On the last day, we had a session put on by the faculty on publishing. Because the grads missed this session (they were chillin with Vera Williams–no joke), I’m devoting a whole post to this talk.
Here’s what you missed:
MOST IMPORTANT THING: Get your manuscript in the best shape possible. Don’t rush to send out work that’s just OK. You might actually get the attention of a big-deal agent or editor. You don’t want to blow it by sending something out that isn’t your absolute BEST.
On getting an Agent…
1. Do your research: Duh. Don’t query blindly. Most info on agents and editors is on the interwebs (including blogs and Twitter accounts). Also, check the acknowledgment section of your fav book, too. By doing research, you can find an agent that is the best fit for you. And you can then mention a book they worked on that you really liked in your query letter (but don’t mention their most famous book.) “Dear Sir or Madam, I LOVED HUNGAR GAMES!! And have written a book just like it!” Don’t do that.
2. Match your project to the agent: Query agents who represent authors/books that are similar to your work. This part of publishing is all about relationships. You have a relationship with your agent who, in turn, has relationships with editors. If an agent only sells fantasy and you write historical pictures book, that agent probably won’t have relationships with the editors who are interested in that type of picture book. You want someone who has sold books like yours.
3. Make sure your agent is either experienced or has mentors: Ideally, you probably want an agent with experience. You are placing your baby (manuscript) in his or her care, after all. But sometimes a younger, less experienced agent can be a good thing, too. He or she is trying to build their career and might, in that case, work twice as hard for you. Just make sure that a younger agent is being mentored or working under smart people with experience. How do you find that out? Ask. Which leads me to the next point…
4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: It’s sort of like dating. You have to have a good relationship with this person; therefore, try to get a handle on how they work. Ask about their experience. Tell them about your next project to make sure that project will also be a good fit. Ask how they communicate and how long it takes them to return a phone call or an e-mail. Ask if they have editorial experience and if they will ask for changes to your project before presenting it to editors. Ask if they are encouraging. Ask to talk to one of the writers they represent, and don’t be afraid to ask hard questions to that writer, too. It’s better to not be represented at all and keep searching for the right agent than to sign with someone who is a bad fit. If you have a manuscript ready to send out, you’ve probably put a lot of blood and tears into it. Don’t entrust it to someone who doesn’t believe in it as much as you do or just isn’t a good fit with how you work.
5. Don’t sweat the 15%: Yeah. It feels weird to have someone take 15% of everything you earn. You did the writing after all. But all the faculty members strongly believe that you make that 15% back because of all the hard work your agent will do for you that you could never do on your own. The back end of publishing is a mucky jungle, and without the proper guide, you can get lost. For example, foreign rights? Movie rights? It’s just too much to deal with–to figure out. Spend your time writing. Let your agent wrestle through the jungle.
6. Don’t give anyone any money: For example, don’t pay to have your query letter written. If an agent or any other organization wants money up front for anything, it’s probably not legit. Again, do your research. Ask your friends. Ask Twitter. See resources below. Use common sense. There are a lot of people out there who want to profit off your dreams. They know some of you are desperate to get published. Don’t be fooled!
7. Follow the agent’s guidelines: For example, some agents won’t read submissions that aren’t formatted correctly, so double check/triple check their rules. Also, be professional. Use a normal font. Don’t send in photos of yourself for any reason. Agents are looking for serious writers, so present yourself professionally.
8. Write a good query letter, but don’t sweat it: There are so many resources online for writing query letters, so I’m not going to go into any of that. The point I do want to make: a BOMB manuscript with a crappy letter will earn representation. A crappy manuscript with a BOMB query letter won’t.
A note on Editors:
Editors are a lot busier than they used to be; therefore, they don’t have as much time to ACTUALLY edit. How crazy is that? For this reason, be a little leery of the editor that reads your manuscript and says, “It’s perfect. I’m sending it to copyediting.” You want to be edited. All the faculty and many published writers thank their editors constantly because their books are better having been edited. If you don’t believe me, look up the original ending for The Fault in Our Stars. Yikes!
Also, ask your potential editor if he or she is encouraging (if you feel you need that). Actually, all the same research and questions that apply for agents can also apply for an editor. Remember, the editor who is publishing your book also has to be a good fit. Or your book might die in their hands.
A note on correction letters (from the agent or the editor):
I’ve heard it’s overwhelming to get back a million pages of what’s wrong with your book. Take a deep breath. Then start with something small. Fix that, and move on. It’s important to remember that your editor/agent isn’t a writer (usually). When reading their comments, don’t follow them blindly. They may offer up suggestions for fixes. Be open to trying anything, but also remember, you are the writer. What you should take from the comments is this: something isn’t working. It’s your job to figure out what that is and fix it the way you see best. So fight for your story, but be open minded and ready to do Deep Revision.
- Publisher’s Weekly
- Publisher’s Lunch
- Publisher’s Market Place
- Purple Crayon
- Nathan Bransford
- Mary Kole
- Agent Query
- Literary Rambles
- Predators and Editors
- NOTE: Different chapters are more active than others. Their conferences are a good place to meet agents and editors so that you can get a good sense for who these people are. But be careful bringing work there that feels sensitive. An agent might say your project is worthless. Remember, that’s one person’s opinion.
Obviously, I am not a published author and am basically just saying what I heard from real authors. So please add any corrections, additions, or suggestions in the comments section! Thanks!