10 Ways to Find the Agent You Need

An old cartoon shows a group of agents sitting around a table, and one of them is saying: “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep these damn writers from getting ninety percent of our income.

In the early eighties they did find a way: they raised their commissions to fifteen percent. Agents are now trying to figure out how to cope with the changes in publishing. Some  are adding services and increasing their commissions. But one reason why now is the best time ever to be a writer is that there are more ways to find an agent than ever. And the more challenging publishing becomes, the more agents and editors need new writers. Here are ten ways to find the agent you need:

1. Your writing community: The writers you know, online and off, will recommend agents.

2. The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR): The 450 agents in AAR are the best sources of experienced, reputable agents. Members are required to follow the AAR’s code of ethics. The directories talked about in item number five of this list indicate when an agent is a member, and you can look up agents at www.aaronline.org.

3. The Web: Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google, online directories, agents’ websites..

4. Writers’ organizations: They’re listed online and in Literary Market Place.

5. Directories: Directories vary in the kind and amount of information they provide. For the best results, check what the first two say about the same agency: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents; Guide to Literary Agents; Literary Market Place (LMP).

6. Literary events: Writing classes, readings, lectures, seminars, book signings, conferences, and book festivals present opportunities to meet and learn about agents and publishers. Conferences offer opportunities to meet agents.

7. Magazines: Publishers Weekly, The Writer Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and Poets & Writers have articles by and about agents. If you don’t want to splurge on a subscription to Publishers Weekly, read it at the library or online.

8. Books: Check the dedication and acknowledgment pages of books you like and books like yours.

9. Your platform: Let agents or publishers find you—be visible online and off, get published and give talks, publicize your work and yourself. When your continuing national visibility is great enough, agents and editors will find you.

10. PublishersMarketplace.com. This is an online news source and community for publishing insiders. If you become a member ($20/month), then you’ll have access to a database of publishing deals made by agents and editors, as well as contact info for hundreds of publishing professionals.

Finding agents is easier than ever. Getting one to say yes is a far greater challenge and the subject of the next post.

Adapted from the fourth edition of How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, Writer’s Digest, April 2011.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Changing the World One Book at a Time / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org /Keynoters: Dan Millman (The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) / blog: sfwriting4change.wordpress.com

End Rejections and Obstacles Immediately

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

–Miles’s Law

It’s been said that you have about the same chance of winning the lottery whether or not you buy a ticket.

I received an email from a writer who I’m sure believes that you have about as much chance of getting a book published whether or not you write it. He is so discouraged by the process that he’s going to stop writing. I wrote to him, and here are my thoughts on his predicament:

As a writer whose work has been rejected often and an agent whose submissions to editors have been rejected thousands of times, I empathize with you. Want to stop getting rejections? Don’t submit anything. That and self-publishing are the only ways to do it. Otherwise, accept the inevitable. The New Yorker rejected a story by Saul Bellow after he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Publishing is a business that guesses wrong most of the time. More than 80% of the books that are published lose money, and agents and publishers reject bestsellers. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has that title because it was published by the 22nd publisher to see it.

Publishers want to publish books with pride and passion. They love literary books as much as they need commercial books, and bestseller lists include both kinds of books.

I’m sorry you haven’t been able to connect with an agent or editor. Their jobs depend on them finding new writers and helping them succeed, and it’s the best part of their job. But they accept less than one percent of the submissions they see.

You’re angry because they send form letters. But  agents and editors receive thousands of submissions a year, so they can’t take the time to write personalized letters.

Your query letter may be part of the problem. Agent Katharine Sands says: “The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself.” This is why you need readers who can assure you that every word is right, and your that letter has the impact you want it to have.

Your proposal or manuscript may also be the reason why you haven’t sold your book.

How many competitive books have you read to establish criteria for your book?

What books did you use as models for your book?

How closely does your work meet the standards they set?

How many drafts did you do?

How many qualified readers gave you feedback on your work as you were writing it and after you finished it?

Agents and editors can tell instantly whether someone can write and knows how to start a proposal or manuscript, and because they’re swamped, they must decide as quickly as they can whether to keep reading.

Are they infallible? No.

Do they make mistakes? You betcha.

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, bestselling thriller writer Steve Berry said that his first five novels were rejected eighty-five times. Five of Sue Grafton’s first seven novels were never published. After Danielle Steel’s first novel was published, she wrote five more that were never published.

Although technology can accelerate success in the arts, writing is the easiest of the arts to enter. All you have to do is sit down and start putting black on white. It’s also the easiest in which to succeed. You may feel better about your problems if you talk to actors, artists and dancers about the challenges they face.

