Monthly Archives: January 2012

Out of the Mouths of Agents

Tip #27: Do not show up at an agent's office wearing this.

I used to be very superstitious when it came to querying agents. It started when someone told me the best time to query was between January and June, but I took it to another level. I started trying to get into the minds of agents (i.e. Would s/he be more receptive to my email in the morning or afternoon? Should I wait until mid-week in case s/he had a crappy weekend? Etc.). It was exhausting, not to mention…unhealthy.

Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:

What agents are seeing too much of:
– Vampires and werewolves
– Mid-life spiritual memoirs
– Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
– Talking animals in children’s books

What would agents love to see:
– Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
– Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
– Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding

What can an agent bring to the table:
– Editorial experience
– Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
– Someone who will champion your work to the world

What agents look for in a new author:
– Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
– Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
– A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
– Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
– Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers

What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
– Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
– Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
– A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy

What agents think of social networking:
– Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
– Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
– Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
– Think of Google as your virtual resume

What agents think of self-publishing:
– It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
– Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
– Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
– Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
– “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
– It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
– If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you

What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
– How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
– What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
– What do you connect with in the book?
– What revisions do you suggest?
– What’s your experience with my kind of book?

What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
– Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.

As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.

If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations

Contest Alert! Three opportunities from The New Quarterly

The New Quarterly, Issue 120The Restless Writers were recently clued in to some contests being offered by The New Quarterly (TNQ), a magazine of Canadian fiction, poetry, and conversation. Their mandate is to nurture emerging writers by publishing and promoting their work alongside that of well-established writers, and to provide an editorial context in which both can be read. They’re published some outstanding Canadian voices—take a peek inside a back issue at their website. (I’m definitely ordering the special double issue 119, “The QuArc Issue,” published in collaboration with Arc Poetry Magazine.)

Here are the contest details:

The Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest. Sponsored by TNQ editor Kim Jernigan and family in celebration of the man who sparked their love of poetry, this contest is for poems written in response to an occasion, personal or public—poems of gratitude or grief, poems that celebrate or berate, poems that make of something an occasion or simply mark one.

  • Winning Poem: $1,000 for one glorious poem. Another $1,000 in prize money will be distributed as the judges fancy.
  • Deadline: Postmarked February 28, 2012
  • Entry fee: $40 for up to 2 unpublished poems, $5 each for additional poems

The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest. They are interested in unpublished essays of any length, on any topic, in which the writer’s personal engagement with the topic provides the frame or through-line.

  • Winning Essay: $1,000
  • Deadline: Postmarked March 28, 2012
  • Entry fee: $40 per submission

The Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award, sponsored by the St. Jerome’s University English Dept. For a work of short fiction by a Canadian writer in the early stages. TNQ defines a writer in the early stages as someone who has not yet published a first story collection or novel. There is no word limit; all submissions are judged blind. Though there is only one prize, all submissions will be considered for publication.

  • Winning Story: $1,000
  • Deadline: May 28, 2012
  • Entry Fee: $40 per submission

Please note: Entrants for all three contests must be Canadian or currently residing in Canada. Entry fee for each includes a one-year subscription to The New Quarterly. For full details, see www.tnq.ca/contests.

If you want to be kept apprised of other contest opportunities from TNQ, catch up with them on Twitter.

Maria

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Filed under Awards and contests

A love letter to books

Because there’s nothing quite like a real book!

Kudos to TYPE Bookstore owner Joanne Saul on her crazy fun Joy of Books video. We love dancing books just as much as we love indie book stores.  These are challenging times for booksellers. Make friends with an independent bookstore today!

BJas

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Filed under Inspiration, Vlog

Five ways to start your own writing group—or crash one

Yes, this is our writing group...if Meryl Streep were a member.

The Restless Writers are often approached by people looking for a writing group to join. For the most part, these writers want what we’ve got—a kick-ass little troop that is supportive, energetic, thoughtful, caring, and hells-to-the-yeah fun.

Here’s what we tell these would-be Restless Writers about finding or starting a group of their own:

Dear [Would-be Restless Writer]:

The Restless Writers are a group of three women who get together in person on a semi-regular basis to share and critique pages, act as sounding boards for new ideas, kvetch about our husbands, and drink wine. We think we’re a collective hoot. We think we make each other better writers. 

We love meeting people like us who write and live and tear out their hair trying to do both well. However, we’re not really a formal writing group with rules and deadlines and firm meeting dates, which makes us irritating as hell if you’re looking for structure.

Trying to find a writing group can be like online dating, except with a greater chance of hooking up with sociopaths. You want to find people who have good writing skills, creativity, passion, joy, and intuition. Plus great hair and awesome personalities. We were lucky.

Here are five ways to find a writing group you can call your own:

1) Check out http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/ and subscribe to Brian Henry’s e-newsletter (and sign up for one of his workshops too if you’re in Ontario). You could place a call-out in his newsletter for writing peeps in your area. Note: This worked for us.

2) Make friends with an independent bookstore in your neighbourhood. We’re lucky to have A Different Drummer Books and Bryan Prince Bookseller close by, both with plenty of events throughout the year to enjoy and meet other writers at. Even the big-box booksellers have events.

3) Your local library is a great resource—attend a reading, enter a writing contest, or talk to a librarian to see if they know of a local group.

4) Keep an eye on your community newspaper for announcements about writing events. You may even find an article about a certain Restless Writer who was recently interviewed… (ahem, it’s Beckie! As soon as it’s online we’ll pressure her to post the link.).

5) Talk to people! You’ll never know if your co-worker’s husband’s best friend is a writer who’s also looking for a writing group…unless you ask. Shelve your shyness and mingle!

We wish you the best of luck at finding a super-supportive writing group that helps you be the best writer you can be.

Maria

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Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Starting up

New year. New stories. Ready, set, go!

Our sentiments exactly…Happy New Year from the Restless Writers.

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Filed under Inspiration, Motivation