparison, 4) you did not do your research.

5. "I don't have a proposal, but I just wanted to see what you thought about this idea."

Great, but not during the one-on-one. Meet me at a meal. I could be off here, but during one-on-ones I expect to meet with authors who are ready to be published. If you are still just learning and seeing if the author's life is right for you, let's talk over a meal.

6. "You guys publish the weird stuff, right?"

Cute. But no. Try not to say anything about the publisher you are meeting with that could be taken negatively. In this case my thoughts were on my defense, not the author's pitch: We publish verifiable genres and recognized BISAC categories--at least in our minds. So that is a little off-putting to say our stuff is weird, but then again maybe you're also saying your stuff is weird and that we should all get along because we're all weird. I guess that's OK. But come to me showing me that you understand what we are publishing and perhaps what we publish sets us apart from what other publishers are doing in our same market. That would be nicer to hear. I don't want to be working for weirdos (although sometimes I question if I am or not, but only I get to say that).

While I may have been taken aback by many more surprising statements during these wonderful editor-writer encounters, these are the ones that come to mind right now. Maybe more will come later. While I am probably the nicest editor you'll meet at a conference (I will still enjoy our meeting as if you have done nothing wrong even if you come to me with any of the intros listed above), I do think it shows an author's thoughtfulness and seriousness about their career when they take these one-on-one meetings and use them for what they are for--to get a publishing deal. If you are not ready to be published or you've found an editor or agent you'd like to just network with but don't have a manuscript ready, you should plan to share a meal with them--sit at their table. Please sit at my table. I love to have a full table. I am there to be exploited and to have indigestion for those three or four days. I love this business, the readers, the authors, and the whole bit that much. And then if I do request your manuscript, please, please send it to me. If you have problems hitting "send," read this.

That is all. Thank you.

What are some interesting things you've heard people say at writers' conferences?


Book Proposal Checklist

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Book Proposal Checklist

Before you hit "send" on that query or proposal to that agent, editor, or publisher, you'll want to make sure you've dotted all your Is and crossed all your Ts. Here's a list that could help you get one step closer to your publishing dreams.

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What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen


What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen

You finally meet with the editor or agent, and to your surprise, after thinking their favorite word is no, they say they like your concept and would love to see more of it. “Here’s my card,” they say. “Please email me a full proposal.” The words you had practiced to combat any objections are caught in your throat and all you can say is, “Oh! Oh, that’s great. OK! Yes? Really? OK! Thank you!”

Yes, they want you to send them your manuscript (or proposal). But you know what some writers do? OK, wait. This requires a list.



The Secret Life of Acquisitions

There’s one thing I think we all—editors, agents, writers, and published authors—can take for granted from time to time during the submissions and acquisitions process. But I think we can all take it down a notch and recognize this one thing—process breeds relationship. Or, maybe I should say, process can breed relationship.

With all the hustle and bustle and demands of the market, we sometimes forget that we are people involved with connecting to other people at some of the deepest, most intimate levels—our passions.

Over the last year or so, I have found myself involved in acquisitions more and more, and what brings me such joy is that I am connecting with and sharing in people’s dreams. I have the privilege of listening to these very special stories that each impact me in their own special way. It is awesome to see their diversity of expression and the various views many have written—some on the same topic. Then there’s the eating together, the e-mails, the cards, the laughter, the butterflies in my stomach (writers aren’t the only ones a little scared), the Facebook posts, the tweets… I really could go on.

Acquisitions is not only about a publishing house meeting this season’s budget or an author becoming an overnight celebrity, but it is also about a meeting of the minds, opportunities to influence culture, and even a chance to share in someone else’s life journey.

I think we should think about these things more. If we thought more like this, I could see more of a community begin to form where editors and agents are not ogres and writers’ pitches are not time wasters. If you’re a writer, you should read my other post called “Editors Are People Too” and see that editors can closely relate to your struggle with pitching ideas and preparing queries. We have to do the same thing, and we get turned down a lot too.

It’s unfortunate that some of the decision-makers respond to pitches as if they themselves have never been rejected or as if they never were nervous when making a presentation that felt like it could make or break them.

