Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘finding an agent’ Category

What the heck is the pitch slam anyway? Well, depending on the person answering that question, the pitch slam can either be comparable to walking the proverbial plank, or the experience can be a writer’s nirvana. Technically, the setup involves a whole bunch of agents sitting at little individual tables arranged around the edges of two huge hotel conference rooms. And those agents are waiting for hundreds of aspiring writers to line up in front of the little tables, in order to pitch, one-on-one, their books du jour.

Expectations tend to run pretty high with writers who’ve never been to a writer’s conference before, and I spoke with lots of young men and women who were truthfully anticipating the signing of a book deal by the end of Saturday. In reality, this is an exercise of practice–practicing the pitch, testing out the story idea, gaining a little feedback from several “someones” in the business, and maybe–at best–getting a request to submit a proposal or a chapter or two. We were specifically instructed not to hand any of the agents any materials at all–not even a business card. And yet I watched as dozens of writers tried to force flash drives or varying sizes of manuscripts into the agents’ hands. Needless to say, by the end of the three hours, there were hundreds of folks who’d come face-to-face with a major expectation/reality adjustment.

This three-hour session is the only reason lots of writers attend this particular conference. In fact, the conference attendance pretty much doubled on Saturday (same thing happened last year), because there’s a Saturday-only registration option. Such an approach seems to me a bit like jumping into the middle of the open sea after foregoing your swimming lessons. But what do I know? And I have enough to worry about, with respect to my own plans and expectations, without worrying about my conference-mates!

Actually, as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, I wasn’t planning to participate in the Pitch Slam at all this year, believing that on Day 13 of my fifth chemo round I wouldn’t be able to project my strongest, most energetic, and promotable self and book story. Plus, since my first book-length priority for 2012 is my nonfiction project (although I’m being driven nuts by the next novel clamoring to get out of my head), I didn’t feel confident that I was far enough along with the manuscript to confidently pitch the work. However … I was so totally energized from the conference sessions by Saturday morning that I decided I didn’t haven’t anything to lose by pitching, and I figured I’d be totally stupid to bypass such a gaggle of agents who were only there to listen to book pitches. (None of the agents who participated in the Pitch Slam received any compensation for being there, which is pretty amazing all by itself!)

Directions in the Friday evening session designed to prepare everyone for pitching Saturday afternoon cautioned against developing pitches that are too long, for a variety of reasons. First, this is the way the three hours were organized: Approximately 60 agents (eight or nine were last-minute cancellations due to the Saturday snow storm, but three or four local area agents were added in) were seated at their little tables around the two huge conference rooms. In the conference directory, the agents were listed alphabetically with the specified genres of books they were looking for, and each attendee selected a group of agents that appeared to be a match. As soon as the doors opened at 2:00 Saturday afternoon, we all filed in and formed lines in front of the first agent we wanted to pitch to. Generally, there were about 6-10 people in each line, and each pitch session was three minutes in total.

Here’s another reason why our pitches were supposed to be ultra short: The first person in line sat down in front of the agent when “start” was signaled, and a 60-90-second pitch was designed to leave another 60-90 seconds for the agent to comment and/or to (hopefully) request some sort of submission to follow. Once the “time is up” signal sounded, the next person in line was supposed to sit down in front of the agent. (Can you imagine how cross-eyed those agents must have been after engaging in three-minute pitch sessions, one after another, for three consecutive non-stop hours? They deserve a lot of credit and admiration for such duty!) At any rate, as you might imagine would happen, most of the attendees had never pitched a book before, and the majority were failing miserably with the 60-90 second pitch objective. Instead, they talked continuously for the full three minutes, leaving the agent only a few seconds to say anything at all (and usually after the “time is up” signal had sounded). So, the next person in line started their own pitch late and, in order to be fair, would take the full three minutes even though the “time is up” signal sounded a long time ago. Consequently, all the lines were growing restless with the timing that was becoming increasingly out of whack. Eventually, the conference staff began to enforce the schedule, walking around and making sure that pitch sessions were ending at the signal. By hour number two of the three, the lines were finally moving at the planned pace. When someone finished a pitch, they would then go to the end of the line in front of the next agent they wanted to pitch to, and depending on how many people were already in that line, most attendees were able to pitch to six or eight agents during the three hours.

