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Offline ebeth

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How to be book agent worthy?
« on: April 21, 2008, 03:42:09 PM »
In order to remain sane as a writer I thought I would try to get some feedback from my peeps here on the forum. 

While I am a published writer I am having a horrible time attracting an agent who can whore me out to the right publishers.  I have sent out a bunch of proposals to various agents who represent work that is similar in tone to mine (humor) and so far, in the last year, I have heard back from no one, not even a carefully scripted rejection letter.  I have researched these agents, am familiar with the authors they represent, and have constructed these proposals specifically for each agent.  Am I completely wrong in the way I am going about it?

While I have enjoyed a decent freelance career I am limited I feel in getting my stuff out to the publishers that I like, especially since a lot of them won't accept unagented authors.

Any suggestions or comments would be helpful as I am but one step away from drowning myself in a huge vat of margaritas.

Thanks.

I am not above projectile vomiting to get my way


Offline Fortis

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2008, 05:41:11 PM »
Quote
ATTRACTING AN AGENT
Two weeks ago, I voiced the opinion that we've reached a point in time where no matter what genre you are writing in, you would do well to get an agent before you shop your novel around to editors.  The truth is that most publishing houses have cut back on editorial staff to the point that they can no longer accept un-agented manuscripts.  In other words, the agents are now in charge of reading through the "slush piles" that editors once handled.
 
So the publishers require you to go through an agent.  It is possible in some genres to send a manuscript directly to a publisher, but typically if you want to get a huge contract and make lots of money, you need to go through an agent--and not just any agent.  Some agents are "proven," meaning that they have a reputation for knowing a great manuscript when they see it.  Such agents often have a client list with several superstars on it, and those are the agents that can usually get you the best deal for your book.
 
Of course, you want the best deal that you can get.  The average person born today probably needs four million dollars saved if he wants to retire with a decent income.  So my question is, would you rather write one book and make four million dollars, or would you prefer to write a hundred books and sell them for forty thousand each?
 
Thus we get down to the question: how do you attract a super-agent?  The answer is that you do it the same way that you attract a star editor, or movie producer:  you show them something that meets their needs.
 
So you have to figure out what it is that your editor, agent, or movie producer is looking for.
 
Here's the big secret:
 
An editor and agent and producer all want a great story, beautifully told, that will make them a lot of money and enhance their reputations.
 
That's what they really, really want.  That's why so many editors and agents don't give a hoot about your credentials.  They know that credentials are meaningless.  You can be teaching classes at an Ivy League School on how to write, and your tale might still be dreck.   You can be a bonafide genius in some other field, and still write dreck.  You can be a Nobel-Prize Winning author, and still send in a manuscript that is garbage.
 
For this reason, most people who judge manuscripts for a living won't even bother to read your cover letter.  Instead, they're going to open your submission to page one and start reading until they feel that you've given them a reason to stop.
 
If I like your book, then I'll probably go back and read your cover letter a little more closely so that I can make a better judgment as to whether I want to buy from you.  But I've seen lots of people who can put together great cover letters who can't write a book.  Of couse, I've seen great writes who can't pen a good cover letter, too.
 
But here are some of the questions that your editor and agent are going to be asking themselves as they read your manuscript.
 
1) How big is the potential audience for this?  If the story is blockbuster material, it's obviously worth millions.  If it's a good solid story that fits within a certain genre--say romance or horror--it might still be an easy sell, but with far less monetary potential.
 
2) Do I have other authors who already meet the needs of this market?  Let's say that you're writing a science fiction novel, and right now there is a strong market for military fiction with female protagonists.  If an editor or agent is looking for that kind of book, great!  You'll make a sale quickly.  But of course if you're writing the kind of book that everyone else is writing, you might just have too much competition.
 
3) What sets this author apart from the rest of the pack?  This is a tough one.  The single greatest problem that I see among new authors who can write is conformity.  Too often, they're writing exactly the same kind of book that everyone else is writing.  You've got to get past that.  You've got to find something unique--either in the type of material that you're writing or in the way that you handle it.
 
4) Is there a marketing hook for this tale?  Sometimes the hook is in the very idea itself.  Thus, in Hollywood, there is a huge emphasis on getting a one-sentence tag line for a film.  "My novel WHALE is like Jaws on steroids!"  But other times the hook is in the author.  For example, let's say that you are writing a book about a woman who murders her abusive husband--and gets away with it.  Coincidentally, you just happened to kill your own husband in a similar manner.  Is there a chance that this fortunate coincidence might land you on "Oprah?"
 