On the flip side, publishing houses are not just there to used by “writers” as a get-rich-quick scheme. While I am not addressing those who do not see publishing this way, I have actually been told by a querying author that if we weren’t going to pay him to do his book so that he didn’t have to work then he saw no value in publishing. All right then, sir with no platform or real passion for writing.

It probably can’t be said enough that publishers are taking a risk by partnering with a new author, and they have a strong vested interest in seeing the author grow and come into his/her own. The goal is not to destroy art and creativity, but to corral it and aim it to benefit as many readers as possible. Consider that what’s behind the “big machine” of publishing are people who use their talents and expertise to pour into the success of the author. They too have an attachment to seeing their efforts take flight.

There are those few authors who see this, and they are some of the favorites amongst the book publishing teams. They understand people power. They are thought of first when opportunities for new book ideas or imprint growth and expansion are discussed.

It’s the editor who connects with an author in a special way, who gets introduced or recommended to that author’s writer friend, and together they produce a best seller.

It’s the writer who was specially gifted and surrounded by this unique awareness but didn’t necessarily fit with this one agent, but they get recommended to another agent who has the perfect place for them. 

Maybe I’m an idealist, but at least there’s something to strive for.

Beyond acquisitions and queries, we’re just people with dreams, with gifts and talents, with a desire to be understood and accepted… And when we connect on that level we are able to help each other leverage the right opportunities that lead to our collective success.

I’ve come to appreciate the relationships I’ve formed with some new writers this year. Perhaps I wasn’t able to sell their idea to the team, but I am in one way or another invested in and rooting for their success. I remember them. I think of them often. I have their thank-you notes posted on my wall and keep a file full of their e-mails. I value them.

Acquisitions is about relationships. Who can I connect with today?



What Good Are Agents for Indie Authors?

Just the other day, I posted a comparison of what an indie author would need vs. what an indie musician would need to make their project available to a waiting audience. At the top of the list, I had “manager” for the indie musician and “agent” for the indie author. There was one comment from Vanessa O’Loughlin 
of that said:
"Your Key Player list though is pulling on both self-publishing and traditional publishing, which may be confusing for some writers. If you are self-publishing, you don’t need an agent.”
While I had to rethink what I had said and respond to her comment with what I intended to say, I have since mused over what services an agent may indeed be able to provide an indie author.

Vanessa was right in part, but in a #litchat Twitter discussion today, @JulieBritt asked a brilliant question: “What about selling movie, TV, or technology-not-yet-invented rights. How do you do that without an agent?”

One answer, of course, is simply that you can do whatever you need to do to get your book into the venues and formats you desire without having an agent, but do you want to venture into that without a professional guide?

Many writers want to be able to focus on the creative part of their work without having to focus so much on the business aspects. I understand that this is largely impossible these days, but that’s where my Heavy Hitters for Writers list really shows its value. A writer really should find ways to delegate some of the publishing responsibilities to their network. It actually takes a village to raise a good book (or music project). Publishing companies have teams of people on hand to make one book a success. How much more for the indie author?

Who would fill the top slot of managing an indie writer's career if not an agent?

This is how I understand it from a music perspective: I may not ever want a traditional recording deal, but it is wise for me to acquire an industry-savvy manager who can guide me through making the best decisions about performance contracts for live shows, TV appearances, and compilation projects; commercial endorsements or movies; merchandise, image, and branding; and what venues to perform in. And then he'll even be my muscle when it comes time to collect honorariums, royalties, and other fees. So my need for a manager goes beyond me wanting to be represented in front of record labels; he is there to support me in all my music endeavors. Of course, I am taking responsibility to educate myself and obtain the best basic information I can, however, I don't have to do it all myself.

Just the same, agents have a specialized knowledge of the book publishing industry that covers everything from pointing out content issues in a book to protecting intellectual property rights to helping a writer plan a long-term writing career. But, traditionally, agents are there to represent authors who will eventually go the mainstream publishing avenue by selling their manuscripts to publishers.

So here’s my question: as the book publishing landscape continues to evolve and the quality of self-publishing changes connotations and takes on a more credible indie feel, will agents make themselves available to indie authors to help them navigate derivative product and multimedia options for their books? Will it ever be necessary for an author who is indie by choice to acquire the services of an agent?