Typically, after each pitch session, I could tell that most people were spending their time revising their pitches while they were waiting in the next line–and I was doing the same thing. I’m not used to pitching nonfiction, not to mention that I’d only started to prepare that morning. So, I had afforded myself minimal practice time prior to sitting down in front of the first agent. Still, I had pretty good luck. The lines I was standing in were especially long, because there were fewer agents looking for various categories of nonfiction–and there were even fewer of those looking for the “health” category. And because I started feeling tired after two hours, I only pitched to four agents, whereas if I’d been feeling more on my mark, I could have easily squeezed in another two or three in the final hour. (Apparently, there were a lot of complaints last year about too few agents (I think there were 40-something) and not a big enough Pitch Slam time slot (only two hours instead of the three hours this year). The conference organizers really responded to that input, and I didn’t see or hear about anyone who felt that there wasn’t enough time to see all of the agents they wanted to meet.

The four agents who listened to me (and I was pretty good about keeping the pitch close to 60 seconds) had plenty of time for comments and input. Two of them enthusiastically requested a proposal and a sample chapter. One requested the same information but with noticeably less enthusiasm. And the fourth agent waited until I’d finished the entire pitch before telling me that she didn’t represent the health category of nonfiction (even though “health” was clearly listed under her name in the program). But since I hadn’t even planned to pitch at all when I arrived on Friday, I felt good about the experience and the end result. I learned a lot and had fun, and that’s where expectations should realistically be set for this type of exercise at a conference with close to 1000 other writers chasing the same dream.

Now I have to write a proposal 🙂 (and fortunately I attended a nonfiction session that included a few things about how to do that, plus I bought an e-book on the subject–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O’Shea, partners in the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency). Some agents were more interested in seeing the book and the writing. Others told me to stop writing the book and focus on writing the proposal (which is supposed to end up somewhere around 30 pages in length). One agent in particular made a couple of significant points, especially for me, who’s really a fiction girl but who’s writing this nonfiction book because I believe it needs to be written. She said that a completed nonfiction book can be a disadvantage because, once the concept is contracted with an agent, an editor will enter the scene who will have major input about the book’s structure. A huge percentage of editors will not want to take on the structural rearrangement of a book that’s already entirely finished. The agent also told me that going through the process of writing the proposal will prove invaluable to me once I finish the proposal and then refocus on the book, especially if I do, in fact, decide to publish this one on my own as an e-book first. She told me as well that following that DIY path will not eliminate the traditional publishing path for that book in the future!

So, my new direction is to write the proposal, which I will then submit to the three agents who requested information, along with a sample chapter (which is not supposed to be the first chapter but one that’s in the middle of the book). Following those submissions, I will give the agents a reasonable amount of time to respond. Then, unless some miracle happens and my submissions turn into something other than rejections, I will refocus my attention on finishing the book, which I will proceed to publish as an e-book, with a separate print option. The goal is to get this one, as quickly as possible, into the hands of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m not going to wait very long for someone in the traditional publishing world to say “yes.” I’ll get the book “out there,” and then continue to approach agents the old-fashioned way while I start working on my next novel. If someone eventually wants to acquire the nonfiction project, that will be terrific. In the meantime, I will have met my objective of making the information available to my breast cancer target audience.

Although there will be additional posts forthcoming on the Day 3 (Sunday) conference sessions that I attended, along with the incredible, outstanding Closing Address by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, I want to say here how valuable I found this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference to be! And even though my expectations for the Pitch Slam were really low, I walked away from that afternoon feeling invigorated and inspired. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference that will actually send you home with practical information and experiences you can really use on your literary journey, I strongly recommend that you give this conference a try. Apparently, there will be a west coast version later this year (in September, I think), and then the east coast version will happen again in January 2013. Not sure if that one will be in New York again or in some other east coast city. But you can bet that I’ll be there, if I have to drag myself on my hands and knees!

Stay tuned for the final “chapters” of WDC 2012! And have a terrific weekend!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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 …

Read Full Post »

The comments on my Agent Conundrum post the other day have been really interesting. And after responding to one of them, I realized that what I’d just written might make a useful post. So I’ve copied that response below. Your feedback, as always, will be eagerly awaited.

From the onset of this blog (November 4, 2009), the mission has been to track the Journey, warts and all. So I felt that sharing a real-time query/rejection scenario might be especially helpful for writers stumbling across my post/blog who are in the earlier stages of their own Journeys. Setting our expectation levels to coincide with reality is such an important part of the process and is key to maintaining our sanity as we navigate the madness.

