Agents who half-ass it

December 17, 2009

If you are represented by an agency, then why are you querying me directly? Isn’t that your agent’s job?

Ahhh…yes and no.

Scenarios run like this; Big Agent tries like the dickens to get your manuscript onto the Big Editors’ desks. Only they pass on the project. Repeatedly. Now the options are more limited – and that translates to money. Big Agent has a choice; do I work just as hard to sell to a smaller publishers where the remuneration isn’t as grand, or do I let my author do the legwork because I. Am. Too. Important.

If the author is successful in getting a bite from an editor, guess who swoops in for the kill?

And this is what I know when I read the innocent query letter that tells me they’re repped by Ima Too-a Bigga For-a My-a Britches-a.

And what do you think my attitude is toward that agent? Not so hot-a. No one likes to think, “Hey, what am I, chopped liver that I didn’t deserve your time and effort?” as they read a query letter. And that’s exactly the message that comes over loud and clear.

I’m not so petty that I take it out on the author. Just the opposite, in fact. My heart goes out to them because they’re on their own now. “Hey, I tried, and you’re on your own now. I’ve lost faith in your manuscript.” I find that cruel.

If it’s not worth it to continue pitching the work, then let the author go. But for crying out loud, don’t half-ass it. Agents know far more about opening doors than authors do. Agents can pick up the phone and pitch to editors. An author who tries that will incur the beagle’s wrath, which usually results in her pearly whites connecting with the posterior soft tissue.

And let’s say I want the manuscript. Does anyone believe I’m going to feel all warm and fuzzy toward Mr. Fancy Pants Agent during contract negotiations? And what about pre- and post-production conversations? Does this agent really believe I’m going to give a rat’s fuzzy navel what he thinks about cover art or promo plans? First thing out of my piehole would be, “ohhh, so now you care. ”

I know, you’re thinking, “So what’s you’re point, Pricey?” Well, my point is that if your agent says you’re free to query on your own, take that as a big sign that he’s writing you off. That his sole purpose now is to enjoy the fruits of your labor because he’s Too Big to do it for you.  He needs to concentrate on his other client, The Sure Thing and sell to the Big Editor.

Sure, he’s there to negotiate the contract, should you prevail, but don’t forget who opened the door – you. Seems to me that should change the percentage that he’s entitled to.

I love to help and all, but …

June 24, 2009

Dear Lynn,

I heard you speak on Take Your Pick Date. [The usual nice platitudes inserted here] My book “Great American Novel” is complete and published. I have a website, YouTube interviews, reader reviews, synopsis, and a press kit.
[appropriate links included here]

I would be grateful if you could take a look at my site, read a few chapters of my book (it’s really great!), maybe take a peak at the YouTube interview and review my press kit. I’m looking for any advice you could give me.

Sincerely yours,
Hopeful Successful Author

Ach, stuff like this is really hard because the last thing I want to do is crush some author’s heart by telling him no, I won’t do this. I speak to writer’s groups and conferences because I love authors. It’s my fervent desire to pass along as much information on the publishing industry that my wee-sized brain has absorbed over the years. But it’s unreasonable to think I can offer personalized critique on this grand a level. I can’t. I have a business to run and my authors should rightfully string me up for doing for taking time away from them.

I always tell audiences that they may feel free to email me if they have a quickie question, but I can’t possibly read their synopses, query letters, first three chapters, advise them on their promotion plan, or recommend appropriate agents. I am not one-stop-shopping, so be mindful of not abusing my or any other speaker’s earnest offer of answering a quick question. There are times when I tell an author they may contact me anytime with specific issues, but this isn’t a blanket invitation, and I am very picky about this. You know who you are.

Along this same path are the authors who run to me for answers instead of searching the internet.

I’m not your mama; please do your own research.

I am not a walking encyclopedia and will do the same exact research you could have done had you not been sitting on your brain.

I never cease to be amazed there are those who will bleed my (or my colleagues’) goodwill for all it’s worth, sending me their books for review (or to re-publish). It seems silly to say “use your common sense” because there are many who were dropped on their head at a young age and lack this character trait, so I have to actually say it out loud.


On a similar vein, I’d like to talk about Author Hogs. These are the types who go to writer’s conferences and writer’s meetings and hog precious time after the seminar to pitch their work to the guest speaker, blithely ignoring the six or seven other people waiting. Stamp this on your forehead:


Maybe your book is fabo, but the agent or editor isn’t in the right frame of mind to listen to a complete pitch. They just got finished doing a 1-2 hour talk and want to meet everyone who is politely waiting their turn. Being an Author Hog puts you at risk of getting shanked by those waiting.

There is also a time factor. We are very conscious about the scant few minutes between seminars to say hello and beat feat out of the room so the next speaker can come in and get set up. Even if it’s a writer’s group where we don’t have to bug out, listening to a pitch isn’t as easy as it sounds, and we’re rarely patient enough after giving a long talk.

