Tag Archives: agents

Pick Your Friends, Your Nose & Your Agent/Editor

This past weekend, we had the pleasure to attend our God Daughter’s confirmation.  Close family friends since the summer Dear Hubby and I got married, we adults have been through the births, baptisms and first birthdays of a total of seven kids.  Their oldest graduated three years ago.  Ours does in three weeks.

We’ve been blessed to have had such a wonderful and unfaltering friendship between our two families.  In fact, our collective kids consider each other cousins.  In this respect, we’ve proven the old adage wrong–you can pick your family.

Another myth I’d like to dispel is that writer’s can’t pick their agents, editors or publishers.  I believe we writers can become so starved to see our writing validated that we send queries or submission packages out to any and every breathing professional in the publishing industry.  We don’t consider the long-term impact of accepting offers from less than stellar representatives in the writing arena.

Due diligence, my friends.

Our quasi family has the same morals and values as we have.  They value family and faith.  They respect their children and have strong relationships with them.  They are kind and compassionate, honest and filled with integrity.  They’re fun-loving and generous.  They are the kind of people I’d choose for family.

Similarly, this kind of compatibility is possible within the publishing industry if we choose to do the work.  We must research our options, talk with agents and editors before signing with them and discuss future goals to make sure we’re all on the same page.

CAT’S GUIDE TO PICKING YOUR PUBLISHING PROFESSIONAL

  • KNOW YOUR NEEDS: Create a list of what you want and need from your professional.  Promotion, editing, submitting, validation, publishing, Best Seller sales…the list is endless, and specific to each writer.  Know what YOU need and want and why.  It may be vastly different than the writer in the next computer over.  And that’s a good thing.
  • RESEARCH: Sales, clients, policies.  Dig deep to find out what peeps are really saying.  And what they aren’t saying.  Go beyond Google and don’t be afraid of what you might find.  If you find yourself reluctant to read the dirt, then you’re not ready to pick your professional.  You need to KNOW what you need to know.
  • MATCH YOUR NEEDS TO YOUR RESEARCH: It is completely irrelevant what everyone else is doing and who they’re doing it with.  What’s important is how your professional fits with your needs and desires.  These things should fit together like puzzle pieces.

Once you figure out who you want and why, you can begin courting your professional.  Make your contacts meaningful.  Be a professional yourself.  Work harder and smarter to build a relationship with your chosen few.

What’s important to you in a publishing professional?  How do you research your prospective professionals?  How do you court them, and have you been successful in your endeavors to pick your professional?

Curious minds want to know.

Pirates, Dogs and Books, Oh My!

We had a dog.  She was a good dog.  She loved hunting, slept most of the day and was fabulous with the kids.  Then said dog got old.  She no longer hunts, still sleeps most of the day and remains fabulous with the kids.

So, as many of you know, DH bought Dog Number Two.  She hunts, she sleeps (sometimes) and she’s great with kids.  She is a Labrador, after all, and labs are famous for these abilities.  It’s why they have a long history in Dear Hubby’s family.

But just because she’s a lab doesn’t mean she’s a replica of our first dog.  In fact, Kallie is a black lab and Bailey is buff.  While she doesn’t work out in the gym, her hair is very different than Kallie’s.  She sheds more in one day than Kallie does in an entire week.  (If I would have known that pre-purchase, I would have mutinied.)

She also drools more, barks more and jumps all the freakin’ time.  Her world is run by her belly, and therefore, so is ours.  Kallie used to leave food in her bowl for days, nibbling a kibble here and there.  Bailey starts whining by 5:15 in the morning.  Yet, she’s a bit endearing in that she plays constantly and will roll a ball back and forth with her humans.  Kallie has never fetched a ball in her life.

They’re the same, but different.  Slight variations of each other.  Each better at some things than the other, and each far more annoying in their own ways.  They have one purpose: fetch pheasants.  They are the same, but different.

And that’s the thing to remember about marketability in the publishing world.  Just because a genre is hot doesn’t mean we should all write Hot Genre Novels and they will sell.  In fact, it could mean the opposite.  By the time the shelves are filled with one genre, it is likely that agents and editors are no longer looking for those types of novels.

To even be considered for purchase, a novel must truly stand out and stand on its own merits.  It must be different enough from what has come to warrant hard-earned marketing dollars by a publishing company.  It must be unique–in tone, in voice, in style, not just in characterization or setting.  Yet, it can be done.

