Tag Archives: Agent

How To Choose a Writer’s Conference

*This article originally appeared in the GFWWriters June 2013 Newsletter*

CoWritten by author C. A Szarek.

So you want to attend a writer’s conference? First time? Even BETTER!HowtoChoose

There are so many great ones out there. Before you make any decisions, make sure you do your research, talk to others that have gone; listen to what they have to say.

Most conferences have their agenda listed with plenty of time to review it beforehand. Read over it carefully so you can plan your conference experience.

What do you want to accomplish? If you’re attending to socialize, you’re not maximizing the resources writers’ conferences offer. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with meeting other authors, but it probably wouldn’t be beneficial if this were your main attendance goal.

Authors attend conferences for many reasons, but here are a few main benefits that draw people.

*Pitching: This is a fantastic opportunity that is rather unique to writers’ pitchingconferences. Personal, face-to-face contact with editors and agents who want to give you a shot. Believe it or not, they attend conferences for some of the same reasons as authors, but the positive thing here is these particular editors and agents make time because they are actively seeking quality work.  No waiting in that pesky slush pile email box.  Here are tips on how to create a perfect pitch.

Sometimes these are what we would consider big deal editors from the coveted New York Houses that you don’t get into without an agent. This is a major benefit of a conference. On the same token, agents are not always easy to sign. Speaking to one face-to-face, whether from a big agency or not is a great opportunity. Even if your current project isn’t right for them, your impression can make them remember you.

This alone can be a great reason to attend a conference. But make sure you research well. Some conferences charge extra for this perk, though most don’t.

If you’re a conference virgin, even the thought could have you shaking in your boots, but don’t. Editors and agents are people, too. They enjoy talking to you. Just think of it like this: You can practice your pitch all you want, but if it’s not natural, it can lose appeal even if your words are awesome. So speak to an editor or agent as if you’re telling your best friend about your book. No one knows the book better than you.

Don’t let nerves make you miss out on this conference-unique opportunity.

*Workshops: Most conferences have a variety of sessions that cover everything from craft to marketing to industry trends. This should be a deciding factor in which conference you choose. No matter what stage your career is in, whether you’re pre-published or have several books out there, you never stop learning as an author. The more you write, the better you get.

So, look at the agenda (most will have it available beforehand) and see which would benefit you most. You shouldn’t have any ‘free’ blocks in your schedule. There should be so many interesting classes you just have to attend, how can you possibly choose between them. Research the presenters as well: are they experienced in what they’re presenting? Have they given it before and have others found it helpful? Workshops can be one of the best reasons to attend a conference.

*Book Signings: A perk of many a conference is a book signing that’s open to the public. Hopefully this won’t be your only reason for attending a conference, but it can be a nice experience as well. You get your name and your book(s) out to authors as well as the general public. Here are tips on how to have a successful book signing.

If you are going to take part in a signing at a conference, ask questions. Will they have a sponsor? Will you have to be your own cashier for the books you sell? Will sales benefit a charity? (This is very common at conference book signings) and research what turnout they usually have, if the conference is annual so you can plan the number of books and swag you need to bring.

*Networking: Another awesome reason for attending a conference! Read thevintage-social-networking brochure/agenda to see what headliners will be at the conference of your choice. Then, make it a point to speak to these people. Yes, you really can talk to famous authors! Just like editors and agents, they’re people, too! You never know what kind of friends you could make—for life.

Let your inner social butterfly come out and shine! It pays to talk to people. Writing, like any other industry can depend on who you know. So make contacts! Get business cards and keep them handy. Write down their email addresses or website, and get their Twitter handles.

Other authors, editors, agents, you never know who can be around the corner, at a meal, even hanging out in the lobby at the conference. Make use of free time by being observant. Read name badges. Don’t be afraid to ask other authors what they write. And remember, when someone asks what you write—they really do want to know.

You could end up with a fantastic critique partner or some awesome new reads.

Other factors to consider in choosing which writer’s conferences to attend are:

*Genre Specific: Make sure you pick a conference that includes the genre in which you write. If your stories are mainly thriller or science fiction, then attending a romance based conference won’t be as helpful. There are plenty of conferences that are more specific to a particular genre to which gears many of their workshops and key speakers. Pay close attention to those. But of course don’t disregard the broader conferences like the Writer’s Digest Conference, where many big editors and agents always attend, looking for new talent for their lineup.

