Thursday, April 13, 2006

It's All in The Balance

Notoriety means a lot in publishing, as it does with just about any industry. What I think is funny is that reviews and critiques, even by agents, are subjective to the person. One person might think a beginning is slow, while another thinks the same ending is just the perfect pace.The advice given to me has always been write what your heart wants, and find the agent that fits it, not the other way around. I guess it depends on if you are writing to write, or writing to be published. I don't think, however, that the two are mutually exclusive.”

You are correct: Writing just to write and writing to be published are not always mutually exclusive. However, there is a fine balance that must be struck between the two for a writer to ultimatley be successful. There are not many writers who can do this overall.

Also, notoriety is not the same in publishing as any other industry. Notoriety in publishing means you already have an audience, something that it might take years to build just writing books. Publishers know and understand the marketing aspect of celebrity and play to it. This leaves the beginning writer at a disadvantage that may never be overcome.

Yes, I agree that a writer should always write what’s in his heart to write, but that has nothing to do with beginnings, transitions, character, point of view, title choices, setting, description, voice, dialogue, interior monologue, climax or endings. These choices and techniques have nothing to do with heart, but have to do with writing skill. There is only one person a writer has to please, and that’s his reader. Readers demand that novels begin a certain way, usually with change or with something happening in your character’s life. Today’s readers were raised on television where you have, at the most, a very short time to tell a story. Readers will not wait for a writer to fall into his pace, nor will they wallow in the fluidity of your language just for the sake of it as they might have years ago. If you don’t give them something right up front that lets them know that this is going to be an exciting story and well worth their time and investment, your readers will resent it and will reject you.

I heard a writer the other day arrogantly proclaim, “If it wasn’t for writers, publishers would have to close their doors.” Well, this may be partly true. However, when readers stop reading what writers write…need I say more?

Writing for publication can be writing from your heart, but it is always writing for your audience no matter what, and it is imperative to remember that.

Pitching, Hooking, and all that Hype

I see massive amounts of advice on how to pitch, or hook, agents at writer conferences—some of it right on the mark and some of it not. This post contains some advice from me, an agent who has been on the receiving end of conference pitches. I’ve had writers sing their pitches and act them out; some come dressed for the occasion in formal evening gowns, and others wear jeans. At one conference, a lady in a top hat pitched me, and, although I don’t like hype, she definitely stood out. After a couple of hours of seeing a different face every fifteen minutes, all faces blend together unless the way they present themselves stands out. So the key is to make your approach to pitching your list of agents different, but not hyped. Below are some tips on helping an agent remember you:

(1) Summarize pitches into one hundred fantastic words. Make sure each word adequately relates the story you have written.

(2) Smile and be confident. Confidence is even more important than a prepared pitch.

(3) Don’t wait for agents to prompt you. Make every second count. Ten minutes might not sound like a long time--and it isn’t if you are engaged in conversation--but dead air can go on forever.

(4) Get your pitch over with and then get to know the agent. It’s a must that you like the person who might represent you.

(5) Don’t get so hung up in your presentation that you hog the pitch. Allow time for the agent to ask questions about your book.

(6) Always have a few pages you can leave with an agent—a few pages means no more than five —if allowed by the conference. Or not. You never know when an agent like me might break the rules just a little bit.

(7) If you don’t have business cards, get some.

(8) Make sure you leave every agent you pitch with SOMETHING, if it’s no more than a good impression.

(9) Do your research before the conference to make sure the agent you are pitching represents what you write. Don’t waste time and money on those who can easily be eliminated as a possible match for you and your work. Research=Dollars in Your Pocket.

(10) Always listen to what others say about the agents they have pitched. If you know agent’s temperament, you might tailor your pitch to suit that agent or decide that the agent may not be for you, saving you valuable time and effort.

Conferences are for networking, education and fun. Make sure you take advantage of all three!

Sunday, April 09, 2006


We are happy to announce that congratulations are in order!
  • M.J. Pearson's gay Regency romance, THE PRICE OF TEMPTATION, is now a 2005 Lambda Award finalist in the best romance category.
  • Varian Johnson's multi-cultural chick-lit novel, A RED POLKA DOT IN A WORLD FULL OF PLAID, earned the #6 spot on Essence magazine's March paperback bestseller list.
  • Partner Robert Brown is now an AAR member.


Paying for Query Services

PLEASE NOTE: If you are not using a querying service, the following message does not apply to you, and, therefore, you need not read further. However, if you are using a query service or thinking of using one, please read on...

Recently we have received a large influx of e-mails generated from various query letter-writing services. Our take on this is that if you need to pay someone to write for you, apparently you cannot do it yourself, and we would therefore have very little confidence in anything you write. This has been borne out in samples and full manuscript submissions received from writers who use these services. In other words, a well-written query usually means you are probably capable of writing a publishable book. Having a professional service generate your queries sends us the message that you are not professional, are in hurry, are possibly lazy, or that you don’t feel comfortable with your own writing skills. None of these are impressions you want to leave with anyone, let alone someone you are trying to convince to represent you and your work to a publishing entity.

The bottom line is there are no shortcuts to finding an agent or a publisher. If you do not have the time or skill to write a simple query letter, you probably do not have time or skill to write a synopsis or a chapter outline. This could be translated to mean that you didn’t take time to write, edit, or revise a marketable manuscript properly either. Some may argue that they are simply delegating the work of querying to someone else; however, there are some problems with this:
  • Query letters are not so difficult to write that you would need to pay someone else to write them for you if you are a professional writer. We sometimes wonder when a writer uses a query service whether he/she paid to have his manuscript written as well, as the descrepancy between the quality of the manuscript and the quality of the query is usually hugely evident.
  • On that note, based on the samples we have seen and compared to their corresponding queries over the years, it is easy to tell that the writer did not write the query letter. This is usually because the query letter says "Wow!" but the manuscript just doesn't hold up to "Wow!" Getting someone who is good at querying to write your letter for you and then sending a so-so manuscript effort leaves a terrible impression.
  • Most importantly, the act of writing a query and revising it as needed keeps the writer in touch with his/her manuscript in a way that is vital to understanding one's own writing.

Consequently, if you are using a query service, please note that we will no longer accept queries generated in this fashion, and, as of April 15, 2006, all such queries will be treated as spam mailings and will be deleted as such, unread.