“Dystopian is out.”  Or so I’ve heard–we’ve all heard it.  Then my wonderfully, talented writing friend, Mindy McGinnis, sold her dystop in a majorly good deal.  This tells me that dystopian–as a gravy train genre–may be heading through the tunnel and out of town, but stellar dystopian novels are alive and kickin’.

It also gives me hope, because I have a chapter book manuscript I love dearly.  (My agent loves it, too, so I know I’m not completely biased.)  And while Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean are hogging the seven seas, I believe the pirate ship hasn’t sailed altogether.  I believe that somewhere in the vast ocean of publishing is a home port with room for a tiny vessel carrying my beloved pirate family.  I believe that my tone, style and voice, along with my characters and plot, are truly unique and not just a slight variation of what’s already out there.

I will never give up on this project, but I’m smart enough to know I can’t sail aimlessly in saturated waters.  It’s why I write nearly every day.  It’s why I have nearly a dozen completed manuscripts–some ready for submission and some not quite.  It’s why I keep my eye on the hunt and why I’m not afraid to buy a new dog.

How about you, dear writers, do you chase publishing trends or stay well away from hot markets?  Why or why not?  Do you let the fate of one novel dictate the fate of all your novels?  How and why? 

As a reader, what do you believe is more important in setting a novel apart from the masses already lining the book store shelves: a unique voice, a unique story idea or unique characters?  Do you read exclusively within specific genres?  If so, does this ever get tiresome?  Do the stories run together after a while?  What truly sets one novel apart from another?

Curious minds want to know.

Leaping Over This Post!

Sorry, my dear readers, writers, family and friends.  I am leaping over this day and concentrating on my writing.  Tweaking a few things for my agent on my MG novel, ABIGAIL BINDLE AND THE SLAM BOOK SCAM.

That, and I should shower at some point today!

Query Letter Face Lift

I’m not so concerned with aging that I’m willing to augment my smaller parts and suction my bigger ones.  I haven’t bought into botulism injections, nor have I chemically peeled my face.  I wear my wrinkles–each earned through loving my four children and all that they bring into my life–with pride.

Except when they get caught in a snapshot.  Frozen for all eternity.  I’ll admit, though not proudly, that I photo-shopped my crow’s feet out of our Christmas card this year.

It’s a simple fix, photo-shopping is.  It allows me to remain who I am every day–flawed, experienced, time-worn and uniquely me–yet do it gracefully in those moments of close-up scrutiny.

I’m sure those who know me by now get the correlation that’s coming.  Our manuscripts are the natural us.  They are robust and filled with character.  They are living, breathing entities that impact the lives of those who dare to read them.

Query letters are snapshots.  They show the flaws, the eye-baggage and gray hairs.  They can appear tired and worn-out.  And yet, this is the very image we send off to agents and editors in hopes that they will be so wowed with what they see they will beg us to come to dinner.

So, do yourself a favor and photo-shop your query letters.  Smooth out the wrinkles, augment what needs bigger and suction out the parts that over-power.   Don’t be afraid to tease out the inner beauty.

Cat’s Guide to Query Letter Face Lifts

  1.  Whiten that Smile: smiles can invite others into our world.  They encourage connection.  Frowns do the exact opposite.  In the same way, your hook entices or warns away your readers.
  2. Make Your Eyes Pop: the old window to the soul cliché is never more important to keep in mind than now.  Eyes can exude warmth, dance with humor, spark with anger or shimmer.  The eyes, my friends, is voice.  It is the tone of your query.  The personality.
  3. Clip Your Nose Hairs: gross, I know, but who can concentrate on a conversation when a black hair woodles in and out with every inhalation and exhalation?  Yeah, didn’t think so.  Cut the distracting subplots.  Limit your character count.  Instead, focus only on the most compelling points of your story.  Anything else is a distraction that can kill an otherwise great query.
  4. Smooth the Wrinkles: query letters are short, but they need to flow.  Word choice is of the utmost importance in creating a cohesive, yet lyrical piece of work.  The style your query letter is written in should reflect the style of your manuscript.  If your sentences ramble, an agent will assume your manuscript also rambles.  If your query is tight and evocative, so should your manuscript be.
  5. Get Out the Zit Stick: as a finishing touch, cover your blemishes.  At all costs, your query must not have typos or silly grammatical mistakes.

So, how do you fare in the query letter department?  How do you photo-shop your words to make the best impression? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS.  Hope your Valentine’s Muse is good to you today!

A Sharp Stick and a Writing Tip

Youngest had it out at the park the other day–according to the mom on my porch and her ice-packed daughter.  Trust me, it’s a front door visit no mom ever wants to get.

Dude, says Upset Mom, your kid punched mine in the face and poked her with a stick.

