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Archive for April, 2012

99 cents gets you helpful advice on how to make self publishing work for you

It is amazing how time flies and how the idea of multi-tasking is a bit of an over promise when it comes to writing. Fact is, you can only write one thing at a time. You may have multiple projects started and in various phases of completion, but you can only write one thing at a time. So for the past few weeks, I have not posted on my blog because I have been focused on completing my latest book, Seven Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors.

The inspiration for the book comes from hundreds of conversations I have had with authors who have self-published. As I talked with them,  I began to see there were some common elements among those authors who found self-publishing satisfying. I used those ideas for a webinar on the Author Learning Center and Writers Digest with the same title as the book.  The response was overwhelming. In some cases, more than 2,000 aspiring authors registered for the webinar. So I decided to start with that content and create an affordable e-book. I published on Booktango, which is the newest, coolest, free DIY e-book publishing platform out there. I priced the book at .$.99 so everyone who wants a copy can get one. You can click on the book cover in this post to buy a copy now. Let me know what you think.

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Recently I did a post on the agent/author relationshipas described by agent Laurie McLean. Readers found her insights and perspective very helpful, so I thought I would ask her some additional questions that authors often have regarding agents.

Laurie is the senior agent at Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco and represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers) as well as middle-grade and young-adult children’s books. In addition, Laurie is the dean of the new San Francisco Writers University and is on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Here are some additional thoughts from Laurie that I think you will find helpful.

Agent Laurie McLean gives you more insight on how to work with an agent.

Do agents and editors have personal relationships? What I love about the publishing industry is that the writing trumps everything. I can be an editor’s best friend, but he or she will still not buy a property from me if it isn’t superbly written and just exactly right for their list. Agents and authors need each other. This means they must work together, and the closer, the better. Since we all love books, it’s easy to form a friendship based on a common bond; so yes, agents and editors have both personal and professional relationships of varying degrees, but if a book isn’t right for a particular editor, it is assumed that they will reject it and the friendship remains intact.

How important is it that an agent knows where a manuscript fits? Knowing where a manuscript fits should be part of any good agent’s knowledge base. A good agent knows which editors want what material, and even better, a good agent knows what they don’t want. Like relationship-building in any industry, information sharing and mutual respect are keys to getting the job accomplished.

When an agent recognizes the perfect storm of excellent writing skills, exceptional storytelling talent and a direct fit into the market, a tingle goes up the spine. I myself get giddy. I love it when I know exactly which four editors will go ape over a particular romance novel or fantasy novel or horror story.

What is a query? A query is a brief request for consideration of your work. My colleague Michael Larson says that queries should have the hook, the book and the cook, and I like that.  It’s simple to remember and a great way to structure a query.

The hook is the brief tantalizing phrase about your book that will excite the reader enough to want it and read it. If you go to a movie, for example, the trailers that they show before the feature film starts give you a visceral decision to make by the end of a 30-second period: I’m definitely going to go see that movie, or I’d never see a movie like that. That’s what you’re trying to achieve in your hook — not the latter, obviously. You want the editor or the agent to say, ‘Wow, I want to read more of this.’ That’s the goal of the hook.

The bookis an expansion of the hook that gives more depth and builds on the promise of the hook, so the agent knows there is a story behind the hype.

The cook is about you, the author. Hit the highlights of your writing credentials. Mention any famous author endorsements or awards you’ve won, and put it last in your query letter, not as the lead. Agents want to know about the book first, then the author, and please, leave out details such as your marital status, how many children you have or that your kids love your writing. It just doesn’t matter to the agent or the editor at this point in the conversation, and you’re wasting valuable space.

How does a submission differ from a query? A submission is the first few pages of your manuscript and a brief synopsis of the plot and major turning points.

How long does it take for an agent to reply to my query? The length of time between receipt of a query, reading of a query and reply to the author depends heavily on an agent’s style and his or her workload at any given moment. It can be anywhere from minutes for an email query to six months or more in extreme cases. Some agents don’t reply at all unless they want to request more to read or offer representation. My best advice is to check the website of each agent you submit to and discover their usual response time. If you can’t find the information there, you can also email or call and ask, or check agentquery.com, querytracker.net, pubmatch.com or authoradvance.com for such information.

I try to reply to queries within four to six weeks, although when I get super busy with client deals, unsolicited submissions take a big backseat, and my reply time lengthens accordingly. If an agent hasn’t replied within eight weeks, it is perfectly acceptable to drop them a line, an email, using whatever process you used to query them originally and inquire about your submission. Sometimes queries get lost in the mail or in cyberspace, so don’t assume anything. Submit, wait eight weeks, then inquire.

