This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘Agents’

12 Ways an Agent Considers Your Query

In Marketing Your Book on October 29, 2009 at 9:55 am

I am not an agent, I’ve never had an agent, nor have I ever personally known an agent. Why then, am I the one to write this article? Well, I’m probably not. Still, I’ve been walking this path for a while now and I have learned to use those senses located around my face. This article is what I’ve learned as I’ve traversed my chosen trail.

An agent is in the business of selling books to publishers. They are business people like every other business person out there. They contend with P&L’s, customers, contacts, inventory control, and all the rest. They are looking for authors, even aspiring authors, for without us they are unemployed.

We, the authors clacking away at our keyboards until the dawn lights the morning sky, are their inventory. It is their job and profession to see their inventory put into the hands of their clients, the publishers. The secret, as with any business, is to choose the correct inventory to sell to the correct client. The query letter is one method they use to locate that inventory.

Though not necessarily presented in the order of their thought processes, this is my understanding of  when they receive your query, how they look at it.

Is the story within one they can sell? If their contacts weigh heavily toward romance publishers, sending a query touting a nonfiction book on the weaknesses in the Theory of Relativity is wasted on them. They may have no background in selling this type of book and they’ll most likely pass.

If they’ve just sold a similar book, they’ll probably not try to do it again as they’ve already pitched their contacts on the storyline.

If the story within is not interesting, they’ll pass. If this is your storyline is dull, overused, out of date, etc., the agent knows none of their contacts will buy the book from them.

If the story within is not unique. If your hero is named Luke and he’s an orphan living on a farm in some far, far away galaxy and he will soon discover he has the power to summon the forces of nature to his aid and… Well, it’s been done. You may have a slight chance if your work has a unique aspect to it, but save yourself the trouble and write a new story.

If your query is not professional in nature, it tells them you are not a professional. These guys are pros, and they want to surround themselves with like-minded individuals. Learn what each agents wishes to receive and give them that.

Their time is valuable and limited. Assuming your query even reaches their desk, you have maybe twenty seconds of their time available to you. If your query starts with, “I am so important to you,” or some such nonsense, you don’t even get the twenty. However, if you start with a good hook that catches their interest, you’ll get the extra ten seconds that previous blowhard squandered.

They look to the quality of your writing. They consider your query a sample of your writing skills and seek those who are well versed in the craft. Why would they try to sell inferior inventory? That is what you are if you have yet to learn how to write.

They do consider your provenance, if you will. Why are you the one to write this work? If you’ve not stepped into a classroom since you quit school in the seventh grade, they will not consider you the best source for recommending how to alter the educational landscape. If you write spy novels but have never seen the thin end of a pair of binoculars, you’ve probably chosen an incorrect genre. Write what you know. No, you need not have a writer’s pedigree, but you do need to exhibit knowledge of your subject matter, be it fiction or nonfiction.

They want to know why you chose them. If you’re querying every agent in the known universe, that’s fine from your perspective, but to them it’s a sure sign of your lack of professionalism. Query them for a reason and tell them why you did.

They do respect the recommendations from within their sphere. Wouldn’t you? They have clients and contacts they trust to know their desires and markets, and a confidant is their most efficient method of finding a new author. Try to get a recommendation. As difficult as that may be, it is your truest path to publication.

They want to know you’re in this as a career. They don’t earn as much money off a single book as they do a number of books. If they have your book published and twenty thousand copies are sold, how man dollars get into their pocket? How much do they earn if they sell twenty of your books at twenty thousand copies per? This is a business for them, even if it is not for you.

This is a subjective business and they will often pass on a manuscript for a reason as simple as it does not “call” to them. Sorry, guys, but life is unfair and so is the publishing world. That is why you query multiple agents.

If your query does not exemplify these qualities, I recommend you keep trying to improve your writing and querying skills.

I’d love for an agent to comment on this as to any errors in my thinking or omission in the list.

Until my next posting, kind readers, may all your books be best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

The Query Letter Made Simple

In General Information, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on October 28, 2009 at 9:06 am

I read a tweet the other day that say something like, if you’re overly worried about your query, you’re probably over thinking the thing. (I’m paraphrasing as I’m too lazy busy to hunt down the quote. Despite the rewording, it struck me how we authors need to rethink the query and make that proverbial molehill out of the mountain.

