01 May 2013

The Next Book Adventure: Looking for Agents

from Public Domain Pictures
My first book is finished and I don't want to sit on it. I've learned the hard way that taking a "break" pretty much makes life harder for me as a writer by...oh, let's say, 300%. I started formatting the manuscript to make a special .pdf for my friends and family to read on their eReaders, and as I sifted through the text I found SO MANY MISTAKES that I want to scream. I duplicated chapter numbers as many as four times. I had numerous tense shifts in the text. There were continuity errors that I didn't catch after removing substantial chunks of the novel, so my characters referenced things that no longer happened.

While I clean up my manuscript for the millionth time, I'm going to query literary agents. This terrifies me. 

I shouldn't be so intimidated, but I am. The query letter is your one shot at grabbing an agency's attention. Most agents won't even look at a manuscript unless your query garners interest.  So no pressure, right? 

Here's the thing. I am quite confident that when an agent reads my manuscript, they'll enjoy it. But I doubt my abilities to draft a strong query to get my foot in the door in the first place. 

from Writer's Digest Books
Last night I opened up my fresh copy of Writer's Digest's 2013 Guide to Literary Agents and grabbed a highlighter, specifically looking for agencies that were open to receiving queries regarding fantasy novels. I have to admit, after reading over and over again "Does not want fantasy or science fiction" from the majority of agencies, I began to feel a bit discouraged. I spent hours sifting through the book, and through hundreds of pages, the majority of agencies are not cool with receiving speculative fiction queries. 

I'm trying to be optimistic about it: Hey, it means you'll have an easier time going through the list. You won't have to query hundreds of agencies!  But at the same time, the agencies that were friendly to fantasy authors either weren't open to cold queries or admittedly "rarely accepted work from new authors," preferring recommendations from other agencies and publishers first. 

How is a new writer supposed to get their foot in the door? It feels like there's so much working against me, but I can understand at the same time that publishing is a business and they have to be very careful when they takes risks on newbie authors. I know that there's a lot financially at stake, and publishers have been losing money for a while. It's a strange, new world where change is the only consistency.

I'm going to keep trying though. Every agent listing offered the same advice: "Don't give up. If it's good, we'll want it." As nervous as I feel, I know that agents want success for writers as much as they want it for themselves. They're not out to discourage new writers; they are just seeking a mutually beneficial partnership. So I know exactly what to do--I'll keep querying when I get rejected, and I'll make sure that what I submit is my very best, cleanest work. 
Image (c) iStock

The game plan is to start at the "impossible" and work my way down the list. That means I'll submit queries to the bigger agencies first, like The Knight Agency or Donald Maas Literary Agency. I know that my chances of getting in are slim, but there's no harm in trying. Then I'll go further down my list and submit elsewhere. I'm definitely not ruling out new agents, either. I'm trying to cast an open net and see who grabs first!

The other thing that I'm working on has come up over and over again from agents in the 2013 Guide: the writer platform. I've also heard this phrase over and over again throughout my graduate program at Seton Hill. A writer platform is basically a construct of your author identity and how you make that identity to visible to others. It's your marketing campaign for yourself in addition to your work. 

Why does this matter? Again, it goes back to finances and risk. You are helping yourself, your agent, and your publisher out by establishing a presence. With so many books (published and self-published), it's hard to get readers to find out who you are and to get them to look at your work. Writers are expected to market themselves as opposed to the good old days, when publishers used to do that for you. There's just not the same kind of money to work with anymore. So it falls on you to do a lot of the work yourself. And that's where the writing platform comes in.  

From Webdesignledger.com
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I'm slowly but surely building a presence for myself online. I've been working this website for a while, but I also realized (through my grad school program pushing me) that I needed to get reacquainted with social media again. I took a significant absence from it (like five years!!!) as I tried to work through some of my health stuff. But in order for people to see me, I have to put myself out there. Here's what I'm on so far:
I have the best website presence (that includes interaction with the public) on deviantArt, this website, and Twitter. I'm still looking to grow.  I want to avoid Facebook as long as I can, so I'm thinking the next place I'll go is possibly Tumblr. I also hope to submit my website to more listings and databases to drive more traffic here. 

The other thing that's an important part of your author platform is building your visibility through public interactions. That means conventions and conferences! I'll be at ColossalCon for my second year teaching writing panels...this is what you should get out there and do. I'm hesitant to apply as a panelist for major conferences like World Fantasy or the AWP, since I'm a noob. 

If you don't have a lot of experience, the best place you can get practice is at awesomely fun pop culture conventions--think along the lines of Comic Con or Otakon. Every state, and almost every major city, has their own version of these types of conventions. They're especially great if you write sci fi, fantasy, or horror, because those genres are thoroughly represented in anime, gaming, and comics. There's no publishing requirement at these cons--you're chosen on the strength of your panel outline, followed by any background you wish to include with your panel sub. 

You have the greatest opportunity to network with fellow attendees and fans, you gain valuable experience as a public speaker, and great practice with teaching writing workshops. I can't recommend it enough. I love ColossalCon and am thrilled to be back this year, and I hope have it become my go-con every year and make a piece of it my home.  

All of this--querying, building an author platform--takes a lot of work, but I know that it can be incredibly beneficial, especially for new authors. If people know who you are, then they'll be more interested in what you do. And if you don't have experience when you look for an agent, at least you can show them you're taking the writing life seriously by already working with publicity and marketing. If they know you're working to build an audience, then they'll know you're in it for the long haul. 

I'm super nervous about all of this. Please wish me luck, and as always, I'll let you know how it goes on my author journey!

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