*Budget: How much can you spend in a given year on these conferences? Between registration fees, airfare, hotels, food, books, contests, and other miscellaneous items, the endeavor can get expensive. The best conferences are those that do not charge extra for pitch sessions, specific workshops or even parking. Make sure you choose one that has all of those included (unless you don’t plan to pitch your manuscript).  Another tip is to choose conferences that are geographically close, saving you the cost of airfare and/or hotel. Or if you have several friends all attending, split the costs by sharing a hotel room and make a road trip out of it. Most conferences offer an ‘early-bird’ rate, so book early if you can. Some conferences also give out ‘scholarships’ to help ease the cost to a few individuals who present a financial need.

*Attending Agents/Editors/Authors: If you’re pitching a novel or just want to meet the experts in the industry, make sure the ones you’re really interested in plan on attending. Conferences will always list the names of presenting authors, agents and editors on their websites in advance, especially those that will accept pitches. They often include the kinds of stories the experts are actively looking for. So research the editors and agents attending and see if they cover your topic/genre. If you’re spending this much money, make sure it’s worth your while.

Conference Etiquette

~Dress appropriately. No one is asking you to wear an uncomfortable suit or dress or three-inch heels for an entire day of workshops, presentations and pitch sessions. But be professional. Don’t show up in ratty jeans, tank top and flip-flops.

~Don’t stalk agents/editors in the bathroom or just before they present. They are clearly focused on other things and they won’t give you their full attention. And it’ll annoy the hell out of them, and that’s not the kind of impression you want to leave.

~Networking is a must, but monopolizing conversations with constant reminders of your story is a turnoff. Give others a chance to talk, and LISTEN.

What to Bring

~Business cards with your email address and contact info (write the title and genre of your current work on the back)

~Notepad or Notebook and a good pen

~Synopsis/Query Letter

~A prepped 1-line ‘elevator pitch’ of your story.

~A small messenger bag to carry the ‘goodies’ you’ll get

~Cash- for buying books, the cash bar, raffles, tips for housekeeping

~Light Jacket/Sweater- you never know how powerful the air conditioner will be

~Extra Luggage Bag- to cart home the extra books and stuff you’ll get (if you’re flying, and if you don’t leave extra space in your original bag)

~Snacks- if you’re staying at the hotel overnight, do you really want to pay hotel prices for a bag of chips or granola bars?

What to Leave

~Laptop (leave it in the hotel room)

~A copy of your full manuscript. If agents ask for it, they all prefer email. (Why would you want to cart around the extra weight, anyway?)

~Shy or Wallflower Tendencies- this will kill your experience at conferences, and the whole point is to network and meet people who will help advance your career and/or skills

Hopefully this will help you in deciding which conference(s) to attend and how to prepare. More than anything else, remember why you write: what keeps you going back to that keyboard or notepad? Everything about a conference is supposed to help make you a better writer and be more successful. Good luck and keep writing forward.

Sweets and Sours

I have some interesting news, potentially awesome. But I don’t want to jinx it. As soon as I have more info, I’ll share it.fingers crossed

But it’s been a good few weeks as far as writing goes. In a business full of rejection, and the lovely habits of swallowing those rejections week after week, it’s good to know my story and voice has reached a few people.

A few people who are veterans in this business.

But I can’t let this get to my head. I must get back to writing. As often as I can, with the lovely trials and challenges of every day life.

For those of who who’ve asked, the family situation I alluded to earlier this year has still not been resolved. But we’re closer. One way or another, I’ll make it happen and we’ll be the better for it. Even if I must set some things aside, and change a few goals, I can do it. And I know my writing will be there waiting, no matter where we are.

 

Changing Face of Publishing, Including Romance

My mind has been preoccupied for the last 2-3 weeks on one overwhelming thought.

I’m not certain I’m writing in the right genre anymore.