It’s like the lady who pestered me breakfast at a weekend conference. I told her gently that I would talk to her later. She didn’t get the message and continued with her pitch. I got more direct. “Scuse me, madam, but I have scrambled eggs hanging from my lip, my gin-laced hot chocolate is growing a gooey skin over the top, and my jelly is getting crusty. Can we do this later?” I never saw her the rest of the weekend.

Unless I tell an author differently, mealtimes are sacred at writer’s conferences. I’m on duty for the entire weekend. That means you can accost me in the hallway as I’m racing to a seminar [as long as you can do the 50-yard dash], you can accost me in the elevator, in line at the buffet, at the bar [totally THE best place to bug me cos I have a drinkie in my hand and am relaxed]. But my actual sit-down-fork-in-piehole time is mine, mine, mine, and I will get cranky to those who are sensitivity-challenged.

If you really want to pitch, sign up for the pitch sessions. Yes, they cost money, but they’re good experience in talking to an agent or editor. We’ll ask you questions and try to draw you out. Best of all, we’ll give you feedback. You have us in the proper setting. I’m not worried about getting to another seminar on time or wondering where my lip gloss is. My synapses are firing in a focused direction; you.

You never want to feel that an editor or agent isn’t listening to you; and I can pretty much promise they aren’t after finishing a seminar. About all we’re good for is smiling and answering little questions.

Choose your spots carefully because I really would like to help and all, but…

Promotion – Stacy Dittrich

June 15, 2009

The second part of Stacy Dittrich’s blog post deals with the realities of book promotion. I know I’ve discussed this topic any number of times, but I felt it particularly important to hear the realities of promotion from someone outside my particular borders. Publishers handle book promotion in different ways.

I’ve heard stories of some very large presses who do very little, and this is understandable to some degree. They have the Big Name recognition and superior distribution. But that only carries a book just so far, and the rest depends on the author’s willingness and ability to let audiences know their book exists. Stacy gives a very interesting view into this part of the publishing experience.

stacyphotoProbably my biggest misconception in the industry was the marketing and promotion. Quite frankly, there isn’t any. I’ve been published by three different houses ranging from small to large and, although the marketing varies a little, each one puts little effort in the promotions. Unless you are established and have made the house millions, i.e. Stephen King, James Patterson, don’t expect ads in Vanity Fair or People Magazine promoting your book. Also, to ask your publisher to send your book to Oprah is like asking for a free trip to the moon. Imagine the wealth of manuscripts and books Oprah receives daily. Unless it is passed along by someone with an “in”, AND she loves it—it’s not going to happen.

Sure, you can dump thousands into your own publicist. I learned the hard way, (and $10,000 later) that everything my publicist did to book me on shows I could have done myself for less than half the cost. In fact, people are astonished to learn that after the cover or title of my book was splashed across the television screen on Nancy Grace or Bill O’Reilly’s show, it did little to help my book sales.

I’ve learned that networking is the key. Sites like FaceBook and MySpace are an author’s paradise for promotions. You’d be surprised at how little an ad on FaceBook costs, and how many professional connections I’ve made that has led me to radio, television, and print—all promoting my books. The internet itself is the new age of marketing: blogs, chat rooms, and book sites—there are literally thousands of them. You just have to take the time to do it. I’ve also spent hours researching radio, television, and newspaper sites all over the state, making my own press releases, and sending them out—you’d be surprised at the responses.

I just received an email from an author ranting about “why should I pay to edit my own book and if they’re gonna buy it they should market the hell out of it too!”  Little does this guy know with his attitude he will have a long wait. Don’t buy into “my book will sell itself.” This is pretty naïve.  The old adage of “you have to spend money to make money,” rings true here. Before you send your book off to an agent, hire a freelance editor to give it a quick run-through to make sure it’s as polished as it can be. No money? Call your high school English teacher and see if she’ll do it, or check with the English department at your nearest college. There are ways to do things as cheaply as possible.

The bottom line here is that publishers no longer want to put the money into the marketing. YOU are the author and, as the author (think of yourself as a business), you are expected to take an active part in making your book sell. Writing a good book is only half of what it takes to make it. A good attitude and professionalism, and acknowledging your part in the sales process is what most publishers seek.

Regardless, taking in all of the above—and a good dose of persistence, you will undoubtedly rise to the top! It’s a crazy ride, but a lot of fun.

Stacy makes a very good point about the editing aspects. I’ve talked about authors who bristle at the idea of having to produce a professionally written work knowing we’re going to dig our blood-soaked nails into the work again. The reality is such that if the work isn’t professionally written, we’re not going to waste our time on it. Any author willing to submit “good enough” isn’t someone I want to work with.

Publishing and promoting is hard work, and “good enough” doesn’t yield a great book or big sales. The idea of “good enough” is reprehensible and embarrassing to professionals. Stacy is a pro – she always was, even before her wonderful agent got her paws on her. And that is why she’s on her way.

Here it is…no, wait, not that one…this one!

