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Category : Proposals
Think about approaching an agent to talk about your book. You see the agent over there, holding a glass of wine. You approach. You make an introduction. There’s some small talk. You start to chat about your story. But there are some things you want to be aware of…
When you ask the agent to meet too many characters in the space of one page, it’s a problem. It’s like getting introduced to a dozen people at a party all at once, trying to remember their names, what they do for a living, and how they relate to the host. When approaching an agent, stick to your POV characters. Use their names. But for everyone else, refer to them in the manner they relate to the POV character; i.e.: husband, daughter, boss, etc.
And you want to make sure you have the right directions to the party. Before racing off to meet the agent, check into their website in order to know what he or she is looking for. If they only want romance and suspense, don’t send your YA sci-fi. That’s the shortest route to getting escorted out the back door.
At a party, if you’re the one writing those nametags everyone has to wear, be sure you spell their names right. Oh, and for pity sake give the right one to the right guest. Slapping Brandilyn Collis on Chip MacGregor’s chest is just wrong on so many levels. If you use the same query email, make darn sure you’ve replaced the previous agent’s name. Sending Chip a query with Steve Laube’s name on it will guaranty your email is deleted before it’s read. And showing that you’ve sent the same note to fifteen agents will get you banned from any future parties.
When the guests don’t know when to leave, the host can begin to get a bit grumpy. So know how long to take, and when it’s
Guest writer HOLLY LORINCZ is a novelist as well as a publishing consultant at MacGregor Literary, and Chip’s assistant. Before Mac Lit, Holly was the editor of a literary magazine and then an award winning instructor, teaching journalism, speech and writing at the high school and college level. She was also a nationally recognized competitive speaking coach for years, giving her a unique perspective on book pitches.
PITCHING: ARE YOU PREPARED?
By Holly Lorincz
The brilliant Chip MacGregor (the man who signs my checks) recently posted an article regarding what agents look for when they attend writing conferences. I would like to extend his comments on pitches, since many of you are getting ready for RWA.
When was the last time you were at a conference, pitching? Sitting in a hotel banquet room crowded with tables and sweaty, nervous writers? I’m not saying that to be judgmental . . . I’ve been that sweaty, nervous writer hoping to win over an agent with my charm, if not my book. I went in with my satchel stuffed with one-sheets, copies of the synopsis and the first fifty pages. I’d even made up clever business cards. I was dressed in a skirt and heels, making sure I didn’t look stupid even if I said something stupid. Which, with me, was bound to happen. And knowing that, I practiced the heck out of my pitch, making sure I sounded comfortable and natural (though completely memorized) while describing the hook and major premise in less than two minutes. I made sure the agents/editors I was signed up to talk to were actually looking for books in my genre, checked out their bios so I could try to figure out what they might be interested in. Oh, I had done my research. I was prepared.
Shockingly, a good chunk of the writers were less prepared. Or not prepared at all. They were using their expensive
Someone asked, “How do you feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?”
Let me set some ground rules. First, if I didn’t ask for your proposal, I don’t owe the author a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read it and give a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing the author a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.
When an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for, I try to get back to people within four to six weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I’ll admit something: I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). I think perhaps they’ve forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Okay, sorry if I sound cranky, but I got one of these today, from a woman I’ve
Someone wrote and wanted to know, “What advice do you have for authors regarding querying? What is the best method (e-mail, snail mail)? Is there a particular format the query should follow?”
The BEST method is to get face-to-face, of course, so by all means consider attending a conference where you can meet the agents and editors with whom you want to work. Research them ahead of time, find out who they are, what they represent, and who might be a fit. Then try to get in front of them. That’s best… But in today’s publishing world, that’s harder than it used to be. Many agents are staying away from conferences because they’re dominated by beginning writers. In publishing today, most people have become email people, and thus I expect most of the queries you’re going to write are going to be without a face to face introduction (even though that would be best).
I much prefer a query via email than a printed letter (save the trees, save the gas delivering it). A query should be short, to the point, and most of all is should give me a reason for wanting to see your proposal. It should help me to be interested in our topic or story. Remember, the goal of the query isn’t to sell your book; it’s to get an agent or editor to agree to take the next step. That’s all. Nobody decides to acquire a book based solely on the query. So the query should briefly give me a reason for wanting to see more, it should be written extremely well in order to show off your talent, and it should tell me exactly what you want me to do.