Everyone knows the face of publishing across all genres is changing. Dramatically. With the boom of e-publishing, closing of independent bookstores and distributors and the profit squeeze for authors, agents, editors, and publishers (everyone, really), it’s inevitable.

But more specifically, the genres themselves are changing. Not just ‘vampires are on their way out, dystopias are one their way in’ blah blah blah. But the face of romance and it’s intensity has changed.

Just in the last 3 years, I’ve noticed a dramatic swing of editors looking for spicier, hotter, and more descriptive love scenes. Things that a decade ago would have been considered in the erotica lines, but are now mainstream.

I recently had an in-person pitch session with an editor for a newly launched romance line. Half way through my pitch, she stopped me.

“This sounds more like a suspense story than a romance. How much of your story is the romance?”

My reply was 60-70%.

The look on her face told me her answer without another word. But she explained anyway. (Thank goodness).

Their line, as well as most other publishers, are now looking for romance to have 90% or more of the pages be strictly the romance. All thanks to the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey craze.’

(Raise your hand if you just rolled your eyes).

Though my story sounded extremely interesting to her, she couldn’t use it for her line.

Another dear friend of mine received a similar response from another publisher, claiming she didn’t have enough ‘romance’ in her romance novel, though hers was dramatically spicier than mine, both in content and frequency.

I’ve been baffled ever since.

I don’t think my writing fits the genre anymore.

I have too much romance to be considered a suspense, or even general women’s fiction. And I have too much suspense to be considered a romance. At least today’s definition of ‘romance.’

So now I’m left wondering: do I change my style to fit what publishers want, or do I keep my style and voice and hope it finds a home somewhere… eventually?

I know I’ve read this same situation on dozens of other blogs and interviews. Particularly with science fiction and fantasy writers.Too much romance to fit in strictly sci-fi or fantasy genre, and too much sci-fi or fantasy to fit in romance genre.

Why can’t there ever be a happy medium? While the romance is important (showing that relationship between two people), but I also relish a good plot. Not everything is about sex. Why can’t I write that in my novels?

Query Status: Eternal State of Waiting

Audrey’s Promise (Contemporary Romance)

Queries Sent: 10 (and 2 contest entries) to mostly agencies

Rejections: 5 (all form letters)

Partial Requests: 1 (Synopsis sent to agent, and since rejected)

Full Requests: 2 (both from Publishers, still pending)

I’m doing it the smart way. I send out 3-4 at a time and wait for responses. If I need to tweak my query letter or pitch, I do (with the help of great friends!) and submit to 4 or 5 more. If I don’t get nibbles, then I know I need to revamp the letter again. Querytracker.net is a great place to help me keep track of all this. As well as the ones I want to query, but need to wait or do more research. Meanwhile, I keep entering contests online. We’ll see where this goes!

Query Time and Tax Season

It’s that time in my career again… Queryville.  Which inevitably conjoins with Reject-o-season. Much like tax season. It’s painful. ‘But necessary.’

Thanks to some help from dear friends, I had a query letter and synopsis written up fairly quickly and sent out to an agent whom I’ve followed for years. And after a glorious week of anticipation, tax season showed up.

It hurt. I won’t lie, my hopes were built up on this one. I thought it was a perfect fit for them and this manuscript felt better than any of my others. But I have to be grateful I received a response at all. Many people don’t hear anything back when rejected.

But that means I simply have to query out to the masses as I did before. Semi-slowly. Four or five at a time and wait for a few weeks. Which means I need to bust out querytracker.net again and rifle through all the profiles and submission guidelines.

But at this point, I think I’ll take Queryville and Reject-o-season over the horrible season called Presidential Election campaigns. Publishing is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed school girl compared to the upcoming attacks of the political Olympics.

Burning Bridges Clouds Your Path

The smoke from the fire you create with your words will always cloud your future. One way or another. And who wants to walk through the world blind, choking on smoke?

I recently read a blog post from a literary agent (whom I respect and follow regularly) that disturbed me.

He had attended a few conferences where he’d overheard several writers bash him and/or his agency in one way or another. Combined with a few other factors, he decided to close his agency to new submissions until further notice.

I think this a bit of an overreaction, but at the very least extremely disappointing.

Granted, publishing is subjective and everyone has his/her opinion. Not everyone is bound to agree all the time. It’s just the nature of the business. Heck, that’s human nature.

But even if you have a disagreement with an agent or editor, you at least need to be civil in parting ways and (more importantly) how you carry yourself in the future. This includes the comments you make about someone to others. AKA- gossip. (It’s so high school, and even when I was in high school, I hated gossip. So adults should definitely not partake.)

Remember the phrase:

“Be mindful of the toes you step on today, for they may be attached to the ass you must kiss tomorrow.”

Trust me- this will happen. It may take a week, a year, or ten years. But it will eventually happen. Be honest with yourself: don’t you remember something hateful someone said to you when you were in high school? Middle school? College? Your first internship? And don’t you agree the next time you see them you’d have those comments in the back of your mind?

If you’re in complete denial with the statements above, at the very least you should be mindful of the golden rule you should have learned in kindergarten:

“Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

I remember the first Author Workshop I attended several years ago where the author spent the first half-hour bashing her former publisher, cover artist, editor, and anyone under the sun having anything to do with her experience. And my take away from that workshop: I won’t be buying any of her books.

Not because she turned me off to the publisher, but her bashing gave me a horrible impression of her. I refused to support someone who was so negative and had no care with the words she chose.

These are just my thoughts on how you create relationships, professional or personal. Granted, ‘keeping silent when you have nothing nice to say’ is easier said than done.  But I always remember that I don’t want to have smoke covering my path going forward.

Cautiously Optimistic Happy Dance

 

Time for another happy dance, folks…

Yes, I love Steve Carrell

I need to celebrate the little milestones, although this one isn’t so little.

I received a FULL manuscript request from an editor. And of course, the minute I saw it, I started my own little happy dance around my kitchen island. Then called my hubby, parents, posted on Facebook, and texted a few folks.

I know I got a little ahead of myself. This isn’t a request for representation yet or a publishing contract (if only!). But I’ve only had 1 other full manuscript request in my life, so I have to grin about this!

I entered an online pitch contest, where I had 35 words to entice editors to want more. That’s it. 35 words.  ACK!!

Do you know how hard it is to create an entire book blurb in just 35 words? And not just that, but to make the editor/agent drooling for more. I thought writing a 1 page query was tough.

I submitted the pitch, along with 199 other people, thinking that at best I would get a request for the first chapter or ten pages. But a FULL? Sweetness!!!

Granted, there were at least 20 people who received full manuscript requests, but I’d expect that. Because I read through a lot of the other pitches and they were excellent! Really intriguing stories that had me drooling. Clearly, writing a 35-word blurb was easier for them than for me.

And congrats to all the other folks who received requests, as well. This industry is freakin’ tough and anything like this that gives us opportunities, I’ll rave over.

I’ll let you know if anything comes of this. For now, I’ll do my little happy dance and keep on writing.

 

Checking My Goals and Cringe

I checked on my goals that I created earlier this year, knowing the progress wasn’t going to be pretty. Then why did I do it? Several reasons came to mind.

Self-punishment addict? 

Clicked on the file by mistake?

Needed to change them entirely to make myself feel less of a failure?

Reinvigorate my motivation?

Maybe a little bit of all the above. Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve hardly reached any word count goals per day or per week. Blogging has fallen off the radar. I threw the calorie-counting out the window. And my exercise goals? Ha!

But I need to cut myself some slack. I’ve been sick. A LOT. 2012 has started off much the same as 2011 ended.  And will probably remain so as long as my son remains in preschool, thereby bringing home every ailment known to toddlers. And giving it to both his exhausted mother and over-worked father. It’s hard to go to the gym carrying an entire box of tissues and toting along my coughing, pink-eye infested son into their daycare while I hack out a lung in the middle of Zumba. Hardly health-conscious. Or attractive. (Not that women go to the gym to look attractive WHILE they’re there. Unless you’re in college.)