Take a deep breath and you’ll be just fine. Trust me. I was a doctor in my dreams once.

Regardless the potential of this frightening piece of paper, a query is nothing more than a short story.

To start, we’ll identify the components of a query letter is.

  1. It’s a business letter. (This is important.)
  2. It’s your novel made into a short story of two to three paragraphs.
  3. It’s a listing of your writer’s credentials, whatever they may or may not be.

Present these three parts in the order shown. Doesn’t sound so bad, now does it?

Have you ever written a business letter? If so, item one is under your belt. If you’ve not, it’s an easy task to master. Formatting is really about it. If you’re unsure, look it up on the Internet. You’ll conquer that skill in a single sitting. (Don’t forget to include all your contact information.)

The short story is not as tough as you imagine. You wrote the book, now make a short story out of it and you’re done. Focus here on the major conflicts in your story and how your primary characters respond to that conflict.  After your salutation, get right to the story. Here’s an example of what I mean by that.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Sam was an exceptional student at John Q. Public High School until Max came into his life.

See how that works? No embellishments, no howdy-dos, none of that. Get to the story right away.

In these two or three paragraphs, simply tell the agent who your, (no more than three), major characters are and the high points of their conflict. They don’t need descriptions of these people, just names and the plot points. Tell how your protagonist and your antagonist fought it out, as it were. Get to the meat of this issue and ignore, for now, all the side steps to the story. Here is your example.

Sam was an exceptional student at John Q. Public High School until Max came into his life. One night, Max convinced Sam to use a fake ID to get into the local pub. The boys got drunk and, with Sam a bystander, Max killed a drifter.

After Sam helped Max dispose of the body, Sam had second thoughts and wanted to report the incident to the police. Max was furious about the idea and tried a number of times to kill Sam.

Sam survived Max’s attempts and in the process, killed Max. Sam then got a job as an assassin’s assistant and, after time, morphs into a world renowned assassin.

There you go. The major characters and the chief conflict points are discussed in three short paragraphs. (I know they’re not well written but, hey, this is an example) This short story should be in the range of two hundred fifty words.

The method I use to craft this short story is easy. After completing at least a first draft of my manuscript, I condense each chapter into a single sentence such as “Boy meets girl.” I string them together to create my query short story. I then edit this short story as I do any manuscript. This process takes me a few hours, maybe half a day.

Don’t forget, these resulting paragraphs must be as well written as your manuscript. However, that shouldn’t be too difficult as you’re a writer, and that’s what writers do. Right?

Finally, the last paragraph lists your writer’s accomplishments in paragraph form. Don’t have any? Not to worry. Agents don’t really care if you’re an aspiring author. They just want to know you’re good at your chosen craft.

In my next posting, I’ll discuss how agents look at your query to make their decisions in asking for partials.

Until then, my all your books be best-sellers.

Patrick

Why Query?

In Working with Agents on October 19, 2009 at 6:48 am

I liken the querying process to being beat up by a schoolyard bully. He keeps knocking you on your butt every time you run into him. He steals your milk money, too. Worst of all there is nothing you can do about it. Feel familiar, all you rejection-laden authors?

So, why must we query anyway? Surely there’s a reason to subject ourselves to this abuse time and again. Isn’t there? Yeah, there is.

Think of your query as little more than a filter. Yep, as tough as it sounds, a query is your introduction to the sifting process of publication.

In most cases, the first set of eyes to view your query does not belong to the agent, but rather a subaltern of some sort. These nameless and unheralded assistants toil behind the scenes to find the unadulterated garbage that constitutes ninety percent of all queries. You’ve heard about them; the ones adorned with perky ribbons, musky aromas or a thousand staples. These look-at-me schemes don’t work and are filtered first. Next, these tireless unnamed peruse their in boxes for those letters crafted by the uninitiated, the inane and the idiots. Finally, they whittle away those queries with no story to support them, poor characterizations and the many other writers who have yet to learn their craft.

Eventually, that elusive ten percent filter down and find their way to the agent. The agent now must cull anew. This one does fit the genres she represents, but she just sold that very same story last month. This one disquiets her emotions and that one she loves but it has no current market.