When I was getting started with my first novel (The Truth about Cinnamon) over twenty years ago, the publishing world (and, in fact, the world in general) was vastly different. There were no cell phones, no social media outlets, no email, and no way to contact agents and editors (who were still taking unsolicited manuscripts and queries back then) except by snail mail. So, I spent countless days/weeks/dollars in postage sending stuff out: query letters, the first three chapters, whatever the current Literary Market said the agents/editors wanted to see.

I still have all of those rejection letters/postcards–and a handful of individuals actually responded with suggestions, indicating that they saw some promise in my writing and my story but that one thing or another needed to be fixed/amplified/etc., before resubmitting. The time those individuals took to offer some tangible help is still remembered with gratitude. (Absolutely no one seems to have the time to do that anymore.)

But the most revelational moment in those early years of my Journey came when I acually made a trip from Atlanta, where I lived at the time, to New York. I had a whole bunch of new query letters, partial manuscripts, synopses, etc., that I’d been planning to mail out. And, on something of a whim, I decided instead to load everything into a big bag, hop a train, and go to New York to deliver my mail in person. I wanted to see for myself what the places looked like where I’d been sending everything.

Well … the visions were staggering! In virtually every office I visited (and some turned out to be literal holes-in-the-wall), unopened envelopes of every size and shape were in floor-to-ceiling stacks all over the reception areas, the submissions appearing to number in the thousands.

The employees who greeted me at each of the front desks were astonished that I was there, because “nobody’s allowed to deliver submissions in person.” Since I had obviously already broken that rule and was standing there in the flesh with my mail in-hand, a few agents/editors were kind enough to see me briefly. But I knew when I left each office that my submission was going to get tossed into “the pile,” and the memories of that reality have guided the setting of my expectation levels ever since.

As for “the chemistry” thing, I understand the existence of that elusive, intangible element in every endeavor we undertake. Someone’s assessment of the “it” factor will inevitably influence a professional’s decision about our work. The frustration arises, however, when the agent says that all the pieces are in place–the book is well-written, the story is a good one, “nothing is missing” … except chemistry. Young/new writers just embarking upon their Journeys need to hear that statement.

And the lesson for all of us to take away from this example is that being too selective with our queries and submissions will never get us where we want to go. We need to be blitzing the entire industry with our well-written, well-developed manuscripts/books, if we’re ever going to find that one person–that literary soulmate you so astutely described–who finds the chemistry absolutely letter-perfect.

And the mission of this blog is to track at least this one Journey, winding through the valleys and over the peaks, as the search moves closer to a happy ending.

–Cheri

Read Full Post »

Update First

On Tuesday of this week, I had what I hope will be the last of the surgeries (this makes four in nine months). But, on this beautiful Friday, I’m feeling better each day, and today was especially uplifting with the developments in Egypt (which I was able to watch since I can’t go anywhere yet). The ten days ahead of the surgery were packed with things I had to finish, including a never-ending list of book promotion stuff.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, in case you’ve wondered lately what’s happened to me and my posts.

Now, to the Agent Thing … Once Upon a Time …

Some of you may recall that when I was attending the Writer’s Digest Conference from January 21-23 in New York City, there was an afternoon called “Pitch Slam,” where we had the opportunity to pitch our books/manuscripts to agents in as many three-minute segments as we could complete (standing in long lines for each one).

The agents were all listed in our programs, with the specifics of what they were looking for in terms of genre, storylines, characters, etc. I studied the choices carefully, selecting a half dozen agents whose criteria matched Separation of Faith, which I ended up pitching to a total of three agents (and then I subsequently blogged about the experience, if you want to scan through those posts).

The first agent I pitched to asked me for a copy of Separation of Faith right there on the spot, telling me that she was going to read the book that night and let me know the next day (Sunday, the last day of the conference). The second agent asked me to send the book to him, along with a list of all the marketing and promotion activity to-date. And the third agent asked me to email to her the first three chapters (which I was able to do easily since I’d already requested the Word version of the final book from iUniverse so I could enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest).

Well, the next day (Sunday of the conference), I finally found the first agent in the sea of attendees, and she told me that she hadn’t had an opportunity to read the book the previous night. But she said she’d take a look at the story on her return flight to San Francisco later that day and would give me her decision right away. Although I was disappointed at not receiving the promised feedback, I should have known better than to expect to hear anything so quickly. So, when I returned home, I sent off the requested material to the other two agents and then got busy doing other stuff.