One further point: At the query stage of the process, it is not necessary to grant any agent exclusivity. The idea at this point is to spread your query far and wide, to an appropriately targeted list of agents. If an agent asks to read the full manuscript, then you might consider offering them an exclusive, but only if the agent requests it and only for a month or less. You don’t want to be hung up. How can you create a query that leads to further reading? Make it personal. Make it interesting. Make it brief and powerful. Edit it to eliminate all grammatical errors — you’d be surprised at how many there are in the queries that I read. A referral from one of the agent’s clients would definitely bump you up to the head of the line, so those are the things you can work into your query that will make you stand out.

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One of the great joys of being part of the Indie Revolution in publishing is meeting people with enthusiasm and vision.  A great example is Laurie McLean, an agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco, who represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, nouveau westerns, mysteries, suspense, thrillers) as well as middle-grade and young-adult children’s books. She looks for great writing, first and foremost, followed by memorable characters, a searing storyline and solid world building.

Additionally, Laurie is the  dean of the new San Francisco Writers University at www.SFWritersU.com and is on the management team of the San Francisco Writers Conference. In 2012, Laurie started two ePublishing companies: Joyride Books (publishes out of print vintage romance novels) and Ambush Books (publishes out of print tween and teen children’s books). Recently, she conducted a webinar on the Author Learning Center, titled Agent Secrets. Based on that interview, I put together questions I thought her audience might identify with; my questions and her answers are below.

Agent Laurie McLean answers key questions about agents.

What qualities should an author look for in an agent?  An author should interview an agent as they would a publicist, a printer or any other business partner, and not be star-struck to the point of accepting the first agent who offers representation.   I believe an author should find an agent with the following characteristics; integrity, wisdom, knowledge (which is different from wisdom), a strong work ethic, a personality fit  (this will become even more important as your career develops) and a personal commitment to their profession, because agents should be developing their careers too.  It’s advice we give to all our clients, so we should do it to, and a professional relationship with you, not just a friend, but a business partner.

What makes a great client/agent relationship?  It helps when you enter a relationship to know what you want to get out of it, and to be able to articulate this to your agent business partner.  Do you want someone who will hold your hand, or a shark who will get you the last dime possible from a book contract?  They’re not usually the same person.  Do you want an editing agent to help you polish your work prior to submitting to editors, or do you want a strict business oriented agent who will concentrate solely on pitching your work and negotiating deals on your behalf?   Do you want someone who is fun to work with, or do you prefer a no-nonsense, results oriented personality?  Once you build your profile for what you want in an agent, you improve the probability that the agent who becomes your partner will work out well long-term.

Where do I find agents?  Well, you can research agents by reading their agency’s website.  Almost every agent I know has a website.  Ours is www.Larsen-Pomada.com, and my blog is www.agentsavant.com.  This will tell you what I’m looking for, give you insight into my personality, and show you what I’ve been successful selling.  Most agent websites will offer similar information.  Also, understand what literary agents can and cannot do for you.  My colleague, Michael Larsen, has written the definitive book on agents, called How to Get a Literary Agent.  Simple, buy this book, borrow it or pick it up at the library. It’s a fabulous tool that will educate you on the literary agent profession and how we can help you build a career as an author.  You can also understand the publishing process and commit to it.  I am looking for authors who write at least one book a year for at least ten years.  A rule of thumb in genre fiction is that takes about five novels to build a significant fan base.  Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series didn’t take off until book number five.  Laurel K. Hamilton scored big on book number nine, and after that happened for each of them, the rest of the books—the previous books in the series—all became best-sellers too.  I want a commitment from my clients that they are in it for the long haul, and I’ll make the same commitment back to them.

What does an agent charge?  Basically an agent collects 15% of any deal they negotiate for a client as the total payment for their services.  For foreign deals or movie, television and stage deals, which are called dramatic rights, they may charge 20%, which is split with a co-agent, so your agent will get 10% and the co-agent would get 10%.  An agent is also entitled to reimbursement for nominal out of pocket fees incurred in the process of attempting to sell your work.   Some agents, myself included, consider postage, phone charges, copying and other minor out of pocket expenses just a cost of doing business, and we don’t charge clients for these costs, but other agents do, so it is important to find out what the policies of the agency where your agent works are.  Know the expense reimbursement policy of the agency whose services you are hiring before signing a contract.  If it isn’t stated in writing in the contract, put it in as an addendum.   If you can’t live with what an agency charges for expenses incurred on your behalf, don’t sign the contract, and never, ever, pay an agent reading fees.  This is the big tip off that they are not legitimate.

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