Fata Morgan: A Mirage of Poetry
A poetry collection found and told. A teenager's words with an adult perspective. It's a reflection on what was had and lost-what was gained and conjured.
Finding a Literary Agent
UNDERSTANDING YOUR WORK’S COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL
There are different levels of commercial viability: some books are “big” books, suitable for Big Five traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins), while others are “quiet” books, suitable for mid-size and small presses. The most important thing to remember is that not every book is cut out to be published by a New York house, or even represented by an agent; most writers have a difficult time being honest with themselves about their work’s potential. Here are some rules of thumb about what types of books are suitable for a Big Five traditional publisher:
- Genre or mainstream fiction, including romance, erotica, mystery/crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, new adult
- Nonfiction books that would get shelved in your average Barnes & Noble or independent bookstore—which requires a strong hook or concept and author platform. Usually a New York publisher won’t sign a nonfiction book unless it anticipates selling 10,000 to 20,000 copies minimum.
If your work doesn’t look like a good candidate for a New York house, don’t despair. There are many mid-size houses, independent publishers, small presses, university presses, regional presses, and digital-only publishers who might be thrilled to have your work.
THE NEED FOR AN AGENT
In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire get sold by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editors or publishers would be most likely to buy a particular work. Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, protect your rights, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher.
Traditionally, agents get paid only when they sell your work, and they receive a 15 percent commission on everything you get paid (your advance and royalties). It is best to avoid agents who charge fees other than the standard 15 percent.
SELLING FICTION VS. NON-FICTION
If you write fiction, the agent will want to see the full manuscript (assuming you’re an unpublished or unproven fiction writer). If you write nonfiction, the marketability of your idea and your platform often matter as much as the writing, if not more so. You have to prepare a book proposal that’s essentially a business plan arguing why your book will sell in the current market.
Every agent has unique requirements for submitting your materials. The most common materials you’ll be asked for:
- Query letter. This is a one-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work. Here’s how to write a query for a novel. Here’s another post on writing a query for a nonfiction book.
- Novel synopsis. This is a brief summary (usually no more than one or two pages) of your story, from beginning to end. It must reveal the ending. Here’s how to write one.
- Nonfiction book proposal. These are complex documents, usually twenty to thirty pages in length (minimum). For more explanation, see my comprehensive post.
- Novel proposal. This usually refers to your query letter, a synopsis, and perhaps the first chapter. There is not an industry-standard definition of what a novel proposal is.
- Sample chapters. When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Don’t select a middle chapter, even if you think it’s your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable.
Important: Almost no agent accepts full manuscripts on first contact. This is what “no unsolicited materials” means when you read submission guidelines. However, almost all agents will accept a one-page query letter unless their guidelines state otherwise. (If they do not accept queries, that means they are a completely closed market.)
After you send out queries, you’ll get a mix of responses, including:
- No response at all, which means it’s a rejection. Don’t sweat it—this is normal. Move on.
- A request for a partial manuscript and possibly a synopsis.
- A request for the full manuscript.
If you receive no requests for the manuscript or book proposal, then there might be something wrong with your query. If you succeed in getting your material requested, but then get rejected, there may be a weakness in the manuscript or proposal.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT AGENT
1. What’s his/her sales track record? This is usually the number-one sign of whether you have a good agent. Evaluate his/her client list and the publishers he/she has recently sold to. Are the publishers he/she sells to the types of publishers you consider appropriate for your work? Are the advances his/her clients command in the “good” range for you? Keep in mind these factors can be somewhat subjective and are also based on your genre/category and your own sense of author identity.
Bottom line, ensure that your agent has experience and success in representing the type of work you’re trying to sell. Most agents will list current clients on their site.