A week later, I realized that I hadn’t heard from the “airplane agent,” so I sent her a short follow-up email, thanking her in advance for the time she was taking. The next day, I received the following response (and this is copied exactly from her email):

Good morning, Cheri,

Thanks for sharing SEPARATION OF FAITH with me. I’ve had a chance to read it, and there’s a lot to like about your story. That said, I’m not sure I’d be able to represent it with the enthusiasm you and your manuscript deserve.

Given the quality of your work, I suspect that other agents also were interested in seeing your manuscript, and I’d urge you to submit it broadly in the hope of finding just the right agent.  

Again, my thanks for the privilege of reading your manuscript. I wish you all the best going forward.

Kind regards,

Well … if you’ve done even a minimal amount of querying, I’m fairly certain that you have a few letters that look exactly like this one–because this is a form rejection letter. And the fact that she hadn’t taken a minute to add even a few specifics or words of personalization, since she’d actually met with me–twice–was just a smidge perturbing. Believing that asking for more information was not out of line, I sent the following response:

Thank you so much for responding to me. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken, and I would be immeasurably grateful if you could give a little more feedback regarding this rejection. The story is a match to what you said you were looking for in the WD Pitch Slam program: “… ironic family dramas and realistic midlife tales, often with a twist, preferably involving strong female characters.”

If there’s this much of a match between Separation of Faith and what you’re looking for, and if “there’s a lot to like about my story and the quality of my work,” I would sincerely and deeply appreciate more specifics about why you don’t want to represent the book. What would need to be there that isn’t there now, in order for you to represent me?

Thank you very much, in advance, for a few more minutes of your time, which I will appreciate more than I could ever tell you.

 All the best,

Cheri Laser

What would need to be there that isn’t there now, in order for you to represent me? The answer to that question is, for me (and for all of us, I think), the holy grail. If we could only know what’s missing–and if we possess even a reasonable amount of talent–we would happily correct the deficiencies and then, perhaps, actually make some forward progress in this insane endeavor. So, I anxiously awaited her answer which, I must admit, did come quickly:

Hi Cheryl, [Note that this time she refers to me as Cheryl, whereas the first time I was Cheri …]

Very simply, I wasn’t drawn in to the story the way I need to be in order to represent any given work. There was nothing missing from the manuscript–it was well-conceived and well-written, and yet I wasn’t captivated by it. These things are a question of chemistry–what may not engage one agent may well sweep another away.

Best of luck in finding the right agent for your story!

Kind regards,

Nothing missing … well-conceived … well-written … met all of the listed criteria–but … these things are a question of chemistry. Okay. That certainly clears everything up.

Are we to actually believe that, no matter what criteria is listed under the agents’ names in the various how-to-find-an-agent guidebooks, what they are really looking for is “chemistry”? I guess we’ll each have to decide that one. And if we think that is true–that a well-conceived, well-written book, in which nothing is missing, can’t make the cut unless the criterion of “chemistry” is met–then each of us needs to also decide how much time, money, energy, and emotions we want to invest in trying to satisfy something so elusive and random.

The second agent, by the way, who requested a copy of the book and my promotional activities, also sent a rejection this week. But his was more personalized, in that he actually acknowledged and remembered meeting me. And when I looked back at the conference program, I saw that his stated criteria wasn’t as close a match as I’d thought in the midst of the Pitch Slam.

So, that leaves the third agent, who requested the first three chapters. “It’s all about the writing for me,” she said, as my Pitch Slam session with her was concluding. “It’s all about the writing.” I haven’t heard from her yet.

And, like something tied to a bungee cord, I keep bouncing back up, filled with anticipation and the hope that good news might be forthcoming … eventually. We’re all like that as writers, you know–ever the eternal optimists. And we have to be that way, always believing in possibilities, always hopeful, never giving up the dream.

There’s a whole new generation of really great writers in our world, who are out there writing really great stories every single day. And that collective group of us is able to define who and what we are, all of us enjoying wonderful company with each other. As I conclude this post, I’m very grateful that I’m a writer rather than an agent, because-despite the frustration expressed above–I think that getting up each morning, looking for chemistry instead of good writing and good stories would make for a string of really long days.

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! –Cheri  

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: