Road to Published – Finding an Agent

In the new publishing paradigm, some authors seek editors at small houses instead of an agent. If you want to walk the traditional path (like me), the best idea is still to find an agent to represent you.

Even though the number of agents is high, finding the perfect fit for you and your work takes research and time.

Lots of time. At least six months to a year.

The traditional path is traditionally – slow. Up to three years to see your book in print after you’ve hired an agent. No, I’m not kidding.

Again, this is why many authors cut out the middle man and go straight to editors. Which is fine if you don’t want to be published with one of the big houses. All of these don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, although most of them have imprints that might look at unagented work.

Databases

Fortunately, there are several databases of literary agent listings. Some are provided online which is very convenient. Others can be found in printed guides that are updated annually.

The most well-know listing of literary agents is from the Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest each year. They also have an online database, accessible with paid membership.

This Literary Agent Directory was also helpful. However, I didn’t enter my information. It says access is free, but I don’t know that for sure.

Make sure you don’t shoot in the dark. Read up on any agent before you query them. What do you need to know?

  • Are they accepting new clients?
  • Do they represent your genre?
  • What authors do they represent? Similar to you or not?
  • What are their specific guidelines for submissions?

This final one is important because if you narrow your list down with the other questions and then fail to follow these “rules,” your query will find its way into the trash – rather than the slush pile

Perfecting your Query

If you’re like most writers I know, writing query letters doesn’t top your list of favorite things. Seriously. I would rather go to the dentist.

Never fear! There is a formula for writing an excellent query letter. Do I guarantee it will get you noticed?

Sorry, no.

Query letters should be short and specific.

  • First paragraph includes your logline, title, genre and word count.
  • Second paragraph embellishes the major plot points of the main story line, naming your protagonist and possible the antagonist, but probably not any other characters
  • Third paragraph might be why you chose this agency – or why you are qualified to write this story
  • Final paragraph lists publishing credits or awards that relate to the genre/form you’re submitting
  • Use a professional tone, but keeping it conversational appeals to many agents who want to know you would be someone they could work with

Send queries in batches. Many authors recommend sending to ten agencies at a time. No need to tell them you are querying others, but if you get a request for the full manuscript from more than one agent, you should divulge that to both parties.

Keep Track

All these submissions! How will I ever keep them straight?

I have a handy Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of what manuscripts I’ve submitted. There are also online databases that will help you organize this information.

I had access to the Writer’s Digest Agent Database when I took a class from them. However, that expires unless you become a VIP member by paying a fee.

These are the columns on my spreadsheet: Agent/Editor/Publisher, Contact email, contact Phone, manuscript title, date queried, and date returned.

There is also a “days” column that automatically keeps a running total of how long your submission has been circulating. It’s interesting to note that the agents on my list have taken much longer to respond than the publishers.

I recently added another column: “Results.” This way I can note whether they asked for more pages, rejected or accepted my work.

Here are some links to databases or information to build your own:

Once you send out that first batch of query letters, get to work on your next writing project.

This is what writer’s do. Chewing your fingernails and checking your email every hour won’t get the next story down on paper.

Did you find this information helpful? Please comment and SHARE if you did. This author thanks you.

Road to Self-Published – Finding your Perfect Editor – Part 1

This blog is meant to attract readers for my published works. You know, people who like young adult fantasy or Biblical fictionalizations, or maybe even a little romance. Yet, here I am discussing my journey to being self-published.

Self-publishing still sounds like a dirty word to some people. However, in the past two years, Amazon and the popularity of eBooks has begun to alter that perception.

It’s a slow thing – change. Especially when people have rock-hard opinions in place. The number of independent (i.e. self-published) authors who manage to make a decent living writing and publishing quality books rises with each survey.

For me, I am seeking the traditional path with my young adult manuscript – for now. The Biblical fictionalization, however, appears in my mind as something that isn’t about profit. Why shouldn’t I self-publish it then?

Earlier, I posted about the necessity of hiring an editor if you’re a beginning writer. (Yes, you might be in your 40s with no publishing credits and still be a beginning writer.) In this post, I speak directly about the process I used to find a copy-editor for the manuscript I intend to independently publish in May.

Where I started

As a member of WANA Tribe, I started there. After all, I had superior luck finding beta readers by posting to those boards.

everyone-needs-a-good-editor2Specifically, I posted on the Christian Authors tribe’s board. I asked for referrals to any editors who had experience with Biblical fictionalizations. In my mind, I felt that the two super editors I know (Jami Gold and Marcy Kennedy) were experts in fantasy and paranormal romance. I wanted someone with a little bit of knowledge about this much different market.

With only a single response from that forum, I headed over to the Editorial Freelance Association website. A search narrowed the pool to 121 members. It took plenty of clicking through to learn the information I wanted, but I found two editors to email for more information.

