Confession: When I first started looking for agents, I didn’t know what I was doing. Everything I knew I learned from the Interwebs. I followed the advice of author and agent blogs and put together a query letter, gathered agent names from friends or the acknowledgement sections of similar books, and sent out a query letter.
After a bit of flailing as I figured out the system, I signed with my first agent. I adored her. She would still be my agent today if she hadn’t decided to leave the industry and move to London. But at the time, just after I committed to her, I had second thoughts. She was a young agent at a revered agency. I loved the idea of having the clout of her company name behind me, but I was nervous about being with someone who had fewer sales under her belt. When the fate of your first book is on the line, you second guess yourself. There had been another agent who showed interest in MWF Seeking BFF, one who had many more sales but didn’t “get” the book the way my agent did. I spent a lot of time wondering: Was I right to sign with the young, hungry agent who understood me, even if she wasn’t as experienced? Or should I have put my faith in the more veteran contender?
An old college classmate of mine was an agent at the time (still is, I think). I wrote her an email and explained my dilemma. And she wrote back an email that I will always remember. It was so wise, and really got to the heart of the agenting world.
Agent friend wrote:
“As a young agent myself I can tell you that to a publisher it matters very little how many sales you’ve made. As long as the material is of a certain quality and your idea is fresh then editors will bite. Certainly having [a known company] behind her name will help [your agent] and editors will be more responsive just because it comes from that agency.
I always say that as an agent you really can’t fake enthusiasm, so if she sounded passionate I’m sure she was and she’ll be your best advocate. If you felt a connection with her, that is also so important. Also, as a new author that attention from your agent is vital, and you’d rather be a big fish than a small one…
I hope that helps, but I would rest assured that you made the right choice. ”
The truth is, sometimes there’s no bad choice and that may have been true in my situation. But it was the right choice for me: I owe so much to my first agent, and I really felt like the two of us were in it together when it came to MWF. Having someone who will act as an advocate but also a friend goes a long way for a new author.
So for those of you who think you need to sign with the most senior agent in the agency to get your words read, think again! Consider this the argument for the young hungry agent who will go to bat for you, who will grow with you as your career unfolds, and who will stick with you for the long haul.
What about you? Would you choose a senior veteran agent over a relative newbie? Do you see the plus side of going with someone more junior?
At a writing conference a few years ago, I found myself in a panel with a group of writers who seemed to collectively decide that literary agents are a total scam, and that everyone should just avoid the agent thing altogether and go at the publishing business themselves. And while the road less agented is a fine way to travel for some (particularly folks writing picture books), in my experience, a good agent is… the opposite of a scam.
I didn’t say anything, at the time, mostly because I was so surprised that a large group of writers would all sit around hating on agents. (Agents are great!) Instead, I sat in the back of the room mentally listing all the things my agent has done for me, all the things these poor people would miss out on if they decided to stay unagented.
Here’s a partial — certainly incomplete — list of things my agent has done for me:
- helped me revise my manuscript before an editor even saw it
- helped me to see the big picture of the book I was attempting to write
- brainstormed new titles with me
- edited manuscript (again)
- kept her ear to the ground & learned about different YA editors to find who was looking for what
- built networks & professional reputation so her pitch letters would hold weight
- wrote a pitch letter to sell my book
- sold my book(!)
- negotiated a better deal
- went through my contract line by line with me & explained what everything meant
- gave me a mug
- wrote endless encouraging notes
- harassed publisher to send me advance money so I could pretend to be a perfect angel who would never talk about anything so crass as cash
- acted as liaison between publisher & me to help negotiate deadlines
- helped (along with editor & me) write catalogue copy, book jacket copy, and author bio copy for the book
- negotiated audiobook deal (which involved no work on my end but meant extra money for me! yay!)
- read excerpts of unfinished other project and gave feedback on it
- convinced certain magazine/newspaper writers to send her draft articles about my book, then entirely re-wrote articles for them
- researched/suggested other book marketing ideas
- gave me advice on a student’s manuscript
- gave feedback/suggestions on a new website design
- been excited about and a champion of my book since Day One
- and more!
Every agent is different, and you may find yourself with one who is more or less editorial, more or less savvy about marketing, more or less of a shoulder to cry on, etc. But considering all my agent’s done for me in the last few years, I honestly can’t imagine having to do it all on my own!
Hey Iowa! I’ll be at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines tonight, reading from The Princesses of Iowa! Come celebrate with me!
Recently I was asked to speak with a high school writing club about my long and winding road to publication, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to revisit my extensive collection of rejection letters from agents that I had amassed over the twenty-plus years of querying as a way to show students the power of perseverance, and I am so glad I did. Because in the midst of years of rejections, I was repeatedly given gifts of advice from so many wonderful agents—some of whom are no longer in the business, some who are.
