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Category : Questions from Beginners
We've had a bunch of "get to know you" questions lately, so I thought I'd group several of them together…
Andrew wrote to say, "You used to be a publisher with Time-Warner — why did you go back to agenting?"I love agenting. I enjoy working closely with authors, doing book development, planning careers, and spending time talking over projects. Actually, I never really got comfortable in my role as publisher – I always felt like a “suit.” Much happier being back on the agenting side of the desk.Janice asked this: "It seems like you and Sandra have had a lot of success in a short time — to what do you owe your success?"Most likely it’s my good looks and Scottish heritage. But aside from that, I have a pretty good eye for writing. And let’s face it – an agent is only as good as the authors he or she represents. If I’ve had good success, it’s because I’ve had the privilege of representing really good writers. Go to my web site, select any author, and read a novel… all of them can write. That’s the main reason I’ve been successful.Jim wants to know, "What types of projects do you get excited about?"I always tell authors at writers’ conferences that I’m looking for “books that change me.” It’s true. I get excited about reading a book that will leave me changed, since I know it will have the potential to significantly impact readers. I also look for a strong voice – your book shouldn’t sound like everyone else’s book. If there’s great writing, a strong voice, and a message that has the potential to change me as a reader, I know I’ve got a winner.Dana asked, "Are there stories that you know right away you're going to be tired of?"Sure – The tough-guy hero opens his eyes,
Suzanne wrote to ask, “How do agents feel about being ‘talked about’ by their clients? I rarely see published authors mention their agents in conversations, or hear them say, ‘My agent told me…’ Is there a protocol for mentioning your agent?”
I think you should feel free to say, "Sandra Bishop is my agent” or “I’m represented by Amanda Luedeke.” Most agents don't mind at all being talked about by their authors. We might get nervous if you were giving it out to everyone at a conference ("Call my agent Chip with this idea – here’s his home number"), but aside from that, there's no problem with talking about your agent to people. However, if it makes you feel nervous, you can just pass around a note in gym class ("I like Chip – check X for 'yes' or Y for 'no'").
Joni wrote and noted, “In a recent column, you said that agents prefer ‘proven authors.’ But then you went on to talk about how tough it is to get published without an agent. How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I’m not published? How can I be a ‘proven writer’ if I don’t have an agent?”
You know, on its face that might seem logically inconsistent… but it's not. At least, not in my view. What I mean by a "proven writer’ is someone who has proven themselves, whether by books, articles, a blog, e-zines, curricula, or what have you. Someone who has done enough writing to prove himself or herself to me. If you haven't proven you can write, then you're going to have a hard time finding an agent. That's what I meant. Not just proven by doing books, but proven as in "she has proved to everyone she can write, and she knows it."
Writing fiction has its own set of issues, and it's very hard to prove yourself apart from doing some books.
Dana asked an interesting question: "What kinds of physical challenges have you faced in the daunting regimen of writing, and how have you compensated?"
I don’t know that I’ve found the writing and agenting life to be all that daunting, but I can share with you Ten Tips I’ve discovered…
1. Start an exercise program. Years ago, I simply went out and spent $200 on a Nordictrac, and I used it about 5 or 6 times per week for years. I hated it, but I felt better, had more energy, and it kept my heart pumping. Then I started running, and I still run most days. The fact is, writing and editing (and agenting) is a lot of sitting on your butt. Getting up gets your heart pumping, helps you handle stress better, and gives you more mental acuity.
2. Use an ergonomic keyboard. It's much easier on the hands, and it'll only take you two days to get used to. (An added benefit: you'll never again hit the the letters "n", "h", or "y" by accident with your left index finger!)
3. Buy a good office chair. One that doesn't cut of circulation to your legs, that supports your lower back, that allows your feet to touch the floor (yeah, I'm short), and maybe even that leans you forward a bit. Then ask your spouse or co-worker to nag you about sitting up straight.
4. Spend ten bucks on a document holder. Some of the best money you'll ever spend.
5. Spend twenty bucks on a headset for your phone. I resisted this for years…now I LOVE my headset.
6. Learn to take breaks every hour. At those breaks, stand up and move around, and stretch out your hands.
7. Face your screen sideways to the window, not in front of it or beside it. That way your eyes aren’t fighting light from the window with light from the
Clovis asked, "If you are seeking a market for a particular idea, how do you study the market? What steps are critical in matching the work to the right publisher? How much do you rely on the guidelines, samples, catalogs, etc.? And what other sources are helpful?"
My answer: If you want to take steps like this , get to know the industry. I can think of a number of things that would help a writer do that…
1. Read frequently.
2. Read outside your genre (for example, if you’re a CBA person, read books outside of CBA).
3. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local newspaper — all have them). Spend time on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com to see what's selling.
4. Note who publishes the books you read and the books on the bestseller lists. (In case you haven't figured it out, not all publishing houses were created equal.)
5. Take a look at trade journals to find what's hot/what's not/what's happening. These journals would include Publishers Weekly, the email version of Publishers Daily, maybe Library Journal, or Christian Retailing, or Writers Digest, possibly Bookstore Journal. You may also glean some good information in some entertainment journals.
6. Keeps tabs on the economic climate of publishing and bookselling. Right now everybody is talking about what bad shape the industry is in… but this year there will probably be more book pages published and sold than ever before in history.
7. It's important that you study a publisher before sending anything to them. Harvest House may be the right place for your gift book, but it's the wrong place for your commentary on Habakkuk. So go to web sites and read catalogues to figure out who publishes what. If you research the house and its list, you'll be better able to target the right publisher.
8. Check out market resources like the Writer's
"I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"
A grab-bag of questions about publishing and writing today…
Mary-Lynn wrote to ask, "What do I need to know about creating a proposal for an agent? Is it like filling out a form, or do I create the story for them to see?"
I guess you could say that creating a proposal is a bit like filling out a form, in that there are certain elements you really need to include: title, subtitle, author bio and sales history, notes on the manuscript (word count, when it will be completed), genre and audience notes, overview of the book, table of contents or story synopsis, comparable titles, sample chapters, and marketing information. If you’re a first-time novelist, you are doubtless going to have to show the agent the entire manuscript, whereas with a nonfiction book you can still sell it based on a great proposal and some sample writings. If this is a non-fiction book, you want to show an agent what the need is for this book, why you’re writing it, and what your qualifications are for writing the book. Those are fairly universal. If it’s a novel, you want to reveal a brilliant story, interesting characters, and snappy writing. An agent isn’t usually going to agree to represent your book based solely on the idea. He or she will also want to know that you’re a fine writer, that you have other ideas, that you’re willing to help with the sale and marketing of the book, and that you’re a person who is easy to get along with. (This part doesn’t get talked about as much as it should. An agent/author relationship is similar to both a creative friendship and a business partnership — so you need to be a match, or neither party is going to be happy.) If you’d like to see some sample proposals, I keep both a fiction and a non-fiction proposal on my business web