tagged with: agents

Most professionals are required to attend at least two conferences a year. By doing this, they gain new information in their field, get to network with other members, and acquire tools that help them advance in their career. It’s the same for writers. You can read all the books on writing and meet regularly with your writers’ group, but one of the best ways to develop as a writer is by attending writer’s conferences. Maybe you  already know this and are planning to attend a conference this year or the next. In order to get the most for your money, here are some things you should know.

1. First decide what you want out of the conference. Conferences offer a lot of sessions on different aspects of writing. Depending on the type of conference, there may be workshops on everything from fiction as well as non-fiction writing, social media networking, website design and, of course, opportunities for pitching to agents/editors. Some conferences also offer critiquing and mentoring. What do you want? Maybe you are a fiction writer with a manuscript you would like to pitch, and you’re also interested in social media. Zero in on the one that’s more important – you may not have time for both – then prepare accordingly.

2. Register early. The early bird catches the fattest worm doesn’t only apply to hungry birds. If you want to get the most benefit for your money, you should register early. Reason is, workshops, especially those that are most in demand, fill up quickly. Also, if you are looking to pitch your manuscript, by registering early you are more likely to get the appointments you want.

3. Do your research. After you register, you should receive a packet with a list of presenters, editors and agents who will be at the conference. A well-organized conference will indicate the learning level of the workshops. You don’t want to waste precious dollars sitting in a session that is beneath your knowledge level. Also, and this is very important, if you plan to pitch to an agent/editor, study their bios listed on the conference website so you know what they are looking for. Don’t pick a fantasy editor if you are a romance author.  When you have found some you’re interested in, visit their websites or Facebook pages to see what kinds of books they deal with.

4. Prepare for your appointments. Once you have selected the people you want to pitch to, get your manuscript(s) ready. Most agents don’t want a whole manuscript at the conference – not even a proposal – but they will look at your one-sheet or outline and if they’re interested, they would request a proposal. However, what I found at the last conference I attended is that after I’d pitched my story, they all asked to see the first five pages of my manuscript, which they read before giving it back to me. So, if you’re having multiple appointments, make sure you walk with several copies of your one-sheet and either the first five pages or the first chapter of your manuscript.

5. Practice your pitch. Katherine Sands in her book Making The Perfect Pitch says when practicing your pitch you should interview yourself. What would you say if you were on Oprah? What would you want your viewers and readers to know, not just about your book, but about you. I remember an agent’s first question to me at a conference was, “What kind of books do you like to read?” Now, that’s a loaded question. If you are a writer, you should love to read, and you should be reading some books – not all –  in the genre you write. Fortunately, I love to read, so I was able to answer that question comfortably, but I hadn’t prepared for it. Practice your pitch in front of the mirror and with someone until it sounds perfect.  Remember you only have five minutes to impress the agent or editor.

6. Dress professionally. At the conference you want to impress others, but a writer’s conference is not the place for your stilettos and low-cut blouses. Leave those for the gala night. Most conference brochures will emphasize business casual as the dress code. Why is this important? The people you meet with will be forming their own impression of you. Do you look like someone they would want to do business with in the future? By dressing professionally, you will demonstrate that you are serious about your work and can be taken seriously.

7. Give them something to remember you by.  Every writer should have business cards. You can either make them yourself, or have them made very inexpensively from Vistaprint in a color that matches your website or one-sheet. A word about one-sheets. In case you don’t know, a one-sheet is literally one sheet. It gives the hook and a brief description of your novel, along with your bio, a professional-looking headshot of yourself, and a photo that depicts the essence of your book. Most agents will keep this so when you send your proposal, they will remember who it came from.

Keep your business card in a neat little case so you don’t have to hunt for it when you need to give a card to someone.

8. Take notes. Obviously, you will take notes during your workshop sessions. Don’t depend on the outlines the presenters hand out because by the time you get home, you may have forgotten everything else. Also, take notes at your appointments. Each agent may request something different. One may ask for a query, synopsis and the first chapter; another may want a full-scale proposal. Make sure you understand and give them what they require.

9. Network, network, network. At one conference I attended, we actually had a workshop on networking. We were made to work the room with our business card in hand and talk to as many people as possible. To some attendees, it was no big deal, but to the more introverted ones like myself, it was intimidating at first. However, once I got the hang of it, I had fun doing it, and made quite a few friends. So when you go to that conference, don’t sit at the same table for every meal. And if possible, try to sit at the agents’ table at least once. They always leave a few extra seats for attendees. You never know, your next contract may come from an informal meeting such as this and not from your appointment.