A note about new agents: Sometimes it’s easier to get represented by a new agent who is trying to build a roster of clients. If you’re a new author with a potentially small deal who wouldn’t interest an established agent, then a new and “hungry” agent can work out just as well. Even if an agent’s track record is still developing, take a look at his/her previous experience in publishing. For example, was he/she formerly an editor? Or consider the experience and reputation of the agency he/she is associated with. If he’s/she’s working at a solid agency with a track record, and/or has a long work history with the New York houses, these are good signs. Just make sure he/she hasn’t been trying to develop his/her list for a very long time.
2. Does his/her communication inspire confidence? If an agent treats you professionally, that’s a good sign. Timeless signs of professionalism in agents: they get back to you in a timely manner, they communicate clearly and respectfully, their business operations aren’t cloaked in secrecy, they treat you as a business partner.
A good agent doesn’t leave his/her clients in the dark for extended periods and will offer clarity about each stage of the process—no loose ends, no vague reports.
That said: Some unpublished writers seem to be very demanding and have expectations outside the norm. What does demanding look like? Expecting to call your agent at any time and have a discussion, expecting daily contact, or expecting near-instant response. Remember: agents work for free until your book is sold. Their most immediate responses go to their established clients—the ones bringing in the revenue.
3. What’s his/her level of enthusiasm? Do you get the feeling that the agent genuinely believes in you and your work? While agents are certainly interested in a sale, they’re also interested in projects that excite them and clients whose long-term careers they feel proud to represent and help manage.
While it’s not possible to put a quantitative measure on enthusiasm, think of it this way: your agent is going to be handling your publisher contracts, negotiations, and other financial matters (including payment to you) for the life of your work. You need to trust him/her completely. He/she champions your cause to the publisher throughout the life of the book’s publication and resolves conflicts. You’re entering into a meaningful business partnership, and fit is important.
EXPECTATIONS FROM A GOOD AGENT
A good agent will have a conversation with you about any rejections he/she receives from publishers. If your agent has a good relationship with the editors/publishers he’s/she’s querying, then he’ll/she’ll be receiving meaningful feedback that he/she can share with you. You can then discuss how your book or the proposal could be repositioned to sell. However, his/her time or energy might be exhausted if he/she believes the project would take far more work and retooling to make a sale that’s not worth his/her time. Or, he/she might not believe you’re willing to reposition the book.
Don’t assume that your agent isn’t good enough if your book didn’t sell. But agents should have an open and frank discussion with you about the rejections received. You also have a right to know what publishers were queried, especially after a long period of time has passed. You may also ask for the rejection letters, though your agent is under no obligation to provide you with the specific contact information of editors and publishers.
Did the agent help you improve your query, pitch, and/or proposal? A good agent will improve the query/proposal package. There might be a handful of authors who can put together a crackerjack proposal, but they are few. An agent should be ensuring the pitch or proposal is primed for success, and this almost always requires at least one round of feedback and revision.
Your agent MUST know his way around a book contract. A good agent understands where to ask for more money or rights, and knows if a client is getting the best deal possible. (If an agent passes you a publisher’s boilerplate contract to sign with no changes, you may be in big trouble.) Many authors like to have an agent who is an “attack dog,” but primarily an agent needs to understand how to protect your rights (by changing or inserting the right contract language) and prevent you from signing an unfair or substandard agreement. Agents know the industry norms, when those norms are changing, and when to push for more. However, they also understand that not everything is about money—sometimes it’s better to partner with a publisher offering a smaller advance. A great agent advises you on the pros and cons of the deals you’re offered.
A great agent is an author’s business manager, mentor, and cheerleader. Agents are also there to hold your hand when things go wrong with the editor or publisher. They prop you up when you’re down, they celebrate your successes publicly, they look for opportunities you might not see, and they attend to your financial best interests as well as your big-picture career growth.
People in the industry should recognize the name of your agent. If you can’t find any online mention or reference to your agent, and he’s/she’s not a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), that’s a red flag. Check his/her track record carefully. See who he’s/she’s sold to and how recently. One thing you needn’t worry about too much is the size of the agency; this doesn’t necessarily correlate with the quality of the agent or the size of the deal you can expect.