What I found

The list of members on the ERA site is staggering. It can feel overwhelming at first.

Is my method of reading through the bios and checking out sites scientific? Not hardly. It did lead me to an editor I feel comfortable with, however.

I emailed the first two choices and asked for quotes. It was here I learned that many editors don’t call a line edit a line edit. If an editor offers to copy-edit your manuscript, that’s the same thing (they say, although Marcy Kennedy defines the difference on her site). One of the editors quoted me between 8 and 12 cents per word, based on how clean my manuscript started. The other quoted $45/ per hour.

At the ERA site, there is a list of appropriate prices for services. This is the editorial rates chart from that site: Editorialrates

As you can see, both of these first two quotes are above the specified guidelines. Even though I had corresponded several times with one of these editors, I went back to my search list to see if I could find someone closer to the suggested range.

On my next search, I only emailed one editor. Her rates were clearly listed on her clean and user-friendly website. At 1.4 cents per word, her estimate worked out to a rate that was at the high end of the recommended charges.

Check back next Friday to see how I finally found the editor for my self-published manuscript.

I will be running a series of posts on Fridays for the next two months (give or take) about my progress toward publishing – both the self-published track and the traditional path (since I have manuscripts in both).

That manuscript still isn’t perfect yet? – Part Three of my Manuscript Critique

You might be sick of reading about my numerous critique experiences. I know I’m tired of rewriting the manuscript.

Remember I mentioned rewriting the first pages of this manuscript. That rewrite was for a class given by Kristen Lamb.

If you don’t follow her blog, I suggest you follow this link and sign up. If you need to learn about craft or building an author platform, I suggest her classes and her book, Rise of the Machine-Human Authors in a Digital World.

Having met Kristen’s red pen before, I expected a good ripping from her. Good thing I had that sand-papery experience with Ms. Hughes to toughen my sensitive writer’s psyche, right? And don’t forget my friend Becky lambasting what I considered a polished manuscript.

First of all, Kristen called me on the phone to talk about my initial beginning. “Too much telling. Show me how crappy her life is” was the gist of that conversation.

Immediately, I sat down and cranked out a new beginning. I let it sit overnight and then reread it. Not quite where I wanted it to be, so I tweaked it and completely junked the first sentence. After one more go-through, I sent it off to Jedi Master Lamb.

Her response: “Here you go. Much better but watch the 1) odd sentence construction 2) too much physiology and 3) brain-holding.”

You know what rocked me the most about this short and sweet statement? She mentioned the odd sentence construction which was something Alex Hughes also noted. My. Sentences. Suck.

Epiphany: No matter what you think about your sentences, Shari, they are constructed in a way that obscures your meaning.

Time to stop trying to write with variety and just put the words down on the page. Say what you mean to say, Shari. Nothing more. Nothing less. And certainly nothing fancy.

If you’ve taken many creative writing classes, perhaps you have a voice in your head that says “Another subject-verb-object construction? Boring!” According to the professionals who critiqued my manuscript, I need to duct tape this person’s mouth closed and throw her in the basement with my inner editor.

On to number two. What does she mean about “physiology”? Do I have too much heart-pounding? I know there were a few areas where Alex said “choose one” about physical responses. I think Master Lamb is nailing me for the same thing.

Less heart pounding for the character and more for the reader. Got it.

“Brain-holding” stumped me. Given the context, it is obviously something in my writing style. Is she talking about over-explaining? Or am I spending too much time inside the character’s mind? I don’t know.

What do you think? I know you didn’t get to read the pages, but since she didn’t mark them so I knew where I was doing the “brain-holding” I don’t know if seeing them would help.

What is brain-holding in regards to a manuscript? Do you have problems with any of these three areas? How do you improve going forward when someone has pointed out shortfalls in your writing?

Pitching my novel and how movie loglines help

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Everyone talks about how important it is for writer’s to have a single sentence pitch for their novel. Apparently, anytime you’re stuck in an elevator, you spew forth this sentence, hoping an agent or editor is trapped with you in that itsy-bitsy space.

Of course, your captive audience will love your idea and produce a business card. “Send me the full manuscript right away,” the amazed agent/editor says.

In every writer’s dream. I’m 99 percent certain it has never happened that way in reality. Okay, maybe once out of a million encounters.

The idea of just pitching my story to every stranger unlucky enough to get stuck with me in an elevator sounds insane. Granted, to be a professional writer is the number one indicator of insanity, but let’s not dive off the deep end here. You might not want to practice your pitch on every stranger you meet at a writer’s conference, but you should practice your pitch.

Bottom line: it’s essential you know the heart of your story well enough to sum it up in a minute or less. Since I have an appointment with an agent at the Willamette Writer’s Conference, I’ve begun devising the pitch for my novel. Once I perfect it, I will repeat it over and over until I can deliver it smoothly in a single breath.

