Month: September 2007 Page 2 of 5

An Interview with an Agent… (IV)

Please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂

Q: What do you think about the trend for agents to request shorter fiction synopses of one to three pages?

AK: I’m still old school. I want the story. For a 300-page book, it’s okay to send a 15-20-page synopsis. If you can get it all in three pages, that’s okay.

SB: I hate synopses. Absolutely. They’re so hard to write well. You’re almost wasting your time. I don’t want to see them at the beginning. I don’t want more than two pages. Does everyone know synopses are supposed to be written in the present tense? You do, at some point, have to write one. I don’t want them with the query letter.

AK: I look at synopses as if they were the first draft. I’m not too worried about them.

SB: I think a better use of your time is the one-page query letter. The letter hsould have a paragraph that sums up your book very succinctly. I look for beautiful writing, a paragraph about 5-6 sentences that tells what the book was about.

AK: I agree. That is your pitch.

SB: We do that when pitching to editors. You’re supposed to be able to pitch your book.

Q: What’s selling? Should we jump on a bandwagon?

SB: I’m not a big fan of trying to follow trends. If you’re spotting a trend, it’s too late. I don’t know how to spot trends. For example, after 9-11, everybody was writing a book. None of those books did well. You’re second-guessing a commercial audience. However, there’s a trend I’ve seen building for years. In mysteries, they’re not even looking at male protagonists. It’s been developing for years.

AK: Do not follow trends. If it’s good, it’ll get picked up.

Q: What shoudl an author look for when choosing an agent?

AK: It doesn’t do any good if you look them up in the Writer’s Market and it says they’re not taking any new authors. Look at the genres. If you’re in their category, send a query.

SB: Look at books similar to yours and see who the agent is on the acknowledgements page. When you target an agent, you can make the query letter more personal and say that your book is similar to this book you represented. It shows you did your work. You need to target agents as much as agents are targeting editors. It matters.

AK: Me, too. If you know something about me, it makes me feel good.

Q: How can writers protect themselves from scam agents?

AK: If anybody is charging money to represent you, run the other way.

Beth: If an agent says you are “almost ready” and refers you to a book doctor, run.

SB: Yes, but some of those are legitimate. Sometimes I’ll do that, but I’ll give a list of editors to choose from. Agents work on commission. Fees are against the practice of being a legitimate agent. Like reading fees.

Q: What’s are the advantages and disadvantages of a single-agent agency versus a multi-agent agency?

SB: I’ve never worked in a large agency. I would think the advantage of a small agency would be the personal relationship. Big agencies would be able to develop a personal relationship, but they may have pressures to carry more clients. I answer my phone and my e-mails. But I don’t know.

AK: I’m the same way. I don’t know. Both types of agencies are looking at having personal relationships. That’s why I’m in the business!

An Interview with an Agent… (III)

I wrote furiously through the whole thing, but please understand that I didn’t catch every word, so this is more the “flavor” of the answers than exact quotes. My comments are in [brackets]. Any errors are mine alone 🙂

A committee came up with the first set of questions. See Part VI and following for audience questions. Beth Brownwater led the meeting.

Q: First, explain why an author should hire an agent.

SB: Being an agent is a very subjective business. You can’t represent something you don’t love. There’s a huge difference between agenting for fiction versus non-fiction. It’s easier to sell non-fiction. You have to have an agent if you think your book should go to a big publishing house in New York. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it’s necessary. At any given time, six million people think they are publishable authors; however, there are only 175,000 new titles a year. [YT — 175K titles? I can’t have heard that right.] You could send your book to a small publishing house, without using an agent.

AK: Check out the Writer’s Market books. If a publishing house states it only accepts agented works, don’t bother submitting a manuscript on your own. Agents do the dirty work.

SB: Publishing books involves a lot of business work. An agent can see the bigger picture of what an author could be doing for him/herself, as a business. It can be very hard to find a match with a good agent.

Q: What’s a typical week like for you?

AK: I don’t have a typical day! Monday, I try not to answer the phone. I get 60-100 e-mails a day, and I have lots of reading to do. I have a first reader to help. Once we accept the manuscript, I always do the final reading before we start submitting the book. I talk to the editor before I submit a book.