Now, Youngest can be a scrapper and he–admittedly–has a bit of a temper.  Yet, I’ve never known him to punch another kid in the face (even his brother).  Or poke someone with a stick, for that matter.

His style is more…well, let’s just say he’d throw the stick at you, then tackle you and shove your face in the dirt.  Again, not a proud mom moment, but there ya go.  I know my kids–their perfections and imperfections.

And while I don’t doubt for a second he took part in this playground scuffle, I do question how it all went down.  Especially when he wailed, “But she started it,” as I marched him down the hall and to the door to apologize.

While Upset Mom continued to “just wanted to let you know what [name redacted to protect the not-so-innocent] had done,” the two tusslers made see-ya-at-school-tomorrow faces at each other.

Writing Tip 2011: Do not poke your friends with sticks or punch them in the head.  Because tomorrow, you just might want to play with them again.

Seriously.  I’ve seen authors shred reviewers even as they beg to be reviewed.  I’ve seen the idea of agents bashed by the very people trying to garner notice and representation.  I’ve seen bitter writers decry traditional publishing companies even as they ask, “If my self-pubbed book sells well enough, will I get a publishing deal?”

Here’s the cliché: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  Or at least not the one you want to be fed by.

You don’t have to slide with them or swing with them.  You don’t even have to talk to them.  Certainly, don’t punch them in the face or poke them with a stick.  All you have to do is walk away until you may want to play with them again.

PRESSING QUESTIONS THAT INCITE LOTS OF CONTENTION

  • Do writers really need agents?
  • What does an agent do that you can’t do for yourself?
  • Can you sub directly to editors?  What are the pros and cons to each of these options?
  • To self-pub or continue querying?  That is the question.

Writers, research your options.  Weigh the pros and cons.  Make the decision that is right for you.  Share  your knowledge in a respectful manner with others who may or may not make the same choice you did.  But never, ever attack others.  Especially if you just might want to be fed by them in the future.

So, what about you?  Are you a professional writer or a playground scrapper?  How do you respect an industry that seems to quash the dreams of aspiring writers with great regularity?  Do you find yourself growing bitter and disillusioned?  Is the competitiveness of the industry and the rapidly changing landscape a challenge you still want to tackle?  If so, how do you go about it?

Curious minds want to know.

There’s More than One Writing Box

Youngest can’t play football at recess.  There are certain rules that must be followed and one (or more) of the kids playing failed to follow them.  The result was that ALL the wanna-be quarterbacks got banned from throwing the pigskin for the rest of the week.  (Tears in the morning flat-out stink, by the way.)

Hardly seems fair, that whole guilt by association, punish the masses for the destruction of the few, if-they-look-the-same-smell-the-same-act-the-same-in-the-same-box-they-must-all-go.

Yet, we writers  are just as guilty of this as the Recess Nazis are.

Newbies, we think, and stuff them all into a category of must-need-more-work.

“Agents,” we say, and dismiss them as dream killers even as we beg for their attention and mercy.

Publishers, pshaw!  We all know they hate writers and secretly delight in penning form rejection letters.

Self-pubbed?  Garbage.  All of them.

Or not.

As much as we hate to be stuffed into boxes, we should not seal another’s fate with packing tape and cardboard.  We need to remain open-minded and realize that it is the Few who give the bad name to the Many.

So, today, I ask that you break down the box and recycle it.  Let the non rule-breakers play ball.  Pick up a self-pubbed book with fresh eyes.  Encourage the newbie who might just know more than you.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t let a rejection by one agent/editor spoil your good will toward the others.

I’ll admit that I used to feel a fair amount of disdain toward Agent-Only publishing houses.  Then I learned a few things and realized just how much slush gets sent to agents and editors–and what that slush actually looks like.  My respect level rose tremendously.

I used to hate the whole vampire/werewolf thing.  Then I read Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.  Uhm, definitely out-of-the-box-amazing.

When I was a kid, I thought teachers lived to make recess as boring as possible.  “Don’t run!”  “Don’t bounce that ball!”  “Stop swinging from that bar, you’ll break your leg.”  Seriously, what did they want from us?  A little Kum ba ya?  A coma…?

What are/were some of your preconceived notions about writing, publishing and literature?  Are the judgements fair, or is it time to rethink some things?

Curious minds want to know.

Novel Pitching Made Easy

*taps glass*

I have an announcement.  A discovery, actually.  An epiphany that will make pitching your novel easy peasy.