The first paragraph of your query letter introduces your topic — just give it one or two sentences. Your second reveals the basic idea or focus of your book in two or three sentences.
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon andBarnes & Noble.
Last night was our GET PUBLISHED teleseminar with Michael Hyatt. What a great time, talking business and answering questions! It was a blast.
We weren’t able to get to some of the submitted questions, so I’ve gone ahead and answered them below. Would love your thoughts on what was discussed during the teleseminar, or what is talked about below.
And don’t forget! We have a special opportunity for friends (that’s you!) of MacGregor Literary.
Michael Hyatt, former CEO and Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers (one of the largest publishers in the world), has recently released a comprehensive solution for authors called GET PUBLISHED. It’s a 21 session audio program, accessible online, that distills Michael’s 30+ years of publishing knowledge into a step-by-step guide to help authors get published and launch a successful career, even perhaps a bestseller!
Michael is offering a special limited time discount on GET PUBLISHED. Not only can you save significantly on the program, you’ll also get access to several bonuses worth over $150. Bonuses include items such as Michael’s popular “How to Write a Winning Book Proposal” ebook and more.
For details and to take advantage of this special offer, go to http://michaelhyatt.com/getpublishedoffer
(Note: This discount offer is only available through April 17).
Okay, on to those questions!
Brooke asks: What makes an agent take a chance on a first-time author?
When we fall in love with a fiction author’s story idea and writing, or when we see the potential of the book idea, writing, AND platform of a nonfiction author.
Mark asks: What do you think about
I’ve been using the past couple week to try and blow through a bunch of publishing questions people have asked, offering shorter-than-usual answers to try and get people the information they need. For example, one writer asked this: “I’ve heard that requested materials get put toward the top of the slush pile in most cases, but does this still mean a 3 month response time from most agents?”
If you ask ten agents “what’s the average response time to a submission,” you’ll probably get ten different responses. Just remember what your mom always told you: patience is a virtue. My guess is that, for most of the agents out there, the response time varies based on how busy we are at the time. Some months (like December and July, for example) are slow months for publishing, so all of us get to catch up on our queries and proposals. But yes, most of us are sure to look at requested materials ahead of the slush pile. I try to respond to every query within a month. I try to respond to every requested proposal faster – as soon as I can get to it. In most cases, that’s about two weeks, sometimes three. But no, I’m not perfect, and sometimes things take longer.
Another writer sent this question my way: “I have a question for all you hardworking agents out there. [Note: Though the author of this question has aimed it at “hardworking” agents, I decided to answer it anyway.] When you get a submission from an unpublished author who has requests from several publishers, do you prefer if the author wait to see if you want to offer representation before she or he sends those submissions into the requesting editors? Or does it not matter?”
No question about this one—I much prefer the author wait. The thing is, I’ve been working in this business a long time.
A writer got in touch and asked, “Since it seems like anyone can get a book published today through self-publishers, how do I make sure my book gets the needed exposure?”
As I’ve noted several times on this blog, the key principle for anybody doing marketing of their own book is simple: Figure out where your potential readers are going, then go stand in front of them. If you’re doing a book on lowering cholesterol, research to find out what websites people with high cholesterol are visiting, what blogs they’re reading, what magazines and e-zines they’re checking out, what the most popular sites for information sharing are. That’s the first step. The second is to get yourself involved with those venues. That will get you started on marketing. (And be sure to read Amanda’s Thursday blog posts, which are filled with good, practical ideas to help you move forward in your marketing abilities.)
Now you have the tools you need to create a plan. You’ve got a list of the places people who are interested in your topic are going online, and you’ve got a list of ways you can try and get involved in those sites (by writing articles, doing reviews, creating an interview, offering a chapter of your book, etc). The next step is to start the hard work of getting your words out there.
On a related note, someone wrote these words: “You have frequently told authors to find out where the potential readers are, then go get in front of them. How can an author find the target audience for his book?”