If you are an author whose book has huge marketing potential, that's wonderful.  It means that the publisher may be able to drum up some free advertising opportunities for you, so that you can drive television viewers or radio listeners into the bookstore.  Once that happens, you're on your way to the top of the bestseller list, and you just might become the next J.K. Rowling.
 
But before you can do that, there are other questions that the editor and agent need to find answers to.  For example, how do you look on television?  If your dress is slovenly, your nose is as big as a bowling ball, and so on--then the free advertising may be out.  Similarly, if you aren't trained to talk in sound bites, or perhaps have a speech impediment, you would do well on the radio.  So basic questions about your appearance, speaking abilities, and even your willingness to travel and promote your work must also be answered.
 
Because of this, it isn't a bad idea to try to figure out a way to meet in person with an agent or editor before you submit to them.  This means that you may need to travel to a convention in another state, or perhaps take a writing workshop where your quarry will appear.  If you do, meet with your potential editor, agent, or producer, try to impress them.  Dress appropriately.  Act sane.  Don't freeze up.  Don't try to press your work on them.  In short, be a pro.  You'll be surprised how far this alone will get you!
 
So as an author, you need to ask yourself some tough questions about your books and about yourself.  You need to decide if you really do have an audience, if you somehow distinguish yourself, if you have great marketing hooks, and so on.  It may be that once you ask yourself these questions, you'll take a close look at your work and decide that you need to do some work.  You might opt for a speech class or two, hire an image consultant, or maybe work with a marketing company to decide how to spin your novel.
 
If you're trying to sell to a movie producer, there are a few other questions that need to be answered.  "How filmable is this book or screenplay?"  In other words, how much work will I have to go through to put this on film?  If your book requires a five hundred million dollar special effects budget, it just won't make it.  You need to be reasonable.
 
Beyond these basics, let me say this:  You may have a book with huge potential.  You may have a great marketing hook.  You yourself may be a diamond in the rough--and you still could have a hard time finding the right editor or agent.  Right now, I have a friend who has written a book that I just love.  I've offered to give him a cover quote, as have three other New York Times bestselling authors.  But after dozens of tries, he still hasn't landed either an editor or an agent.
 
I'm convinced that someday--hopefully soon--he'll find the right person who will just click with his manuscript.
 
In other words, you can do everything right, and still it find that you need to just keep plugging along, pushing your work to the limit of your abilities.  If you do that, I believe that you'll eventually succeed.  Cream, like pond scum, eventually rises to the top!

This is an email I got from David Farland on writing advice. PM me if you want to get these almost daily emails from him pertaining to all sorts of things from how to get published, to writing your book, and a lot more. This guy has tons of experience being a novelist, and working in hollywood so he knows what he is talking about.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2008, 05:43:43 PM by Fortis »


Offline The Monstrous Jake

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2008, 08:16:39 AM »
Quote
I have sent out a bunch of proposals to various agents who represent work that is similar in tone to mine (humor) and so far, in the last year, I have heard back from no one, not even a carefully scripted rejection letter.

I thought it was just me. I've only sent out two query letters to agents in the past year, nothing back at all from either of them, not even a scribbled "no thanks" on the SASE. Last time I tried, I at least got form rejection letters back.

I'm getting ready to send off the next query, but now I'm wondering. Has it gotten to the point where the agents can't even keep up with their inbox anymore?

Or should I just hire a private detective to check up on the local mail delivery person?


Offline Fuzzy Necromancer

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2008, 09:38:05 AM »
You should hire two large men named Victor to say "It is very important that you consider Mr. Jake's work", and then remind the agent by stapling your manuscript to his forhead.
Love doesn't hurt. It kills.

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anais.jude

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2008, 09:45:05 AM »
I was looking into becoming a literary agent becaue I adore reading anything and everything. Even when I asked literary agents about how they got into the business they were assholes.
I really don't know what to tell you. Try the stuff in Fortis's article and if that doesn't work, I suggest becoming your own agent (from my understanding it doesn't take much, explains why these people are morons) and then submit the stuff yourself


Offline Tripe

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2008, 09:49:36 AM »
I was looking into becoming a literary agent

Or maybe you could help her out, every agent's got to start somewhere :)


anais.jude

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2008, 09:52:50 AM »
i suppose, but then again, you are the sweet talker....


Offline bettertomorrowamy

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2008, 10:48:30 AM »

Or should I just hire a private detective to check up on the local mail delivery person?