Dear Daughter has been away at speech camp.  Yeah, they actually have such a thing, and it’s more rigorous than one can imagine.  Just last night, she had a four-hour-long, one-on-one coaching session from 7 to 11 pm.  That’s coming off a 7am start and a jam-packed day of speech prep.  Day five.

After a midnight text exchange–with her bouncing intro ideas off me–and another text session beginning at five thirty this morning, we finally pinned down her introduction.

And guess what?  It’s an awful lot like pitching your novel.  In theory, anyway.

The pitch (aka, DD’s speech intro) has the sole purpose of intriguing our potential agents/editors/readers.  We have, like, twelve seconds to nab their attention.  Gnats live longer than the attention spans of those we are pitching to.

A dry summary of our book is not gonna do it.  Five words in and our potentials will be wondering who’s going to text them next, or what they’re going to eat for lunch, or why we’re wasting their air space with useless words. 

The pitch has to grab them from word one, pull them into the story and make them want to read.  The last thing we want them to think is, “So what?  Why should I care?”

 And that’s exactly what DD’s speech coaches said yesterday with every intro she brought to them.  “So what?  Why should I keep listening to you?”

Ouch.

But for me, it really hit home, and I learned a thing or two that could help you when writing your pitch–whether it’s for a pitch conference or the beginning hook of your query letter.

Here’s what I think I know about the elusive pitch.

  • A pitch has to stand out from the crowd.  At a speech tourney, the judges hear dozens of speeches throughout the day.  In the writing world, agents and editors receive dozens–if not hundreds–of queries a day.  If they all started exactly the same…well, I don’t need to expound on that.
  • A pitch has to make a personal connection, whether through content, voice or unique phrasing.  At a speech tourney, it’s easy to let your mind wander to the clock, the glass of water in front of you or what the speechie is wearing.  In the writing world, it’s even easier to hit the delete key and move on to the next query that doesn’t hold your attention.
  • A pitch has to flow.  Every word must roll together, like a wave drawing a swimmer away from the shore.  It must be fluid and lyrical, and above all else,  crystal clear.  The minute you leave a speech judge or an editor scratching his head, wondering what in the heck you just said, you’ve lost your forward momentum.

…and the things that might help when writing one.

  • Find a unique bent.  First, sum up your novel in a few words.  (DD’s speech novel: it’s about a girl who gets addicted to drugs, is depressed and struggles to find herself.)  This theme is tired.  Hibernate for the winter exhausted.  So, your next step is to absolutely pin down what makes your novel different. (The loss of morality and the ease in which we can lose our moral compass.  How easy it is to blur the lines until they are so wide we no longer see what is wrong.)
  • Make a connection.  Consider your audience.  Why are you pitching them?  What makes each agent a good fit for your book?  Why will your future readers want to read your novel?  Once you uncover the nature of your audience, you can begin to make your pitch relevant.  In the case of DD’s speech: we have all blurred our moral lines.  Even I swiped a cute little butter dish from a restaurant once because we forgot a water dish for our puppy.  Not a proud moment, but relevant in context of DD’s speech.  If I were an agent, editor or judge at a tourney, my attention would be grabbed by a pitch that brought to light my own guilt.  Suddenly, I have an interest in hearing about the downward spiral from a simple misstep to a life of addiction and pain.
  • Make your words sing.  For speeches and pitch conferences, we literally speak out loud to our audience.  Our words must be fluid and  fresh.  They must entice us with their rhythm and leave little doubt in our mind about the message we are presenting.  In queries, we must show potential readers that we are capable of creating solid prose on paper with no words wasted.  Our written voice must be as compelling as our spoken one.

Consider these two versions of DD’s intro.

We all make mistakes, and when we do, the consequences can be devestating.  Crossing a moral line can lead to drug use and alcohol addiction.  This is what happened to (insert author’s name) in (insert title here). 

versus

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  Taken one step to the left of the line when you should have gone right?  It starts innocently enough.  A kiss that lasts too long—who was that guy anyway?  One drink too many or a quick toke on a MaryJane—after all, pot’s not a gateway drug.  Or how about that super cool glass at the restaurant?  Yeah, you know the one.  It’s in your cupboard now. 

Have you ever felt your morals slip?  If you have, watch out for the downward spiral.  It happens.  Drugs, alcohol, theft and one bed too many.  Before you know it, you’re addicted, (insert title here that actually flows with the sentence), a memoir by (insert authorn).

See what a difference word choice makes?

Have you ever pitched your novel live?  If so, share your tips for success.  Query writers: have you ever taken your audience into consideration when writing your query?  I mean really paid attention to who they are and what they like so you can connect with them better?

Curious minds want to know.