SB: There is no typical week. I have about twenty clients, of whom 13-14 are really active right now. I have projects at every stage. I talk to my clients, editors of works in progress, editors who might be interested in projects. E-mail is great. No more postage. [YT — she flashed this huge grin at this point.] I follow up on submissions. You have to get the book to the right editor. You only have one shot. You need a killer cover letter for fiction. I need to make sure I have a good handle on my authors’ bios for when I’m talking to editors. For one of my writers, I’m prescreening publicists, because there’s potential for the book to be really big. I do a ton of little bitty detail work.

Q: What makes you more likely to take on a book?

SB: First I would like to say, don’t be insulted by a form rejection letter. I tried to personally answer my submissions for years, but I finally got smart. I don’t have time. I’m looking at 60-100 manuscripts per week. More than anything, what I’m looking for are smart writers. A good hook is good, but it’s not enough. The writing’s gotta hold up. I sometimes get a letter with a good hook, but the writing has nothing to do with what was in the quety letter. I love humor. Especially in mysteries. For nonfiction, the platform is very important. You have to have some expertise, credentials. Does everyone know what a platform is? A platform means you’re already out speaking to an audience. Professors. Journalists. Business books especially. Be out there as a consultant, in front of large audiences. The exception would be memoirs.

AK: I do love humor. If you put a hook in, I want a synopsis in the query letter. The synopsis is very important. If you hook me with humor, I read the synopsis, and it’s boring, I won’t ask for more. Keep the momentum up in the book.

Q: What gets included in query letters that turns you off?

AK: When the query letter is so rigid, I can’t tell what the writing style will be like. A formal query letter is okay, but I want to see your personality in your query letter.

SB: If you e-mail your query letter and then send an attachment without being asked! Or if you include an elaborate picture in the body of the e-mail. I won’t open it; it’s presumptuous. I don’t like arrogance. You should be confident, not arrogant. That’s fiction. For non-fiction, I want something about your credentials. Say something about yourself. You have to fit this all on one page. It’s covering a lot. Your query letter is your first sample of writing, so the writing has to be good. Let me know if you’ve had a story published here or there, if you’re part of PPWC or a critique group. If you have a related degree. I want background. If it’s nonfiction, you have to talk about your credentials in your query letter. Don’t be vague. Don’t write sentences implying something. If you’ve been previously published, don’t say, “it sold well,” give numbers. Don’t take offense at this, but if you’re self-published, don’t say you’re a published author. Be completely upfront and honest.

AK: For e-mails, don’t send the same e-mail to fifty of us. They just get deleted.

SB: Hear, hear. Have you heard about “Scriptblaster”? Don’t do it. They send submissions to 3000+ agents. Why would I respond? I have no interest and no time to respond to that kind of submission. I auto-delete them.

Q: Apparently, there’s a new trend of sending 3-5 pages with a query letter, even if you haven’t been asked. What do you think about that?

SB: I actually don’t feel strongly about this. If someone sticks pages in, I don’t care, I’ll read them. (They have to be in the body of the e-mail, not an attachment, if it’s an electronic submission.) Now, some agents, that would be the kiss of death. Five pages is too many; don’t send more than three. Mostly I won’t get past the end of page one.

AK: I don’t mind. One to three pages is good. If I read the first page and I don’t like it, I won’t ask for more. I’ll stop reading at the first page, either way.

An Interview with an Agent… (II)

The “Write Brain” session was held at Cottonwood Artists’ School, across from the new America the Beautiful Park. (I’ve heard talk the school was to be closed and razed to build a hotel. But everything was full speed ahead, as far as I could tell.)

When I pulled into the parking lot, other cars were trickling in behind me. Oh good, I thought, this really isn’t going to be six people sitting around a table, blindly critiquing each others’ work. (I hate workshopping.* I’d rather have someone I trust read my book, or read someone else’s book. Not have a dozen people sit around with twenty pages, coming to the consensus that the best way to tell if spaghetti is cooked is to throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.)

I didn’t count, but somewhere between 50-75 people showed up, eventually. I think the last person was fifteen minutes late, which was handled quietly but amusingly: she was pointed straight to the front row.