ARE ALL AGENTS CONSIDERED EQUAL?
Yes, and no. There are potentially hundreds of agents capable of selling any particular book. What tends to be most important is chemistry between agent and author, and the agent being invested in the author and her work.
Establishing "Killer" Opening Lines (for any novel)
- A statement of eternal principle. Remember, the novel you write must confirm the proposed principle.
- A statement of simple fact. Try to convey the entire weight of the narrative in a single statement. No gimmicks. No fireworks. Just the facts.
- A statement of paired facts. Two facts combined are more powerful than either one on its own.
- A statement of simple fact laced with significance. Because readers don’t read backward. Try burying a key piece of a story in an opening so that, by the time it becomes relevant, the reader has forgotten it.
- A statement to introduce voice. Stories that begin with an unusual voice often withhold other craft elements. If only for a few sentences. A reasonable choice to allow the reader time to adjust to a new form of language. Before being able to absorb much in the way of content.
- A statement to establish mood. Contextual information not related to the story in a direct way. This can color our understanding of the coming narrative.
- A statement that serves as a frame. Sometimes, the best way to begin a story is to announce that you’re about to tell a story.
What a Story Needs to be Effective
There are many main components that come together to make a story work. And when they come together, you not only have a great story…you have an effective and epic one.
Here are 8 things that are necessary in every story:
- Orientation to the world of characters. The characters must be believable. Ask yourself-what does my main character want but can’t get? And what is that main character doing to try and get it?
- Origination of conflict. Keep continuity in mind. Pace the speed of what is happening with the narrative energy or momentum.
- Escalation of tension. Create tension scene by scene until the climax.
- Rising stakes. Causality-everything that happens is caused by the thing that precedes it.
- A moment where everything seems lost.
- Climatic encounter. This is where nothing will ever be the same again.
- Satisfying conclusion. Inevitability plus surprise. Each scene should have an unexpected end. But make it seem like there is only possible conclusion.
- Transformation of the main character or situation. Both is sometimes best.
Dare to Boost Your Creativity
10 ways to enhance creativity to better write copy
- Take a 30 minute break every day. (Not a break to do laundry or make phone calls.) Just disappear for a while. Maybe a walk around the neighborhood or take a reading break at a park bench; perhaps a quiet soak in the tub or a cool and refreshing shower. Whatever takes you away from your routine-it will revitalize your mind and bring forth crisp, clear creativity.
- Small breaks through your work day to focus on stretching and breathing can increase your productivity and promote creative flow.
- Find a hobby because it has a positive influence on creativity.
- Work when you know you are more creative. Maybe you are a morning person who is at their most efficient at dawn. Or perhaps your mind likes to wander into a creative place in the evening.
- Go barefoot whenever possible. It’s a quick release for stress which makes way for creative thought patterns.
- Exercise! Blood flow stimulates mind, body and spirit, and gives a rush of energy.
- Set the mood to write by customizing your work space. It can be as simple as having your favorite cup next to your laptop filled with rich coffee or your papers stack in three neat piles.
- Take a nap to give the mind a chance to process thoughts. Coined by the phrase, “Just sleep on it.”
- Chew gum to release negative energy which can curb your creativity.
- Remind yourself “Why” you love what you do, who you are doing it for and what you want the outcome to be. This will keep you focus and open to possibilities.
Before you Take the Final Leap
You may be thinking about the possibilities and freedom of
freelance writing full-time but don't quit your day job just yet. There are some significant things that you
need to take into consideration before making the big jump.
Many people dream about having the time to do what they want and work when they want but freelance writing is still a job, whether you decided to do it full-time or part-time. You need to have discipline and be determined to succeed or you'll end up doing what you want all day long without any pay. Freelancing can brings with it many opportunities like the ability to work from anywhere (home, a coffee shop, or even a new city), you'll also gain respect from your peers and it is a personal accomplishment to be proud of. If you can succeed as a freelancer, the doors are wide open to all kinds of work. There are endless niches and areas to specialize in from direct-sales copy, to ghostwriting and blogging.