So in honor of this week’s Agent theme at the Ball, I thought I would share with you, dear friends, some of the generous, wonderful and truly kind words that returned with my rejected queries. You may think I’m being facetious; I assure you, I’m not. What came back as a rejection often included some words of wisdom that helped me to grow as a writer, words of wisdom that I am forever grateful for.
So if I may take this opportunity, I’d like to speak to all the agents over the years who gave their time and their insight to me when my work was hardly deserving of a read, let alone a kind word–I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your comments were nuggets of gold. I promise you I treasured—and took to heart—each and every one.
Here are just a few…
“Although REASONS OF THE HEART shows a fluid, enthusiastic writing style, I’m afraid it lacks the sort of emotional, internal romantic conflict that our market demands. Both Lauren and Tyler are colorful characters, but their carefree, materialistic lifestyles and constant bickering make them difficult to sympathize with.”
For one of my historical romances, ONCE A HELLION:
Page 250 – scene at bar is typical
Page 268 – when the plot is obvious, it takes away from the mystery
Page 295 – It’s a typical device for heroine to make hero jealous
From another agent for the same manuscript:
“While Hunter is a strong and sexy hero, there are times when he seems rather insensitive. He may be something of a scoundrel but he should always be a sympathetic character for the reader.”
For my Viking-themed romance, LORD OF DREAMS (wince-worthy—I know):
“My problem with your hero, Roar, is that I find him just a little too coarse, a little too much the buffoon when he is with his kinsmen. He needs more dimension besides being a lusty guy with tremendous faith in Odin. His complete faith is nice, on the one hand. On the other hand, the lack of doubt takes away from the suspense the story could have.”
“Once Willow is ensconced in the Viking keep a lot of action just stops.”
And my personal favorite:
“Too much talk of big bosoms!”
So to all the agents over the years who took the time to tell me what worked—and more importantly, what didn’t—thank you. Whether you knew it or not, you helped to steer me through some very treacherous waters, and you led me to the one I am so proud—and grateful—to call my agent today, Rebecca Gradinger.
Now it’s your turn, writer friends: Tell me the gems that you’ve received from agents, the morsels that made you—and made you want to be—better writers.
I’m talking marriages today. Not literal ones, but the kind of marriage a writer has with her agent. “Don’t be silly,” you might be thinking. “It’s a business relationship where the agent works for the writer; nothing like a marriage!” And you’d be right in some ways, (I’ve never shared a bed with an agent, nor taken him/her home for Rosh Hashannah dinner) but in others, well, just bear with me.
Trust me when I say you need to find a great match in an agent, because chances are, once you get on the publishing roller coaster, you’re going to need the support of a cheerleader/negotiator/hand-holder/shoulder to cry on. Even the most stoic and pragmatic of writers need an objective business partner who can not only negotiate on her behalf, but also reel her in when she’s put on her crazypants and can’t be objective and smart about important businessy stuff.
But before you can get married, you need to do some online dating when you’re looking for an agent. Online dating is scary for the same reason online grocery-shopping is scary—you want to squeeze the bread and knock the melons before you make your choices and commit. But there are some tools to help your online agent dating be as painless as possible. You first want to weed out all the scammers. You know, those slick guys who wine you and dine you and then find themselves in Greece and their wallet has been stolen and can you just loan them your life savings to get them home where they’ll pay you back with interest? Yeah, you don’t want to end up with one of those guys. So I suggest you stick to known and recommended resources like Querytracker.net – a great website where you can cross-reference all your information. You can also vet out scammers at Writer Beware.
So when you have a few suitors, how will you choose? Like a mate, you need ask questions and see if you’re going to be a good match. And, just like in the real dating world, if you’re honest with yourself and know upfront what you really want in your suitor, you’ll save yourself from choosing the wrong one. And like dating, you want to ask around to see how other people feel about their relationships with the agent (polygamy is okay here!) and are there any exes who may have some things to say. Don’t be afraid to do your due diligence. This is an important, potentially career-making or breaking thing—you want to do it right.
And then you need to talk to the agent to get a feel for them and how they work. Like spouses, every agent is different. Do you want one who will help you editorially or are you looking for more of a salesperson who will leave the nitty-gritty editing to you and your editor once you sell the book? Are you looking for a fling (where the agent signs you on one book) or a long-term relationship (are they signing you, the author with the hope of sticking it out through your career). Do they have editors in mind already? Are they chomping at the bit to get your book on submission? You want them to love your work this much—it’s sometimes a long haul and you do not want to get in deep and have your agent lose interest. Use your gut on this one—if something feels wrong, step back and figure out why. If it feels right, still take some time to mull it over. Important decisions are always best made with a little thought and distance.