10. Follow up. After the conference, be sure to email the contacts you made and let them know you enjoyed meeting them. Get your queries or proposals ready and send them off to the agents who requested them during the timeframe they stipulated. Attach a cover letter stating that you met them at the conference, state date and place, and you are sending your query per their request. If you had an appointment with someone and were not able to keep it, send your query and explain what happened. Also, if your agent suggested changes, be sure to make those changes for that particular query.

Attending conferences is one of the things I enjoy about being a writer. I get to visit a strange place, most of the time, and meet other writers. Most of all, I increase my knowledge about the craft of writing, and return home energized to keep on writing. What has been your experience at writer’s conferences? Please leave a comment in the box below, and if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my blog.

As I continue to research agents to query for Coming Out Of Egypt, I sometimes stop to read that agent’s blog to see what he/she might be looking for or what his/her pet peeve might be. It never ceases to amaze me that most of the agents make the same comments about why they reject someone’s query.

Some of the comments I see are:

1. Query addressed to the wrong agent. Now you might think that the agent could pass it on to the right person, but if they are very busy and harried they may not be able to do this. Also, it shows that the author did not take the time to research the agency properly to see who accepts what.

2. Misspelling the agent’s name. This is a no-no! How would you like it if someone misspelled your name, or called you by the wrong name. The agent probably thinks, if she misspelled my name she may misspell other things too.

3. Not following the guidelines. If they ask for a one-page synopsis, then please don’t send two pages, thinking more is better. If they only accept 75, 000 word manuscripts, don’t send them 80, 000. If they ask for the first three chapters, don’t leave them out. These may seem like nitpicking, but they are not, when you consider that agents receive hundreds of submissions a day. As great as your query may be, they won’t have the time to call you up and ask you for the missing pages.

4. Poorly-written queries. This may not be your fault. You may simply not know the first thing about crafting a query. Then learn. Attend writer’s conferences; take a course; join a critique group; read the agents’ blogs. Many of them mention that writers confuse the query with the synopsis. Consider your query your elevator pitch, what your book is about. This should not be more than three or four lines, according to one agent whose webinar I attended and who later requested my partial. Your synopsis is where you get to reveal the entire plot to the agent. When I say the entire plot, I mean the main plot, including how the story ends, not every little twist and turn. Then make sure you proofread your script, or better yet have another pair of eyes look at it for typos or grammatical errors.

Poorly-written opening page.
One agent puts it this way. “Please, for the love of books, do not use a mirror in the opening pages to have your character describe what they look like.” Try to hook your reader/agent from the opening sentence. Another turn off for agents is beginning by describing scenery or the person waking up or starting with backstory.

Leaving out your contact information. This could be an oversight, but it can cost you dearly if your query showed promise and the agent wants to contact you. If you submit by email, make sure you use your primary email so the agent can reach you. If you sent it by snail mail, be sure to include your SASE.

Before you submit your query to an agent/publisher, you should first see yourself as a salesperson taking a sample of your product to a manager or purchaser. You should 1) Know that the company sells the kind of product you are marketing. 2) Make sure your sample is the best it can be. No smudges, parts missing, or not working right. 3) Make sure you explain as succinctly as possible what your product can do for that company. If you bear these points in mind when preparing your query, you should have a winner.

I received a very distressing e-mail from one of my writer friends and a member of my critique group the other day. She has written a series of three books so far and is working on the fourth, but she doesn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for it. My friend, Yvonne Anderson, is an excellent writer and she has helped me a lot in my development as a writer, so when I read that message, I felt an ache inside. For her, for myself and for all the authors having to deal with rejections and little or no advance.

Yvonne published the first two of her Gateway to Gannah series with a traditional publisher, who doesn’t pay any advance and does not assist with publicity. Therefore, she is left to handle all the marketing herself and as a relatively new author, book sales are slow. Not an encouraging picture, is it? In today’s publishing world where closures and mergers are the order of the day, and agents only seem to accept queries by referral only, new authors are having a hard time cracking the proverbial glass ceiling.

However, every now and again I come across a blog post that gives me a bit of hope. Julie Isaac, author and book coach, whom I follow on Twitter, wrote about Dr. Richard Carlson, now famous author of Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. One evening, Dr. Carlson was discussing with his wife that he was thinking of quitting writing because he had received such a small advance on his book, You Can Be Happy, No Matter What, when the phone rang. It was Oprah’s producer calling to say that she was just in their library looking for a book on stress management when the book fell off the shelf and hit her in the head. (If I wrote that in one of my novels you would say it was contrived, wouldn’t you?)

