Cheri’s Note: The next session summarized below seemed important to attend, even though I’ve been going the self-published route for some time now. But I wanted to hear what was new and what has changed since I listened to a group of agents at last year’s conference. A year ago, I mentioned in a blog post that I was surprised to discover that some of the agents were allowing self-published books to be pitched during the Pitch Slam. This year I was sort of blown away to discover that there’s been yet another tectonic shift, leading to a huge percentage of the conference sessions and panels not only addressing but embracing the self-publishing aspects of the industry and how to navigate through the morass.
And there didn’t seem to be any agents or editors in attendance this year who were openly expressing concerns about talking to/hearing from self-published authors. Part of that shift appears to be coming from a huge improvement in the quality of self-published books, in addition to the somewhat embryonic but impressive movement of established traditional authors into self-publishing, especially through e-books. So, for those writers out there who’ve grown weary of querying, the stigma of going the self-published route for at least your first book no longer exists. In fact, agents and editors seems to admire authors who’ve taken charge of the situation, in order to get their work into the hands of readers. No one knows better than the agents and editors how difficult traditional publishing is these days for unknown writers. Traditional publishing houses continue to slash the number of titles they publish each year, and debut authors are getting fewer and fewer of those slots. But self-published authors, who’ve written a quality book that’s been meticulously edited and who’ve had any reasonable success marketing their book(s), now have a better chance of getting noticed, in many cases. So, keep the faith out there–and continue plowing ahead!
Saturday, January 21–Ask the Agents Panel, Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino (Author, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents)
Agents on Panel:
- Mary Kole, specializing in YA (Young Adult) at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency
- April Eberhart, adult commercial and literary fiction at the April Eberhart Literary Agency (openly looks for self-published books “done well”)
- Diana Fox, adult fiction at the “boutique” Fox Literary Agency
- John Willig, prescriptive and narrative nonfiction at Literary Service, Inc.
Sambuchino: What are an agent’s primary duties?
- Communicate with authors
- Read manuscripts
- Represent authors
- Edit manuscripts
- Sell books to publishers
- Guide authors through the publishing process
- “Trusted Advisor”
- Receive 15% of eventual book sales
Sambuchino: What are the most common reasons for rejections?
- Writing is not good in the query letter. (Yikes!) And/or the writing in the first five pages is not good.
- If a submission gets beyond the query letter: a) The story doesn’t get off to a fast start in the first paragraph! b) Writing is not good, leaving the suspicion that one person wrote the query letter, and another person wrote the manuscript. Agents can tell the difference in style and structure. c) Authors are not responsive to agent communications. (I just can’t understand what such writers must be thinking.) d) Authors are uncooperative/unresponsive with respect to suggested edits. (I did see a change in the attendees this year, in that a lot more of them have reached the understanding that they’re not going to get anywhere if they don’t secure quality editing. And that requires an openness to suggestions as well as letting go of the “this is my work” attitude. There were still a lot of young “newbies” at the conference who were hearing all of this stuff for the first time. But, in general, the group (I think there were about 800 of us there) was realistic about what they would have to go through with respect to someone else editing their work.)
- There is not a strong storyline.
- There is not the desired level of quality writing plus exciting plotting.
- The author is not a team player.
- The author’s “voice” is not coming through. There is an absence of authenticity.
- There is too much “telling” instead of “showing.
- The story lacks structure.
- An exceptional level of creativity is not apparent from line 1.
Sambuchino: Nonfiction is gaining attention. What are you looking for from the authors?
- One agent said that sample chapters were more important than the proposal. But others preferred focus on the proposal because a finished book means that necessary editing and restructuring becomes more difficult, if not impossible.
- Authors need to “drill down” to a niche target audience. Books too generally targeted will not be successful.
Sambuchino: Explain the value of “the platform.”
- It signifies a built-in audience for the book.
- The world has changed with respect to how readers get their information. Authors have to compete through their platforms by answering, a) How is my book a better for what I’m writing about than other sources? (For example, better than sources like WebMD for a medical book) and b) What is unique about my book that doesn’t exist in any other book or information source? c) Why am I qualified to write this book?
Note: The audience for this panel was packed, and the session could have gone on for hours. But we were limited to 45 minutes. In my conference survey, I suggested expanding the time a bit, especially since the conference organizers have expanded the Pitch Slam (which I’ll cover in more detail when I get to that point).
More later …