Boiling a 60,000 word novel down into one sentence is not an easy task. Obviously. If the story could be told in a single sentence, why bother writing over 300 pages? (It could be that insanity thing again.)

Elements of the Pitch

Last summer, my Writing Jedi Master, Kristen Lamb, offered up a simple formula for a pitch. This information was included with a fantastic online class she offers about antagonists. I highly recommend the class; it helped me get into the mind of my bag guy and understand the true problem in my story.

Master Lamb calls this brilliant sentence a story log line. This sentence describes the conflict at the heart of your story, as well as the hero and antagonist.

Here’s the formula: Name the protagonist of your novel (Blake Snyder suggests you use an appositive to describe this character) as well as the antagonist. Now state what the hero must do and what the antagonist hopes to do, including the timeframe for the stakes if possible.

Here’s a basic sample for my Gates of Astrya trilogy (and I’m not saying it is incredible):

Jacinth Krick, orphan and awaited Daughter of Water, must collect three amulets, disenchant statues of her family and face three dragon trials before Chaermeny, the Dark One and enslaver of human souls, returns from exile on the Ides of October.

What do you think? Do you understand the premise for my series?

Movie log lines

The awesome Jedi Master suggests studying log lines from your favorite movies to perfect your ability to summarize your own story in this way.

Here are a few log lines from movies you have surely watched. Can you name that movie from this simple sentence descriptor?

  1. During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
  2. When a woman’s long-time friend says he’s engaged, she realizes she loves him herself… and sets out to get him, with only days before the wedding.
  3. When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
  4. Five high school students, all different stereotypes, meet in detention, where they pour their hearts out to each other, and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.
  5. Los Angeles police officer Brian O’Connor must decide where his loyalties really lie when he becomes enamored with the street racing world he has been sent undercover to destroy.

Hopefully you can see how each of these follows the formula Master Lamb gave to her apprentice writers during her class. In each case, the reader understands the central conflict in the story and the opposing forces.

Why don’t you give it a try for a book you’ve read recently? Practice makes perfect. And log lines make the perfect pitch for your novel.

What other advice do you have for pitching a novel?

(Movies: 1. Jurassic Park; 2. My Best Friend’s Wedding; 3. Jaws; 4. The Breakfast Club; 5. The Fast and the Furious)

Words of Power

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” – Proverbs 18:21

Langston Hughes spoke to me in his poem “A Dream Deferred.”  Many other words, written and spoken, altered my chosen path on the highway of life.

A similar conversation happened on the phone recently. I took a class from WANA International, which I recommend to those looking for inexpensive ways to learn more about the craft of writing. Part of the price was a one-to-one telephone conversation with Kristen Lamb, founder of WANA and instructor for the class I took.

Anticipation of the call is a mild understatement. “MY WRITING JEDI MASTER IS GOING TO TALK TO ME ON THE PHONE AND WAVE HER LIGHT SABER OVER MY MANUSCRIPT AND IT WILL BE PERFECT.”

Have I mentioned what happens when we have high expectations? If so, it bears repeating. High expectations can only be dashed while low expectations might be met or exceeded.

Boy, that Kristen has a powerful light saber. She filled my ears with wonderful advice and my head with plausible options for the fantasy world I had created. My idea was good and the theme (once we found it) will be a powerful one.

Bottom line: scrap that manuscript.

Okay, there goes the months of writing and the weeks of revising. I knew there were problems. I begged her to reconsider and give me ways to fix my hours of blood, sweat and fears (not a typo).

The woman is a rock. “You don’t want Bond-o holding it all together,” not exactly Yoda-speak, but true nonetheless. The infrastructure was shaky and too many patch jobs were needed. In the end, it still might not be something that an agent would buy.

I pulled out Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and skipped the first 50 pages. Actually, I skipped directly to the plotting portion. I promise to go back on read about character and theme. After all, according to Brooks, there are six elements in successful fiction and I want to master them all.

At this point, my job at the school district is looking better and better. Oh, right. I quit and they’ve hired my replacement.

Fine. All those emails I get from Career Builder and indeed.com will lead me to a new job. Instead of writing, I’ll fill out some online applications and send out my resume.

Writing is the dream. I’ve deferred it for too many years to list here and maintain the façade surrounding my true age.

I knew it would be work. The learning curve is steep. I thought college coursework was difficult? Ha! This is Mt. Everest to that Bunker Hill.

Kristen believes I have the foundation and that I’ll do the work. To encourage me, she offered to give me some names of people who could read and blurb my book ONCE IT’S READY TO PUBLISH.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” Master Yoda and Master Lamb, I bow to your knowledge of The Force. Time to get back to work writing.