Like good marriages, agent-author relationships can be very satisfying and filled with good times and mutual respect. There’s nothing quite like getting that call from someone you really admire when she has an offer on your book and SHE is as excited as you are. Sure, she’ll get paid from that sale, but maybe she’s an agent because she loves books and wants to see authors make more of them. It’s not inconceivable—you probably don’t write just for the money, do you? You want to find someone who is in it for the love and the money and who you can work with well with. Someone who will sit on the roller coaster beside you and hold your hand and scream and laugh along with you. And then, when you get off the ride, she’ll hold your hair while you chuck in the bushes. And THAT’s what makes for a great marriage.
Congrats to Alicia Marie, winner of a copy of Kimberly Brock’s The River Witch!
Are you a soon-to-be-published first time author, interested in being a Debutante? Well, polish your tiara and start hunting for those old ball gowns because next weekend we’ll be announcing the start of our search for the Deb Class of 2013! Details to come–so be sure and stay tuned!
From the 2012 Debs…
Deb Joanne was featured this week on Ellie Rollins’s blog, talking about the strong fictional heroine who influenced her writing. I’m sure you can figure out who she discussed. Hint: she’s a redheaded Canadian. Check out the post here.
Deb Erika just sent back her corrected page proofs for her next novel THE MERMAID COLLECTOR and is still angsting over that one word on Page 210…
Deb Molly will be in Des Moines, Iowa, for her third and final PRINCESSES OF IOWA launch party at Beaverdale Books on Wednesday, May 30! Information about that and more upcoming events can be found on Molly’s events page.
Deb Linda will be anxiously nibbling her nails while she waits to see how her second book in the Ciel Halligan, Aura Adaptor series (or whatever the heck it winds up being called) is received by her agent, and then editor. She’s discovering this part never gets any easier.
Deb Rachel will be reading at the Buffalo Grove school district book fair in Lincolnshire next Saturday, June 2 at 3 pm. If you’re in the Chicago ‘burbs, come say hi!
Past Deb News
Deb Kristina received a wonderful review for her upcoming release, KEEPSAKE, from The Smoking Poet. Read it here!
Deb Sarah Jio has a moved into a new house and would love your suggestions for a name, in the spirit of Jane Green’s Figless Manor! Stop by and offer your ideas here!
Deb Guest Kelly O’Connor McNees revealed her cover for her upcoming release IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE!
Deb Dish -It’s Desert Island Time, ladies: You can bring 3 books, which ones do you pick?
Deb Joanne – Jenny Crusie’s BET ME, Guy Gavriel Kay’s THE SUMMER TREE Trilogy (which is packaged as one book, so it only counts as one) and The Bible – I guess if I’m on an island and get bored with the others, I can finally read it and see what all the fuss is about.
Deb Erika thinks this is SUCH a tough one. Because the books I cherish most aren’t necessarily the ones I would choose to comfort me on an island. I mean, one has to consider the mood, yes? One would want something light, escapist! I would choose Alice Hoffman’s TURTLE MOON, Peter Benchley’s JAWS (because I want to be grateful to be stuck on the island, yes?) and FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER because if you have to escape, why not go to the Met?
Deb Molly I’m an incredibly fast reader, so I’m going for sheer bulk here, in order to keep myself occupied for more than three days. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, because it’s long been one of my favorite (and it’s also just long!) Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, because one of my favorite teachers once suggested I take a year to read Proust, and so far I haven’t been able to find a spare year to do so. And the giant, leatherbound Complete Works of Shakespeare my father gave me years and years ago, because if I’m stuck on that island for long, I’ll start memorizing soliloqueys to entertain myself.
Deb Linda Ack! Can’t I just take a solar-powered e-book reader instead? (Do they make those yet? Somebody should really get on it.) I would load that sucker up with everything from my beloved Gabaldon books to Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME. And I’d be sure to include a primer on surviving in the wild.
Deb Rachel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, because it’s long and there are so many layers. I could probably unearth a new clue or unravel more hidden meaning upon each reading. The Things They Carried, because it’s my favorite book and makes me want to tell stories, and Little Women, because it’s a comfort novel, and I’d need that. (Should I have said something more clever like a survival handbook? Maybe.)
We are so thrilled to welcome author Jenny Torres Sanchez to the Ball today!
When I, Deb Erika, began blogging a few years ago, Jenny was one of the first writers I connected with, so you can imagine how high the Squee-factor is today that she is visiting to take the Deb Ball Interview in the midst of the launch of her debut, THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE!