As I walked in, my initial impression of the place was that it was a working artists’ school, rather than a selling artists’ school, which is what the Bemis and the BAC (in Manitou) come across as. Not that art shouldn’t be sold, and not that the art at the Cottonwood shouldn’t be sold: I found a print of a luminous, leafless white tree against the dark background of an evergreen forest that I really wanted and may have to go back and check out (I didn’t get the artist’s name). But it looked like people spent more time working at art than putting in new carpet or painting over nicks or replacing ceiling tiles. A good impression. The paintings in the room we were in were hung with awards: the ribbons were the same kind I remember from 4-H at the state fair.

My first impression of the people themselves was to laugh: a gathering of artists (although maybe not the artists that worked at the Cottonwood) would be more pointedly eclectic. A gathering of “art lovers” would be better dressed. Also, there would be wine in addition to the coffee. But a group of writers is just a bunch of people. People you might see in line at the DMV. “Ordinary” isn’t the word, because almost all of them were holding notebooks, and how many people walk around waiting for something to be said worth writing down?

I sat next to a guy who looked about sixty, nearly fell over in the chair (me, that is), scooted over a seat, and sat next to someone who looked like a frazzled admin escaped from the telephone. It smelled like lavender. The woman in front of me had done her dark blonde hair, dressed in an orange suit, put on gold-color earrings, and nursed a coffehouse chai, which also smelled good (I don’t know about her, but I’ve nursed many a coffeehouse chai when I was in need of reassurance. Maybe she just liked the taste, though). Missing was the scent of overwhelming perfume: I didn’t catch anybody being drenched, even during intermission. The one artfully-dressed woman I spotted looked like she came with the place, not the group, but I might be wrong.

The Vice President, Beth Brownwater, opened the session. The craft book** of the month was Self-Editing for Writers (I may have written the title down wrong, because I can’t find it now), which was on sale for $11 if you bought it at the table at the back of the room. Other craft books would be on sale. The backside of one of the shelves would be filled with donated books. Donations would be accepted for the donated books; the money would go toward the PPW Microphone Fund. The no-host members night would be the Monday following at 6:30 at Poor Richard’s for everyone to talk about writing and drink hot chocolate*** and eat pizza.

The agents:

Sandra Bond looked very professional, very black-and-white (and not just in a color scheme). Groomed, rather than styled, if that makes sense: styled, to me, means an expenditure of too much effort, where groomed means adaptably tidy, able to fit in as necessary without out-doing anybody. Professional-looking men are groomed. Women with too much hairspray are styled. She was groomed. Strong-prescription glasses. Blinked a lot, at least before she started speaking. Her voice had just a whisper of a lisp in it but sounded charming and unpretentious nevertheless. The charm came from her involvement in what she was talking about: she must love being an agent.

Anita Kushen looked very no-nonsense, like a nurse or a fourth-grade teacher. When she spoke, her face lightened up, and I realized that she was the kind of person accustomed to being the life of the party. When she was being introduced, she reacted to what was being said about her, a little self-consciously. It was almost like she wasn’t herself unless her face was in motion, but as the introduction went on, we found out she’d worked for a rape crisis hotline, among other jobs requiring an abolition of nonsense, so I wasn’t totally off in my initial impression, either.

*But not as much as I hate revising. Let’s keep this in perspective, here.
**I like the idea of referring to writing as a craft. Writing is somewhere between tatting and casting black-magic curses on ones exes, after all.
***Poor Richard‘s opened a wine-and-chocolate bar in one section of their meandering store, uh, I think it was last year. Ooooh…looks like they put in free wireless now, too. I swear the goal of their toy store is to get adults to buy stuff.

An Interview with an Agent… (I)

…or two.

On Wednesday, I went to a trial (for me) meeting of the Pikes Peak Writers group, “What Literary Agents Want, featuring Literary Agents Sandra Bond and AnitaKushen.” The writer’s group, among other things, holds an annual, 3-day Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Here‘s a link to the 2006 conference to give an idea of what they do. (I linked to 2006 because I recognized more names, including Dan Simmons and Kage Baker.)

I had heard of the conference before, but I kept thinking, “I’m not ready yet.” Well, having survived this round of revisions, I can say, “I’ve written a whole book, one that makes sense, one that’s readable all the way through” and so now am feeling cocky enough to brave plunking down that kind of cash. “I can write it off my taxes,” I tell myself, feeling ever so worldly.