Finally ten, of a thousand, rise to the surface. The queries pass the initial harvests and are transferred to the agent’s Kindle for further consideration. As she reads them on her subway ride home, one identifies the author as someone who does not understand The Business of Writing. This person will require too much additional work for the agent and she decides to pass. The next tells her the author is dabbling in a hobby versus living in a profession. Pass. However, the rest show wonderful promise!

The remaining queries exhibit acumen with their storytelling, expertise in the craft, and prove the authors’ professional toward their profession and give her the information she needs to identify plot points, conflict and characters. That evening, four emails are sent out asking for further submissions. (Hallelujah!)

The moral of this story? Your query is your sales document and it must survive the filtering process if you are to succeed. Learn how to craft a well-written query before you send it in. Best of luck to you all.

Until we speak again, may all your books be best-sellers!

Patrick

Unemployed and Writing? Uh-oh…

In General Information, Marketing Your Book, Working with Agents on October 14, 2009 at 7:54 am

If you’re trying to have your first book published and are not gainfully employed, you may initially want to keep that tidbit of information to yourself.

Think from the agent’s perspective and it becomes clear as to why I recommend this. The moment they think you’re writing simply to fill time, your desirability diminishes with great speed. *Lead balloon hitting ground.* If they suspect you’re not in this for the long haul, their potential to make money off your talents is reduced. They may see you as the proverbial one-trick-pony and shy away from your limited earning capacity. As a career writer, you’ll be busier after they sell your work and they’ll need you out and about marketing your book. They may assume you won’t hit the bricks when you find employment. After all, they are in the business of writing, even if you’re not. The same thing applies if you’re retired. Avoid all references to the ominous and, and wonderful, “R” word, if possible.

So, how to do this? Have you heard of the “Sin of Omission?” That’s your ticket. (It’s not my favorite sin, but it does have its usefulness nonetheless.)

So, when do you come clean? When they ask or the subject comes up. But in every case, you must inform them before any agreements are signed. They may consider this a critical issue and you owe them your honesty. You and your agent are business partners and you have an obligation to be honorable and truthful in all things related to your mutual business interests. However, if they’re not your agent, then they are your sales prospect and the obligation is to yourself. At that point, as with anything being sold, put yourself in the best light. (No, that’s not a thin line.)

On the other side, does you current situation preclude you from writing? Not at all. If you have talent, maybe this will become your new career. Besides, some of the most noteworthy authors have started well after their fifth decade. You want proof? Consider Nirad Chaudhuri’s “Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” It was published at the start of his second century on this planet.

Your agent is a business person, as are you, and you’re both looking for each other. Honesty and salesmanship is necessary at both positions.

Until my next post, my all your books become best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

A New Way to Edit?

In Editing Your Manuscript on October 5, 2009 at 8:13 am

Good day, Writers,

As many of you know, I’m in the process of sending my manuscript Born to be Brothers to agents for representation. What this means is there have been three people editing this thing a total of ten times from first word to last – my agent twice, my wife twice and me six times. Further, six others did a beta review! (Whew…) That’s sixteen edits!

My wife Kate has supported my writing without hesitation from the first minute and is by far my best cheerleader. (I’ve ordered pom-poms but they’ve yet to arrive.). As I began sending “Born to be Brothers” to agents for representation, Kate made a suggestion. She asked if she shouldn’t read it aloud to me to see if that might improve it even more. After so much editing, even reading it aloud to myself three times, (complete with character accents), I assumed her idea would be of little value. Still, it might be interesting to hear it, after reading it so many times. But edit it again? Nah… It’s been edited to death! Right?

Wrong!

Well, we’re at page forty-two, of four hundred plus, and I’ve already altered the ms thirty seven times! Some alterations were simple synonym insertions while with others entire paragraphs were rewritten.

My point, of course, is Kate enlightened me to an entirely new methodology of editing which is proving invaluable. The upshot in my case was to immediately cease sending Born to be Brothers for agenting. You can bet I’ll be working on it another week or two before I start that oppressive undertaking again.

I do, have a question, though. How among of you knew this and why didn’t anyone tell me?

I do hope my experience has given you yet another tool to improve your writing.

Until my next posting, good writing.

Patrick