Which means I haven’t had much time to write. Or plot. Or think about writing. Or blog. But I’ve been able to read a bit. So here’s what I’ve been reading over the last several weeks (other than books and medication directions):

As We Were Saying…

Babbles from Scott Eagan

I Make Stuff Up from Kim Packard

Short Stories from CA Szarek

A Lucid Reality

Miss Snark’s First Victim

The Artist’s Road

The Creative Penn

Janet Reid Literary Agent

Jeff Goins

And a ga-gillion other writer/publisher/agent websites. I can’t list them all here, or you’d be stuck on my blog for hours (*wink*). Not that you’d want to go anywhere else.

Mr. Perfect or Bad Boy Hero

I think everyone will agree when you’re reading a novel, any genre, if the hero is too perfect- or seemingly flawless- it’s boring. People like to have main characters with flaws. Sometimes even bad streaks. It’s the same thing with writers. When you’re writing a character that seems too nice or perfect, it’s boring.

I found that out with my previous manuscript. My heroine’s love interest seemed too perfect. And writing scenes with him in it was tedious. So now I get to have a fun time putting a few bad boy streaks in him. But I’ll start those fun revisions next year (a whopping 3 weeks away).

I’m having a blast writing my third manuscript. Mainly because the ‘hero’ in the story is hardly a hero at all. He starts a lot of the conflicts, has some unsavory ‘flaws’ and lives his life in a much less than charitable fashion. If I’m having this much more fun writing the story, I’m hoping my critiquers will have more fun reading it.

But this brought a big question to the tips of my fingers.

How bad is too bad before readers start to hate him? Before they throw the book across the room and refuse to read any further to see the redeeming qualities?

I think much of this depends first on the time period in which the book is set.

I believe Middle Ages and early Renaissance time period grants ‘heroes’ a little more wiggle room in the good/bad department, due to the harsh living conditions and necessity to live against the elements and endless bandits roaming the lands.

But for contemporary time period, what are some of the big No-No’s for heroes? I’ve heard several agents and editors say infidelity is the #1 Anti-Hero characteristic. Not necessarily promiscuity, but if the ‘hero’ is in a committed relationship or your intention to have the main characters end up together, infidelity is a major turn off.

Cruelty to children and the helpless is probably another big no-no. But how far can a writer go in ‘evil-ing up’ her hero?

I’ve perused a few sites trying to find what most others find as acceptable flaws, versus ‘too-much-to-handle.’

http://www.writing-world.com/romance/heroes.shtml

http://www.booklaurie.com/workshops_flaw2.php

http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue9/Romance.htm

http://mysteryminx.com/intellectual-battlefield/heroes-hunks-and-perfect-men

But what do you think? What ‘flaws in a hero would make you toss the book across the room? What is your boundary between hero and evil?

Thick Skin For Hire

Every writer, particularly published authors, know that the publishing industry requires a thick skin for anyone who dares enter their dominion.

I thought I had a fairly thick skin before I even started querying my first manuscript.

*insert cackle laughter here*

Now, I know I don’t have nearly as thick of skin as I should, but I definitely have grown a few dragon scales to protect my vulnerable side over the last two years.

I think joining a kick-as* critique group has definitely helped. Also following editors and agents blogs/twitter/facebook and reading their responses to people’s queries also has helped.

I received my first round of major revision suggestions from my critique partners this past weekend and have let their thoughts percolate in my brain. I’m so glad I’ve grown thicker skin. Because now, I actually want that kind of advice. I need to know where they got lost in the story, what didn’t work for them, and realize its not that I suck and should give up writing. They are not flaws in my personality and I’ve dared exposed the weak points in my inner psyche. It’s areas of the story and characters in which I need to fix.

Or perhaps we’re thinking of it backwards. It’s not that people need to grow thicker skin, or regenerate thicker bone. It’s that we need to shed the vulnerable self-conscious layer of invisible shields we humans use as a self-defense mechanisms.

Get rid of your insecurities. Get rid of ridiculous thoughts that whatever suggestions others say is a ding in your personality, or interpretation of ‘they don’t like me.’

Shed everything down the most base level, where we can actually improve on the inconsistencies in our writing. That’s when we’ll notice the biggest difference on our writing style/skills.

So throw your skin out the window and let the air rejuvenate your writing. Completely open yourself up to improvement.

All right, manuscript. Get ready for rejuvenation. Dive in!