Research, my friend. It will take time, but start checking out key words and topics. Find other books and sites that cover similar material and check them out. Start doing reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. Get involved with Pinterest and Flickr. Create online bookmarks. Join Facebook and Twitter. Begin researching your topic and you’ll
Someone wrote to ask, “Must a novel always be 100% finished before an agent will want to take a look at it? Or if you spotted great voice in an unfinished work, would you take a look and offer encouragement?”
If I absolutely love the voice, I might sign an author based on the quality of the writing. That happens on occasion. More often, I will look at a project and offer encouragement to the writer if I like his or her writing voice and think it has potential, but still think it needs to be completed. Right now the market is more or less demanding a novel be completed if a publisher is going to take a risk on a new or newer author. So yes, an agent might very well say he likes your work, but put off a decision to sign you until you complete your novel.
Another asked, “How much of a difference does it make to an agent to hear I’ve been referred by one of their current clients? And how does that compare to a face-to-face with an agent at a conference?”
It always makes a difference to me when one of the authors I already represents sends a talented writer my way. I figure the writers I represent are already my friends — we understand one another, so they’re probably going to send people my way who would likely be a fit. So consider that a good start. That said, it still usually takes a face-to-face for me to really get to know someone. A conference meeting is often too short (sometimes ten minutes), but it’s a start. In both cases, it will need to be followed up by great writing and a long talk or two, where we both get a feel for whether or not we’re a fit for one another.
One writer asked, “How are royalties paid? Why is it
Several questions have come in lately regarding relationships with agents…
One person asked, “Is it okay to take a proposal that you previously submitted to an agent, rework it to resolve the problems, then resubmit to them, explaining that you took their advice to heart and made the changes they suggested?
It depends on the agent and the situation. Here’s how I approach it… If I see potential in your writing, but I’m not crazy about the particular proposal I’m looking at, I may say to you, “This has potential, but it also has problems. Here’s what I’d suggest you do in order to improve it. Try this, this, and this. Then you’re welcome to send it back to me for another look.” I don’t do that often, but occasionally I’ll see talent in a writer and that causes me to want to work with them a bit more. Other times I’ll just say to an author, “You have talent, but this story isn’t working. Why don’t you write something else, then resubmit.” (I do this even less frequently.) If an agent invites an author to resubmit, that means the agent sees something they like in the author’s work — so by all means follow up, do the reshaping, and resubmit.
The same person wrote this: “I had an agent send me a letter, but he didn’t really decline my project. He just said it’s not a fit for his agency. What does that mean? Should I reshape it and try again?”
It means he’s declining the chance to represent you. I receive hundreds of proposals. Sometimes it’s clear the author just isn’t ready. The writing is weak or the story is bad. In those cases, I just decline. I’ll usually say we’re declining without giving a reason. Why? Because it’s not my job to fix all the bad writers in the world. Unless they’re paying me to do an
While on an agent’s panel at ACFW in September, I sat next to Lee Hough, one of the smartest and hardest working agents in the business. While we all fielded the typical questions we get as panelists, someone asked a question about the current state of affairs in publishing, and how agents are faring.
I tend to take a positive, entrepreneurial, and philosophical approach when answering questions about the challenges of publishing.
Lee, however, hit the mark when he said “It’s like the wild, wild west out there right now.” His summation about the new landscape of publishing has really stuck with me. In fact, it’s a new constant on the landscape of my daily work life these days — right alongside MacGregor Literary’s long-standing company philosophy that “good is always better than fast.”
As positive as I try to remain, I’ll admit, it’s felt exceptionally difficult to place books and find homes for authors these past few months. Even with the successes I’ve enjoyed this year in spite of it all, it feels like I’m on more uneven ground than ever. And I know agents aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
Marketers are constantly scrambling to orient themselves to what it takes to get readers to buy in a noisy online environment. Sales teams are faced with succeeding in spite of the literal crumbling of their brick & mortar customer base. Publicists are being asked to do more with less. Editors are overworked. Authors are no longer just invited by publishers to help market their books, but are expected to do so. In fact more and more, the strength of an author’s proposal is weighed as much for the type and number of readers they bring to the table as it is for the quality of their writing. Maybe more.
Top that off with the consideration that authors are not only competing with other authors for