First, about the book:
THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE is a contemporary YA novel about a teen boy who is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. And what’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared—again—and his dad won’t talk about it.
There are a lot of issues going on in this novel, but at the heart of it is a young boy trying to make sense of his life and himself.
Not only is Jenny going to take the Deb Ball interview, BUT she is also going to give away a signed copy (including international entries!) of her book to one lucky commenter!
Now, without further ado…
Jenny Torres Sanchez Takes The Debutante Ball Interview!
Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?
Non-fictional. I’m totally, one hundred percent obsessed with the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. She’s just so cool and before her time and seems real but not in the way most fictional characters seem. I think her art is raw and gritty but I’m also really taken by who she was and the life she led. I wish I could sit down and have a conversation with her.
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could yodel. I don’t know why, but it just seems like it would be so much fun! I don’t think my family would appreciate it much though, seeing as they can’t even stand my singing. I’m a terrible singer.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I recite the alphabet when I’m scared (and I’m a big scaredy cat, so this happens often). Also, I tend to count my steps when I walk alone. I used to think everyone did this until I mentioned it to somebody and, well, it turns out not too many people do.
Do you have any phobias?
Oh, the list goes on and on! I’m scared of the dark, of flying, small spaces, clowns, and balloons (just because they might pop at any second). I can kind of get through each individually, but I can’t make any promises if we’re ever on a dark flight full of clowns and balloons together. Hmmmm, these answers are probably making me sound quite strange. I’m not, though, I’m perfectly normal. Really, I am.
What’s your next big thing?
My next YA novel is Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. It’s a story about a girl dealing with the death of her high school crush and as she does so, contemplates life and death, talks to Emily Dickinson’s corpse, hangs out in cemeteries, and take readers on an adventure through the crazy night that changed everything. It’s scheduled to come out in spring of 2013 and I can’t wait!
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Jenny Torres Sanchez is a YA author and former high school English teacher. The Downside of Being Charlie is her debut novel. Her second YA novel, Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia is due out in 2013. She writes full time and lives in Florida with her husband and two children.
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Yay, Jenny! Thanks so much for coming by the Ball! And remember to leave a comment to be entered to win a signed copy of THE DOWNSIDE OF CHARLIE! For more information on Jenny and her work, visit her website and her blog, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook!
When it comes time for spring cleaning every year, TG and I just blithely wave our hands and wait for our maid, Fifi, to do it.
And wait … and wait … and wait …
Because she never shows up. You see, Fifi is imaginary.
(Admit it. You think I’m making this up. Sadly, I’m really not. Fifi has been a part of our lives since we were first married. This should really come as no surprise. I mean, I play with imaginary people all day. Why wouldn’t I have an imaginary servant?)
Now, you may not think an imaginary maid is very helpful when it comes to keeping a house clean—and you’d be right about that—but Fifi does have some good qualities:
1. She’s surprisingly affordable.
2. She can look however you want her to.
This is how I envision her:
(Yes, my Fifi is modeled after Hazel, from the 1960′s sitcom of the same name. If you can remember her, you’re probably old. Er, sorry. I meant to say, “You’re a classic!”)
But I’m pretty sure TG sees her more like this:
( Whatevs. I’m just happy he doesn’t expect me to wear a get-up like that.)
3. She’s a great scapegoat.
If something isn’t getting done in a timely manner (oh, like cooking or vacuuming or dusting or laundry or grocery-shopping … really, the list is endless), then we just blame Fifi.
For instance, take these typical conversations at our house:
TG: Doesn’t look like Fifi is going to make coffee this morning.
Me: Nope. Guess she’s taking the day off. Again.
TG: *sighs* I suppose I’ll make the coffee myself …
Me: Only if you want some, dear.
Me: Fifi didn’t get to the store today, so we don’t have anything decent for dinner.
TG: That lazy bitch. Maybe we should fire her.
Me: You really want to go up against the Imaginary Maids Union?
TG: Nah, not worth the hassle. Let’s just go out to eat.
See how it works? What Fifi lacks in efficiency, she makes up for in entertainment value!
Fortunately, TG and I have adopted an old Swedish saying:
That translates loosely as “A little dirt in the corners is better than a living hell.”
Which is pretty much how I feel about housework in general. Keep the house clean enough that people aren’t tempted to don decontamination suits before they enter, but don’t sweat the dust bunnies.
So, what kind of housekeeper are you?
A. I put Martha Stewart to shame.
B. With a little notice I can produce miracles.
C. If I shut the blinds nobody notices the dust.
D. I gave the dust bunnies names and told the kids they were pets.
E. Enter my house at your own risk.