A Mythical Agent’s Christmas Wish

Dear Santa:

I know I only deserve coal this year, but is there any way you could send me a perfect author for Christmas? A perfect author is a mythical creature who

  • is attractive, passionate, has a sense of humor, and is a pleasure to be with.
  • is an expert on books by all significant authors of related books.
  • comes up with irresistible ideas and titles.
  • writes out of love for craft and readers, and sees income as validating the books’ value.
  • writes the last draft first in a distinctive, addictive voice.
  • has a network of readers to provide feedback.
  • stays up to date on books, publishing, promotion, and technology.
  • serves a huge, ever-growing community of fans and helpful professionals.
  • has great connections to the events, authors, organizations, opinion-makers in the field and the world of writing.
  • obtains quotes from people who don’t give them.
  • uses technology for promotion, getting feedback, sharing, and learning.
  • provides a promotion plan that assures success.
  • regularly turns out word-of-mouth and -mouse bestsellers, each better and more profitable than the previous one.
  • has a charismatic presence in person and in the media that imbues listeners with contagious passion.
  • promotes with grace and relentlessness.
  • is impeccably professional.
  • under-promises and over-delivers.
  • writes books that are sold in other forms, media, and countries.
  • anticipates shifts in readers’ tastes and interests, and satifies them.
  • always wonders how to do anything more creatively.
  • inspires the best efforts in an agent, editor, and publisher, and is faithful to them.
  • sells so well booksellers always have stock and never return it.
  • expresses gratitude so generously that people are always eager to help.
  • is dedicated to becoming a more effective author and finding new ways to serve readers better.
  • balances

            * writing and promotion

            * time spent online and off

            * personal and professional obligations.

  • accepts the inevitability of problems and solves them.
  • is such a paragron of virtue that Lady Luck bestows her blessings.

Many thanks for granting my wish. I promise to do whatever I can to be a good person and a perfect agent.

Yours Truly,

A Mythical Literary Agent

P.S. If you can’t make a perfect author, a unicorn would be nice. And with a unicorn, you don’t have to worry about returns.

The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org  / [email protected] / blog: https://sfwriters.info/blog / free MP3s at sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st

New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean /  www.sfwritersu.com

8 Steps to Hiring the Agent You Need

Finding a literary agent tips

It’s been said that an agent is like a bank loan: You can only get one if you can prove that you don’t need it. But there are more than 1,200 agents in the United States, and more than 90% of them must find new writers to make a living. Here are eight steps to getting the agent you need:


1. Find a salable idea.

2. Write a proposal or manuscript. The only time to contact agents is when you have something ready to sell.

3. Research potential agents online and off as my previous post suggests.

4. Write an irresistible query letter about the hook, the book, and the cook, the subject of an upcoming post.

5. Follow the submission guidelines of the agents you contact. The comedian Steven Wright once saw a sign in a restaurant window that said: “Breakfast served at any time.” So he ordered French toast during the Renaissance. Of course you don’t want hear back from agents at any time. You want to hear yesterday. But don’t call or email to see if your work arrived or when you will get a response. Established agents receive thousands of submissions a year and don’t keep a log.

Make a note on your calendar or your copy of your query letter of when the agents’ guidelines say you will hear from them and call or email them if you don’t.  If it’s important for you to know that snail mail arrived, send it certified or get a return receipt.

If you’re mailing your work, and you don’t want the material back, you still have to include a stamped-self-addressed  #10 business envelope if you want to be sure to get a response. If you don’t, you may lose the chance to get feedback and may only hear back if an agent is interested.

6. If the agent has a written agreement, read it to make sure you’ll feel comfortable signing it, and feel free to ask the agent questions about it.

7. Meet interested agents to test the chemistry for your working marriage. Look at the challenge of finding and keeping an agent as creating and sustaining a marriage that has personal and professional aspects to it.

8. Choose the best agent for you, based on passion, personality, performance, and experience.

Then bask in the glow of satisfaction that an agent thinks enough of your book’s  potential and yours to represent you. I hope you find an  professional, knowledgeable, and motivated mentor for the adventure that awaits you.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / 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)

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

The S Theory of Compelling Storytelling

  Forcing Fiction and Narrative Nonfiction Readers to Turn the Page

 The first page sells the book.   –Mickey Spillane

 Agents, editors and book buyers only read far enough to make a decision. If they don’t like what they read on page one, they won’t turn the page. Book buyers may not read the second sentence of a book in a bookstore. This leads to “The S Theory of Storytelling” for fiction and narrative nonfiction that writers want to read like novels:






Something Said

or Something Else

on page one must be compelling enough

to make agents, editors, and book buyers turn the page.

Your book will compete with the growing number of ways consumers can use their free time and discretionary income. So every word you write is an audition to get your readers to read the next word. Every line you write must convince your readers to read the next line. Assume you have only one sentence to convince browsers to keep reading. Every page you write must arouse enough interest to keep readers turning the pages. And you face that challenge on every page you write except the last one.

The last page sells the next book. –Mickey Spillane