Other upcoming events: November 1st, a funraiser/booksigning at Poor Richard’s, with local authors signing as follows:

Ronald Cree, Desert Blood
Frank Dorchak, Sleepwalkers
Beth Groundwater, A Real Basket Case
Linda LeBlanc, Beyond the Summit
Elizabeth Roberts, Living with IBD & IBS: A Personal Journey of Success
Charlie Rush, One Turn of the Cards
Robert Spiller, The Witch of Agnesi and A Calculated Demise
Sarah Vigil Swiger, The Divine Plan: A Novel of Obsession

And here’s the kicker: The November 3rd workshop will be an all-day, Saturday workshop called, “Scaring your Readers, featuring Tom Piccirilli, Melanie Tem, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Carrie Vaughn.” The workshop will cover the differences in suspense used by horror, suspense, and crime fiction and other suspense-type topics.

I am totally going.

“Your Brains”

by Jonathan Coulton and Our Friends at WoW.

A delightful, somewhat-folksy plea by a zombie to his former co-worker.

And here‘s his home site.

(via Doyce.)

Mmmm….Bacon….

Mmmmm…..chocolate….

Heh. I’ve had this brand of chocolate (Vosges). It was waaaay to expensive. But this, I may actually fork out the $6.00 for, because what have you lived for in life, if you have turned your back on the ability to taste “Mo’s Bacon Bar”?

(Via Accidental Hedonist)

Evening at Wagah.

Pakistan is a Muslim nation that split off from India in 1947. Wagah is a border crossing, in fact the only road crossing the border, between the two nations. Wearing ceremonial clothing that seems to mock the former British colonial rule than anything else, representatives perform a host of ridiculous postures and walks as the border is closed and the two flags simultaneously lowered.

They must not have soccer games.*

*Which came first, the chicken or the Ministry of Silly Walks? Michael Palin narrates. Via Neatorama.

Places.

Two Neatorama links:

Ten Divinely Designed Churches

Ten Most Amazing Temples in the World

Q: What does evil look like?

A: Like a bunch of happy, smiling, normal people who just happen to be members of the SS at Auschwitz.

Book Review: How to Write a Dirty Story:

Reading, Writing, and Publishing Erotica, by Susie Bright.

Susie Bright is one of the, um, seminal writers of erotic* fiction, editor of Herotica (lesbian erotica) and The Best American Erotica series as well as the author of a ton of other books (titles like Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie). She’s not one of my favorite writers, but she does a good, solid schtick: Sex is good. Also, it happens to touch on almost every aspect of people’s lives. Also, there’s a lot more variety than you think there is. And a lot of things to appreciate. And a lot of things to hate…

She brings the same attitude to her book. The writing advice is good, solid stuff, but nothing really original, in either the advice or the writing exercises (other than the one about taping yourself, but that seems a pretty direct, obvious suggestion). She spends a lot of her time (as I suppose she must) reassuring writers that writing about sex isn’t bad and is, in fact, as vital as writing about relationships or death.

Where the book truly shines, though, is the last third, which covers the publishing industry. She makes a good case for staying out of publishing: your hands stay clean. Publishing is the kind of work that some writers are never going to love. And how hard you’re going to have to work at marketing…

I’ve found better books on writing. They didn’t go as far as How to Write a Dirty Story does about sex, but really — once you’ve gotten over the forbidden aspect of writing about sex, it’s like fortune cookies: take all the advice you like and add the words “in bed” at the end:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Avoid cliches.
  • Plot is important.

Writing about sex is hard. Writing in general is hard. Not a bad little book, though.

*There’s a debate over whether you should call sexually arousing material “erotica” or “pornography.” While people generally use “erotica” to mean “pitched toward more literate/sophisticated audiences,” I tend to use it to cover written material, and “porn” (pornography being literally “the writing of harlots,” ironically) for visual material. Just the era I grew up in, I guess. “Porn” was what guys sneaked away to watch; “erotica” was the books we passed around at the dorm (the early ’90’s being the point at which “erotica” became a more commonly-thrown-around term).

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