Because you will be doing what you love and doing it from anywhere, you'll have more freedom to focus on the important aspects of life like spending time with your loved ones and being a role model for your children. Once you understand what is valuable to you, set some goals and start working towards your success.
And don't forget to show some gratitude. Give others around you as much opportunities as possible to grow as individuals, to explore the world and challenge themselves and you'll find you will start doing the same with your work too. Freelancing can be a win-win situation for people that have the heart, and guts to push forward through obstacles, that can overcome rejections and still stand tall.
Is Freelance Writing in Your Stars?
Take some time and write out your answers to the following questions. This will give you a better idea and understanding about yourself, the work you want to pursue and the way to approach it.
1. What does the writers’ life mean to you?
2. What is more valuable to you than a writing career?
3. If money or social ties were not an issue, where would you want to live?
4. Think about the people who mean the most to you. Given the time and resources, how would you show them gratitude?
5. If motivation, money or time were not an issue, how would you take better care of yourself?
6. What secret goals have you always wanted to pursue?
If after asking yourself these tough questions and coming up with viable answers you still want to start a career as a freelance writer, set up a goal fulfillment system.
Goal Fulfillment System
Start with baby steps and list up to 10 things you need to accomplish to get you one step closer to your dream. This could mean taking a writing course, or keeping a dream journal. After you have your list complete, state 1-3 things that are positive about each goal. For example, taking a writing course will help you brush up on your writing skills, will help you gain the confidence to write better or a dream journal may assist with writing prompts so that you can start that short story or novel.
Then select a guiding word that will keep you motivated and pushing to reach all your goals. Good words to start with are try, climb or seek. Or pick something with a little more personal meaning like your child’s name or your dream car. Repeat this word multiple times a day and especially if you are feeling unproductive or unmotivated. It will give you that extra push necessary to continue the journey and fulfill your dreams. Don't be afraid to ask for support from your friends and family as they are you corner stones.
How Taking Care of Your Health Can Equal Wealth
We all want to have more focus to accomplish tasks and goals but this can not be done without clarity. The only way to achieve clarity is to revive your inner creativity. But all of this can not be gained if you put your health at risk every time you sit in front of your computer. Try these 10 simple steps and you'll instantly feel more focused, gain clarity and achieve ultimate creativity.
- Drink plenty of water. We all know that we need 8-10 glasses a day but what most people don't realized is that water assists your brain with its normal functioning so that you can remain focused for longer periods of time.
- Stretch or walk around every 30-45 minutes. The leading cause of fatigue is poor blood circulation. And if you are tired, creativity will be lost.
- Put exercise equipment in your home office. Sometimes taking a brisk walk on the treadmill or rowing for 10 minutes can give you the needed clarity to finish a project.
- Get a proper chair. Poor posture will result in aches and pains that will take the focus off your writing.
- Adjust the brightness of your monitor. Too bright or too dim and eye strain will result causing you to lose focus.
- Purchase an exercise ball. Alternate between sitting in your regular chair and the ball. This will keep your hips mobile and stimulate blood flow for higher boosts of creativity.
- Add a second monitor to your system. When you have multiple screens on the go, you will be more efficient and productive.
- Go to bed early and get 8 hours of sleep. This gives your body the time it needs to combat any minor health issues. Creativity is associated with sleep because your brain uses your subconscious and new ideas form during certain sleep cycles. You will wake up restored and ready to tackle anything.
- Have a brain-boosting snack at your reach to stimulate clarity, such as fruit, nuts or granola bars.
- Take several breaks throughout the day to watch inspirational videos, ones that make you laugh or just spend some time with the kids. Inspiration and creativity can be hiding anywhere.