You have to have faith in your work and yourself and keep writing. You’ll become a better writer with every book. Sure, you’ll go through periods of doubt, but if you persevere and have readers to critique and encourage you, you will work your way through the doubt.

Want to eliminate all of the obstacles in your life immediately? Eliminate your goals. No goals, no obstacles. The challenges you face are commitment tests. The larger your literary and financial goals, the greater the obstacles you will have to overcome to reach them. And the sweeter your success will be when you do.

Ray Bradbury once said that when you’re starting out, you have to learn to accept rejection. When you succeed, you have to learn to reject acceptance. I hope you’ll have that problem as soon as possible.

If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.

Comments and questions welcome.

Selling by Telling: Speaking from the Heart

Jerry Seinfeld once said that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. This means that at a funeral, you’d be better off in the coffin than giving the eulogy.

Speaking, like writing, is exposing yourself in public, so  fear is natural. But readers want to connect with authors in person, so speaking can accelerate sales and the development of your career.

If speaking about writing, your work, your subject, or yourself makes sense for your book, consider these suggestions:

Giving talks will help you

* promote and build an audience for your book and other talks

* get feedback on your ideas, your humor, the impact of your stories, and the difference you make in listener’s lives

* build

–sales of your books, products and services

–word of mouth

–online buzz

–relationships with your listeners

–your email list, if you ask for addresses

–a collection of videos for fans, agents, editors, the media, book buyers, and people who book talks

The challenge is making your listeners share your passion for your book. Look at a talk as having three parts: an introduction, the body of the talk and a conclusion. Or as someone once said: Tell’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

As with your book, don’t think about what you’re selling, think about what people are buying. What’s the best way to present the essence of your book so it serves and excites your listeners? Appealing to the head is easier than appealing to the heart. People understand the value of ideas. The heart part is harder.

The most effective talks inform, enlighten, entertain and inspire. They

* provide valuable information

* present a vision or perspective based on that information

* hold listeners spellbound

* inspire audiences to act, if only to buy what you offer

* continue to improve as speakers learn from responses to them and find ways to make them more effective

Unless you can read a section of your book that will have a strong affect on audiences, the impact of reading isn’t clear to me. Usually, the Q & A session that follows readings is more interesting. But reading is a standard part of book-signings for novelists and memoirists, and if it will help sell your book, do it.

Use handouts. They add lasting value to your talks and can include your contact information, events, products and services, and order information. The organization that  invites you to speak may print them for you.

Want the best intro? Write it yourself. Also write your outro, what you’d like to have said after you speak about book sales, upcoming events, your blog and website.

Most of what you communicate isn’t the words; it’s you. It’s everything else that audiences experience: your clothes, movement, gestures, voice and passion.

To minimize the fear of speaking:

* Attend talks, watch them on YouTube and television, listen to them on iTunes and CDs. Use the best as models.

* Write and revise your talk until it’s as strong as you can make it. Use stories and humor. Credit the work of others.

* Practice your talk as often as you can.

* Audition your talk. Ask people to make suggestions, and grade the content and impact on a scale of one to ten.

* If you’re planning to read your talk, underline the syllables you will stress. Professionals memorize talks. They look at the parts of them as modules that they can shift and eliminate, depending on the length and subject of the talk.

* Attend a talk at places where you’ll speak, if you can.

The better you know your talk and the more often you give it, the more confidence and less fear you will experience. The kicker: the fear of speaking is a good thing if you use it to energize your talk.

Business, professional and nonprofit organizations need speakers. As soon as you feel ready to speak, begin doing it. You’re an amateur until someone asks you how much you charge.

At the end of your talk, ask your audience to tell you if they know of any organizations that would like you to speak. If you’re speaking before publication, they may welcome you back when your book comes out.

What are the joys of speaking?

* Audiences laughing at your jokes and being moved by your stories

* Listeners telling you how much they enjoyed your talk

* Changing people’s lives

* Getting paid to give voice to your passion

* Creating a community of fans and customers

* Being asked to come back

* Getting referrals for talks

If corporations, associations and nonprofit organizations will pay you to speak, you may be able to make more income from giving talks and selling books after them than you can in royalties.

To develop your speaking skills, join Toastmasters, www.toastmasters.org. If you want to become a professional speaker, join the National Speakers Association, www.nsaspeaker.org.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the tongue may be more lucrative than either.

Comments, questions and humor welcome.

Wribrid or Toast—Which are You?

