Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More About Agents

I guess I have agents on the brain.  I'm trying to work up the courage to start querying them about my first novel, and after attending a conference this past weekend, and listening to Nathan Bransford talk, I know that I've got to quit procrastinating, and JUST. DO. IT.

In his keynote address, Nathan talked a bit about agents.  His emphasis was on finding the agent who is right for you.  That means doing your homework, which is research, research, and more research.  For writers who enjoy research, that's not a big deal, but it is for those who don't.

So, how do you do this research?  The best way is to find their blogs...Google is great for this...and start reading.  Agents are going to tell you lots of things...most have an enormous amount of information on their blogs, so it is up to you to dig it out.

You need to find the agents who best represent the genre and age group that you are the most familiar with and the most comfortable writing about.  After you do that, begin researching the kinds of books they have repped.  Usually these are shown on their blogs or websites.  Then go to Amazon, or even your local library, browse the books and read the reviews.  If the books sound like something you would write about, or what you've written is similar in some way, then this agent might be a good choice for you to query.

It is best to try to find an agent who is affiliated with the Association of Authors' Representatives ( AAR) in order to make sure your agent is legitimate. ( Sorry, but there are scam artists out there in the literary world.)  However...that is not to say that any agent NOT affiliated with AAR is not a good agent !  AAR has requirements for affiliation ( I don't know these), and many very fine agents, especially those who are new, will not have met those requirements yet.  So don't turn down an agent just because he or she is not yet a member of AAR.

Make sure the agent has a good track record, and if they are new or a young agent, that they are at a reputable firm.  Ask them about what fees they charge, because agents are NOT supposed to charge any fees, for reading your work, postage, or anything else.

It isn't necessary but it is desirable to have a blog or a website, as agents sometimes...as busy as they are...do check them out to look for new clients.  Social networking is good, too, especially if you can get in with other writers who may already have agents, and will give you a referral.

When that all-important phone call comes in, don't be so delirious with happiness that you accept immediately!!  First, ask questions.  Your agent won't be upset, he or she will be glad that, again, you've done your homework.  Ask about the genres the agent accepts and make sure your work fits in to what he/she wants and expects.  Ask about fees and expenses on your end, if any.  Remember that there should be none.  Ask how often the agent is in touch with you, and is it by phone or email.  Ask about editing, does she do any, and what does she expect from you in terms of the editing.  Ask about the marketing/selling of your book...what publishers will she be sending the manuscript to, are they traditional print publishers, and will e-books be considered.  Ask what she has in mind for your career...how far does she see you going, what other genres of books will she rep, in case you want to explore something different than what she has accepted.

All of these questions are pertinent to your relationship with your agent, who just might be the most important person in your life...well, excluding spouses, children, parents and siblings, that is.

I hope this has been helpful for those of you in search of, or getting ready to be in search of, that elusive creature called the Literary Agent!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Right Way to Query

I'm back after an extended absence that I really didn't intend to take.  I've been so busy with editing and finishing up an assignment that I just couldn't seem to find the time to post.  Once again, I promise not to let such a long time go by!

This past weekend I went to a writers' conference.  I had hoped to come away with a lot of notes that I could pass along to you, but the workshops were so bad, that wasn't the case.  EXCEPT!  For one.  I had Nathan Bransford for a workshop on queries, and it was not only very informative, it was also fun.  And considering how difficult it is to write a good query, FUN was all important!  So I'm going to tell you about the things he told us.

First, a query doesn't need to be more than three paragraphs:  1) personalization; 2) what the story is about; and 3) closing, with a brief bio and publishing credits if any.

It's very important to personalize your query.  That means you need to do your research in order to learn something about this agent:  what genres do they accept, what are they looking for in that ( those) genre, and also, some little tidbit about the agent personally.  For example, if they have said in a blog that they love Chocolate Pecan Pie or they hate the Lakers, you might mention that.

The second paragraph is about the story, and it should be about three or four sentences.  This should include a) the setting; b) the protagonist's name; c) the antagonist ( which can be a person, emotion, or obstacle); d) complicating incident; e) the protagonist's quest; and f) the protagonist's ultimate goal.  These elements don't necessarily have to be in any particular order, but they should all be in that second paragraph.

Since Nathan posted this query on his blogspot, and then gave it to us in a handout, I'm going to post it here so you can see what he means by the five elements above.  The example is from ROCK PAPER TIGER.

The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe (protagonist) is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers (setting). When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident ( complicating incident) drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust ( quest) among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side (antagonists)--in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

The third paragraph is the closing, which includes the important details of the novel: Title, word count, genre, and brief author bio and credits.

Finally, the thank you and your name.  The query should run between 250 and 350 words.  Match the tone of your query to the tone of your book, if possible...if your book is humorous, so should your query be; if the book is serious, your query should be serious, also.  At all times, be professional, but personalize!

I hope this has helped those of you who, like me, would rather write 10 novels than one query!  Nathan's talk demystified the process, and made writing a query seem much simpler than it had been in the past. 

For those of you who would like to read his blog, which is fantastic, here is the link again:  http://blog.nathanbransford.com/

Until next time,
that's a wrap.