But anyway, the lady wanted to know if Dr. Carlson could fly out the next day to be on the Oprah show. And the rest, as they say, is history. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff has sold over 25 million copies. What are the chances of your book falling off a shelf and hitting Oprah’s producer in the head? The same as lightning striking on a clear, sunny day. But if you don’t give into discouragement, doubt and fear and keep on writing, you can eventually succeed in the writing business. Don’t give up!

You can view Yvonne’s blog (and buy one of her books!) here: http://yswords.com.

For most of this week I have been working on creating a pitch for my book Coming Out of Egypt for an upcoming conference. I have read and read about the perfect pitch – an author’s fifteen minute chance to enter the hall of fame. From what I’ve read, and imagined, this can be a nerve-wracking experience. You may stumble, forget your lines, or do any number of stupid things. But not if you prepare properly.

So, here are some things I gleaned from my reading:

1. Do not be egotistical. That is, do not go into the room behaving like you’re the next John Grisham and you’re doing the agent a favor.
2. Do not cower, beg or cry. “I’ve tried several agents and publishers and you are my last hope.”
3. Do not read your pitch. Practice your pitch before a mirror and in front of others before the big day, so you sound as natural as possible.
4. Do not try to give every plot point or twist. Give only the hook.

Okay, so I’m not going to do any of those. What I am going to do is:

1. Research the agent to make sure she’s interested in my genre.
2. Practice my pitch until it rolls off my tongue like butter on a hot griddle.
3. Be prepared to answer other questions about my book that the agent may ask.
4. Have my business card, synopsis and three sample chapters neatly piled in a folder. And, oh, a SASE just in case the agent wants to contact me by mail.

Have you pitched your book and would like to share your experience? Please use the comment box below. Okay, got to run. I have a pitch to pitch, er, practice.

My post in the A – Z challenge is going to be a short one on querying. If you are an author or freelance writer, you have no doubt researched the art of writing the query letter, or may have attended workshops on the subject. Therefore, I will not bore you with writing what you already know. The query letter is one of the ways you get an agent or publisher to take notice of your work. If you get it right, you could be on to something, get it wrong and your excellent work goes unnoticed.

What if you could find a list of suitable agents, get some help with your query letters and keep track of where you sent them? I just signed up for Querytracker, a site which does all that and more. When you join Querytracker you become part of a community of writers who share the same goals and who can help you get your foot in the (agent’s) door. Sounds worthwhile? Check out Querytracker.net, or if you are already a member, drop me a line and let me know what your experience is like.

In my day job as an occupational therapist, I come in close contact with many doctors, and while I have the greatest respect for the majority of them, I never relish the idea of making a visit to one of them. Worse yet, I dread the medications they prescribe. However, recently, a friend of mine recommended me to her doctor, and after seeing him, I came away with the impression that doctors aren’t so bad after all. In fact, my visit reinforced what I already knew – that doctors are necessary to my health and well being.
Which brings me to book doctors.

In this day and age when everyone, including Aunt Lucy, is writing a book, if yours is to be successful, you may need a check up from a book doctor. But before you see one, and make your first co-payment, know what to expect. Your ideal book doctor should be able to:

1. Give you an honest and professional evaluation of your project.

Like a “real” doctor, a book doctor will first evaluate the health of your book. He will look for things like viability or salability of your idea. Is it the kind of thing that will catch an agent’s or publisher’s eye? Is it well written? Does the story flow logically? Does it have a satisfying conclusion?

2. Begin treatment

Once the results of the evaluation come in, your doctor begins treatment. He may have to cut you open and remove some things that are not working. Oh, how you dread it! As a writer, you have labored over those parts for months, but they may be the reason you keep coming down with rejection after rejection. Once the treatment is finished, your book will pass all the tests and you may get the much-coveted contract.

3. Make recommendations

Now that your idea is working smoothly, your book doctor will recommend the right markets for you to submit your work. He will also prepare a winning proposal that will ensure your project doesn’t end up in the slush pile. Your project will live!

So if you have been putting off that visit to a book doctor, don’t hesitate. But don’t just close your eyes and pick one out from the yellow pages. Get a recommendation from a trusted friend or from your writer’s group, and then go with confidence. Your book will thank you.