May 1, 2009

I’m talking about submissions here. If I ask for pages or a complete proposal, I go on the assumption (yah, yah, I know all about “assuming”) that I’m being sent the FINISHED VERSION. I am not a member of the “oops, I made some edits, so can I send that one instead?” club. I feel those who are members should be drawn and quartered with a rusty exclamation point because one “whoopsie” revision can turn into three or four.

It’s especially irritating when I begin reading the work and the author slaps me with a new one the next day. I make copious notes when I read, and I have no idea if those those notes still apply to the new revision. This means I have to start all over again.

This makes me want to kick authors in the asterisk because it’s unprofessional. If I’m sent a couple “whoopsies,” I lose faith that the author knows what they’re doing. If I begin reading, are they going to send another one tomorrow, making today’s reading efforts Bandini fodder?

Normally I wouldn’t bother. I would just shit-can the whole thing and recommend that the author be dead sure their work was submission ready BEFORE they send it out so as not to waste everyone’s time [translation: my time]. But if I see a story that really grips my kidneys, then I have a choice; stick to my guns and reject it, or read the new revision and be one cranky pants editor that even the beagle’s margaritas can’t soothe.

Indecision doesn’t make authors look good. Or professional. Send no pages out before they are properly aged. Gee, I feel like a wine and cheese commercial. Or is that whine and cheese commercial?

Are we looking for an excuse to quit reading?

April 28, 2009

Do most agents/editors look more for what’s wrong than for what’s right in the writing? Do they focus more on errors than on strengths?

Quick Answer: Yes

Longer Answer: I know it sounds as though we are a heartless coven of witches and warlocks who sit in our darkened caves while sipping the blood of rejected authors. In truth, we’re not denizens of cynicism, but rather, we’re efficient.

The longer agents and editors are in business, the better able they are to sniff out a bad egg early on. We utilize those early cues such as spelling, grammar, organization, and sentence structure to wave our personal red flags. If a work is overloaded with these elements, why continue reading? It’s true that a fabulous story could be hiding amongst the mess, but I have yet to see it. Great writing and proper formatting, spelling, and structure go hand in hand.

I won’t cop to “this is how we all work,” because I know some of my brethren don’t have as itchy a trigger finger as others. However, the generalities are such that most of us look for a reason to continue reading. We read one line. If we like it, we continue on. If we like the page, we continue on. If we like the chapter…ok, you get where I’m going with this. Peter Cox – agent extraordinaire – calls it “moving to the couch.” If we continue to be entertained by your words, we’ll toss the beagle off the couch and read in comfort.

Why are we such crabby pants about this issue? Shouldn’t we be focused solely on the story?

Absolutely. To a point.

See, spelling, sentence structure, and organization are all a part of effective communication.  If you choose to omit an integral part of communicating your story, then you’re no better than the idiot mechanic who told me he hadn’t the foggiest notion as to why my car made a clangy-bangy sound when I came to a full stop. #2 Son Spawn looked underneath my car’s Victoria Secrets and discovered I’d been dragging a tunafish can all over town. Crikey, it was as obvious as the margarita in the beagle’s blender, but he never thought to look there. Dumb!

Words, imagination, and understanding the English language are the writer’s tools, and writers have a responsibility to know every aspect of their craft. Banging out a story is only half the job. You can’t create an effective product if one of those elements is missing. I [and nearly all of my fellow coven members] are extremely unforgiving of spelling and syntax blunders because there is simply no excuse for it.

The idea is to never ever give an agent or editor a reason to reject your work other than it’s not right for them. To be rejected because you fell asleep in English class is akin to the beagle forgetting to add a half a can of beer to the margarita mix. Last time she pulled that, I made her clean the showers. Don’t put us in a position where we hand you a scrub brush and Tilex.

Now, I’m off to my broom. I hear the wails from one of the coven members in New York screaming about POV switches.

*Thanks, Pelo, for the question.

Listen well, Young Grasshopper

April 22, 2009

For anyone who pads their bio or promo plans, or editors and agents who abuse authors:

A turkey was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree’ sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my bull doo-doo?” replied the bull. “They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of poo, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.

The next day, after eating some more poo, he reached the second branch.

Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree.

He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.

Moral of the story:
Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there…

I’ve done shined up that thar fishin’ pole…

February 8, 2009


I’m done. Finished. Complete. Finito. The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box is now sporting a “The End” on its hiney. Anyone who writes understands how good it feels to complete a project. We live with our words every day while the ideas pour through our cerebral cortex like mulled wine, until one day the words stop, the story is done.

I’m especially proud of this work because so many people asked me to write it. Its genesis began at writer’s conferences, when authors told me how no one talks about the other side of the desk; how we see things, why we think the way we do; putting to rest the myth that we don’t think at all. There are a couple great books out there that reveal what it’s like to be an editor or an agent, but all of them have a different twist from mine. And that’s what this is all about, right? Education. It’s what makes for great, savvy writers.

I’ve placed it into the very capbable hands of trusted, brilliant beta readers, who will now rip, tear, shred me apart in manners I’m sure I didn’t know exist. In the meantime, the engine is started, the gas tank is full, and the background stuff is now being set into motion. Wish me bon chance!

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