Oh yeah, blame the mail carrier.   :'( :'( :'(
On timeout


Offline Tripe

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2008, 11:11:45 AM »
i suppose, but then again, you are the sweet talker....

I'd have to do a little bit of research on what an agent does exactly, but you know it might be fun.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2008, 11:18:20 AM by TripeHoundRedux »


Offline The Monstrous Jake

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2008, 03:59:00 PM »
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I'd have to do a little bit of research on what an agent does exactly, but you know it might be fun.

If you do become an agent, might I suggest this really great book that's currently being shopped around? Details are at http://www.irvania.com/novel1.htm. It's about this eight-foot-tall cockroach, see, who's got this friend named The Great God Voltoon, see, and they have to... oh, never mind.


Offline Sheik Yerbouti

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2008, 02:36:28 AM »
Quote
I have sent out a bunch of proposals to various agents who represent work that is similar in tone to mine (humor) and so far, in the last year, I have heard back from no one, not even a carefully scripted rejection letter.

I thought it was just me. I've only sent out two query letters to agents in the past year, nothing back at all from either of them, not even a scribbled "no thanks" on the SASE. Last time I tried, I at least got form rejection letters back.

I'm getting ready to send off the next query, but now I'm wondering. Has it gotten to the point where the agents can't even keep up with their inbox anymore?

Or should I just hire a private detective to check up on the local mail delivery person?


I can tell you right off, you need to query more than two agents.  I've been reading up on this a little myself, sounds like it takes tons of work.  You'd think finding someone who'd want a cut of your profits would be the easy part!  I'm working on a book and I hope to have a decent draft of it done in the next few months, just starting to look at the next step in the process.  There is a hell of a lot of information out there, a good deal of it depressing.  Apparently, there are a ton of literary agent scams, so be careful.  Here's a very good post about getting an agent that I found on Neil Gaiman's blog of all places.  Tons and tons of links from one of Neil's friends who seems to know what she's talking about.   I hope some of you find this useful!

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2005/01/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about.asp




Offline The Monstrous Jake

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2008, 09:34:05 AM »
Quote
I can tell you right off, you need to query more than two agents.

You betcha. I queried a couple of agents about two years ago, then took some time out to completely rewrite the book, then started looking for agents again last year. I did get actual rejection letters from the first couple of agents, but no response at all from the most recent two agents, even though I enclosed the proper self-addressed stamped envelope.

You're right, it is depressing. Lots of stories out there of successful authors having to suffer through lots of rejects before they found someone who would even look at their work. The "Chicken Soup for the Soul" guys got rejected from 18 different places before they found someone who would listen to 'em, and now they're gazillionaires.

There is lots of great advice for writers out there on the net. So far, the most useful I've seen is "Keep on plugging away at it" and the second most useful is "Watch out for the scams."

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Offline Fortis

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2008, 11:18:42 AM »
Sometimes query letters aren't going to get you anywhere...what I recommend doing is doing some research on the agents that you would want...based on the type of authors that they are agents for. You need to find one that is saying "yes" to authors who write books similar to you.

Most of these agents go to conventions, look up when the agent you pick out is going to a convention, and then go. Pitch them your book in person, this can help an agent get more from you than any query letter, and help them make a decision.

Don't think this works? Brandon Sanderson got his agent this way, and it has been known to happen lots of times. Agents like it when you do this...as long as you don't annoy them.


Offline The Monstrous Jake

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2008, 11:30:26 AM »
Quote
what I recommend doing is doing some research on the agents that you would want...based on the type of authors that they are agents for.

Did that for the last two agents I queried... the ones I never heard back from. A lot of agents now have web sites that have (hopefully) up-to-date information on how to submit and what exactly the agents are looking for.

Quote
Most of these agents go to conventions, look up when the agent you pick out is going to a convention, and then go. Pitch them your book in person, this can help an agent get more from you than any query letter, and help them make a decision.

Haven't done that yet, but several people have suggested it recently, so I'm thinkin' it does sound like a logical next step (in addition to sending out the next submission).

I've been to many wargaming conventions over the past 15 years but have only been to one sci fi convention (that also happened to be a wargaming convention) so I'm a complete newbie when it comes to figgering out the SF cons and writers' cons. I've found some online convention listings, but nothing that screams out, "attend me!" yet.


Offline Fortis

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Re: How to be book agent worthy?
« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2008, 11:33:21 AM »
I'd say pick out 5 agents, figure out what conventions they are going to...get a bunch of copies of your manuscript, and see if you can knock 'em all out in 1 or 2 conventions...