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a man who looks like Charles Dickens, and the editor is saying: “Make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or the worst? It could scarely have been both.”

As I wrote in my first post, now’s the best time ever to be a writer. But if you’re a new writer who wants a major commitment from a large publisher, it’s the most challenging time ever. One way to make yourself attractive to big houses is to reinvent yourself as a wribrid.

Wribrid rhymes with hybrid and sounds like it should be sliced and wrapped in cellophane. But it’s really the new model for writers. We live in the age of hybrids, the transition between gas and other forms of energy, between analog and digital, between the world and the Web.

Put writer and hybrid together and you have wribrid. Author Lee Foster rightly predicted that “This will be the golden age of the content creator.” But to succeed, you have to be a wribrid. You have to strike the right balance between

* Being online and off

* Writing for free and fees

* Writing short work and books

* Developing your ability to write for and promote in as many media as you can

* Writing, selling, test-marketing and promoting your work

* Doing work that generates income and building your visibility and communities to help you

* Receiving help and reciprocating

* Making a living and making a life

* Being a writer and, if you can get paid to speak, a speaker

I’m looking for someone to write a book about finding the best balance in life between form and content. Content is what you love to do; form is what you have to do. The goal: maximize content, minimize form.

If you love to write, your goal is to spend as great a percentage of your time writing as you can, and as small a percentage as possible doing everything else. There’s a tension between maximizing your writing time and all the other things you have to do to build your career. So you to keep fine-tuning the most productive ways to use your time to achieve your short- and long-term goals.

If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. You have what it takes but no time to waste. So if you don’t have comments or questions, resume your quest now.

A Page a Day, A Book a Year: You Can Do It!

Don’t kill your wife. Let our washing machines do the dirty work.

–Sign in a Kentucky appliance story.

Technology has ended the dirty work, the physical drudgery of writing and transformed every writer into a publisher. All you need to get published is a  manuscript.

And a page a day is a book a year. If you only write 250 words a day for 21 days, you will have a new habit.  In a year’s time–taking weekends off–you will have 251 pages.

The next step is to make them worth publishing. Then the question becomes who will publish your book. Your idea, your prose, your platform, your promotion plan will answer that question. But publication is certain. Somebody will publish your book, if only an e-book or print-on-demand publisher that will do it for free.

Strengthening your commitment to writing by doing it every day will enable you to become a published writer. So put the power of a page to work for you today.

I have great faith in you. I believe that you can do it. I know that you can accomplish more than whatever you think you can. But more important is that you believe it, that you have the faith you need in yourself to believe that you and your work will be good enough to achieve your goals.

This doesn’t lessen the challenges of

  • writing as well as you can
  • getting feedback on your work
  • building your visibility with your readers
  • promoting your work and yourself
  • building communities of people to help you

It does mean that if you keep trying. keep growing, and keep learning from your mistakes, you will succeed. So let it be written. So let it be done. Your readers are waiting.

Publishing at the Point of No Returns

In a conversation CSPAN taped at the Brooklyn bookstore of the publisher Melville House, Colin Robinson, co-founder of the new publisher OR Books, noted that publishing has come to a point of no returns. OR Books is eliminating returns of unsold books from booksellers by selling e-books and printing books on demand in response to orders. Of course, technology has led to a point of no return for writers and publishers.

Publishers started allowing booksellers to return unsold books during the Depression to encourage them to stock more books than they could otherwise afford. Now returns symbolize the dysfunctional state of the industry. Forty percent of new books are returned to be pulped and become new books.

Robinson was having a moderated discussion with Richard Nash, the founder of Cursor Books, another new house that does e-books and POD books, and relies on building online communities to reach readers.

Nash feels that the role of publishers is to connect writers and readers. He and Robinson believe that they can connnect with book buyers better than big houses by using the money they save by not giving more than half of the cover price to the chains in discounts and promotional allowances.

Robinson believes that it’s getting harder to read while it’s getting easier to write. He feels that the number of choices readers face confuses them and turns them off. Nash mentioned another aspect of the competition for books: the ways people can spend an hour besides reading: listening to 18 songs, watching two sitcoms or half a movie.

Nash lets his communities vote on cover designs. He finds that people feel valued by being asked, even if he doesn’t take their advice. Nash admitted that he caters to people’s passions. He wants to publish what people love to read.

What does all this mean to writers?

  • Write what people love to read because they help, inspire, enlighten, or entertain readers so well they’ll forsake the other ways they have to spend their discretionary time and income.
  • Start building communities as soon as you start writing your book.
  • Choose the right publishing model for you and your book.

Comments and questions welcome.