Updated: Jan 10
Soooo...it's been a while since I last posted. At first, I told myself I was just taking a bit of a COVID break. Things have been stressful (for everyone) and I would give myself the gift of slacking for a couple months. But for the past week or so, I've had "write a blog post!" on my task list and never crossed it off. Because it's been awesome not to have that extra thing to do on top of everything else.
It bothers me when other people have inactive sites with content that hasn't been updated for years, so when I first started blogging, I told myself I was going to post every week. Then after several years, that downgraded to 2-3 posts per month. And now I've decided to cut the cord.
But in an effort to make this a farewell post to remember, I've gathered together a rundown of all my “best and brightest” when it comes to advice I’ve given in the past! Hopefully this will be a helpful crib sheet for you.
I'm still planning on hosting the odd contest now and again so the blog portion of my site won't be completely dead, but from now on, most of my updates will be on my bookshelf, events, and authors sections. Thanks for sticking with me for so long and good luck with all your writing endeavors!
BE THOUGHTFUL WHEN CHOOSING WHAT TO WRITE
Now that my list is fuller and I'm busier than ever, I'm making an effort to only take on writers and projects that blow me out of the water. This means that I often pass on manuscripts that I like and think are good because I don't feel that falling-in-love spark or because I've already seen too many books like it in the marketplace.
I think that most agents feel similarly, so when getting ready to send out a new manuscript, take some time to think about what makes your book fresh and exciting and be sure to highlight that in your query!
HOW TO TALK TO AGENTS ON THE PHONE
I thought of this tip after having a few of my own writer phone calls recently and realizing from some of their questions that they Googled “important things to ask a literary agent” and then printed out what they found. There are some good articles out there about certain boxes you should make sure to tick when having a conversation with an agent, but in general, those Googled questions drive me nuts!
A prime example of this is asking how many deals an agent as done in your genre. Definitely something worth knowing, but you can easily find out the answer yourself by looking on Publishers Marketplace or Publishers Weekly. Other questions that fall into this category are, “Who handles your foreign rights?”, “How long have you been an agent?”, and “Are you a member of the AAR?”.
My advice is instead to do that kind of easy research beforehand and spend your one-on-one time getting a sense of the agent’s personality and work style and how well they gel with your own. It’s more important to know how an agent communicates and what kind of editorial feedback they will offer.
Another question that I don’t love getting is, “Which editors do you think you'll submit my project to? Do you have connections at all the Big Five?” I NEVER reveal my thoughts on submission lists to writers who aren’t clients (if you haven’t signed with me, I’m not handing out my thoughts willy-nilly!). Also, barring schmagents, all agents know editors at every major publishing houses, and if we haven’t communicated with a particular editor directly, that doesn’t mean we can’t pitch your project to them.
Instead of asking about submissions lists, I suggest asking an agent about the submission process and also what happens if your manuscript doesn’t sell in the first few rounds. It is helpful to know how long an agent will focus on a given project and if they prefer to work with you on revisions based on editor feedback or move onto something new if there are no bites.
Some other good questions to ask:
What is your editorial style?
How often do you communicate with authors at various stages of the publishing process?
What did you like about my book (although be prepared for some level of incoherent love babble)? What do you think needs work?
How do you approach rejections from publishers?
These are some of my other broad book ideas. What are your thoughts/do they fit into what you were thinking of for my career?
What’s one of your favorite deal stories?
Who is your oldest client? Your newest?
Tell me about yourself!
I usually view these phone calls as windows for me to look into authors’ personalities and from those glimpses, I try to judge if we will work well together and if our visions for the book are the same. Mostly, these calls are time for me to have a pleasant chat and get to know the person at the other end of the phone!
MAKE A LIST OF GOALS
At the start of every year, I do annual strategy sessions with all my clients where we talk about what we want to achieve in the coming year and the steps we think we'll have to take to get there. It's a time to crystallize goals and also to analyze the actions we need to take. It might sound kind of militant, but I find that it's a super helpful thing to do.
Besides the vague, umbrella goals of wanting an agent, a book deal, etc., taking the time to figure out concrete micro-goals you need to make in order to get to the ultimate one is a great way to get yourself organized and articulate what you should be doing/focusing on.
So for instance, if your overarching goal is to get an agent, your list might look something like this:
1. Research agents who are a good fit for me
Represent historical fiction
Communicative via email
Looking for own voices authors
2. Create spreadsheet to track queries and rounds of submissions
3. Perfect my query letter
Read articles online about crafting the perfect query letter
Submit query to pitch contests
Get CPs to read and edit
4. Comb through ms to polish
Focus on engaging, active voice
Make sure pace moves quickly
Highlight all telling areas and fix
Read comp titles and study how they use certain writing techniques successfully
5. Decide on timeline
Once I can't revise anymore, how long to I want to sub this ms for before shelving for something new?
6. Interact with agents
Go to conferences and online pitch sessions
GOAL = get constructive feedback from at least 5 agents this year
CHOOSE STRONG CRITIQUE PARTNERS
There are times when I've talked with both authors and clients about manuscript revisions/overhauls only to be told, "Huh, that's funny. My CPs said everything was great."
That, to me, should be the death knell of your writing group.
Of course, there WILL be a time when everything in your manuscript is great, but if I'm still spotting opportunities for improvement, so should they! It's essential that your critique partners aren't yes men and that (as their name implies) they are critical readers with good knowledge of your genre and of the publishing industry.
Feeling comfortable with your CPs is important, too, but placing a higher priority on being friends is not going to do you any good in the long run. You want smart readers who will challenge you and respectfully push you to make your work the best it can be and suited for the marketplace, not ones who tell you everything you do is perfect and no improvements are necessary. That's what your mom is for!
There will pretty much always be room for improvement—your manuscript will go through rounds of edits you do on your own and with your CPs, and then again with your agent, and then again with your editor. Making sure you have the right people to give you opinions from the get-go means you'll have a more polished, finished product by the time you get to agent and editor rounds—and that you'll leave us feeling deeply impressed by your skills!
HOW TO CHOOSE AN AGENT
This tip is about how to choose an agent, whether after an offer or querying. I feel like it would be better to figure this out during the querying stage (always better to be ahead of the curve!), but this tip is also helpful if you've also just received an offer of rep.
When I was in college, my career center advisor gave me really great advice for how to determine what kind of job I wanted. She told me to write down a list of all the things I wanted and all the things I didn't want in a career...basically a pros and cons list.
In a similar vein, I think it is essential to work out the things you do and don't want from an agent. For example:
Organizing your thoughts and gleaning what you want from interacting with agents can help you realize what kind of person you want to team up with. It's always best when an agent and an author have a similar working style and aligning goals, and sorting out what those are up-front can save you a lot of heartache or wasted time down the road.